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Theatre / Prometheus Bound

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Prometheus Bound (Promētheus Desmōtēs) is a surviving tragic play from Ancient Greece. It is believed to have been written some time in the 5th century BC, but its precise date and the identity of its author are in doubt. Historically, it has most often been attributed to Aeschylus, but this attribution has been questioned on metrical and stylistic grounds.

The play draws from the myth of the Titan Prometheus, who was punished by Zeus for giving fire (and, in this version, culture) to humankind. The play begins with Prometheus being chained to his rock, where he remains for the duration while various characters come to visit and hold conversations with him, during which Prometheus prophesizes about their futures and that of Zeus.


Prometheus Bound is thought to have formed a trilogy with two other plays that are now known only through quotations and references in other works. Prometheus Unbound (Promētheus Lyomenos) is a sequel that depicts Prometheus' liberation by Heracles. Prometheus the Fire-Bringer (Prometheus Pyrphoros) has only one surviving line of dialogue, and disagreement exists over whether it is the final play of the trilogy, depicting the reconciliation of Prometheus and Zeus, or the first, depicting Prometheus giving fire to humankind and being caught by Zeus.


Prometheus Bound provides examples of:

  • Badass Boast: Several, courtesy of the main character.
    Prometheus: Hear the sum of the whole matter in the compass of one brief word—every art possessed by man comes from Prometheus.
  • Baleful Polymorph: Poor Io is one, after being cursed by Hera.
  • Because Destiny Says So: Prometheus' accounts to Io: both her miserable wanderings, and that her descendant will free him.
  • Bring It: Prometheus is not impressed by the threats of Hermes.
    Prometheus: Therefore let the lightning's forked curl be cast upon my head and let the sky be convulsed with thunder and the wrack of savage winds; let the hurricane shake the earth from its rooted base, and let the waves of the sea mingle with their savage surge the courses of the stars in heaven; and let him lift me on high and hurl me down to black Tartarus with the swirling floods of stern Necessity: do what he will, me he shall never bring to death.
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  • The Chessmaster: The only asset left for Prometheus is one prophecy about Zeus he foresaw. If he won't tell Zeus, the Olympian will fall, but he won't tell unless he's freed from his chains...
  • Come to Gawk: Unlike the other Titans who are trapped underground, Prometheus is left at the mercy of the elements. It was meant to be a deserted place, but a lot of people show up to visit him nevertheless.
    Prometheus: Ha! what has brought thee?
    Hast thou also come
    To look upon my woe?
  • Damsel in Distress: Io, courtesy of Hera and Zeus. Unfortunately, no one can do much to help her.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Prometheus has some great one-liners during his final confrontation with Hermes.
  • Defiant Captive: Prometheus vows to be as unhelpful as possible to the gods and refuses to bow before their authority.
  • The Determinator: Prometheus won't regret his gifts to mankind and he won't tell what Zeus needs to know. Threats leave him unflinching.
  • Distressed Dude: Prometheus.
  • Driven to Suicide: Io contemplates suicide after Prometheus tells her her troubles are only just beginning.
  • Fate Worse than Death: Prometheus' punishment. The fate of Io is also pretty grim.
  • Freak Out: Prometheus has a short one after being left by Kratos, Bia, and Hephaestus. Io also have one when she hears her future.
  • Greek Chorus: Composed of Oceanids (water spirits, daughters of the titan Oceanus) who come to keep Prometheus company.
  • Humans Are Special: Prometheus has a clear fondness for humanity. He describes in loving detail the many gifts he gave to them, and he tries to comfort Io however he can, giving her information on her future trips, and only hesitating to do so because he knows it will break her heart.
  • Immortality Hurts: When Io begins to contemplate suicide to end her misery, Prometheus reminds her that he cannot die, no matter how much pain he's going through.
  • Information Wants to Be Free: In this version Prometheus not only gave fire to humanity, but also arts, letters, numbers, medicine...all the intellectual tools you need to build a civilization.
  • Insufferable Genius: Hermes certainly thinks so of Prometheus. Even the Oceanids tell the latter he needs to tone down a bit – not that he listens to them.
  • Jerkass: Kratos and Bia.
  • Jerkass Gods: Zeus. Hephaestus, the Oceanids, Io, and eventually Oceanus are utterly scared of him and what he could do to them. Hermes is also an example of this.
  • The Load: Oceanus has good intentions, but he has no idea what he is talking about and isn't really helpful. Prometheus quickly wants him gone.
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: Prometheus helped Zeus during the war against the Titans and then helped humanity. That...did not go well for him.
  • No Sympathy: Played straight for Kratos and Bia, but averted for Hephaestus: being forced to bind Prometheus upsets him.
  • The Omniscient: It is not clear what the extents of his powers are, but Prometheus can see the past, the future, and taught every art to humanity. His warnings are taken deadly seriously, even by his foes.
  • Persecuted Intellectuals: Prometheus was condemned because he shared his knowledge with the humans, giving them power and independence. This and many others signs tend to indicate that Zeus might not be the best of the rulers at the moment.
  • Rage Against the Heavens: Prometheus is unsurprisingly not happy with his fate and derides Zeus many times.
  • Royal Blood: Prometheus tells Io that a descendant of hers will bear "A royal race in Argos".
  • Sanity Slippage: Io has become unstable after her trials.
  • Satan is Good: The play's depiction of Prometheus as humanity's benefactor and Zeus as a cruel tyrant is an inversion of earlier versions of the story, where Zeus was a wise and just god who supplied all humanity's needs, while Prometheus was to blame for the suffering of humanity by creating dissatisfaction (not unlike the snake in the Garden of Eden). This is one of the reasons why the authorship of the play is doubted: Aeschylus' usual take on Zeus is much more positive.
  • Smite Me, O Mighty Smiter!: Prometheus challenges Zeus to carry out his threats of a harsher punishment; he does.
  • Stern Chase: Io, chased by a gadfly.
  • Tender Tears: The Oceanids shed them for Prometheus and Io.
  • Took a Level in Badass: After the first shock, Prometheus slowly regains his composure. He goes from silent to scared to utterly pissed off with Zeus and his tyrannical schemes. At the end of the play, he's verbally challenging him and promising him the end of his reign.
  • Trauma Conga Line: The fate of Io is not a pleasant one.
  • Unbroken Vigil: The Oceanids keep Prometheus company and refuse to leave him when Hermes tries to make them go away.
  • Yandere: Zeus wants to have Io at any cost, no matter what price she'll have to pay. The Oceanids are horrified by this, and Prometheus goes into a Rage Against the Heavens.
  • You're Insane!: Said by Hermes to Prometheus, multiple times. That doesn't impress the latter.


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