Fiction > Harvard Classics > Aeschylus > Prometheus Bound
Aeschylus (525–456 B.C.).  Prometheus Bound.
The Harvard Classics.  1909–14.
Lines 400–799
His strength all thunder-shattered; and he lies        400
A helpless, powerless carcase, near the strait
Of the great sea, fast pressed beneath the roots
Of ancient Ætna, where on highest peak
Hephæstos sits and smites his iron red-hot,        404
From whence hereafter streams of fire shall burst, 1
Devouring with fierce jaws the golden plains
Of fruitful, fair Sikelia. Such the wrath
That Typhon shall belch forth with bursts of storm,        408
Hot, breathing fire, and unapproachable,
Though burnt and charred by thunderbolts of Zeus.
Not inexperienced art thou, nor dost need
My teaching: save thyself, as thou know’st how;        412
And I will drink my fortune to the dregs,
Till from His wrath the mind of Zeus shall rest. 2
Okean.  Know’st thou not this, Prometheus, even this:
Of wrath’s disease wise words the healers are?        416
Prom.  Yea, could one soothe the troubled heart in time,
Nor seek by force to tame the soul’s proud flesh.
Okean.  But, in due forethought with bold daring blent,
What mischief seest thou lurking? Tell me this.        420
Prom.  Toil bootless, and simplicity full fond.
Okean.  Let me, I pray, that sickness suffer, since
’Tis best being wise to have not wisdom’s show.
Prom.  Nay, but this error shall be deemed as mine.        424
Okean.  Thy word then clearly sends me home at once.
Prom.  Yea, lest thy pity for me make a foe….
Okean.  What! of that new king on His mighty throne?
Prom.  Look to it, lest His heart be vexed with thee.        428
Okean.  Thy fate, Prometheus, teaches me that lesson.
Prom.  Away, withdraw! keep thou the mind thou hast.
Okean.  Thou urgest me who am in act to haste;
For this my bird four-footed flaps with wings        432
The clear path of the æther; and full fain
Would he bend knee in his own stall at home.  

Chor.  I grieve, Prometheus, for thy dreary fate,
      Shedding from tender eyes        436
      The drew of plenteous tears;
With streams, as when the watery south wind blows,
      My cheek is wet;
For lo! these things are all unenviable,        440
And Zeus, by His own laws His sway maintaining,
      Shows to the elder Gods
      A mood of haughtiness.

And all the country echoeth with the moan,
      And poureth many a tear
      For that magnific power
Of ancient days far-seen that thou didst share
      With those of one blood sprung;        448
And all the mortal men who hold the plain
Of holy Asia as their land of sojourn,
      They grieve in sympathy
      For thy woes lamentable.        452

And they, the maiden band who find their home
      On distant Colchian coasts,
      Fearless of fight, 3
Or Skythian horde is earth’s remotest clime,        456
      By far Mæotic lake; 4

And warlike glory of Arabia’s tribes, 5
      Who nigh to Caucasos
      In rock-fort dwell,        460
An army fearful, with sharp-pointed spear
      Raging in war’s array.

One other Titan only have I seen,
      One other of the Gods,        464
Thus bound in woes of adamantine strength—
      Atlas, who ever groans
Beneath the burden of a crushing might,
      The outspread vault of heaven.        468

