Last Updated 04 Jan 2023

Humanity In The Greek Tragedy Prometheus Bound

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In the Greek tragedy “Prometheus Bound” the character of Prometheus is introduced as he is being chained up for an affront to the power of the Gods. His actions and his refusal to feel remorse for them have led to the dire situation that we see him in at the open of the play. What sets Prometheus apart from the Greek gods that we all know and love so well is the fact that his actions are not politically motivated or performed for self-gratification or gain. The act that has led to his imprisonment was an act of pure benevolence and thus we as the audience come to perceive Prometheus as a virtuous character. How do we know that he is virtuous? In Theatre of the Oppressed, we are introduced the necessary characteristics of virtue (pg,17) which outline what makes a character truly virtuous.

The first condition that makes a character truly virtuous is his willfulness. On page seventeen of Theatre of the Oppressed, willfulness is defined as conscious decision making that is not affected by chance or fate. Prometheus is placed in shackles by the gods of Power, violence and Hephaestus. We come to learn throughout the recounting of the Prometheus’ story that his major offense was bringing the humans fire and therefore this brought them in some way closer to the gods. “Prometheus. I did the wrong thing intentionally, intentionally, I won't deny it: by helping mortals, I brought trouble on myself.

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But I certainly never thought I would have a punishment anything like this, left to wither on these elevated rocks, my lot cast on this deserted, neighbourless crag. (263-276)” Prometheus states that he did the “wrong” thing but I view it as he is stating it is the wrong thing in the eyes of the gods and especially Zeus, who is the one that punishes him not in terms of what is the correct and morally upright thing. This quote demonstrates that he chooses to perform this act of virtue willingly, not as an accident or as happenstance even while knowing that it would be looked down upon and perhaps cause him trouble although he was not expecting this amount of punishment.

The second condition of virtue is freedom. “Here, exterior coercion is excluded. If a man commits an evil act because someone forces him with a gun to his head, one cannot in this case speak of vice. Virtue is free behavior, without any sort of exterior pressure.” (Theatre of the Oppressed, pg. 18.) Throughout the play we are shown examples of Prometheus giving to mortals in order to help them. He is scolded by all who visit him such as Oceanus and Hermes as well as by his captor Hephaestus. It is only the chorus which shows a small amount of sympathy for the plight of Prometheus. The freedom lays in his continued resistance to these admonishments and his insistence on standing by his ideals.

In lines (546-553) we see Prometheus speak to the concept that there will be no reciprocation from humanity as they are a weak and not capable of doing so and knowing that humanity will never meet the approval of Zeus. here we see that the sympathy stems from Prometheus performing this act of kindness knowing that humanity could never repay him for the gifts and knowledge he has given mortals. and this demonstrates that there was no ulterior motive for his actions, they were performed without coercion and only for the betterment of mankind.

The third condition is knowledge. “It is the opposite of ignorance. The person who acts has before him an option whose terms he knows” (Boal,Theatre of the Oppressed,pg.18) now we have already seen that Prometheus understands that his actions in providing humans with fire was “wrong” in the eyes of the gods and therefore his actions are subject to punishment.

“CHORUS. You're just saying things against Zeus that you would like to be true.

In lines (928-936) we hear Prometheus banter back and forth

Although at one point in the play Prometheus acts as if he is surprised by the level of punishment, he has received we as the audience are also aware that Prometheus has the gift of foresight and knows what the future entails. This means that Prometheus is fully aware of all the issues that his disobedience would bring him and yet he still went ahead knowing that the punishment would be brutal. Prometheus is full of knowledge and that he chooses to carry out his act to help mankind shows that he fulfills this condition of virtue.

The fourth and final condition of virtue is constancy. “Since virtues and vices are habits, not merely passions, it is necessary that virtuous or vicious behavior also be constant”(Theatre of the Oppressed,pg.19) The actions taken by Prometheus in this piece are constant as he has helped humanity many times, he brought them not just fire but the ability to get animals to do their work and how to find gold and silver, he did all of these actions knowing that Zeus would look down upon them and the punishment would be severe. “There is not a torture or an engine wherewithal Zeus can induce me to declare these things, till he has loosed me from these cruel shackles. So let him hurl his smoky lightning flame, and throw in turmoil all things in the world with white-winged snowflakes and deep bellowing thunder beneath the earth: me he shall not bend by all this to tell him who is fated to drive him from tyranny.”(987-998) even though he is shackled and in the midst of being punished Prometheus even at the request of other gods does not stray from his actions. He is constant not just in the help he has given mankind but in his adherence to the belief that his actions were just even though they were viewed as wrong by Zeus.

Prometheus is a tragic hero in the sense that he is a benevolent being whose downfall is precipitated by his fatal flaw, which is his blind spot for helping humanity which leads to his direct defiance of Zeus. This downfall is what leads the audience to feel empathy for his plight as they understand and feel empathy with regards to his benevolence and his love of humanity which is both a product of understanding the motivation behind his actions as well as the fact that it is self-serving as we, the audience full of humans, directly benefit from that benevolence. All of the pitfalls that befall Prometheus stem from his Hamartia which is his tragic flaw, his love for humanity and despite all of his positive qualities and tendencies there are no negatives to the character except one… the hubris he displays while defying Zeus in order to aid people. The Ethos the character displays is bringing fire to humanity as well as other technological and agricultural advances as his Dianoia is his love and affection for human beings.

The Peripeteia is when we find out that Prometheus can see the future and knows that IO future family member will eventually be the one who will challenge and overthrow Zeus from his throne. All of these scenarios and actions lead the audience to feel empathy and pity for Prometheus and eventually reach Catharsis when Prometheus is further banished at the need of the play. The ultimate sacrifice at the end of the play of further banishment into an abyss leads to the audience to explore how it is affected by these events. The main takeaway is that Prometheus is willing to sacrifice himself in order for humanity to advance and the audience feels gratitude for the gifts he has imparted and his bravery in the face of punishment, the audience may feel some guilt knowing as well knowing that the kindness Prometheus shows humanity is the direct cause of his punishment and downfall.

Prometheus is a character who is put in the predicament we find him in by his own actions. They are thought out and not accidental and he is well aware that they will bring about punishment and the wrath of the king of the gods, Zeus. These facts show that Prometheus is a truly virtuous character if judged by the parameters set forth by The Theatre of The Oppressed. He is willful in his actions, does them of his own free will, is knowledgeable of the consequences they will bring about, and is constant in the help he gives humanity as well as his refusal to believe that his help was unjust and his willingness to suffer in defense of that belief.

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