Prometheus Bound

by Aeschylus

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Prometheus Bound

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Prometheus has given fire and useful arts to humanity. For this, and for not revealing to Zeus which among his consorts will give birth to the son that destroys him, Zeus orders his henchmen Force and Violence and the god Hephaestus to chain Prometheus to a rock. Prometheus’ punishment reveals Zeus’s insecurity as founder of the new Olympian dynasty.

Io, a nymph who is another victim of Zeus, appears in the form of a heifer. To avoid discovery of his affair with Io, Zeus had transformed her thus, but his wife Hera had known of the seduction and sent a stinging gadfly to pursue the maiden. Prometheus tells Io of the sufferings she must yet face and how Hera, will continue to persecute her before she ultimately finds contentment.

Hermes, traditionally Zeus’s messenger but here his lackey, enters arrogantly to demand the consort’s name from Prometheus. Prometheus bravely refuses, though his decision will mean punishment from Zeus’s eagle, which will daily devour the Titan’s liver. The final scene contains violent earthquakes, windstorms, thunder, and lightning, all meant to terrify the unyielding Prometheus.

The play concludes as Prometheus asks his goddess-mother to witness the injustice of his sufferings, though it seems Prometheus and Zeus resolved their arguments in the final plays of the trilogy. Prometheus, by modern interpretation, can be a savior, creator, victim, prophet, angel, thief, or rebel. In the Middle Ages, he was the mystical symbol of Christ’s passion. The myth has inspired numerous literary treatments.


Grene, David. “Introduction to Prometheus Bound.” In Aeschylus: The Complete Greek Tragedies, edited by David Grene and Richmond Lattimore. Vol. 1. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1969. Reviews eighteenth century criticism of Prometheus Bound and compares it to Aristotle’s Poetics (c. 334/323 b.c.e.). Discusses problems with the play, including an episodic plot, the improbable and extravagant characters, and the uncouth diction.

Kitto, H. D. F. Greek Tragedy: A Literary Study. London: Methuen, 1970. Dates Prometheus Bound in the category of Old Tragedy. One chapter offers a detailed examination of the play.

Kitto, H. D. F. Poiesis: Structure and Thought. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1966. Discusses what is known as Farnall’s Dilemma: that Aeschylus was writing about Zeus in a derogatory sense and that the playwright should have been prosecuted for blasphemy. Because he was not, he could not have written Prometheus Bound.

Podlecki, Anthony J. The Political Background of Aeschylean Tragedy. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1966. Discusses similarities between Prometheus Bound and the Oresteia (458 b.c.e.).

Stanford, William Bedell. Aeschylus in His Style: A Study in Language and Personality. Dublin: Dublin University Press, 1942. Claims that Aeschylus borrowed language in Prometheus Bound from two types of source, one literary and the other colloquial. Designed to help students better understand the language of Aeschylus.

Thomson, George. Aeschylus and Athens: A Study in the Social Origins of Drama. New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1968. Presents history and interpretations of the myth of Prometheus; explains how this myth fits into Prometheus Bound.

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