And lo! the ocean billows murmur loud
      In one accord with him; 6
The sea-depths groan, and Hades’ swarthy pit        472
      Re-echoeth the sound,
And fountains of clear rivers, as they flow,
      Bewail his bitter griefs.
Prom.  Think not it is through pride or stiff self-will        476
That I am silent. But my heart is worn,
Self-contemplating, as I see myself
Thus outraged. Yet what other hand than mine
Gave these young Gods in fulness all their gifts?        480
But these I speak not of; for I should tell
To you that know them. But those woes of men, 7
List ye to them,—how they, before as babes,
By me were roused to reason, taught to think;        484
And this I say, not finding fault with men,
But showing my good-will in all I gave.
For first, though seeing, all in vain they saw,
And hearing, heard not rightly. But, like forms        488
Of phantom-dreams, throughout their life’s whole length
They muddled all at random; did not know
Houses of brick that catch the sunlight’s warmth,
Nor yet the work of carpentry. They dwelt        492
In hollowed holes, like swarms of tiny ants,
In sunless depths of caverns; and they had
No certain signs of winter, nor of spring
Flower-laden, nor of summer with her fruits;        496
But without counsel fared their whole life long,
Until I showed the risings of the stars,
And settings hard to recognise. 8 And I
Found Number for them, chief devise of all,        500
Groupings of letters, Memory’s handmaid that,
And mother of the Muses. 9 And I first
Bound in the yoke wild steeds, submissive made
Or to the collar or men’s limbs, that so        504
They might in man’s place bear his greatest toils;
And horses trained to love the rein I yoked
To chariots, glory of wealth’s pride of state; 10
Nor was it any one but I that found        508
Sea-crossing, canvas-wingèd cars of ships:
Such rare designs inventing (wretched me!)
For mortal men, I yet have no device
By which to free myself from this my woe. 11        512
Chor.  Foul shame thou sufferest: of thy sense bereaved,
Thou errest greatly: and, like leech unskilled,
Thou losest heart when smitten with disease,
And know’st not how to find the remedies        516
Wherewith to heal thine own soul’s sicknesses.
Prom.  Hearing what yet remains, thou’lt wonder more,
What arts and what resources I devised:
And this the chief: if any one fell ill,        520
There was no help for him, nor healing food
Nor unguent, nor yet potion; but for want
Of drugs they wasted, till I showed to them
The blendings of all mild medicaments, 12        524
Wherewith they ward the attacks of sickness sore.
I gave them many modes of prophecy; 13
And I first taught them what dreams needs must prove
True visions, and made known the ominous sounds        528
Full hard to know; and tokens by the way,
And flights of taloned birds I clearly marked,—
Those on the right propitious to mankind,
And those sinister,—and what form of life        532
They each maintain, and what their enmities
Each with the other, and their loves and friendships;
And of the inward parts the plumpness smooth.
And with what colour they the Gods would please,        536
And the streaked comeliness of gall and liver:
And with burnt limbs enwrapt in fat, and chine,
I led men on to art full difficult:
And I gave eyes to omens drawn from fire,        540
Till then dim-visioned. So far, then, for this.
And ’neath the earth the hidden boons for men,
Bronze, iron, silver, gold, who else could say
That he, ere I did, found them? None, I know,        544
Unless he fain would babble idle words.
In one short word, then, learn the truth condensed,—
All arts of mortals from Prometheus spring.
Chor.  Nay, be not thou to men so over-kind,        548
While thou thyself art in sore evil case;
For I am sanguine that thou too, released
From bonds, shalt be as strong as Zeus Himself.
Prom.  It is not thus that Fate’s decree is fixed;        552
But I, long crushed with twice ten thousand woes
And bitter pains, shall then escape my bonds;
Art is far weaker than Necessity.
Chor.  Who guides the helm, then, of Necessity?        556
Prom.  Fates triple-formed, Erinyes unforgetting.
Chor.  Is Zeus, then, weaker in His might than these?
Prom.  Not even He can ’scape the thing decreed.
Chor.  What is decreed for Zeus but still to reign?        560
Prom.  Thou mayst no further learn, ask thou no more.
Chor.  ’Tis doubtless some dread secret which thou hidest.
Prom.  Of other theme make mention, for the time
Is not yet come to utter this, but still        564
It must be hidden to the uttermost;
For by thus keeping it it is that I
Escape my bondage foul, and these my pains.

Chor.  Ah! ne’er may Zeus the Lord,
          Whose sovran sway rules all,
          His strength in conflict set
          Against my feeble will!
          Nor may I fail to serve        572
          The Gods with holy feast
          Of whole burnt—offerings,
          Where the stream ever flows
          That bears my father’s name,        576
          The great Okeanos!
          Nor may I sin in speech!
          May this grace more and more
          Sink deep into my soul        580
          And never fade away!

          Sweet is it in strong hope
          To spend long years of life,
          With bright and cheering joy        584
          Our heart’s thoughts nourishing
          I shudder, seeing thee
          Thus vexed and harassed sore
          By twice ten thousand woes;        588
          For thou in pride of heart,
          Having no fear of Zeus,
          In thine own obstinacy,
          Dost show for mortal men,        592
          Prometheus, love o’ermuch.

          See how that boon, dear friends,
          For thee is bootless found.
          Say, where is any help?        596
          What aid from mortals comes?
Hast thou not seen this brief and powerless life,
Fleeting as dreams, with which man’s purblind race
          Is fast in fetters bound?        600
          Never shall counsels vain
          Of mortal men break through
          The harmony of Zeus.

