Fiction > Harvard Classics > Aeschylus > Prometheus Bound
Aeschylus (525–456 B.C.).  Prometheus Bound.
The Harvard Classics.  1909–14.
Lines 1–399
Enter HEPHÆSTOS, STRENGTH, and FORCE, leading PROMETHEUS in chains 1

Strength  LO! to a plain, earth’s boundary remote,
We now are come,—the track as Skythian known,
A desert inaccessible: and now,
Hephæstos, it is thine to do the hests        4
The Father gave thee, to these lofty crags
To bind this crafty trickster fast in chains
Of adamantine bonds that none can break;
For he, thy choice flower stealing, the bright glory        8
Of fire that all arts spring from, hath bestowed it
On mortal men. And so for fault like this
He now must pay the Gods due penalty,
That he may learn to bear the sovereign rule        12
Of Zeus, and cease from his philanthropy.
Heph.  O Strength, and thou, O Force, the hest of Zeus,
As far as touches you, attains its end,
And nothing hinders. Yet my courage fails        16
To bind a God of mine own kin by force
To this bare rock where tempests wildly sweep;
And yet I needs must muster courage for it:
’Tis no slight thing the Father’s words to scorn.        20
O thou of Themis [to PROMETHEUS] wise in counsel son,
Full deep of purpose, lo! against my will, 2
I fetter thee against thy will with bonds
Of bronze that none can loose, the this lone height,        24
Where thou shalt know nor voice nor face of man,
But scorching in the hot blaze of the sun,
Shalt lose thy skin’s fair beauty. Thou shalt long
For starry-mantled night to hide day’s sheen,        28
For sun to melt the rime of early dawn;
And evermore the weight of present ill
Shall wear thee down. Unborn as yet is he
Who shall release thee: this the fate thou gain’st        32
As due reward for thy philanthropy.
For thou, a God not fearing wrath of Gods,
In thy transgression gav’st their power to men;
And therefore on this rock of little ease        36
Thou still shalt keep thy watch, nor lying down,
Nor knowing sleep, nor ever bending knee;
And many groans and wailings profitless
Thy lips shall utter; for the mind of Zeus        40
Remains inexorable. Who holds a power
But newly gained 3 is ever stern of mood.
Strength.  Let be! Why linger in this idle pity?
Why dost not hate a God to Gods a foe,        44
Who gave thy choicest prize to mortal men?
Heph.  Strange is the power of kin and intercourse. 4
Strength.  I own it; yet to slight the Father’s words,
How may that be? Is not that fear the worse?        48
Heph.  Still art thou ruthless, full of savagery.
Strength.  There is no help in weeping over him:
Spend not thy toil on things that profit not.
Heph.  O handicraft to me intolerable!        52
Strength.  Why loath’st thou it? Of these thy present griefs
That craft of thine is not one whit the cause.
Heph.  And yet I would some other had that skill.
Strength.  All things bring toil except for Gods to reign; 5        56
For none but Zeus can boast of freedom true.
Heph.  Too well I see the proof, and gainsay not.
Strength.  Wilt thou not speed to fix the chains on him,
Lest He, the Father, see thee loitering here?        60
Heph.  Well, here the handcuffs thou mayst see prepared.
Strength.  In thine hands take him. Then with all thy might
Strike with thine hammer; nail him to the rocks.
Heph.  The work goes on, I ween, and not in vain.        64
Strength.  Strike harder, rivet, give no whit of ease:
A wondrous knack has he to find resource,
Even where all might seem to baffle him.
Heph.  Lo! this his arm is fixed inextricably.        68
Strength.  Now rivet thou this other fast, that he
May learn, though sharp, that he than Zeus is duller.
Heph.  No one but he could justly blame my work.
Strength.  Now drive the stern jaw of the adamant wedge        72
Right through his chest with all the strength thou hast.
Heph.  Ah me! Prometheus, for thy woes I groan.
Strength.  Again, thou’rt loth, and for the foes of Zeus
Thou groanest: take good heed to it lest thou        76
Ere long with cause thyself commiserate.
