Byron's Promethean Man

Topics: Romanticism, George Gordon Byron, 6th Baron Byron, Mary Shelley Pages: 5 (1512 words) Published: June 5, 2012
Promethean Man:
Childe Harold's Pilgrimage

The Myth of Prometheus:

The ancient Greek myth of Prometheus is a tale about philanthropy, strength of character, moral truth and the willingness to sacrifice oneself for the good of others. It has stayed one of the most influential Greek myths throughout the centuries, and has inspired numerous works of art from literature to paintings and sculputres. In Greek mythology, Prometheus (derived from the ancient Greek word meaning "forethought") was one of the Titans, the original race of gods sprung from earth and sky. He sided with Zeus and the other major gods of classical Greece when they overthrew the other Titans. Prometheus molded the original human race out of clay. The Roman poet Ovid writes that he made humankind in godlike form from clay, and says that maybe the creative power of the era gave us intelligence. Prometheus was a champion of mankind, known for his intelligence, who stole fire from Zeus and gave it to mortals. Zeus then punished him for his crime by having him bound to a rock while a great eagle ate his liver every day only to have it grow back to be eaten again the next day. Humans were also punished. In retaliation, Zeus offered the first woman to the humans, Pandora, (the name means "all gifts"), who carried a jar with her, from which were released ''evils, harsh pain and troublesome diseases which give men death''. The Myth of Prometheus has been treated by a number of ancient sources, in which he is credited with – or blamed for – playing a pivotal role in the early history of mankind. Prometheus's character and fate corresponded with the Romantic Period's philosophy, so it is not surprising that the Romantics took Prometheus's tortured yet idealistic character as one of their own heroes. For them, Prometheus was the rebel who resisted institutional tyranny which was embodied in Zeus — church, monarch, and patriarch. They drew comparisons between Prometheus and the spirit of the French Revolution, Christ, Milton's Satan, and the divinely inspired poet or artist.

The Romantic Hero

While respecting Prometheus, The Romanticist movement created it's own hero, the Romantic hero, who represented the embodiment of the period's ideals, philosophy and aesthetics. The Romantic hero, also called Byronic hero and Promethean man, is a literary archetype referring to a character that rejects established norms and conventions, has been rejected by society, and has the self as the center of his or her own existence. The Romantic hero is often the protagonist in the literary work and there is a primary focus on the character's thoughts rather than his or her actions. Literary critic Northrop Frye's description of the Promethean hero makes an important point, and that is that the Romantic hero is often "placed outside the structure of civilization and therefore represents the force of physical nature, amoral or ruthless, yet with a sense of power, and often leadership, that society has impoverished itself by rejecting". Other characteristics of the romantic hero include introspection, the triumph of the individual over the "restraints of theological and social conventions", wanderlust, melancholy, misanthropy, alienation, and isolation. However, another common trait of the Romantic hero is regret for his actions, and self-criticism, often leading to philanthropy, which stops the character from ending tragically. Romantic heroes are commanding figures, with strong wills and personalities, who challenge accepted norms of behavior and evoke what John Keats called the “egotistical sublime.” Napoleon was a historical example of the Romantic hero and its contradictions: he was a Corsican peasant who crowned himself emperor, a champion of the “revolutionary ideals of liberty, fraternity, and equality”, and yet led a war against nations of Europe, a brilliant military tactician , yet in the Russian campaign lost lost 500, 000 men and an individual with petty...
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