          This lesson have I learnt
          Beholding thy sad fate,
          Prometheus! Other strains
          Come back upon my mind,
When I sang wedding hymns around thy bath,        608
And at thy bridal bed, when thou didst take
          In wedlock’s holy bands
          One of the same sire born,
          Our own Hesione,        612
          Persuading her with gifts
          As wife to share thy couch.
Enter IO in form like a fair woman with a heifer’s horns, 14 followed by the Spectre of ARGOS

Io.  What land is this? What people? Whom shall I
          Say that I see thus vexed        616
          With bit and curb of rock?
          For what offence dost thou
          Bear fatal punishment?
          Tell me to what far land        620
          I’ve wandered here in woe.
            Ah me! ah me!
Again the gadfly stings me miserable.
          Spectre of Argos, thou, the earth-born one—        624
          Ah, keep him off, O Earth!
I fear to look upon that herdsman dread,
          Him with ten thousand eyes:
Ah lo! he cometh with his crafty look,        628
Whom Earth refuses even dead to hold; 15
          But coming from beneath,
          He hunts me miserable,
And drives me famished o’er the sea-beach sand.        632

And still his waxened reed-pipe soundeth clear
          A soft and slumberous strain;
          O heavens! O ye Gods!
Whither do these long wanderings lead me on?        636
For what offence, O son of Cronos, what,
          Hast thou thus bound me fast
          In these great miseries?
            Ah me! ah me!        640
And why with terror of the gadfly’s sting
Dost thou thus vex me, frenzied in my soul?
Burn me with fire, or bury me in earth,
Or to wild sea-beasts give me as a prey:        644
          Nay, grudge me not, O King,
          An answer to my prayers:
Enough my many-wandered wanderings
          Have exercised my soul,        648
          Nor have I power to learn
          How to avert the woe.
  (To Prometheus.) Hear’st thou the voice of maiden crowned with horns?
Prom.  Surely I heard the maid by gadfly driven,        652
Daughter of Inachos, who warmed the heart
Of Zeus with love, and now through Hera’s hate
Is tried, perforce, with wanderings overlong?

