Front Page Titles (by Subject) PROMETHEUS BOUND A LYRICO-DRAMATIC SPECTACLE - The Lyrical Dramas of Aeschylus
PROMETHEUS BOUND A LYRICO-DRAMATIC SPECTACLE - Aeschylus, The Lyrical Dramas of Aeschylus 
The Lyrical Dramas of Aeschylus, translated into English Verse by John Stuart Blackie (London: J.M. Dent, 1906).
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A LYRICO-DRAMATIC SPECTACLE
- Δη̂σε δ’ἀλυκτοπέδ[Editor: illegible character]σι Προμηθέα ποικιλόβουλην
- Δεσμοɩ̂ς ἀργαλέοισι.
- Neither to change, nor flatter, nor repent.
Might and Force, Ministers of Jove.
Hephaesthus or Vulcan, the God of Fire.
Prometheus, Son of Iapetus, a Titan.
Chorus of Oceanides.
Io, Daughter of Inachus, King of Argos.
Hermes, Messenger of the Gods.
Scene—A Rocky Desert in European Scythia.
- Vain the wit is of the wisest to deceive the mind of Jove;
- Not Prometheus, son of Iapetus, though his heart was moved by love,
- Might escape the heavy anger of the god that rules the skies,
- But, despite of all his cunning, with a strong chain bound he lies.
Those who are acquainted with the philological learning on this subject, which I have discussed elsewhere, or even with the common ideas on the legend of Prometheus brought into circulation by the productions of modern poetry, are aware that the view just given of the moral significance of this weighty old myth, is not the current one, and that we are rather accustomed to look upon Prometheus as a sort of proto-martyr of liberty, bearing up with the strength of a god against the punishment unjustly inflicted on him by the celestial usurper and tyrant, Jove But Hesiod, we have just seen, looks on the matter with very different eyes, and the unquestioned supremacy of Jove that stands out everywhere, from the otherwise not always consistent theological system of the Iliad, leads plainly to the conclusion that Homer also, had he had occasion to introduce this legend, would have handled it in a spirit altogether different from our Shelleys and Byrons, and other earth-shaking and heaven-scaling poets of the modern revolutionary school. As little is there any ground (see the life of Æschylus, vol. I.) for the supposition that our tragedian has taken up different theological ground in reference to this myth, from that which belonged to the two great expositors of the popular creed, not to mention the staring absurdity of the idea, that a grave tragic poet in a serious composition, at a public religious festival, should have dared, or daring, should have been allowed, to hold up their supreme deity to a nation of freemen in the character of a cruel and unjust tyrant. Thrown back, therefore, on the original Hesiodic conception of the myth, we are led to observe that the imperfect and unsatisfactory ideas so current on this subject in modern times, have taken their rise from the practice (so natural under the circumstances) of looking on the extant piece as a complete whole, whereas nothing is more certain than that it is only a fragment; the second part, in fact, of a dramatic trilogy similar in conception and execution to that, of which we have endeavoured to present a reflection in the preceding pages. Potter, in his translation published a hundred years ago, prefaced his version of the present piece with the well-known fact, that Æschylus wrote three plays on this subject—the Fire-bringing Prometheus, the Prometheus Bound, and the Prometheus Unbound—but this intimation was not sufficient to prevent his readers, with the usual hastiness of human logic, from judging of what they saw, as if it were an organic whole, containing within itself every element necessary for forming a true conception of its character. The consequence was, that the hero of the piece, who, of course, tells his own story in the most favourable way for himself, was considered as having passed a final judgment on the case, as the friend and representative of man, he naturally seemed entitled to the gratitude of men; while Jove, being now only an idol in the world (perhaps a devil), and having no advocate in the heart of the modern reader, was made to stand—on the representation of the same Prometheus—as the type of heartless tyranny, and the impersonation of absolute power combined with absolute selfishness. This is Shelley’s view; but that such was not the view of Æschylus we may be assured, both from the consideration already mentioned, and from the poet’s method of reconciling apparently incompatible claims of opposite celestial powers, so curiously exhibited in the Eumenides. In the trilogy of the preceding pages, Orestes stands in a situation, so far as the development of the plot is concerned, precisely analogous to that of Prometheus in the present piece. His conduct, as submitted to the moral judgment of the spectator, produces the same conflict of contrary emotions of which his own bosom is the victim. With the one-half of our heart we approve of his avenging his father’s murder; with the other half, we plead that a son shall, on no ground of offence, allow his indignation to proceed so far as to imbrue his hands in the blood of her whose milk he had sucked. This contrariety of emotions excited in the second piece of the trilogy, produces the tragic knot, which it is the business of the poet to unloose, by the worthy interposition of a god. “Nec Deus intersit, nisi dignus vindice nodus.”