Prometheus Bound

Prometheus Bound Summary and Analysis of Lines 285-560


Oceanos, one of the marine gods, arrives. He is a good friend of Prometheus, and he pities the titan in his suffering. Oceanos also has criticism to offer: Prometheus is too proud, and stirs up trouble with his tongue. Even now, he is crying out against Zeus, who might hear him and make the punishment still harsher. Oceanos announces his intent to go speak to Zeus on Prometheus' behalf. Prometheus tells him not to go; he does not wish to involve others in his troubles. He thinks with pain about his divine brothers, who have also had to endure Zeus's wrath: Atlas stands at the western limit of the world, holding up the sky on his shoulders. Fire-breathing Typho was scorched by Zeus's lightning, and his poor, battered body is imprisoned under Mount Etna. Prometheus warns Oceanos that if he asks Zeus to show mercy on Prometheus, he will only succeed in bringing the god's anger down on him.

The Chorus sings with pity for Prometheus' suffering. They sing of all the beings of the old order, mourning for him. They sing of the wondrous peoples of far away lands, to which Prometheus has been exiled. They sing of Atlas, once unconquerable, now stooped beneath the weight of the heavens.

He speaks of how he helped the new gods to reach the full completion of their powers. He speaks also of man, his beloved protégés, whom he has helped so much. At first, their eyes and ears could not see or hear. They perceived their world as shapes in a dream. They did not know the skills of building or agriculture. He taught man astronomy, to know the seasons, and animal domestication, so that man would not have to do his own work. He gave them language. He also taught them how to build carriages and ships. He taught them the power of medicines, soothsaying, and extracting metals from the earth.

He then admits that none of these skills can help him escape, for "Craft is far weaker than necessity" (l. 514). The Fates are the most powerful deities of all, and even Zeus cannot defy them. The Chorus, intrigued, asks what Zeus's destiny will be. Prometheus refuses to answer, for this knowledge provides the key to his being set free. The Chorus sings, praying that Zeus's anger never be against them. They tell Prometheus that he loved man too much; after all, man can do nothing to help him. They nostalgically remember a time when they sang a happier song for him, during his wedding to the titaness Hesione.


Prometheus as the great sufferer is an important theme of the play. In a way, the titan prefigures Christ: he is a divine being who suffers horrible tortures for the sake of mankind. The other gods seem a bit mystified by his willingness to suffer for man; after all, humans can do nothing for him, and they are inferior beings. Prometheus the artist, Prometheus the visionary; his willing sacrifice is the ultimate gesture he can make for mankind, as well as an example for mankind to follow. Symbolically, he is every great man whose greatness made him into a target.

We have more development on the theme of fate. We learn that even Zeus is subject to the power of the Three Fates; this knowledge is no surprise for the audience, nor is this vision unique to Aeschylus. In Greek myth and literature, the gods too were subject to destiny. Even Zeus cannot change certain things. Prometheus looks into the future and knows that eventually he will be vindicated, but in a way that makes his current sufferings all the more senseless.

His speech on the skills he has given to man is striking. In all of the Greek tragedies that have survived (a very small relative number, it must be remembered) Aeschylus seems to have the most compelling vision of the start of civilization. Both The Oresteia and Prometheus Bound evoke primal beginnings with great power. One of the themes of the play is Prometheus as great creator. Prometheus is describing man's transformation from a senseless animal to a creature capable of manipulating its environment. Both Prometheus and fire are symbols of the creative and ingenious spark in man: "In one short sentence understand it all: / every art of mankind comes from Prometheus" (ll. 506-7). The dawn of civilization is beautifully evoked, as man's creator teaches him the skills he will need to survive.

But Prometheus qualifies the power of his gifts. He has many skills, stemming from his ingenuity and from his gift of foresight. And he must concede that craft is weaker than necessity. Put in another way: mankind, for all of his genius, is still subject to fate. Put in yet another way: a brilliant individual, no matter how gifted or good, is still subject to fate, can still be made to suffer.