Io.  How is it that thou speak’st my father’s name?
          Tell me, the suffering one,
          Who art thou, who, poor wretch,
    Who thus so truly nam’st me miserable,
          And tell’st the plague from Heaven,        660
          Which with its haunting stings
          Wears me to death? Ah woe,
    And I with famished and unseemly bounds
    Rush madly, driven by Hera’s jealous craft.        664
    Ah, who of all that suffer, born to woe,
    Have trouble like the pain that I endure?
          But thou, make clear to me
          What yet for me remains,        668
    What remedy, what healing for my pangs.
          Show me, if thou dost know:
          Speak out and tell to me,
          The maid by wanderings vexed.        672
Prom.  I will say plainly all thou seek’st to know;
Not in dark tangled riddles, but plain speech,
As it is meet that friends to friends should speak;
Thou seest Prometheus who gave fire to men.        676
Io.  O thou to men as benefactor known,
Why, poor Prometheus, sufferest thou this pain?
Prom.  I have but now mine own woes ceased to wail.
Io.  Wilt thou not then bestow this boon on me?        680
Prom.  Say what thou seek’st, for I will tell thee all.
Io.  Tell me, who fettered thee in this ravine?
Prom.  The counsel was of Zeus, the hand Hephæstos’.
Io.  Of what offence dost thou the forfeit pay?        684
Prom.  Thus much alone am I content to tell.
Io.  Tell me, at least, besides, what end shall come
To my drear wanderings; when the time shall be.
Prom.  Not to know this is better than to know.        688
Io.  Nay, hide not from me what I have to bear.
Prom.  It is not that I grudge the boon to thee.
Io.  Why then delayest thou to tell the whole?
Prom.  Not from ill will, but loth to vex thy soul.        692
Io.  Nay, care thou not beyond what pleases me.
Prom.  If thou desire it I must speak. Hear then.
Chor.  Not yet though; grant me share of pleasure too.
Let us first ask the tale of her great woe,        696
While she unfolds her life’s consuming chances;
Her future sufferings let her learn from thee.
Prom.  ’Tis thy work, Io, to grant these their wish,
On other grounds and as thy father’s kin; 16        700
For to bewail and moan one’s evil chance,
Here where one trusts to gain a pitying tear
From those who hear,—this is not labour lost.
Io.  I know not how to disobey your wish;        704
So ye shall learn the whole that ye desire
In speech full clear. And yet I blush to tell
The storm that came from God, and brought the loss
Of maiden face, what way it seized on me.        708
For nightly visions coming evermore
Into my virgin bower, sought to woo me
With glozing words. “O virgin greatly blest,
Why art thou still a virgin when thou might’st        712
Attain to highest wedlock? For with dart
Of passion for thee Zeus doth glow, and fain
Would make thee His. And thou, O child, spurn not
The bed of Zeus, but go to Lerna’s field,        716
Where feed thy father’s flocks and herds,
That so the eye of Zeus may find repose
From this His craving.” With such visions I
      Was haunted every evening, till I dared        720
      To tell my father all these dreams of night,
      And he to Pytho and Dodona sent
Full many to consult the Gods, that he
Might learn what deeds and words would please Heaven’s lords.        724
And they came bringing speech of oracles
Shot with dark sayings, dim and hard to know.
At last a clear word came to Inachos
Charging him plainly, and commanding him        728
To thrust me from my country and my home,
To stray at large 17 to utmost bounds of earth;
And, should he gainsay, that the fiery bolt
Of Zeus should come and sweep away his race.        732
And he, by Loxias’ oracles induced,
Thrust me, against his will, against mine too,
And drove me from my home; but spite of all,
The curb of Zeus constrained him this to do.        736
And then forthwith my face and mind were changed;
And hornèd, as ye see me, stung to the quick
By biting gadfly, I with maddened leap
Rushed to Kerchneia’s fair and limpid stream,        740
And fount of Lerna. 18 And a giant herdsman,
Argos, full rough of temper, followed me,
With many an eye beholding, on my track:
And him a sudden and unlooked-for doom        744
Deprived of life. And I, by gadfly stung,
By scourge from Heaven am driven from land to land.
What has been done thou hearest. And if thou
Canst tell what yet remains of woe, declare it;        748
Nor in thy pity soothe me with false words;
For hollow words, I deem, are worst of ills.
Chor.  Away, away, let be:
      Ne’er thought I that such tales        752
Would ever, ever come unto mine ears;
Nor that such terrors, woes and outrages,
      Hard to look on, hard to bear,
Would chill my soul with sharp goad, double-edged.        756
      Ah fate! Ah fate!
I shudder, seeing Io’s fortune strange.
Prom.  Thou art too quick in groaning, full of fear:
Wait thou awhile until thou hear the rest.        760
Chor.  Speak thou and tell. Unto the sick ’tis sweet
Clearly to know what yet remains of pain.
Prom.  Your former wish ye gained full easily.
Your first desire was to learn of her        764
The tale she tells of her own sufferings;
Now therefore hear the woes that yet remain
For this poor maid to bear at Hera’s hands.
And thou, O child of Inachos! take heed        768
To these my words, that thou mayst hear the goal
Of all thy wanderings. First then, turning hence
Towards the sunrise, tread the untilled plains,
And thou shalt reach the Skythian nomads, those 19        772
Who on smooth-rolling wagons dwell aloft
In wicker houses, with far-darting bows
Duly equipped. Approach thou not to these,
But trending round the coasts on which the surf        776
Beats with loud murmurs, 20 Traverse thou that clime.
On the left hand there dwell the Chalybes, 21
Who work in iron. Of these do thou beware,
For fierce are they and most inhospitable;        780
And thou wilt reach the river fierce and strong,
True to its name. 22 This seek not thou to cross,
For it is hard to ford, until thou come
To Caucasos itself, of all high hills        784
The highest, where a river pours its strength
From the high peaks themselves. And thou must cross
Those summits near the stars, must onward go
Towards the south, where thou shalt find the host        788
Of the Amâzons, hating men, whose home
Shall one day be around Thermodon’s bank,
By Themiskyra, 23 where the ravenous jaws
Of Salmydessos ape upon the sea,        792
Treacherous to sailors, stepdame stern to ships. 24
