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Quote from Aeschylus Prometheus

Posted on 2013-12-28
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Heyas,

Could someone help me decipher what the first part (above the star line) of this passage means?

When first upon his high, paternal throne
He took seat, forthwith to divers Gods
Divers good gifts he gave, and parcelled out
His empire, but of miserable men
Recked not at all;
rather it was his wish

*******************

To wipe out man and rear another race:
And these designs none contravened but me.
I risked all in the attempt, and saved mankind
From stark destruction and the road to Hell

Could anyone clarify?
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Question by:Zack
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BillDL earned 50 total points
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OK, so the Greek playwright Aeschylus of Athens wrote "Prometheus Bound" in which Prometheus is telling a tale - a rather sexist and violent tale I might add - so stop viewing if you are a feminist or have a weak stomach ;-)

The name Prometheus is derived from the Greek words "pro" (before) and "methes" (thought), so it means "before thought" or "forethought".  He was a Titan, and the Titans were supposed to have ruled the universe via their king who was named Cronus.  He had 6 children who are referred to as the Olympian Gods, namely Zeus, Hera, Hades, Poseidon, Demeter, and Hestia.

Cronus was something of a tyrant and really ticked off Zeus who led a revolt and and the Gods broke away from their father's rule.  Fortunately Prometheus (and also Oceanus) revolted and helped the Gods knock the living daylights out of the Titans, resulting in Zeus claiming the "ruler of the universe" title.

Things were great to begin with, as Prometheus created men (note: women came much later) and gave them the knowledge to invent, discover, and develop to quite an advanced level.  As with everything in the world, eventually men became greedy and misused the gifts of intelligence and knowledge, which got Zeus so pissed that he was about to destroy all men.

Prometheus wasn't prepared to stand aside and let Zeus destroy what he had created, so he decided to help men a step further by stealing the secret of fire from the Gods and giving it to them.

Zeus really lost his cool and decided to bestow an even worse fate than death on all men .... wait for it ...... he created the first woman, and to make it worse gave her a strange name - Pandora!

For his dissent, Prometheus was tied to a rock and sentenced to having a his liver (then thought to be the heart and soul of life) pecked out by vultures each and every day for eternity - literally an eternity, because his liver would regenerate overnight ready for the next lot of vultures.  Hercules eventually freed Prometheus thousands of years later, but by that time he would probably have been a bit of a mess I suppose.

OK, your extract paraphrased and in a linear prose rather than as a fragmented "poem" form, because it is easier to read as complete sentences.  My reading of the word "divers" is that it equates to "diverse" in the sense that it really means "various" in modern lingo.

Prometheus:
      
When first on his high, paternal [acquired from his father] throne, he [Zeus] took his seat to a serve the various Gods.  Various and plentiful good gifts he gave to men, and parcelled [shared?] out his empire, but he failed to reck [reckon / recognise] how miserable men could be, so he decided to wipe out man and start again with another race.  His ideas went down well with everybody else but me [remember this is still Prometheus recounting the tale].

I took a hell of a risk to save mankind from stark destruction and the road to hell [because of their greed and stupidity], and as a result I have this sore penance to suffer, and it is pitiful to see.

Read on and see what you make of his ramblings:

But, for compassion shown to man, such fate I no wise earned; rather in wrath's despite
Am I to be reformed, and made a show
Of infamy to Zeus....

Yea, to my friends a woeful sight am I.

Chorus:  Hast not more boldly in aught else transgressed?
Prometheus:  I took from man expectancy of death.
Chorus:  What medicine found'st thou for this malady?
Prometheus:  I planted blind hope in the heart of him.
Chorus:  A mighty boon thou gavest there to man.
Prometheus:  Moreover, I conferred the gift of fire.
Chorus:  And have frail mortals now the flame-bright fire?
Prometheus:  Yea, and shall master many arts thereby.
Chorus:  And Zeus with such misfeasance [crime] charging thee--
Prometheus:  Torments me with extremity of woe.
Chorus:  And is no end in prospect of thy pains?
Prometheus:  None; save when he shall choose to make an end.