Heph.  Thou seest a sight unsightly to our eyes.
Strength.  I see this man obtaining his deserts:
Nay, cast thy breast-chains round about his ribs.        80
Heph.  I must needs do it. Spare thine o’ermuch bidding;
Go thou below and rivet both his legs. 6
Strength.  Nay, I will bid thee, urge thee to thy work.
Heph.  There, it is done, and that with no long toil.        84
Strength.  Now with thy full power fix the galling fetters:
Thou hast a stern o’erlooker of thy work.
Heph.  Thy tongue but utters words that match thy form. 7
Strength.  Choose thou the melting mood; but chide not me        88
For my self-will and wrath and ruthlessness.
Heph.  Now let us go, his limbs are bound in chains.
Strength.  Here then wax proud, and stealing what
belongs        92
To the Gods, to mortals give it. What can they
Avail to rescue thee from these thy woes?
Falsely the Gods have given thee thy name,
Prometheus, Forethought; forethought thou dost need        96
To free thyself from this rare handiwork.  [Exeunt HEPHÆSTOS, STRENGTH, and FORCE, leaving PROMETHEUS on the rock.
Prom. 8  Thou firmament of God, and swift-winged winds,
Ye springs of rivers, and of ocean waves
That smile innumerous! Mother of us all,        100
O Earth, and Sun’s all-seeing eye, behold,
I pray, what I, a God, from Gods endure.
      Behold in what foul case
      I for ten thousand years        104
      Shall struggle in my woe,
      In these unseemly chains.
Such doom the new-made Monarch of the Blest
      Hath now devised for me.        108
Woe, woe! The present and the oncoming pang
      I wail, as I search out
The place and hour when end of all these ills
      Shall dawn on me at last.        112
What say I? All too clearly I foresee
The things that come, and nought of pain shall be
By me unlooked-for; but I needs must bear
My destiny as best I may, knowing well        116
The might resistless of Necessity.
And neither may I speak of this my fate,
Nor hold my peace. For I, poor I, through giving
Great gifts to mortal men, am prisoner made        120
In these fast fetters; yea, in fennel stalk 9
I snatched the hidden spring of stolen fire,
Which is to men a teacher of all arts,
Their chief resource. And now this penalty        124
Of that offence I pay, fast riveted
In chains beneath the open firmament.
      Ha! ha! What now?
What sound, what odour floats invisibly? 10        128
Is it of God or man, or blending both?
And has one come to this remotest rock
To look upon my woes? Or what wills he?
Behold me bound, a God to evil doomed,        132
      The foe of Zeus, and held
      In hatred by all Gods
      Who tread the courts of Zeus:
      And this for my great love,        136
      Too great, for mortal men.
      Ah me! what rustling sounds
      Hear I of birds not far?
      With the light whirr of wings        140
      The air re-echoeth:
All that draws nigh to me is cause of fear. 11
Enter Chorus of Ocean Nymphs, with wings, floating in the air 12

Chor.  Nay, fear thou nought: in love
      All our array of wings        144
      In eager race hath come
To this high peak, full hardly gaining o’er
      Our Father’s mind and will;
And the swift-rushing breezes bore me on:        148
For lo! the echoing sound of blows on iron
Pierced to our cave’s recess, and put to flight
      My shamefast modesty,
And I in unshod haste, on winged car,        152
      To thee rushed hitherward.
Prom.  Ah me! ah me!
Offspring of Tethys blest with many a child,
Daughters of Old Okeanos that rolls        156
Round all the earth with never-sleeping stream,
      Behold ye me, and see
      With what chains fettered fast,
I on the topmost crags of this ravine        160
Shall keep my sentry-post unenviable.
Chor.  I see it, O Prometheus, and a mist
Of fear and full of tears comes o’er mine eyes,
      Thy frame beholding thus,        164
      Writhing on these high rocks
      In adamantine ills.
