According to Greek mythology, Prometheus was the champion (and perhaps creator) of men, a mixed blessing though arguably the relationship caused him the most hardship.The story of Prometheus was the topic of our recent mythological Roundtable and he stimulated some interesting conversation that might be continued/extended/embellished/shared on-line.
Here is the first half of the story, a story about the titanic under the order of Zeus, about the separation between humans and the gods, about the completion of our human race, about the inescapable polarities that define us and the rest of creation. If there's a part of the story that especially grabs you, let me know--email or comment! These are the places where we enter the myth, the moments worthy of our attention.
Prometheus and the First Men
Once upon a time, people knew that the world is made of stories,
Past, present, and future are threads woven into a single plot
In a world made of stories,
Like this one.
At the end of the great war between the gods, Zeus, the victorious, sentenced the defeated Titan brothers to Tartarus,
A place deep and dark and cold and far far away from heaven and earth.
Some of the Titan children shared their harsh fate.
Others did not.
Prometheus, son of Iapetos, took the counsel of his mother.
He fought for Zeus and the Olympians in the war against his father.
He was allowed on Mount Olympus when the war was done.
Prometheus had two brothers; Atlas the baleful, and heedless Epimetheus.
Atlas was sentenced to carry the heavy weight of the earth on his mighty shoulders
To keep heaven and earth apart.
In this way Zeus created day and night, and Time as we know it began.
Prometheus was a very clever god,
The son of a Titan, he was cunning.
Prometheus means “foresight,” a quality that, unfortunately, Epimetheus did not share.
Epimetheus was crafty but impulsive- he was one to leap before he looked.
Still the two brothers roamed the earth together and participated in each others schemes,
The heedless and the provident, inseparably yoked together.
Finally it was time for men to appear.
Some say the gods brought them forth, made of ash trees or mud.
Others say clever Prometheus made the first man to antagonize the divine immortals.
Molded of dirt and water, Earth was mother to them all.
The goddess Athene gave the men soul, psyche, in the shape of a butterfly
But they had little else,
No tasks or tools or talent
Save cunning, like their champion clever Prometheus, whose felt a mysterious affection for man.
The Olympians had other gifts to give earthly creatures and they directed Prometheus to dole them out, to equip each for life on earth.
Epimetheus went to his older brother and said, "Let me do it for you. I can do the job as well as you." and Prometheus agreed—
his brother was his partner.
Epimetheus went to the animals first, to the creatures made before man.
He gave the eagle sharp vision, the lion stealth, and so on until all the gifts were gone…
When man arrived there was nothing left to give him, nada.
Reckless Epimetheus left man bare and utterly unprotected.
Clever Prometheus was dismayed, the men were his favorite invention.
He cast about for something they could use, some skill or tool that would ensure them a special place on earth.
Zeus saw this and was not pleased.
One day, the men and the gods met at Mekone, the Place of Poppies, and
They began to quarrel.
But clever Prometheus had a plan.
He gathered them all together and proposed a sacrifice,
The portions to be shared among them as evidence of their common bond as children of the earth.
Prometheus killed an ox and divided the body into two portions, one for men, and one for the Gods.
One portion was fine meat, but stuffed into the stomach of the ox.
The other was a pile of bones, wrapped in gleaming fat.
The true contents of each portion were concealed
And therein lies the trick, devised by clever Prometheus.
Everyone knows that the gods deserve the biggest and the best.
The portion of bones looked bigger, and the gleaming fat was fragrant and succulent.
When Zeus came down from Mount Olympus to choose the portion for the gods
He saw the two portions and knew right away what was planned.
Zeus was wise, the wisest, and little could escape him.
He rebuked clever Prometheus for his unequal division,
And Prometheus could have taken the hint.
But clever Prometheus sweetly offered the same two portions to Zeus once again.
Zeus wanted to meet trouble with trouble.
He had little love for men or their Titan champion.
So he picked the bones, wrapped in gleaming fat, just as clever Prometheus had intended and
He was angry at the betrayal, although he knew the plan.
"The gods should stick together" he roared,
"Let men look after themselves."
And knowing that they would soon perish Zeus declared,
"Man cannot have fire."
The painting above is by Jean-Simon Berthélemy (1745-1811) and Jean-Baptiste Mauzaisse (1784-1844). Unfortunately I can't find the sculptor of Atlas- if anyone has a suggestion let me know.