Chorus:

How shall he choose?  What hope is thine?  Dost thou
Not see that thou hast erred?  But how thou erredst
Small pleasure were to me to tell; to thee
Exceeding sorrow.  Let it go then:  rather
Seek thou for some deliverance from thy woes.
Prometheus:       He who stands free with an untrammelled foot
Is quick to counsel and exhort a friend
In trouble.  But all these things I know well.
Of my free will, my own free will, I erred,
And freely do I here acknowledge it.

Freeing mankind myself have durance [imprisonment] found.
Natheless [Nevertheless], I looked not for sentence so dread,
High on this precipice to droop and pine,
Having no neighbor but the desolate crags.

And now lament no more the ills I suffer,
But come to earth and an attentive ear
Lend to the things that shall befall hereafter.

Harken, oh harken, suffer as I suffer!
Who knows, who knows, but on some scatheless head,
Another's yet for the like woes reserved,
The wandering doom will presently alight?...

....listen to the tale
Of human sufferings, and how at first
Senseless as beasts I gave men sense, possessed them
Of mind.  I speak not in contempt of man;
I do but tell of good gifts I conferred.

In the beginning, seeing they saw amiss,
And hearing heard not, but, like phantoms huddled
In dreams, the perplexed story of their days
Confounded; knowing neither timber-work
Nor brick-built dwellings basking in the light,
But dug for themselves holes, wherein like ants
That hardly may contend against a breath,
They dwelt in burrows of their unsunned caves.

Neither of winter's cold had they fixed sign,
Nor of the spring when she comes decked with flowers,
Nor yet of summer's heat with melting fruits
Sure token:  but utterly without knowledge
Moiled, until I the rising of the stars
Showed them, and when they set, though much obscure.

Moreover, number, the most excellent
Of all inventions, I for them devised,
And gave them writing that retaineth all,
The serviceable mother of the Muse,
I was the first that yoked unmanaged beasts,
To serve as slaves with collar and with pack,
And take upon themselves, to man's relief,
The heaviest labour of his hands:  and I
Tamed to the rein and drove in wheelèd cars
The horse, of sumptuous pride the ornament.

And those sea-wanderers with the wings of cloth,
The shipman's wagons, none but I contrived.

These manifold inventions for mankind
I perfected, who, out upon't, have none --
No, not one shift -- to rid me of this shame....

But hear the sequel and the more admire
What arts, what aids I cleverly evolved.

The chiefest that, if any man fell sick,
There was no help for him, comestible,
Lotion or potion; but for lack of drugs
They dwindled quite away; until I taught them
To compound draughts and mixtures sanative,
Wherewith they now are armed against disease.

I staked the winding path of divination
And was the first distinguisher of dreams,
The true from false; and voices ominous
Of meaning dark interpreted; and tokens
Seen when men take the road; and augury
By flight of all the greater crook-clawed birds
With nice discrimination I defined;
These by their nature fair and favourable,
Those, flattered with fair name.  And of each sort
The habits I described; their mutual feuds
And friendships and the assemblages they hold.
And of the plumpness of the inward parts
What colour is acceptable to the Gods,
The well-streaked liver-lobe and gall-bladder.

Also by roasting limbs well wrapped in fat
And the long chine, I led men on the road
Of dark and riddling knowledge; and I purged
The glancing eye of fire, dim before,
And made its meaning plain.  These are my works.

Then, things beneath the earth, aids hid from man,
Brass, iron, silver, gold, who dares to say
He was before me in discovering?
None, I wot well [believe], unless he loves to babble.
And in a single word to sum the whole --
All manner of arts men from Prometheus learned.
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by:Zack
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Wow what an in depth answer thank you so much. Would give you A+++ if I could.
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by:BillDL
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You've very welcome.  I'm glad it helped.
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