Being the account of the mythologies of the Titan Prometheus, as preserved in living tradition and lore by the Order of Prometheus Fraternity, Theta Omega Phi, Sigma Chapter, at Potsdam College of the State University of New York. Communicated to you humbly by an alumnus of the same, having pledged in Spring of 1990. HTF.

Prometheus the Titan

Prometheus was one of the race of the Titans, the predecessors of the Gods in Ancient Greece. His father was the Titan Iapetus, and his mother was the nymph Asia. His mother had the ability to divine the future, and this was passed to her son who was named because of it, Prometheus translating literally into "Forethought". Prometheus had three brothers as well; Atlas was the eldest, Menoetius the next eldest, and Epimetheus ("Afterthought") the youngest brother.

When Rhea saved Zeus from being devoured by the Titan Kronos, his father, the race of Gods were born, and Zeus eventually rose up to slay his father and assume control of Mount Olympus.

The Unconventional Midwife

Prometheus was known to be a valued counselor, wise because of his ability to see the future. When Zeus got a splitting headache whilst walking in the gardens upon Olympus, Hermes was sent to bring the wise Titan. Upon assessing the situation, Prometheus took up a large rock and smote Zeus upon the head, splitting open his skull. From the cleft the warrior goddess Athena sprang forth, girt for war and fully formed. Zeus chafed at the unconventional methods of the Titan, beginning the resentment which eventually led to the Titan's greatest trials. Athena, being wise, however, was very grateful and immediately became Prometheus's benefactress within the ranks of the Gods on Olympus, owing him the debt of her release.

Time passed, and the Titans were ill content with the Gods sitting in rulership of Olympus where they themselves had held sway for aeons before. So the Titans waged war on the Gods for dominion over the cosmos. Great were the turmoil and tempests loosed by the conflict, and long waged the war.

The Wise Choice

Prometheus foresaw the eventual defeat of the Titans, and pressed his family to side instead with the Gods. He knew that to oppose the Gods would bring about their destruction. Only Epimetheus heeded Prometheus, because the bumbling younger Titan had already learned painful lessons in hindsight that his brother was far wiser than he.

And so it was that the uprising of the Titans was overcome, and the rule of the Gods on Olympus was secured, with only Prometheus and Epimetheus siding with the newcomers against their own kind. Iapetus and Menoetius were struck down on the battlefield by a lightning bolt, and Atlas was sentenced to carry the weight of the heavens on his shoulders for all time. Zeus was filled with rejoicing at his victory, and did not notice when Prometheus and his brother Epimetheus went to the Earth and took up clay from the shores of the province of Boetia, which they fashioned into figures.

Athena Grants the Fire of Life

When Athena saw what Prometheus and his brother had made, she came down to the Earth and out of gratitude for her birth, breathed the fire of life into what they had made. Prometheus was wise, and thought to the future, so his creatures knew and revered their creator, and became Men. Epimetheus was not, and his creatures did not recognize their creator, but some attacked him. These became the beasts of the land and air.

When Zeus looked down from his throne on Mount Olympus, he beheld these new beings, and summoned Prometheus before him. Ill content at Prometheus usurping the creation of mankind, Zeus ordered them destroyed so that only the Gods would reign in the world. Prometheus begged a boon that the creatures would be spared, since the two Titans had assisted the Gods in securing their place in the cosmos. Zeus had no choice but to comply.

The First Defiance of Zeus; The Trick of the Sacks

To be certain that men knew their place, they were told that they must offer animals to the Gods, to be laid upon altars in sacrifice. Prometheus agreed, and went down to Earth to tell the humans of this restriction, and instruct them in the ways of religion. But men were hungry, and begged Prometheus to intercede for them, since to offer every part of the animal to the Gods was a waste of food. Prometheus loved his creations, and so agreed to devise a plan.

He ordered an ox to be slaughtered in sacrifice before the altar of Zeus and had the skin removed and fashioned into two sacks. Into one sack, he placed all of the meat, but took the gizzards and entrails and placed them on top. Into the other bag, he placed all of the bones, but put the fat on top. Prometheus then called Zeus down to the Earth to settle the dispute, by choosing that portion of the animals which would be reserved evermore for the Gods, and that part which would be for men to keep.

Zeus looked at the bags and saw the fat (the most prized portion of the animal) and the entrails (the least desirable) and looked no further. He chose the bag with the fat as the portion which was reserved for the Gods, and belatedly saw that all he had taken was a pile of bones. He left the scene, telling Prometheus "Let them have their meat, but they will eat it raw. They shall never have Fire, nor shall any of the Gods grant them their Gifts."

Athena Grants the Fire of Knowledge

Athena, however, was endeared with the race of Men, and she devised a cunning plan whereby humanity would receive her holy Wisdom, yet not violate the letter of the strictures of Zeus. Athena summoned Prometheus to her, and taught him all that she knew in the ways of Wisdom, and told him to take that knowledge back to Earth to share with humanity, which Prometheus did. Athena had not been forbidden to grant her divine Gifts to Titans, only humans. Prometheus was not a God, and therefore was not forbidden to share what he had received. Zeus knew that Athena and Prometheus had outsmarted him, and was angry.

The Second Defiance of Zeus: the Theft of FIre

Athena further wished to aid mankind, and showed Prometheus a secret entrance past the guards on Mount Olympus, which led directly to the chamber where the Chariot of the Sun was kept at night. Prometheus took up a pithy fennel stalk and under cover of darkness stole into Mount Olympus. There, he lit his torch at the Chariot of the Sun, and blew the fire out, leaving only a glowing ember, which he placed into the middle of the fennel stalk where it would smolder, but not burn, and have its glow be hidden from the guards as he made his descent from Olympus. When he reached the Earth, he kindled his torch once more from the ember he had carried, and sought Men.

