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The Tragedy “Prometheus Bound” by Aeschylus

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The Tragedy “Prometheus Bound” by Aeschylus essay
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In the play Prometheus Bound, Aeschylus touches one of the fundamental political problems – the nature and essence of power. The bearer of the highest and unlimited power in this play is Zeus. Aeschylus endows him with features that do not evoke sympathy from the audience: Zeus in this tragedy is despotic, cruel, and, at the same time, cowardly. With threats and torture, he is trying to break Prometheus. However, all the threats and punishments of Zeus are, in fact, illusory. At first glance, it seems that chained and exhausted Prometheus obeys the will of the tyrant, but, despite the lack of physical strength, he has incredible spiritual strength.

Aeschylus knows that all power, in this case the power of Zeus, which has already become a despotism, has its limits. Within the world, it is subjected to the fate (Aeschylus 11-13), and its time is limited (Aeschylus 37-40). Throughout the play, Prometheus constantly encounters those who accept, each in their own way, the power of Zeus: Hephaestus, Power, and Force, which chain the titan to the rock, the choir of Oceanids, advising Prometheus to give in to the will of the supreme god; Ocean, which has submitted to the power of Zeus and is now as an intermediary between him and Prometheus; Io, the former beloved of Zeus, doomed to everlasting wanderings on earth; Hermes, who appears in the drama only as a servant of Zeus and executes his orders with contempt for the unbroken spirit of his enemies. For all these characters, Zeus’s power is real, because they recognize and accept it. However, the same force is helpless against the will of Prometheus, who does not wish to recognize and submit to it. Power, therefore, represents not just the abstract power of anyone who possesses it and can use it; it is real only in those cases where the one to whom it is directed agrees to accept it.

The image of a fighter for truth and justice in the person of Prometheus is contrasted by Aeschylus to all the other characters in the tragedy. For example, Titan surpasses Hephaestus with the strength of his spirit, surpasses Hermes by a sense of self-esteem and independence; he is different from the Ocean by unwillingness to make any compromises with the tyrant. In contrast to the faint-heartedness and meanness of these characters in the play, Aeschylus demonstrates the dedication and courage of the Oceanids choir, who did not fear the vengeance of Zeus. In response to the threats of Hermes, they declare their loyalty to Prometheus (Aeschylus 41):

Is he, Prometheus, whom thy sufferings.

Rouse not to wrath. Would I had ne’er

beheld them,

For verily the sight hath wrung my heart.

In the play, we meet the denunciation of tyrannical power. Prometheus describes this power in the following way: ‘For this is tyranny’s disease: Not to trust your friends’ (Aeschylus 26). Aeschylus depicts autocratic tyrant in the person of Zeus by the most striking features. Keeping a sincere love for humanity, Prometheus is irreconcilable to the tyranny of Zeus. The king of the gods for him is the embodiment of cruelty and injustice. Thus, titan acts as a fighter against tyranny, with absolute and uncontrollable power capable of any crime.

The main thing in this tragedy is the conflict between two generations of gods: the old, the vanquished, to which Prometheus belongs, and the new, headed by Zeus. This is the conflict between the hero, selflessly fighting for human happiness, and despotic arbitrariness, hindering progress. Already in the prologue of the tragedy, Zeus is described as a cruel ruler. This is indicated by the names of his servants: Power, Violence. Power appears as a rude, cruel servant of the king of gods. With coarse shouts and threats, she forces Hephaestus to execute the order of Zeus and chain Prometheus. She is always ruthless and full of anger. Zeus is cruel and reigns not accountable for his actions to anyone. He is a tyrant who seized power and turns it against a human.

The images of Hephaestus, Ocean, Hermes also reveal the theme of tyranny and the pernicious influence that it has on people. Hephaestus is cowardly and faint-hearted, though kind. With tears of compassion, he fulfills his mission as an executioner. This is a terrible image of an ‘honest coward’ who became an accomplice to the crime of a tyrant. In a decisive moment, he betrays Prometheus, becoming the executor of the will of Zeus.

Aeschylus depicted the image of the Ocean ironically. Once the Ocean, along with other titans took part in the fight against Zeus, but after the victory of Zeus, he managed to escape the punishment that befell his friends. Now, he feels well under the new owner. This egoist thinks only about his peace and prosperity. The moral nothingness and cowardice of the Ocean in Prometheus is also depicted in very interesting manner. The ocean, which had once been an accomplice of Prometheus, managed to go over to the side of the winner in time and now carefully offers his intercession.

Hermes is the arrogant and rude servant of Zeus, proud to be faithfully serving his master. For him, there is only the will of his master; he is not able to understand Prometheus, who does not want to bow his head before Zeus.

In the tragedy of Aeschylus, Titan Prometheus becomes an active fighter for justice, an opponent of evil and violence. The greatness of his image is also emphasized by the fact that he, a seer, knew about his future sufferings, but in the name of the happiness of people and the triumph of truth, consciously doomed himself to torture. The enemy of Prometheus, the enemy of people, the rampant despot – is Zeus himself, the father of gods and people, the ruler of the universe. In order to emphasize the arbitrariness of his power, Aeschylus displays another victim of Zeus. Io runs up to the rock on which Prometheus was chained. Zeus’ unhappy lover, once a beautiful girl, she is turned into a cow by jealous Hera and is doomed to endless wanderings. The gods changed the face of Io, but kept her human mind. She is haunted by a gadfly, whose bites cast her into insanity. The undeserved tortures of Io make Prometheus forget about his own sufferings. He consoles Io, predicts to her the near end of torment and subsequent glory. He threatens the death to their common tormentor – Zeus, whose secret of fate is known to him alone. The words of Prometheus reach the ears of Zeus, and the frightened tyrant sends a servant of the gods Hermes to Prometheus to find out the secret. Now the powerless crucified Prometheus holds in his hands the fate of the all-powerful autocrat.

