Prometheus Unbound Summary
by Percy Bysshe Shelley

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Prometheus Unbound Summary

The play opens with Prometheus bound to the rock where Jupiter left him to have his flesh torn and eaten by birds, day after day. He said that Jupiter, the king of the gods, could not subdue Prometheus, no matter what he did. Mercury arrives to tell him to make peace with Jupiter; the Furies show him that now, instead of only being tortured by the birds, he has to live with knowing that Earth is under siege by evil from within men. They call Prometheus the "champion of Heaven's slaves" because he loves humanity. This is mental torture instead of physical torture and one that is much harder for him to endure. Still, he believes he can endure and insists that he doesn't want anything living—including Jupiter—to suffer.

Asia, Prometheus's love, and her sister, Panthea, discuss dreams that Panthea had. In one of them, Prometheus was set free, and this resulted in love coming back into the world. The two travel together until they reach the cave of the Demogorgon. When the Demogorgon asks what they want to know, it tells Asia and Panthea that Prometheus only wanted Jupiter to not only rule over men but give them freedom as well. Jupiter, however, released a series of ills into the world. Prometheus gave man fire—knowledge—and they were able to do a variety of things with this. This is why Jupiter punished him. The Demogorgon, Asia, Panthea, and the Spirit of Destiny go into a cloud; at this point, Asia grows in beauty and love until she is like a goddess.

Jupiter is holding court and explaining that he has finally gained all the power in the universe. He's won everything but the souls of men. The Demogorgon—a child of Jupiter—arrives and pulls Jupiter down from Heaven. To those watching, it looks like Jupiter fell in the embrace of an eagle. This restores free will to mankind.

Hercules unchains Prometheus. Once free, he declares that he, Asia, and her sisters will watch over mankind yet remain separate from them. He predicts that men will only grow in love and utility. The world becomes more lush, softer, warmer, and kinder now that Jupiter is dethroned. The moon is even thawed. The Demogorgon announces that Love rules all now, because Prometheus was freed and the world is better for it.


(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Shelley’s reputation is based on the 1820 volume of verse containing Prometheus Unbound, a lyrical drama on a cosmic scale that presents more fully than any other poem Shelley’s philosophy of life.

In ancient mythology, Prometheus was the smartest of the Titans. He separated humanity from the gods and gave it fire, symbolizing imaginative powers of thought. Jupiter punished him by nailing him to a rock in the Caucasus mountain range. Shelley begins his sequel to Aeschylus’s play Prometheus desmts (date unknown; Prometheus Bound, 1777) with Prometheus still in that predicament after some time has elapsed. The Titan describes his ordeal and tells the hopeful Ione and the faithful Panthea that he has secret knowledge of the time when Jupiter will fall from power. Misery has made Prometheus wise. He has realized that hatred makes one like the object of hate, and thus his bondage is primarily internal, self-imposed, and even within his will to end. His hatred for Jupiter having cooled to mere pity, Prometheus wants to gather his sundered strength, reunite with his beloved Asia, and recall the curse that he had cast upon Jupiter. However, he cannot remember it and Nature is too fearful to utter it, so he summons the Phantasm of Jupiter to repeat it. Once divulged, the curse is repudiated by Prometheus, who declares, “I wish no living thing to suffer pain.” Earth mistakenly thinks Jupiter’s victory is now complete, and Mercury carries that message to Jupiter while Panthea goes in search of Asia. As the first act closes, Prometheus has been regenerated, but the creatures of earth are still slaves to the tyranny of heaven, still split apart by self-hate, blaming themselves for committing sins and abandoning ambitions.

In the five scenes of the...

(The entire section is 1,939 words.)