My son was just discussing the Prometheus legend with me, and it struck me that it’s one of those things everyone has vaguely heard of (“Don’t tamper in the gods’ domain, or they’ll kick your ass”), but most people don’t really know. So here’s the deal:
Titans outrank gods. The Titans ruled the universe. They were pretty awful, though, so the gods rebelled and overthrew the Titans and took over the universe. Several of the Titans recognized that this was for the best, so during the course of the war, they abandoned their own kind and joined the gods.
Among these turncoats were Prometheus and his brother Epimetheus. Their names mean “Forethought” and “Afterthought,” respectively, but I prefer to think of them as “Jerkass” and “Dumbass,” as as Prometheus was a trickster, and Epimethius was, well, dumb.
(“Tricksters” are like Anansi in African mythology, or Loki in Norse mythology [which has nothing to do with the depiction of him in Marvel]. They’re not evil, they’re frequently chaotic and always unpredictable. Think of Prometheus as Daffy Duck.)
Because they’d been allies in the war, the brothers were allowed to live in Olympus. Prometheus was a little paranoid of the gods because they’d just overthrown their more-or-less rightful leaders, and also because they were notoriously fickle. As Epimetheus was kind of a dope, they said, “You there! Go down to earth and do something to make it pretty so we have nice views. We really don’t care what.” Epimetheus then created nature. (Up to this point, earth was just a rock with occasional water)
Prometheus saw this and thought, “Cool! I want to try!” As his brother had already created animals, he decided to make the best animal ever: Man. Mostly he did this to piss off the gods.
The gods were super-pissed, and were looking at wiping us all out, but eventually they realized we were useful insofar as we made the whole ‘offerings’ thing easier. How were offerings done before there were people? Who the crap knows. It’s mythology. It’s drunken and sloppy at the best of times. So the gods allowed us to live, but they refused to let the brothers back into Olympus as punishment. Also, humans were limited to not being immortal, nor having any supernatural powers.
Time passes, and Prometheus has grown kind of fond of his practical joke, so he decides to give them something that will lift them above being mere animals. He sneaks into Olympus, steals fire from the gods, and gives it to man, thus starting civilization. Yay! This was not entirely humanitarian, though. He was still in large part motivated by a desire to piss off the gods.
Which he did. They chained him to a rock, while a giant monster bird would peck his liver out of his body every day and eat it. Prometheus’ liver would grow back every day, and get eaten out again. Because the gods are jerks. This, by the way, is where earthquakes come from: Prometheus convulsing and yanking on his unbreakable chains.
The story continues: Civilization is starting, and while he’s a dim bulb by divine standards, he’s a bright light to cavemen everywhere. The gods decide to punish the thing Epimetheus loved, rather than him directly. They created Pandora from scratch, specifically designing her to be curious. Then they sent her down with her jar full of plague and disease and said, “Don’t open it. Yo! Epimetheus! Marry this chick!” “Gosh, thanks, Zeus!” “Don’t mention it, kid.”
So of course she opened the jar (It’s not a box, it’s an amphora) and let out just every awful thing on earth, torturing humanity for all existence.
The funky thing about this is that Prometheus was a prophecy god. He did all this *knowing* full well what would happen. Talk about committing to a gag! And we’re left to think that even with all the plauges and crap, mankind was still better off than it was before we had fire.
Amnesty International has been protesting for several years, trying to get Prometheus released, but thus far nothing has come of it.