Prometheus, Pandora & the Cost of Fire

Prometheus Brings Fire to Mankind, Heinrich Friedrich Fuger, 1817

Prometheus Brings Fire to Mankind, Heinrich Friedrich Fuger, 1817

Prometheus was a surviving member of the Titan generation after the cosmic war between Cronus and his Titans and their offspring the Olympian gods, led by Zeus. Prometheus sat out the conflict and escaped the fate of the Titans, who were banished to Tartarus, the deepest, most torturous pit of the underworld, after their defeat by the Olympians.

Prometheus created Man from clay and was his protector and advocate. In an incident known as the Trick at Mecone, immortals and mortals gathered to establish the kind of tribute mortals would henceforth pay to the immortals. Clever, pro-mortal Prometheus wrapped the meat of a slaughtered bull in the bull’s disgusting stomach and wrapped the bones of the bull in tempting fat and presented both to Zeus. Zeus picked the fat-covered bones. From that day forward, ancient Greek festivals went something like this – slaughter an animal, burn its bones and fat for the gods, then feast on juicy steaks. I’m pretty sure Zeus would have preferred the steaks. However, according to some reports, he was not tricked at all but chose the bones as part of his long-game. That’s a likely story. No doubt he got a lot of grief from the other immortals, destined to nourish themselves on greasy bones for eternity.

Whether or not Zeus was truly tricked, he was not happy. To punish Prometheus and put the mortals in their place, he took fire away from them. Let them have their raw steaks!

Prometheus, whose name means foresight, knew fire was crucial to the development of his mortals, and cooking steaks was the least of it. With fire, they could make tools, weapons and art, and with these they would shape a future, for better or worse.
Also, he couldn’t let Zeus get the better of him in their struggle of wills. So, he snuck onto Mt. Olympus and stole a bit of fire back for Man.

Now Zeus was really mad. He had Prometheus chained to a rock high in the mountains and sent an eagle to peck at his liver for eternity. Every night the liver would regenerate and the eagle would begin again the next morning. Oh the agony! Seriously, ouch!!

Prometheus, Theodoor Rombouts, 1620

Prometheus, Theodoor Rombouts, 1620

To punish the mortals, Zeus commissioned a new creature, Woman. She was shaped from earth by the god Hephaestus and endowed with all the most desirable qualities and talents by Athena and some of the other Olympians. She was named Pandora and sent to take her place among the mortals. Before she left, Zeus gave Pandora an enticing little box and made her promise never to open it.

Pandora’s arrival caused quite a stir among the mortals. They were mystified and intrigued. They treated her well but were hesitant to let her participate in their activities and discussions. With no outlet for her energy and intelligence, Pandora grew restless. Alone in her little room day after day, bathed in the pulsing glow of the forbidden box, she contemplated the meaninglessness of her existence. Finally, overcome by curiosity and boredom, she opened the box.

Pandora, Harry Bates, 1890

Pandora, Harry Bates, 1890

She slammed into the opposite wall with the force of the release; the air was sucked out of the room and it grew very dark and quiet. She closed the box immediately but it was too late. Cruelty, Sickness, Envy, Bigotry and all the associated evils were loose in the world. Only Hope remained trapped in the box. (Is that a good thing? I’m not sure.)
The revenge of Zeus was fulfilled. The cost of fire was a world full of suffering.

Meanwhile, in the eastern mountains, Prometheus endured Zeus’ prescribed torture for many years until, one day, Heracles happened by, killed the eagle and cut his chains. His rebellious nature subdued, Prometheus retired from heroism and settled into an anonymous life off the grid.


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