New pilots now o’er high Olympos rule,
      And with new-fashioned laws        168
      Zeus reigns, down-trampling Right,
And all the ancient powers He sweeps away.
Prom.  Ah! would that ’neath the Earth, ’neath Hades too,
Home of the dead, far down to Tartaros        172
Unfathomable He in fetters fast
      In wrath had hurled me down:
      So neither had a God
Nor any other mocked at these my woes;        176
But now, the wretched plaything of the winds,
I suffer ills at which my foes rejoice.
Chor.  Nay, which of all the Gods
Is so hard-hearted as to joy in this?        180
Who, Zeus excepted, doth not pity thee
      In these thine ills? But He,
      Ruthless, with soul unbent,
Subdues the heavenly host, nor will He cease 13        184
Until His heart be satiate with power,
Or some one seize with subtle stratagem
The sovran might that so resistless seemed.
Prom.  Nay, of a truth, though put to evil shame,        188
      In massive fetters bound,
      The Ruler of the Gods
Shall yet have need of me, yes, e’en of me,
      To tell the counsel new        192
      That seeks to strip from Him
His sceptre and His might of sovereignty.
      In vain will He with words
      Or suasion’s honeyed charms        196
      Soothe me, nor will I tell
      Through fear of His stern threats,
      Ere He shall set me free
From these my bonds, and make,        200
      Of His own choice, amends
      For all these outrages.
Chor.  Full rash art thou, and yield’st
In not a jot to bitterest form of woe;        204
Thou art o’er-free and reckless in thy speech:
      But piercing fear hath stirred
      My inmost soul to strife;
For I fear greatly touching thy distress,        208
As to what haven of these woes of thine
Thou now must steer: the son of Cronos hath
A stubborn mood and heart inexorable.
Prom.  I know that Zeus is hard,        212
And keeps the Right supremely to Himself;
      But then, I trow, He’ll be
      Full pliant in His will,
      When He is thus crushed down.        216
      Then, calming down His mood
      Of hard and bitter wrath,
      He’ll hasten unto me,
      As I to Him shall haste,        220
      For friendship and for peace.
Chor.  Hide it not from us, tell us all the tale:
For what offence Zeus, having seized thee thus,
So wantonly and bitterly insults thee:        224
If the tale hurt thee not, inform thou us.
Prom.  Painful are these things to me e’en to speak:
Painful is silence; everywhere is woe.
For when the high Gods fell on mood of wrath        228
And hot debate of mutual strife was stirred,
Some wishing to hurl Cronos from his throne,
That Zeus, forsooth, might reign; while others strove,
Eager that Zeus might never rule the Gods:        232
Then I, full strongly seeking to persuade
The Titans, yea, the sons of Heaven and Earth,
Failed of my purpose. Scorning subtle arts,
With counsels violent, they thought that they        236
By force would gain full easy mastery.
But then not once or twice my mother Themis
And earth, one form though bearing many names, 14
Had prophesied the future, how ’twould run,        240
That not by strength nor yet by violence,
But guile, should those who prospered gain the day.
And when in my words I this counsel gave,
They deigned not e’en to glance at it at all.        244
And then of all that offered, it seemed best
To join my mother, and of mine own will,
Not against His will, take my side with Zeus,
And by my counsels, mine, the dark deep pit        248
Of Tartaros the ancient Cronos holds,
Himself and his allies. Thus profiting
By me, the mighty ruler of the Gods
Repays me with these evil penalties:        252
For somehow this disease in sovereignty
Inheres, of never trusting to one’s friends. 15
And since ye ask me under what pretence
He thus maltreats me, I will show it you:        256
For soon as He upon His father’s throne
Had sat secure, forthwith to divers Gods
He divers gifts distributed, and His realm
Began to order. But of mortal men        260
He took no heed, but purposed utterly
To crush their race and plant another new;
And, I excepted, none dared cross His will;
But I did dare, and mortal men I freed        264
From passing on to Hades thunder-stricken;
And therefore am I bound beneath these woes,
Dreadful to suffer, pitiable to see:
And I, who in my pity thought of men        268
More than myself, have not been worthy deemed
To gain like favour, but all ruthlessly
I thus am chained, foul shame this sight to Zeus.
