Chapter 25

Prometheus: The Greek Trickster

To the ancient Greeks, Prometheus was considered a transformer of culture because he stole fire from the gods and gave it to humans. Such activity, along with his tricking Zeus into giving up power, marks him as a supreme benefactor, but one who lives on the edge of society, functioning at its outer limits. Consider the relevance to his behavior of Victor Turner's concept of "liminality" (Chapter 27). Levi-Strauss (Chapter 22) argues that Greek myths represent a tension between overvaluing kin and undervaluing them; is there any sign of this strain in the story of Prometheus?

In his Theogony, Hesiod recounts how Prometheus tricks the head of the gods, and in Prometheus Bound, Aeschylus dramatizes his sufferings for his rebellion against Zeus, including Prometheus' description of his assistance to humans. Both of these works provide insights into the audience's estimation of the gods and their view of the world. Consider the other stories Hesiod tells (Chapter 3) and how they fit with the story of Prometheus. Do you get the same sense of Hesiod as a poet in these stories, or is your perspective on him changed? You may also want to relate Prometheus to other Greek figures you have read about in this book and consider whether they have similar relationships to Zeus; Demeter (Chapter 28) and Hercules (Chapter 32) may be especially interesting in this regard. In Aeschylus, Prometheus becomes a tragic hero; to what extent does he resemble Sophocles' famous tragic hero Oedipus (Chapter 21)?

As you read, compare trickster elements in Hesiod and Aeschylus with those in other trickster stories, including African and African-American (Chapter 24), Native American (Chapter 23), and Norse (Chapter 19) versions.

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