Prometheus Bound

by Aeschylus

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Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 637

Guilt and Innocence
Aeschylus believed that the gods punished those guilty of human pride (hubris) by trapping them in a web of crime and revenge, from which only the gods could free them. While the reasons behind the gods' actions remain mysterious, for Aeschylus, humanity must subordinate itself to divine will, which ultimately achieves justice. In Prometheus Bound, this notion of inherited guilt emerges during the Titan's discussion of Necessity.

Love and Passion
Zeus feels lust for Io and follows her, hoping to seduce her. Although Io wants nothing to do with Zeus, he infects her dreams, causes her to be driven from her family and home, and sees her tormented by his jealous wife, Hera. His lust makes him behave unreasonably and Io, an innocent person, suffers because of him. According to classical ethics, as exemplified by Aristotle's Nichomachean Ethics, for example, moderate, reasonable behavior best suits one for a happy and ethical life.

Io's suffering stems from the jealousy of Zeus' s wife, Hera. Suspecting Zeus of desiring this innocent woman, Hera has her followed by Argos, whose thousand eyes never entirely close and then tormented by a gadfly. Io has committed no offense, however, and suffers unjust punishment. Jealousy, like lust, interferes with a person's judgement and makes them behave unreasonably.

Although the reasons for Prometheus's rebellion may provoke sympathy, such behavior can disrupt social order. At the same time, Zeus's tyrannical behavior deserves, even requires, resistance. Significantly, the play presents the conflict between two value systems personified by two powerful individuals. In Prometheus Bound, rebellion seems justified, though within what is known of the Prometheia trilogy, mercy and patience in the end become the order of the day.

Parent-Child Relations
To some degree, every generation of children finds themselves in conflict with their parents' value system. Parents require obedience, children independence. Parents see their children in a specific way and act toward them according to that image. The children themselves may have outgrown that image, though, and see themselves differently. In any event, children must make a place for themselves in the world and do so with some degree of independence. Prometheus Bound presents a variety of parent-child relationships, from Kronos patricide to Zeus's rebellion to the positive connection between Prometheus and his mother, Earth. Further reading in Classical mythology will reveal additional examples of fond and problematic family relations.

Atonement and Forgiveness
Most viewers see Prometheus, particularly as he appears in this first play of the Prometheia trilogy, as a benevolent rebel struggling against tyranny, suffering because of his love of humanity. In this respect, he resembles Jesus, who according to Christian theology suffered to save humanity. In art and religion, such struggle and pain is often linked with spirituality and redemption. A final element—forgiveness—also commonly occurs, as seen when Christ forgives his murderers (‘‘Father forgive them for they know not what they do’’) and, in what is known of the now lost Prometheus Unbound, when the rebellious Titan reconciles with Zeus.

Law and Order
On one level, Prometheus Bound presents a conflict between two models of law, one, Zeus's, aligned with Power and another, Prometheus's, identified with sympathy. From Zeus's perspective, his monarchy requires obedience and Prometheus, by helping humanity, has broken the law and deserves punishment. Prometheus, however, has to negotiate between two codes of law, Zeus's rule in which might makes right and his own, motivated by his pity for humanity. The play explores the relationships among law, justice, and mercy, the latter a theme of greater significance in the context of the three play trilogy, the Prometheia. From fragments of the now lost sequels, it is known that Prometheus does acknowledge Zeus's law, exchanging his chains of steel for chains of flowers, and Zeus learns to show mercy, freeing the imprisoned Titans, including Prometheus.

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