Chor.  Iron-hearted must he be and made of rock        272
Who is not moved, Prometheus, by thy woes:
Fain could I wish I ne’er had seen such things,
And, seeing them, am wounded to the heart.
Prom.  Yea, I am piteous for my friends to see.        276
Chor.  Didst thou not go to farther lengths than this?
Prom.  I made men cease from contemplating death. 16
Chor.  What medicine didst thou find for that disease?
Prom.  Blind hopes I gave to live and dwell with them.        280
Chor.  Great service that thou didst for mortal men!
Prom.  And more than that, I gave them fire, yes, I.
Chor.  Do short-lived men the flaming fire possess?
Prom.  Yea, and full many an art they’ll learn from it.        284
Chor.  And is it then on charges such as these
That Zeus maltreats thee, and no respite gives
Of many woes? And has thy pain no end?
Prom.  End there is none, except as pleases Him.        288
Chor.  How shall it please? What hope hast thou?
              Seest not
That thou hast sinned? Yet to say how thou sinned’st
Gives me no pleasure, and is pain to thee.        292
Well! let us leave these things, and, if we may,
Seek out some means to ’scape from this thy woe.
Prom.  ’Tis a light thing for one who has his foot
Beyond the reach of evil to exhort        296
And counsel him who suffers. This to me
Was all well known. Yea, willing, willingly
I sinned, nor will deny it. Helping men,
I for myself found trouble: yet I thought not        300
That I with such dread penalties as these
Should wither here on these high-towering crags,
Lighting on this lone hill and neighbourless.
Wherefore wail not for these my present woes,        304
But, drawing nigh, my coming fortunes hear,
That ye may learn the whole tale to the end.
Nay, hearken, hearken; show your sympathy
With him who suffers now. ’Tis thus that woe,        308
Wandering, now falls on this one, now on that.
Chor.  Not to unwilling hearers hast thou uttered,
        Prometheus, thy request,
And now with nimble foot abounding        312
        My swiftly rushing car,
And the pure æther, path of birds of heaven,
I will draw near this rough and rocky land,
        For much do I desire        316
To hear this tale, full measure of thy woes.
Enter OKEANOS, on a car drawn by a winged gryphon

Okean.  Lo, I come to thee, Prometheus,
        Reaching goal of distant journey, 17
        Guiding this my winged courser        320
        By my will, without a bridle;
        And thy sorrows move my pity.
        Force, in part, I deem, of kindred
        Leads me on, nor know I any,        324
        Whom, apart from kin, I honour
        More than thee, in fuller measure.
        This thou shalt own true and earnest:
        I deal not in glozing speeches.        328
        Come then, tell me how to help thee;
        Ne’er shalt thou say that one more friendly
        Is found than unto thee is Okean.
Prom.  Let be. What boots it? Thou then too art come        332
To gaze upon my sufferings. How didst dare
Leaving the stream that bears thy name, and caves
Hewn in the living rock, this land to visit,
Mother of iron? What then, art thou come        336
To gaze upon my fall and offer pity?
Behold this sight: see here the friend of Zeus,
Who helped to seat Him in His sovereignty,
With what foul outrage I am crushed by Him!        340
Okean.  I see, Prometheus, and I wish to give thee
My best advice, all subtle though thou be.
Know thou thyself, 18 and fit thy soul to moods
To thee full new. New king the Gods have now;        344
But if thou utter words thus rough and sharp,
Perchance, though sitting far away on high,
Zeus yet may hear thee, and His present wrath
Seem to thee but as child’s play of distress.        348
Nay, thou poor sufferer, quit the rage thou hast,
And seek a remedy for these thine ills.
A tale thrice-told, perchance I seem to speak:
Lo! this, Prometheus, is the punishment        352
Of thine o’erlofty speech, nor art thou yet
Humbled, nor yieldest to thy miseries,
And fain wouldst add fresh evils unto these.
