Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)

In Greek Mythology, the Titan who became the altruistic champion of humankind, first persuading Zeus to accept lesser sacrifices and then stealing the fire of the Gods for human use; as punishment he was chained to a crag and an eagle was sent forth every day to peck out his constantly regenerated liver. He was also rendered in some accounts as the creator of humankind, moulding the first members of the race out of clay; it is for this reason that Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1818) is subtitled "The Modern Prometheus". Given the obvious symbolism of his name (which means "forethought", while that of his dimmer brother Epimetheus signifies "afterthought") it is not surprising that the "fire" which Prometheus stole has often been construed metaphorically, nor that he remains an important symbol in the vocabulary of modern fantasy. Percy Bysshe Shelley employed him in Prometheus Unbound (1820), and he is the central figure of John Sterling's "Cydon" (1829), Richard Garnett's "The Twilight of the Gods" (1888) and Karel Čapek's "The Punishment of Prometheus" (in Apocryphal Stories coll 1943). John Updike's Allegory The Centaur (1963) refers to a myth which appointed a wise centaur as Prometheus's tutor. Max Beerbohm's "The Case of Prometheus" (1899) is far less reverent, but "Prometheus" (1983) by Alasdair Gray, whose protagonist is writing a new Prometheus Unbound, is more slyly ambivalent. [BS]


This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.