When the Titan Prometheus was sentenced to be chained to the rock and tortured for all eternity by the god Zeus, he boasted that he would accept his torment gladly, for Prometheus knew a secret which threatened to overthrow the rule of the Gods. Even though Prometheus was offered freedom from his horrible fate, he would not concede to Zeus and therefore admit any sort of wrongdoing. Instead, Zeus needed to convince the nymph Asia, Prometheus's mother, to divulge the secret.

The Secret itself is a source of great wisdom, for those who have the perspective to regard it correctly. What Prometheus knew and his mother revealed to win her son's freedom was this:

"If Zeus bears offspring with the nymph Thetis, their son will become stronger than Zeus and cast down the Gods from Olympus."

Although at first glance, there's nothing revolutionary about this tidbit of information, students of mythology will remember that Zeus himself rose up in power to overthrow his father, Kronos, and by doing so established the supremacy of the Gods over the Titans to begin with.

More than just a cautionary tale for Zeus (he was wooing Thetis at the time, Hera was displeased) and this one possible child, the Secret of Prometheus is an acknowledgement of one of the Mysteries of a Man's life. Men -- and we're talking the gender here, not the race -- will eventually be surpassed by their sons. More than this, what a man sets in motion with seemingly minor effort or force today may grow to rebound on him in the future and cause his own downfall. The prudent man finds ways to welcome and nurture the new lives which follow him, instead of seeking to retain rulership over them, for one day the son will be a man and the day of reckoning will be at hand. What seems small today is but the seed of tomorrow's greatness, and it will be great at a time when the greatness of today is but a faded memory. This is the pace of life, this is the inner mystery of a Man's span of days. To fight the rhythm is to court your own destruction.

As with all of mythology, the end of the story varies according to the time and place the myth was told during its life cycle. According to one version of the story, Prometheus never relented and Zeus committed the fatal error of fathering a child with Thetis. This child overthrew the reign of the Gods, which explains why the Olympian pantheon is not supreme in the heavens today. A more common account is that with the communication of the Secret by Prometheus's mother to win her son's freedom, the disaster was averted and the reign of the Gods secured. Prometheus was then released, and continues in his role as guardian of mankind even to this day.

At its core, the myth of Prometheus offers the best example of the two approaches to this knowledge of man's own mortality and cycle of strength. Zeus is warned that he will set in motion a creation which will destroy him. He is authoritarian, willful in the extreme, and motivated by a selfish desire to remain at the apex of a symbolic Mount Olympus, the king at the pinnacle of the heavens, Lord and Master with absolute dominion over all. His creations are destined to covet the same place in life, and therefore will destroy him because there is no alternative when ego is centered only on the self. At the top of the world, there is only room for one.

Prometheus, on the other hand, is a powerful being, a primal force which is beyond the control of the gods, and that force is compassion. He is the driving fire of humanity, and has set in motion a creation (humanity itself) to which he devotes himself to the point of enduring utter destruction. His position is selfless, his devotion is undying, and instead of seeking to remain above humanity, Prometheus seeks to lift us up. In empowering his creation, he too faces the threat of destruction, but through Prometheus's destruction he is redeemed, whereas with the kind of destruction facing Zeus, the God is damned.

The Secret of Prometheus in reality represents a Mystery. To contemplate a Mystery is to leave sometimes more frustrated than before. Like a deep pool there are many reflections which can be cast from it, depending on the illumination you bring to the contemplation of the pool in which the wisdom of the mystery lies. In every case, it is a pool of wisdom from which it serves well to drink more than once.

The Myth of Prometheus

Greek and Roman Mythology


Oral Lore, the Order of Prometheus Fraternity, SUNY Potsdam

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