But thou, if thou wilt take me as thy teacher,        356
Wilt not kick out against the pricks; 19 seeing well
A monarch reigns who gives account to none.
And now I go, and will an effort make,
If I, perchance, may free thee from thy woes;        360
Be still then, hush thy petulance of speech,
Or knowest thou not, o’er-clever as thou art,
That idle tongues must still their forfeit pay?
Prom.  I envy thee, seeing thou art free from blame        364
Though thou shared’st all, and in my cause wast bold; 20
Nay, let me be, nor trouble thou thyself;
Thou wilt not, canst not soothe Him; very hard
Is He of soothing. Look to it thyself,        368
Lest thou some mischief meet with in the way.
Okean.  It is thy wont thy neighbours’ minds to school
Far better than thine own. From deeds, not words,
I draw my proof. But do not draw me back        372
When I am hasting on, for lo! I deem,
I deem that Zeus will grant this boon to me,
That I should free thee from these woes of thine.
Prom.  I thank thee much, yea, ne’er will cease to thank;        376
For thou no whit of zeal dost lack; yet take,
I pray, no trouble for me; all in vain
Thy trouble, nothing helping, e’en if thou
Shouldst care to take the trouble. Nay, be still;        380
Keep out of harm’s way; sufferer though I be,
I would not therefore wish to give my woes
A wider range o’er others. No, not so:
For lo! my mind is wearied with the grief        384
Of that my kinsman Atlas, 21 who doth stand
In the far West, supporting on his shoulders
The pillars of the earth and heaven, a burden
His arms can ill but hold; I pity too        388
The giant dweller of Kilikian caves,
Dread portent, with his hundred hands, subdued
By force, the mighty Typhon, 22 who arose
’Gainst all the Gods, with sharp and dreadful jaws        392
Hissing out slaughter, and from out his eyes
There flashed the terrible brightness as of one
Who would lay low the sovereignty of Zeus.
But the unsleeping dart of Zeus came on him,        396
Down-swooping thunderbolt that breathes out flame,
Which from his lofty boastings startled him,
For he i’ the heart was struck, to ashes burnt,
Note 1. The scene seems at first an exception to the early conventional rule, which forbade the introduction of a third actor on the Greek stage. But it has been noticed that (1) Force does not speak, and (2) Prometheus does not speak till Strength and Force have retired, and that it is therefore probable that the whole work of nailing is done on a lay figure or effigy of some kind, and that one of the two who had before taken part in the dialogue then speaks behind it in the character of Prometheus. So the same actor must have appeared in succession as Okeanos, Io, and Hermes. [back]
Note 2. Prometheus (Forethought) is the son of Themis (Right), the second occupant of the Pythian Oracle (Eumen. v. 2). His sympathy with man leads him to impart the gift which raised them out of savage animal life, and for this Zeus, who appears throughout the play as a hard taskmaster, sentences him to fetters. Hephæstos, from whom this fire had been stolen, has a touch of pity for him. Strength, who comes as the servant, not of Hephæstos, but of Zeus himself, acts, as such, with merciless cruelty. [back]
Note 3. The generalised statement refers to Zeus, as having but recently expelled Cronos from his throne in heaven. [back]
Note 4. Hephæstos, as the great fire-worker, had taught Prometheus to use the fire which he afterwards bestowed on men. [back]
Note 5. Perhaps, “All might is ours except o’er Gods to rule.” [back]
Note 6. The words indicate that the effigy of Prometheus, now nailed to the rock, was, as being that of a Titan, of colossal size. [back]
Note 7. The touch is characteristic as showing that here, as in the Eumenides, Æschylos relied on the horribleness of the masks, as part of the machinery of his plays.] [back]
Note 8. The silence of Prometheus up to this point was partly, as has been said, consequent on the conventional laws of the Greek drama, but it is also a touch of supreme insight into the heroic temper. In the presence of his tortures, the Titan will not utter even a groan. When they are gone, he appeals to the sympathy of Nature. [back]
