Promethean myth holds a very strong hold upon the literature of the romantic era, a collected era of the rekindling of the ideas and ideals of classical antiquity. Though within each evolving age there is the incorporation of propriety and modernity into the stories and ideal of the old. Though not alone, in their fascination with creation and even the promethean myth, as the forbearers of the Romantics had a grand fascination with the messages of the Greeks, to some degree influencing the relative importance of any attention it has been paid through literary and philosophical history. The promethean myth has become such a common thread that the tradition continues to build in nearly every generation of writers. Within this fascination there are many evolving interpretations of the reality of both, what the myth is and what it means to man and God.
Classical lessons spoke freely and openly to the writers and artists of the romantic period and with those lessons individuals with their own life experience and world-view have rekindled the old, and especially tragic lessons of the bygone ages. The value of such lessons being applied and reapplied to the questions and problems of the day. One particularly moving myth, that of Prometheus and his gift of kindness to mankind, that was rewarded with an eternal damnation inflicted by the gods speaks volumes to the witnesses of more modern human suffering and cruelty. So much so that for many thinkers Prometheus has become the standard bearer for the human relationship with the creator.
The promethean myth burns like white-hot flame in the fore-front of the romantic mind, flickering and dancing as an enlightened spark. The romantic period for many, marking a second Renaissance if you will. If we examine some of the most popular works of Byron, Percy B, and Mary Shelley we begin to see the promethean image as a unifying flame which jumps, inter-connects, and transforms like a raging all-consuming wild fire throughout each of their collective consciousness."
Within a passage of Faust, Goethe expresses this burning and unflagging feeling of both man and the divine as the primary tools for creation through love and associates it with both the human condition with both its' advantages and disadvantages.
Clearly, this is a continuation of the spark of understanding of the promethean myth. The power of the creative spirit is here linked to the gifts of the power given to man by Prometheus. The example set by Prometheus and his creation of man through his own love for his creation is exemplified here:
What you don't feel, you will not grasp by art,
Unless it wells out of your soul
And with sheer pleasure takes control,
Compelling every listener's heart.
But sit - and sit, and patch and knead,
Cook a ragout, reheat your hashes,
Blow at the sparks and try to breed
A fire out of piles of ashes!
Children and apes may think it great,
If that should titillate your gum,
But from heart to heart you will never create.
If from your heart it does not come.
In this passage Goethe expresses the value of the gift, through the kindling of fire, the possessive spirit of creativity and that which you create and the power of knowledge given to man by the creator.
The Gods of the Greek tradition are much more fallible and humanistic than the God of today. Their personalities are characterizations that allow for mistakes, compromises, trickery and deception, all leveled against both man and their fellow Gods. The German writer Kerenyi says that Prometheus:
bearing marks of human existence; [is] one compelled by his own shortcomings to offend against his environment and his companions in growth; who in so doing employs devious, crooked thinking (for in the world of growth the pathways are naturally crooked); inevitably, a wounder and a wounded one. These are among his human characteristics.
The promethean myth is the Greek creation story, with Prometheus and the other Gods as protagonists against one another. Prometheus was said to have created man, at the charge of his father Zeus. Prometheus as the creator of man has kindness and love for him. The gifts and protection that he gives to man, and especially the way they are obtained through deception are the source of his downfall, and eternal punishment by the Gods.
Prometheus slays the first sacrifice of flesh, and gives the best parts to man. He is then said to have stolen fire from the Gods and offered it to man as both a spiritual force and a life giving force, to separate man from beasts through his ability to manipulate fire. "Prometheus, 'the one with foreknowledge' (pro=before or fore, and manthano=to know) was believed to have been the one who gave fire to mortals."
Wutrich 7) With his gift came the ability of man to worship fully, cook and artificially light the darkness.
Prometheus is also said to have been the creator of woman, Pandora, who holds the key to both destruction and bliss.
He receives punishment first of all for tricking Zeus at the sacrifice; this charge had been laid against him since Theogony. Second, he bears the guilt for creating humans, especially women; this charge is newly laid and reflects the Hellenistic understanding of the myth. Last, he is punished for the theft of fire which, like the trick at the sacrifice, is an ancient part of the story." (Wutrich 50-51)
Though through fragmentation and cultural deviations, Prometheus is connected to and charged with several different variations of the deeds and punishments of Prometheus the just of his association with creation is that he is punished both for his trickery and his loving gifts to man. The promethean myth embodies the clique, the road to hell or in this case eternal damnation is paved with good intentions. Within these tales of the ancients are questions, and some would say even answers to the existence of man, his place in the world and his association and relationship with his creator(s).
The romantic thinkers and their forbearers weave fascinating and compelling arguments, through the literary device that analyze, question and contend the nature of truth, man and creation. In the romantic heart there is a desire to understand how the infallible and omnipotent God of the Christians could allow the fearful realities of life on earth. In doing so they reach back to the stories of the ancients, yearning for a fallible, and human creator who can explain the strife as can be seen in the world of men. Within this searching are issues almost as plentiful as there are differences in the existence of so many individual humans. Prometheus, as a character has been compared to God, Jesus and many mortals over his thousands of years of existence as an idea.
The tripartite character of Prometheus rebel, philanthropist, and creator invites comparison with the character Faust. As I hope to demonstrate over the course of the following chapters, Faust, too, in his rebellion against the Christian God, becomes a new kind of fire-bringer, no longer carrying the spark of fire in a narthex stem, but rather carrying the spark of knowledge, more knowledge than a mortal should have, in his mind.
He has been written of by hundreds of authors, some of whom are as notable as Goethe, Byron, Percy B. Shelly and Mary Shelley to name just a few.
The interactions and interconnectedness of theses particular contemporary authors also lend a great deal of knowledge to the collective ideals of the romantic era. With each new incarnation of the myth, there began a dialogue between the individual authors but also later scholars associated with the study of English Literature and also the promethean influence upon it. (Byron 10) Through each age and each interpretation the promethean myth engenders its' historical reputation as a living evolving creation of ideas, both modern and ancient. The analogous use of Prometheus and his relationship with man, the world and creation has become a universal literary device, or what some would call an archetype.
With this information in mind, an analysis of the works of Lord Byron, Percy Shelley and Mary Shelley lead a modern reader down a path of understanding of both their individual use of the Prometheus myth in their works and also a greater knowledge and understanding of how the promethean myth has remained, through history a living evolving conceptualization of man's relationship with his world and his creator.
Lord Byron in Manfred speaks of the similarities between the creator (Prometheus) and man, made from clay, just as the legend goes. This passage explained through the work Knight draws on the similarities and kinship between the Prometheus of the myth and the man of his creation.
Manfred is a study of a Faust-like figure who yet appears simultaneously greater and inferior, better and worse than other men; one who is known for 'deeds of good and ill, extreme in both'…
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