Prometheus Bound, attributed to the great Greek tragedian Aeschylus, is a reknowned classical tragedy stemming from the myth of Prometheus, a Titan who gave fire to mankind and was subsequently punished by the god Zeus for doing so. Those who remember the myth will recall that Zeus had Prometheus bound to a rock while a great eagle ate his liver every day only to have it grow back to be eaten again the next day.
While Hesiod famously presents Prometheus as essentially a fool who deserves blame for many of mankind’s problems (Hesoid tells of Zeus sending Pandora in retaliation for the actions of Prometheus — carrying a jar with her from which were released the evils that plague mankind), Aeschylus presents Prometheus as a benefactor of humanity; one who taught men writing, math, medicine, architecture and astronomy in addition to actually saving man from complete destruction at the hands of Zeus. Pandora is nowhere to be found in the myth as presented by Aeschylus. Fragments of two other plays, Prometheus Unbound and Prometheus the Fire-Bringer, show that Prometheus Bound was likely written as the first part of a trilogy. Ultimately, there is a reconciliation between Prometheus and Zeus which seems to conservatively imply a belief in the ultimate compatibility of humanity with the traditions, beliefs and Gods that were prevalent in classical Greek society.
Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822) published his Prometheus Unbound in 1820, expanding on Prometheus as a human benefactor by turning him into a hero for mankind, utilizing the myth as an allegory for humanity breaking the chains of tyranny in which they have suffered throughout most of history. The Romantics, having watched society go through mass economic and political turbulence as epitomized in the French Revolution, viewed Prometheus as the ultimate freedom enabler, one who fought back against the tyranny of Zeus (who represents the tyranny of church and monarch). In Shelley’s version, Prometheus actually triumphs over Zeus/Jupiter reflecting Shelley’s view of the supremacy of human sprint and intellect over tyranny; free will over pre-destination if you will. In Shelley’s hands, having learned the lessons of the French Revolution, the myth is an optimistic view of humankind with hope, freedom and good will.
The Limited Editions Club (LEC) edition containing both of these classic works is wonderfully done; classic in itself. It is not a work packaged with an excess of adornments; instead it is conservatively designed in a handsome edition that largely let’s the words of Aeschylus and Shelley take precedence. The illustrations combine some hints of classical Greek lines and representations with a modernistic flair. As yet another LEC that can be found in very good, even fine condition for under $100, it is well worth seeking out.
About the Edition
- Designed by Hendrik Clewits
- Printed at the ancient printing house of Joh. Enschede en Zonen in Haarlem, Holland
- Illustrations drawn by John Farleigh
- Translation and introduction by Rex Warner
- Bound in two tone buckram
- 184 pages
- Limited to 1500 copies, mine is #330
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