Summary of Lord Byron’s “Prometheus”

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George Gordon, Lord Byron, born in 1788 and died in 1824, was a known author and supporter of the English Romantics. Lord Byron has many pieces of work that have been studied throughout history but none as infamous as his poem titled “Prometheus”. To truly understand “Prometheus” one must first understand the author. Byron’s interpretation of Prometheus is highly reflective of his involvement and support of Romanticism. Romanticism can be defined as an intellectual and cultural reaction to the Enlightenment; without the Enlightenment there would be no Romanticism. English Romantics, such as Lord Byron, were men of action, solitude and imagination. Romantics viewed the individual as isolated from the rest of man. The idea of the “citizen” was an important characteristic of Romantics. While man is viewed as independent, there is a known link connecting man to nature. Nature was viewed as organic rather than scientific or mechanical and, according to Romantics, the universe became silent. The elements of Romanticism help to identify Byron and his position when writing “Prometheus”. Byron’s view on the individual, his deeper sense of change and progress, and his view of the universe and nature are all made visible in his poem “Prometheus.”

Prometheus, the titan, is a famous Greek, mythological character who delivers fire to man after stealing fire from Zeus. In the beginning, Prometheus is presented to us as an immortal being, who because of his offense to the God Zeus has been damned to a life of suffering, much like the suffering of man. This is evident in the second line of the first stanza when Byron writes, “The sufferings of mortality/ Seen in their sad reality/ Were not as things that gods despise/ What was thy pity’s recompense?” (Line 2-5). In these lines, Byron brings it to the attention of the reader that, Prometheus was half god half man, also known as a demigod. Byron also makes it apparent that Prometheus is now capable of suffering, a characteristic designated for man, not Gods. Line 5 states an important, yet ironic question, “What was thy pity’s recompense?” (Line 5). This emphasizes the unfairness of Prometheus’ situation and in line 6 and 7 this suffering is brought to life by noting “The rock, the vulture, and the chain.” As punishment for stealing fire from Zeus, Prometheus is chained to a wall and left for vultures to devour his liver. While Prometheus is feeling the suffering and pain of man, he does not admit to the pain nor express it. Byron refers to Prometheus’s suffering as silent and writes, “The agony they do not show,” (line 9) which gives evidence of Prometheus’ lack of acting like a victim. Prometheus attitude and dealings with his human suffering is quite the contrary to that of man, in fact Prometheus will not admit defeat nor give in to the Gods will.

Power becomes a staring concept throughout Bryon’s “Prometheus”. The question arises of who holds the power between Zeus and Prometheus? Initially, Prometheus is depicted as the suppressed individual who has been mistreated and tortured at the hand of a superior authority, Zeus. However, in the end of “Prometheus” Zeus is no longer depicted as the powerful oppressor. It is Prometheus who has gained power through his inner strength, will power, and belief in himself as an individual that has allowed him to defeat his enemy, especially one with supernatural powers. Byron writes, “And the inexorable Heaven/ And the deaf tyranny of Fate/ The ruling principle of Hate/ Which for its pleasure doth create,” (line 19-21). In this passage, Bryon is trying to illustrate that the Gods principles are unjust; that the unrelenting heaven and those who rule are tyrants who control fate, meaning that fate does not listen to you or me but only to them. Zeus gains pleasure from creating things he may destroy, which includes death (“The ruling principle of Hate/ Which for its pleasure doth create”). This is where Prometheus gains power over Zeus. While...
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