And they right good-will shall be thy guides;
And thou, hard by a broad pool’s narrow gates,
Wilt pass to the Kimmerian isthmus. Leaving        796
This boldly, thou must cross Mæotic channel; 25
And there shall be great fame ’mong mortal men
Of this thy journey, and the Bosporos 26
Note 1. The words point probably to an eruption, then fresh in men’s memories, which had happened B. C. 476. [back]
Note 2. By some editors this speech from “No, not so,” to “thou know’st how,” is assigned to Okeanos. [back]
Note 3. These are, of course, the Amazons, who were believed to have come through Thrakè from the Tauric Chersonesos, and had left traces of their name and habits in the Attic traditions of Theseus. [back]
Note 4. Beyond the plains of Skythia and the lake Mæotis (the sea of Azov) there would be the great river Okeanos, which was believed to flow round the earth. [back]
Note 5. Sarmatia has been conjectured instead of Arabia. No Greek author sanctions the extension of the latter name to so remote a region as that north of the Caspian. [back]
Note 6. The Greek leaves the object of the sympathy undefined, but it seems better to refer it to that which Atlas receives from the waste of waters around, and the dark world beneath, than to the pity shown to Prometheus. This has already been dwelt on in the first stanza, page 170. [back]
Note 7. The passage that follows has for modern paleontologists the interest of coinciding with their views as to the progress of human society, and the condition of mankind during what has been called the “Stone” period. Comp. Lucretius, v. 955–984. [back]
Note 8. Comp. Mr. Blakesley’s note on Herod. ii. 4, as showing that here there was the greater risk of faulty observation. [back]
Note 9. Another reading gives perhaps a better sense—
                  “Memory, handmaid true.
And mother of the Muses.”
Note 10. In Greece, as throughout the East, the ox was used for all agricultural labours, the horse by the noble and the rich, either in war chariots, or stately processions, or in chariot races in the great games. [back]
Note 11. Compare with this the account of the inventions of Palamedes in Sophocles, Fragm. 379. [back]
Note 12. Here we can recognise the knowledge of one who had studied in the schools of Pythagoras, or had at any rate picked up their terminology. A more immediate connexion may perhaps be traced with the influence of Epimenides, who was said to have spent many years in searching out the healing virtues of plants, and to have written books about them. [back]
Note 13. The lines that follow form almost a manual of the art of divination as then practised. The “ominous sounds” include chance words, strange cries, any unexpected utterance that connected itself with men’s fears for the future. The flights of birds were watched by the diviner as he faced the north, and so the region on the right hand was that of the sunrise, light, blessedness; on the left there were darkness and gloom and death. [back]
Note 14. So Io was represented, we are told, by Greek sculptors (Herod. ii. 41), as Isis was by those of Egypt. The points of contact between the myth of Io and that of Prometheus, as adopted, or perhaps developed, by Æschylos, are—(1) that from her the destined deliverer of the chained Titan is to come; (2) that both were suffering from the cruelty of Zeus; (3) that the wandering of Io gave scope for the wild tales of far countries on which the imagination of the Athenians fed greedily. But, as the Suppliants may serve to show, the story itself had a strange fascination for him. In the birth of Epaphos, and Io’s release from her frenzy, he saw, it may be, a reconciliation of what had seemed hard to reconcile, a solution of the problems of the world, like in kind to that which was shadowed forth in the lost Prometheus Unbound. [back]
Note 15. Argos had been slain by Hermes, and his eyes transferred by Hera to the tail of the peacock, and that bird was henceforth sacred to her. [back]
Note 16. Inachos, the father of Io (identified with the Argive river of the same name), was, like all rivers, a son of Okeanos, and therefore brother to the nymphs who had come to see Prometheus. [back]
Note 17. The words used have an almost technical meaning as applied to animals that were consecrated to the service of a God, and set fee to wander where they liked. The fate of Io, as at once devoted to Zeus and animalised in form, was thus shadowed forth in the very language of the Oracle. [back]
Note 18. Lerna was the lake near the mouth of the Inachos, close to the sea. Kerchneia may perhaps be identified with the Kenchreæ, the haven of Korinth in later geographies. [back]
Note 19. The wicker huts used by Skythian or Thrakian nomads (the Calmucks of modern geographers) are described by Herodotos (iv. 46) and are still in use. [back]
Note 20. Sc., the N. E. boundary of the Euxine, where spurs of the Caucasos ridge approach the sea. [back]
Note 21. The Chalybes are placed by geographers to the south of Colchis. The description of the text indicates a locality farther to the north. [back]
Note 22. Probably the Araxes, which the Greeks would connect with a word conveying the idea of a torrent dashing on the rocks. The description seems to imply a river flowing into the Euxine from the Caucasos, and the condition is fulfilled by the Hypanis or Kouban. [back]
Note 23. When the Amazons appear in contact with Greek history, they are found in Thrace. But they had come from the coast of Pontos, and near the mouth of the Thermodon (Thermeh). The words of Prometheus point to yet earlier migrations from the East. [back]
Note 24. Here, as in Soph. Antig. (970), the name Salmydessos represents the rock-bound, havenless coast from the promontory of Thynias to the entrance of the Bosporos, which had given to the Black Sea its earlier name of Axenos, the “inhospitable.” [back]
Note 25. The track is here in some confusion. From the Amazons south of the Caucasos, Io is to find her way to the Tauric Chersonese (the Crimea) and the Kimmerian Bosporos, which flows into the sea of Azov, and so to return to Asia. [back]
Note 26. Here, as in a hundred other instances, a false etymology has become the parent of a myth. The name Bosporos is probably Asiatic, not Greek, and has an entirely different signification. [back]


Shakespeare · Bible · Strunk · Anatomy · Nonfiction · Quotations · Reference · Fiction · Poetry
© 1993–2015 · [Top 150] · Subjects · Titles · Authors · World Lit.