Note 9. The legend is from Hesiod (Theogon. v. 567). The fennel, or narthex, seems to have been a large umbelliferous plant, with a large stem filled with a sort of pith, which was used when dry as tinder. Stalks were carried as wands (the thyrsi) by the men and women who joined in Bacchanalian processions. In modern botany, the name is given to the plant which produces Asafœtida, and the stem of which, from its resinous character, would burn freely, and so connect itself with the Promethean myth. On the other hand, the Narthex Asafœtida is found at present only in Persia, Afghanistan, and the Punjaub. [back]
Note 10. The ocean nymphs, like other divine ones, would be anointed with ambrosial unguents, and the odour would be wafted before them by the rustling of their wings. This, too, we may think of as part of the “stage effects” of the play. [back]
Note 11. The words are not those of a vague terror only. The sufferer knows that his tormentor is to come to him before long on wings, and therefore the sound as of the flight of birds is full of terrors. [back]
Note 12. By the same stage mechanism the Chorus remains in the air till verse 30, page 165, when, at the request of Prometheus, they alight. [back]
Note 13. Here, as throughout the play, the poet puts into the mouth of his dramatis personæ words which must have seemed to the devouter Athenians sacrilegious enough to call for an indictment before the Areiopagos. But the final play of the Trilogy came, we may believe, as the Eumenides did in its turn, as a reconciliation of the conflicting thoughts that rise in men’s minds out of the seeming anomalies of the world. [back]
Note 14. The words leave it uncertain whether Themis is identified with Earth, or, as in the Eumenides (v. 2), distinguished from her. The Titans as a class, then, children of Okeanos and Chthôn (another name for Land or Earth), are the kindred rather than the brothers of Prometheus. [back]
Note 15. The generalising words here, as in v. 35, appeal to the Athenian hatred of all that was represented by the words tyrant and tyranny. [back]
Note 16. The state described is that of men who “through fear of death are all their life time subject to bondage.” That state, the parent of all superstition, fostered the slavish awe in which Zeus delighted. Prometheus, representing the active intellect of man, bestows new powers, new interests, new hopes, which at last divert them from that fear. [back]
Note 17. The home of Okeanos was in the far West, at the boundary of the great stream surrounding the whole world, from which he took his name. [back]
Note 18. One of the sayings of the Seven Sages, already recognised and quoted as a familiar proverb. [back]
Note 19. See note on Agam. l. 1602 in E. H. Plumptre’s translation. [back]
Note 20. [In the mythos, Okeanos had given his daughter Hesione in marriage to Prometheus after the theft of fire, and thus had identified himself with his transgression.] [back]
Note 21. In the Theogony of Hesiod (v. 509), Prometheus and Atlas appear as the sons of two sisters. As other Titans were thought of as buried under volcanoes, so this one was identified with the mountain which had been seen by travellers to Western Africa, or in the seas beyond it, rising like a column to support the vault of heaven. In Herodotos (iv. 174) and all later writers, the name is given to the chain of mountains in Lybia, as being the “pillar of the firmament”; but Humboldt and others identify it with the lonely peak of Teneriffe, as seen by Phœnikian or Hellenic voyagers. Teneriffe, too, like most of the other Titan mountains, was at one time volcanic. Homer (Odyss. i 53) represents him as holding the pillars which separate heaven from earth; Hesiod (Theogon. v. 517) as himself standing near the Hesperides (this, too, points to Teneriffe), sustaining the heavens with his head and shoulders. [back]
Note 22. The volcanic character of the whole of Asia Minor, and the liability to earthquakes which has marked nearly every period of its history, led men to connect it also with the traditions of the Titans, some accordingly placing the home of Typhon in Phrygia, some near Sardis, some, as here, in Kilikia. Hesiod (Theogon. v. 820) describes Typhon (or Typhoeus) as a serpent-monster hissing out fire; Pindar (Pyth. i. 30, viii. 21) as lying with his head and breast crushed beneath the weight of Ætna, and his feet extending to Cumæ. [back]


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