The concept of “Prometheus” within Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein”
Introduction - 3
Greek Promethean myth - 4
The Modern Prometheus - 5
Conclusion - 7
Bibliography - 8
In this short work, it will be made an explanation about what is the Greek Promethean myth and the message behind this myth. It will also be made a comparison between this message and the subjacent theme of the “Modern Prometheus” in Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein”. Looking at the main character of Mary Shelley’s novel, it will also be important to describe in what way, and according to the Greek Promethean myth, Victor Frankenstein is the “Modern Prometheus” as referred in the title of the book.
Greek Promethean myth
The Promethean myth first appeared in the late 8th-century BC Greek epic poet Hesiod's Theogony. He was a son of the Titan Iapetus, one of the Oceanids (keepers of the water).
In Greek mythology, Prometheus is a Titan whose name meant "forethought", and indeed, he was said to have the ability to look into the future. Prometheus was the creator of mankind. The goddess Athene taught him architecture, astronomy, mathematics, navigation, medicine, and metallurgy, and he in turn taught them to humans. Zeus, the chief of the Greek gods, became angry at Prometheus for making people powerful by teaching them all these useful skills. He is the younger brother of Atlas, who was banished to Tartarus during the Titanomachy. Prometheus, however, sided with the gods in the war, having foreseen their victory. Helios and Epimetheus also chose to defect. In doing so, Prometheus also tried to persuade his brother Atlas and their father Iapetus to side with the Olympians, but both of them ignored his attempts. After the Great War, Prometheus fashioned man from clay and helped them, even to the point of severely angering Zeus and, when the gods chose Prometheus as arbiter in a dispute, he fooled the gullible Zeus into picking the worst parts of the sacrificial bull by hiding them under a rich layer of fat. To punish Prometheus, Zeus withheld fire from men. "Let them eat their flesh raw," he declared. In response, Prometheus, snuck up to Mount Olympus, lit a torch from the sun, and hid a burning piece of charcoal in a hollow stalk. He slipped away with it and thus delivered fire to mankind. As punishment however, Zeus then chained him to a mountain for an Eagle to peck out his liver only to have it regenerated through the night. Heracles eventually killed the eagle and freed Prometheus, which Zeus allowed as he deemed Prometheus' suffering sufficient.
The Modern Prometheus is Mary Shelley’s novel subtitle (though some modern publishings of the work now drop the subtitle, mentioning it only in an introduction). The term "Modern Prometheus" was actually coined by Immanuel Kant, referring to Benjamin Franklin and his experiments with electricity (this having to do with the way the creature was brought to life).
As mentioned before, Prometheus was the Titan who created mankind, a task given to him by Zeus. He was to create a being with clay and water in the image of the gods. Prometheus taught man to hunt, read, and heal their sick, but after he tricked Zeus into accepting poor-quality offerings from humans, Zeus kept fire from mankind. Prometheus took back the fire from Zeus to give to man. When Zeus discovered this, he sentenced Prometheus to be eternally punished by fixing him to a rock where each day an eagle would peck out his liver, only for the liver to regrow the next day because of his immortality as a god. He was intended to suffer alone for all of eternity, but eventually Heracles (Hercules) released him.
The way Prometheus makes man from clay and water is a relevant theme...
Bibliography: Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus. Ed. Susan J. Wolfson. New York: Pearson Longman, 2007
Graves, Robert, The Greek Myths, Moyer Bell Ltd., 1955.
Mellor, Anne K. Mary Shelley: Her Life, her Fiction, Her Monsters. London: Routledge, 1990
Why is Frankenstein subtitled The Modern Prometheus?, available in http://www.angelfire.com/anime5/frank/Prometheus.html
Frankenstein as Prometheus, available in http://cmaree.hubpages.com/hub/Frankenstein-as-Prometheus
Analysis on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, available in http://www.articlemyriad.com/analysis-frankenstein-mary-shelley
Who was Prometheus?, available in http://www.enotes.com/frankenstein/q-and-a/frankenstein-who-was-prometheus-262555
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