He refuses to reveal the secret of Zeus and with contempt looks at Hermes, who voluntarily exchanged his freedom for the service of Zeus. Hermes threatens Prometheus with new, unheard of torments, but Prometheus knows that Zeus is unable to kill him. When the Rock with Prometheus plunges into the abyss, the further fate of Prometheus in the Aeschylus play remains unknown, and all the attempts of researchers to restore the lost parts of the trilogy were unsuccessful. The available tragedy seemed strange to many. The image of Zeus, who, in other dramas of Aeschylus, acted as the embodiment of the world order and justice, was considered especially mysterious.

Aeschylus believed that the gods are righteous, but in this tragedy he deviates somewhat from this tradition. In addition to Prometheus, who considers Zeus unjust, Io considers him the same and connects all her misfortunes with him. In Prometheus Bound, Zeus is endowed with obvious features of a tyrant unbridled in his cruelty and self-will. This impression is further strengthened by the storyline of Io, complementing the characteristics of Zeus – Zeus condemned her to distress and suffering for the sake of his voluptuousness. The explanation of this contradiction between the usual for Aeschylus interpretation of Zeus and his depiction in Prometheus should be sought in the general direction of Aeschylus’s worldview.

With the undoubted desire of the ‘father of tragedy’ to replace the anthropomorphic Zeus of epic tales with an abstract supreme divine authority, he nowhere succeeds in bringing it to the end. In Prometheus, Aeschilus brings the ‘human-likeness’ of the gods to the last logical limit, revealing the incompatibility of the image of Zeus’s susceptible to all human weaknesses, as many myths knew him, with the concept of a true, infallible universal deity – the world principle, ensuring the reasonableness of the existing world.

The conflict of Prometheus Bound is based on differences in the ideological attitudes of the actors. Dramatic action is expressed in the collision of different points of view, in the compositional opposition of a number of statements, so close attention in the analysis should be paid to the ‘contradiction’ of the characters. Prometheus does not find understanding and sympathy among anybody, except for the suffering Io and the Elder Oceanid. It is noteworthy that, although the dramatic conflict of the tragedy involves the opposition of Prometheus and Zeus, the image of the latter is absent in the play.

Aeschylus fixes attention not so much on the Olympic dictator, but on his perception by the characters of the tragedy. The servants of Zeus (Power and Violence) are blind forces, recognizing no one’s will except the will of the one to whom they serve. The thunder messenger, Hermes, the god of commerce, is sure that everything in the world is bought and sold; he is not interested in the moral and ethical side of actions, the main thing for him is personal gain and well-being. Hephaestus and Ocean, who understand perfectly well that they are ruled by ‘the fierce king who is not accountable to anyone,’ prefer to accept it and remain silent. Their behavior is motivated by a sense of fear, depriving freedom of choice. Prometheus and Io are the only protagonists of the tragedy who protest against the permissiveness of Zeus. The sufferings on which they were condemned by Olympian forced them to take a different look at life, recognize the injustice prevailing in the world and openly declare their dislike of the powerful of the world.

In the plot of the tragedy, the problems relevant to the contemporaries of Aeschylus found their embodiment. The Greeks knew firsthand about the specifics of tyrannical power and its consequences. The problem of choosing between the absolute power of a ruler and moral and legal ideas, which are based on the value of the freedom of each person, was discussed not only in ancient Greek drama, but also in philosophy. In Prometheus Bound, Aeschylus affirms the idea of freedom as a necessary condition for scientific knowledge and the search for truth.

The tragedy by Aeschylus, brought to life by the powerful upsurge of Athenian democracy, is marked by deep faith in progress, in the progressive development of human society. It reinterprets the traditional images of myth in the spirit of the progressive ideological currents of her time, finding in the world reasonably ruling it objective laws of eternal justice. For Aeschylus, the essence of the tragic consists not in the hero’s confrontation with a certain force embodying the injustice and meaninglessness of the dominant social relations, as, for example, in Shakespeare’s dramaturgy, but in the human’s choice of behavior: his own decision is the link where individual activities of the subject and objective laws of the world merge in contradictory unity.

The Tragedy “Prometheus Bound” by Aeschylus essay

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The Tragedy “Prometheus Bound” by Aeschylus. (2021, Jul 27). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/the-tragedy-prometheus-bound-by-aeschylus/

FAQ

How does Aeschylus portray Prometheus?
Aeschylus' alterations have been maintained by literature that followed Prometheus Bound. Hesiod portrays Prometheus as a lowly trickster and semi-comic foil to Zeus's authority .
What is the main message of Prometheus Bound?
Much of the play is composed of speeches and contains little action, especially given that its protagonist, Prometheus, is chained and immobile throughout. A major theme throughout the play is about resisting tyranny and the frustration and helplessness of reason and rightness in the face of sheer power .
What is the story of Prometheus summary?
In Greek mythology, the Titan Prometheus had a reputation as being something of a clever trickster and he famously gave the human race the gift of fire and the skill of metalwork, an action for which he was punished by Zeus, who ensured everyday that an eagle ate the liver of the Titan as he was helplessly chained to a
Why is Prometheus Bound a tragedy?
The Greek tragedy “Prometheus Bound” focuses on the hamartia of the Greek god, Prometheus. Prometheus' hamartia of compassion and pity towards humans initiated the downfall of his identity from a respected god to ultimately, a tragic hero .
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