According to the Greeks, in the beginning, all was barren and lifeless.
As the murky fog of Chaos dissipated and the earth separated itself from the seas, plant life began to form upon the new land. Jungles spread, mountains rose, rivers slithered out towards the sea. Eventually, the gods decided to create animal life to populate this new landscape. So they employed two brothers, sons of even older gods, the Titans, who now lay imprisoned in the depths of Tartarus. Prometheus and Epimetheus were the names of these Titan brothers, whose names mean “Forethought” and “Afterthought.”
Prometheus was learned and possessed the gift of great wisdom. But his brother Epimetheus was an idiot. Epimetheus never planned ahead and acted on impulse without thinking. But it was to this foolish Titan that gods gave the task of creating animal life. Epimetheus worked quickly and created many creatures of various forms to populate the lands, rivers, mountains, and the deep. Prometheus, meanwhile, dedicated himself to the creation of one creature only, which would embody his vision of a complete animal, molded in the shape of the gods themselves. Prometheus created Man and placed him upright on his hind legs so that he might look up toward the skies and the heavens to seek inspiration and divinity. Mankind, more than any other creature, most closely resembles the gods.
But his creation was little more than lifeless clay in the early stages. Prometheus turned to the Store of Gifts which the gods had once given the brothers. To aid in the population of the earth, each of the gods contributed a gift, a power, and placed these gifts into a box to be divided up among all creatures so that each would have some ability with which to prosper and gain an advantage over their rivals. In this way, they planned to maintain a savage balance of power in nature.
But when Prometheus turned his attention to the Store of Gifts, he found it empty. Thoughtless Epimetheus had doled out all the gifts in his haste and left nothing for humanity to prevent them from perishing as weak prey. The lion possessed great strength, the eagle had great vision, the fox was cunning, the bear had a thick coat, the wolf, deadly instincts, and the serpent could wield poisonous venom. Yet mankind had nothing to distinguish and protect himself from the predatory beasts of the wild and the primeval forces of nature. It seemed as though humans would have to pit themselves against the natural world at a complete and hopeless disadvantage.
Prometheus lamented at the suffering of his creation and decided to champion the cause of mankind. He defied the command of Zeus, Lord of the Thunder-Bolt, and crept into heaven while the gods were distracted. He stole fire from the halls of heaven and fled to earth, where he gifted humanity with mastery of the flame.
With fire, man made tools. With tools, he made machines. With machines, he sowed the land to grow food. He built dwellings to insulate himself from the elements, from the scorching sun and the biting wind. He built walls around his settlements to protect himself from the wolves and bears, and other ravenous beasts. He made weapons with which to hunt and defend himself. He ate well and grew strong and eventually had time to pursue the arts of wisdom. He developed science and philosophy and outgrew all other creatures in wit. Man became lord of all the plains. He took to the seas in mighty crafts of wood and iron and spread far across the earth. Because of the gift of fire, civilization was born. Man ordered the Chaos of the world and made himself master of all beasts.
Zeus was furious at the treason of Prometheus. He swore an oath to avenge himself upon mankind for the Titan’s betrayal before dealing out harsh punishment on Prometheus himself. Humanity’s punishment was to be subtle. Zeus ordered Hephaestus the smith to craft a creature of such beauty, charm, and elegance that it would rival the power of man. The first woman was born, Pandora. She was sent to earth to tempt man with her beauty and to appeal to his senses. But she was to be the agent of the vengeance of Zeus.
Before they sent Pandora to earth, the gods filled another box. Into this box, they placed all of the wickedest evils that they could control, and they were glad to be rid of them. Into the box went famine, plague, pestilence, malice, greed, jealousy, hate, lust, paranoia, and every other evil that haunts mankind to this day. Pandora unwittingly opened the box and delivered these evils into the world. But one god, the well-meaning Hephaestus, had tricked Zeus. His donation to mankind was hope. Out of the box sprang great evil. But there was also hope, which keeps us living and without which we are doomed.
As for Prometheus, his suffering was great. Mighty Zeus overpowered the Titan and chained him to a bleak mountainside. He was doomed to suffer in his bonds as an enormous eagle would swoop down each day and devour the poor fellow’s liver. The pain was immense, enough to kill a mortal man, but Prometheus was of the immortal race of Kronos, a Titan. Each night his liver would grow back anew, only to be eaten again the next day. His punishment was to be agonizing and eternal.
Countless ages passed as Prometheus suffered for his tremendous and noble gift to humankind until eventually, the Titan was forgotten and abandoned. But he never repented. He suffered much but would never apologize or beg mighty Zeus for freedom. His actions had been just and born of a noble heart. His was the fate of one who had been punished unjustly by a tyrant who was maddened by his own pride and power. He suffered so that mankind, his creation, might prosper. And he suffered in silence. Prometheus teaches us patience, courage, wisdom, resolve, strength, honor, defiance of tyranny, and the love of learning and prosperity. Without the sacrifice of the Titan, man would have been at the mercy of the wild and the beasts which stalk it, savoring the taste of human meat.
