"Prometheus Bound" by Aeschylus


Prometheus Bound
by Aeschylus

Written ca. 430? B.C.

      The mythical Prometheus was a Titan, credited with bringing enlightenment to humans. Prometheus stole fire from the Gods and gave it to humankind, bringing the power of warmth and light to the dark and miserable earth.

      Prometheus acted against the express wishes of the Olympian Gods, who wanted to keep the power of fire - enlightenment - for their exclusive use.

      Zeus punished Prometheus by chaining him to a rock in the Caucasus Mountains. Every day, his liver was devoured by a giant eagle, only to regenerate overnight.


Mountainous country, and in the middle of a deep gorge a Rock, towards which KRATOS and BIA carry the gigantic form of PROMETHEUS. HEPHAESTUS follows dejectedly with hammer, nails, chains, etc.

Now have we journeyed to a spot of earth
Remote-the Scythian wild, a waste untrod.
And now, Hephaestus, thou must execute
The task our father laid on thee, and fetter
This malefactor to the jagged rocks
In adamantine bonds infrangible;
For thine own blossom of all forging fire
He stole and gave to mortals; trespass grave
For which the Gods have called him to account,
That he may learn to bear Zeus' tyranny
And cease to play the lover of mankind.

Kratos and Bia, for ye twain the hest
Of Zeus is done with; nothing lets you further.
But forcibly to bind a brother God,
In chains, in this deep chasm raked by all storms
I have not courage; yet needs must I pluck
Courage from manifest necessity,
For woe worth him that slights the Father's word.
O high-souled son of them is sage in counsel,
With heavy heart I must make thy heart heavy,
In bonds of brass not easy to be loosed,
Nailing thee to this crag where no wight dwells,
Nor sound of human voice nor shape of man
Shall visit thee; but the sun-blaze shall roast
Thy flesh; thy hue, flower-fair, shall suffer change;
Welcome will Night be when with spangled robe
She hides the light of day; welcome the sun
Returning to disperse the frosts of dawn.
And every hour shall bring its weight of woe
To wear thy heart away; for yet unborn
Is he who shall release Chee from thy pain.
This is thy wage for loving humankind.
For, being a God, thou dared'st the Gods' ill will,
Preferring, to exceeding honour, Man.
Wherefore thy long watch shall be comfortless,
Stretched on this rock, never to close an eye
Or bend a knee; and vainly shalt thou lift,
With groanings deep and lamentable cries,
Thy voice; for Zeus is hard to be entreated,
As new-born power is ever pitiless.

Enough! Why palter? Why wast idle pity?
Is not the God Gods loathe hateful to thee?
Traitor to man of thy prerogative?

Kindred and fellowship are dreaded names.

Questionless; but to slight the Father's word-

How sayest thou? Is not this fraught with more dread?

Thy heart was ever hard and overbold.

But wailing will not ease him! Waste no pains
Where thy endeavour nothing profiteth.

Oh execrable work! O handicraft!

Why curse thy trade? For what thou hast to do,
Troth, smithcraft is in no wise answerable.

Would that it were another's craft, not mine!

Why, all things are a burden save to rule
Over the Gods; for none is free but Zeus.

To that I answer not, knowing it true.

Why, then, make haste to cast the chains about him,
Lest glancing down on thee the Father's eye
Behold a laggard and a loiterer.

Here are the iron bracelets for his arms.

Fasten them round his arms with all thy strength!
Strike with thy hammer! Nail him to the rocks!

'Tis done! and would that it were done less well!

Harder-I say-strike harder-screw all tight
And be not in the least particular
Remiss, for unto one of his resource
Bars are but instruments of liberty.

This forearm's fast: a shackle hard to shift.

Now buckle this! and handsomely! Let him learn
Sharp though he be, he's a dull blade to Zeus.

None can find fault with this: -save him it tortures.

Now take thine iron spike and drive it in,
Until it gnaw clean through the rebel's breast.

Woe's me, Prometheus, for thy weight of woe!

Still shirking? still a-groaning for the foes
Of Zeus? Anon thou'lt wail thine own mishap.

Thou seest what eyes scarce bear to look upon!

I see this fellow getting his deserts!
But strap him with a gelt about his ribs.

I do what I must do: for thee-less words!

"Words," quotha? Aye, and shout 'em if need be.
Come down and cast a ring-bolt round his legs.

The thing is featly done; and 'twas quick work.

Now with a sound rap knock the bolt-pins home!
For heavy-handed is thy task-master.

So villainous a form vile tongue befits.

Be thou the heart of wax, but chide not me
That I am gruffish, stubborn and stiff-willed.

Oh, come away! The tackle holds him fast.

Now, where thou hang'st insult Plunder the Gods
For creatures of a day! To thee what gift
Will mortals tender to requite thy pains?
The destinies were out miscalling the
Designer: a designer thou wilt need
From trap so well contrived to twist thee free.

O divine air Breezes on swift bird-wings,
Ye river fountains, and of ocean-waves
The multitudinous laughter Mother Earth!
And thou all-seeing circle of the sun,
Behold what I, a God, from Gods endure!
Look down upon my shame,
The cruel wrong that racks my frame,
The grinding anguish that shall waste my strength,
Till time's ten thousand years have measured out their length!
He hath devised these chains,
The new throned potentate who reigns,
Chief of the chieftains of the Blest. Ah me!
The woe which is and that which yet shall be
I wail; and question make of these wide skies
When shall the star of my deliverance rise.
And yet-and yet-exactly I foresee
All that shall come to pass; no sharp surprise
Of pain shall overtake me; what's determined
Bear, as I can, I must, knowing the might
Of strong Necessity is unconquerable.
But touching my fate silence and speech alike
Are unsupportable. For boons bestowed
On mortal men I am straitened in these bonds.
I sought the fount of fire in hollow reed
Hid privily, a measureless resource
For man, and mighty teacher of all arts.
This is the crime that I must expiate
Hung here in chains, nailed 'neath the open sky. Ha! Ha!
What echo, what odour floats by with no sound?
God-wafted or mortal or mingled its strain?
Comes there one to this world's end, this mountain-girt ground,
To have sight of my torment? Or of what is he fain?
A God ye behold in bondage and pain,
The foe of Zeus and one at feud with all
The deities that find
Submissive entry to the tyrant's hall;
His fault, too great a love of humankind.
Ah me! Ah me! what wafture nigh at hand,
As of great birds of prey, is this I hear?
The bright air fanned
Whistles and shrills with rapid beat of wings.
There cometh nought but to my spirit brings
Horror and fear.

"There cometh nought but to my spirit brings
Horror and fear."