And so it came to pass that Prometheus stole fire from the Gods and brought it down from Olympus to mankind. He warned Men as he gave them the precious gift, that Fire could destroy as well as nurture and sustain, that the Wisdom he had already granted them must be used in its care and keeping.

The Plan of Vengeance

The wrath of Zeus was so great it burned as ice in his veins. He devised a plan of vengeance against Prometheus, turning the craft of the trickster against the Titan himself. Zeus went to each of the Gods in turn and asked them for a Gift from each. From Aphrodite he took Beauty, from Athena, the knowledge of War, from Hephaestus the fires of Creation, from Apollo the Music of the Spheres, etc. on down to the least of the denizens of Olympus. Zeus took these Gifts and combined them with his Power, and created a creature which had never been seen before on the earth or by men. This creature he called woman, and her name was Pandora.

The Third Defiance of Zeus: the Rejection of Pandora

Zeus sent Pandora to the house of Prometheus as a gift, intending that she should marry the Titan and be with him for all eternity. The Titan looked ahead, however, and foresaw all manner of ills being unleashed upon the world by this creature, and so he turned her away, even knowing the future which lay in store for him because he had spurned Zeus. Prometheus was convinced of the nobility of mankind, and would not contribute knowingly to their compromise, even though the King of Heaven so ordered it, or that the price for his compassion were eternal suffering.

Zeus was delighted, for in refusing his gift of Pandora, Prometheus had violated the sacred covenants of hospitality, and had offended Zeus. Zeus ordered Prometheus be seized and shackled in chains which were forged by Hephaestus. He was brought in chains before the throne of Olympus, and sentenced to a horrible torture. He was to be taken to the Caucasus Mountains and there, upon the heights, he would be chained to a massive rock. Every morning, in the burning sun, a vulture would come to peck out his liver, and every evening, in the freezing night, it would grow back. Zeus sentenced him to be chained to that rock for all eternity.

As for Pandora, Zeus had no further use for her, and sent her to the house of Epimetheus, who had learned in hindsight not to deny the hospitality of the Gods, and accepted her as his wife. As Bullfinch records, "And women have thus plagued mankind ever since."

As Prometheus was being dragged out of Olympus, he laughed at Zeus and declared that he would accept his sentence, since he knew a secret, a terrible secret that threatened the very reign of the Gods in the Cosmos. And that was a secret he would never reveal, since although he would live for all eternity in agony, by keeping silent he would surely outlive the Gods on Olympus, and thus mankind would be forever safe from their tyranny.

Zeus sought the wisdom of the Gods, and together they divined that Prometheus had indeed spoken rightly. The omens and portents all pointed to a crossroads, a terrible moment when the Gods might themselves be cast down as they had cast down the Titans. Zeus gnashed his teeth and tore at his beard, and relented. He sent Hermes with a message, offering the imprisoned Titan a release from his terrible sentence, if he would only relent and inform the Gods of his Secret. Prometheus, although he was truly miserable upon the rock, refused, bearing his torture stoically for many years.

A Mother's Mercy

Finally, desperate to win her son's release and troubled by the prospect of another cosmic coup, Asia, Prometheus' mother -- who also had the gift of prescience -- went to Zeus and brokered her son's release, giving up his Secret and securing the reign of the Gods for all eternity.

The Release of Prometheus

True to his word, Zeus sent his son Herakles to release Prometheus. Herakles killed the ancient vulture and rent the chains assunder. But, as Zeus had ordered, one of the links of the chain was fashioned into a ring for Prometheus' finger, and a chip of the rock upon which his sentence had been carried out was set into the ring. Thus, Zeus's decree was upheld, and Prometheus remains chained to the rock via his ring even to this day. It was in honor of the pains of Prometheus and the joy of his release that caused men to wear rings of metal set with stones in them.

As a symbol of his repentance, Prometheus was ordered to wear a crown of willow, a tree of mourning. Herakles, in order to alleviate the shame of Prometheus, took up a wreath of laurel to wear for himself as they processed down the mountains. To this day, a crown of willow is sacred to Prometheus, and the crown of laurel is acknowledged as a symbol of victory and triumph, the accolades of the hero.

The Mantle of Immortality

Now, the centaur Cheiron had been poisoned upon the field of battle with a deadly arrow, but being an immortal had not been able to die, left to a miserable existence of pain and suffering. When he heard that Prometheus had been released, Cheiron ordered the mantle of his own immortality be passed to the Titan, acknowledging him as a divine force in his own right. Thus, Cheiron's suffering ended as well, and Prometheus was elevated to the ranks of the Olympians.

The Flood

It also came to pass that Zeus felt no longer bound to protect the creatures of Prometheus and Epimetheus, and caused a great flood to wash across the land, killing everyone so that he could start over and fashion men in his own image. Prometheus, however, had foreseen this attempt, and instructed Deukalion and Pyrrha to build a boat on a mountain, which would allow them to survive the deluge. When the waters receded, it was Prometheus who commanded them to "Cast the bones of your mother behind you." Deukalion and Pyrrha picked up rocks and tossed them over their shoulders. Where they landed, humans sprang forth once again.

When Zeus saw that humans had survived, and that Prometheus had worked against him once more, he relented and accepted humanity's place within the Cosmos. And this time Prometheus was sent forth, girt with the shield of Athena and the winged sandals of Hermes, to bear his torch back to the earth and restore to humanity the gift of fire once more.

Greek and Roman Mythology


Bullfinch's MYTHOLOGY


Oral tradition of the Order of Prometheus Fraternity, Theta Omega Phi, Sigma Chapter, SUNY Potsdam

Collections of mythology and folk tales about Prometheus from a variety of sources, condensed into several essays, maintained by the Order of Prometheus Fraternity (see above).

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