Ask yourself this: where would you be without Prometheus and his sacrifice? It may be a myth, “only a myth,” as some would say, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t truth to it. Legends are often more true than reality is because they speak to us in terms of eternity and ideals. So strive to emulate Prometheus in his courage, defiance, and commitment to strength and justice.
“The most intelligent men, like the strongest, find their happiness where others would find only disaster: in the labyrinth, in being hard with themselves and with others, in effort; their delight is in self-mastery; in them asceticism becomes second nature, a necessity, an instinct. They regard a difficult task as a privilege; it is to them a recreation to play with burdens that would crush all others.” – Friedrich Nietzsche.</em >
Eventually, Herakles (Roman Hercules), a son of both Gods and Men, loosed Prometheus from his chains. Hercules was the son of Zeus who atoned for his father’s tyranny by breaking the cycle of resentment and freeing the Titan from his imprisonment. But Hercules wasn’t a god himself. He was just a man. In this way, mankind saved Prometheus in return for his own salvation, many eons past.
This brings us to the title of my first book and the blog which started my writing career: “Unchaining The Titan.”
That title is a Promethean reference, true, but it’s also more than that. The race of Titans were almost all chained down in the depths of Tartarus after the war between Titans and Gods. In Greek myth, the Titans represent the primal forces of nature and prehistory. Wild and unruly. Animalistic and savage. They are as independent and ancient as the forces of nature themselves. The Titan is his own man. He bows before no one and will defy the will of a tyrant to the point of death if necessary. He knows his own strength and loves his freedom more than his life.
In Norse myth, a close parallel is represented by the Jotnar, the race of giants, enemies of Thor. Just as in the tales of the Norsemen, the Gods of the Greeks sought to control the primitive forces of nature and imprison them where they would pose no threat. The prehistoric giants were indeed wild and unruly and not to be trusted. They were not all as benevolent as Prometheus. It was the thunderbolt, the first weapon of mass destruction, which allowed the gods to achieve their total victory over these, their first and fiercest enemies.
Humanity has prospered under the guidance of Promethean Fires. He has risen to the top of the food chain and slaughters other animals with staggering speed and efficiency. All of our civilization can be traced back to the gift of Prometheus, but man has taken this gift too far.
We have removed ourselves from nature. We do not see ourselves as animals. We place ourselves on equal footing with the gods. We have forgotten the sting of the wind, the pangs of hunger, and the taste of blood. We have even forgotten the secret of fire and now depend on mechanical and chemical trickery to ignite a life-saving flame. Man has become over-civilized. We have forgotten the savage, primitive instincts which have allowed us to survive and thrive until the modern era. We actively deny that we instinctively long for battle, for the hunt, for a war to wage, and an enemy to slay. We see ourselves as being above these savageries.
But we are descendants of Prometheus. The blood of the Titan race flows in our veins, though we might choose to suppress it. We might try to bind our Titanic nature in chains, but there’s little profit in that futile endeavor.
We are still half-savage. A little wildness in your diet is healthy. Some blood on your tongue is natural. That fire in your belly, which the modern world works so hard to suppress, is what makes you feel truly alive. We have come far and gained much, but much has been lost. I believe that a few steps backward are what we need. I say we must reconnect with our animal instincts and our bestial urges to be fully human. In life, balance is key, and to be too far civilized is to be unbalanced and conceited.
We must not neglect the beast in us for the sake of intellectual and technological progression. Likewise, we must not waste the gifts of wisdom and imagination that Prometheus suffered so greatly to gift us. We must balance the civilized with the savage, the intellect with the instinct, the foresight with the fang, the brain with the battleax. When we unchain the savage Titan, we reconnect with our primitive ancestors to whom we owe our very existence. But we must do this while also keeping hold of the many benefits that thousands of years of civilization have brought us. Things like peace, prosperity, medicine, and comfort are not to be carelessly discarded in our search for authentic human experience.
So, mythically speaking, remember that you’re the product of both Titan and God. The light of the divine is in you, but so too is the spark of giants and beasts. Control both of these impulses and bring your dual nature into a useful and wholesome state of balance.
What that looks like will vary from person to person, and I’ll discuss this topic in more detail in other writing. But for now, it’s a good start if we begin the process of unshackling our humanity from the bonds that civilized society has forced upon us over the centuries.
Man, Unchain Thyself.
If you found this article interesting, consider checking out my book “Unchaining The Titan” for many more essays which also analyse old myths and make them relevant to modern life.