—Exactly so in the second piece of the Promethean trilogy, our moral judgment praises the benevolence of the god, who, to elevate our human race from brutish degradation, dared to defy omnipotent power, and to deceive the wisdom of the omniscient; while, at the same time, we cannot but condemn the spirit of unreined independence that would shake itself free from the great centre of moral cohesion, and the reckless boldness that casts reproach in the face of the great Ruler of the universe. In this state of suspense, represented by the doubtful attitude of the Chorus through the whole play, the present fragment of the great Æschylean Promethiad leaves the well-instructed modern reader; and it admits not, in my view, of a doubt that, in the concluding piece, it remained for the poet to effect a reconciliation between the contending interests and clashing emotions, somewhat after the fashion of which we possess a specimen in the Eumenides. By what agency of individuals or of arguments this was done, it is hopeless now to inquire; the fragmentary notices that remain are too meagre to justify a scientific restoration of the lost drama; they who wish to see what erudite imagination can do in this direction may consult Welcker and Schoemann—Welcker, in the shape of prose dissertation in his Trilogie, p. 28; and Schoemann, in the shape of a poetical restoration of the lost poem, in the Appendix to his very valuable edition of this play. About one thing only can we be certain, that, in the ultimate settlement of disputed claims, neither will Prometheus, on the one hand, be degraded from the high position on which the poet has planted him as a sort of umpire between gods and men, nor will Jove yield one whit of his supreme right to exact the bitterest penalties from man or god who presumes to act independently of, and even in opposition to his will. The tragic poet will duly exercise his grand function of keeping the powers of the celestial world—as he does the contending emotions of the human mind—in due equipoise and subordination.
The plot of the Prometheus Bound is the simplest possible, being not so much the dramatic progression of a course of events, as a single dramatic situation presented through the whole piece under different aspects. The theft of fire from Heaven, or (as the notice of Cicero seems to indicate) from the Lemnian volcano of Mosychlos, having been perpetrated in the previous piece, Might and Force, two allegorical personages, the ministers of Jove’s vengeance, are now introduced, along with Hephaestus, the forger of celestial chains, nailing the benevolent offender to a cold craggy rock in the wastes of European Scythia. In this condition when, after a long silence, he at length gives vent to his complaint, certain kindred divine persons—first, the Oceanides, or daughters of Ocean, and then their hoary sire himself, are brought on the scene, with words of solace and friendly exhortation to the sufferer. When all the arguments that these parties have to advance are exhausted in vain, another mythic personage, of a different character, and for a different purpose, appears. This is Io, the daughter of Inachus, the primeval king of Argos, who, having enjoyed the unblissful distinction of stirring the heart of Jove with love, is, by the jealous wrath of Hera, transmuted into the likeness of a cow, and sent wandering to the ends of the Earth, fretted into restless distraction by the stings of a malignant insect. This character serves a threefold purpose. First, as a sufferer, tracing the origin of all her misery from Jove, she both sympathizes strongly with Prometheus, and exhibits the character of Jove in another unfavourable aspect; secondly, with her wild maniac cries and reinless fits of distraction, she presents a fine contrast to the calm self-possession with which the stout-hearted Titan endures the penalty of his pride; and, in the third place, as the progenitrix of the Argive Hercules, the destined instrument of the delivery of Prometheus, she connects the middle with the concluding piece of the trilogy. Last of all, when this strange apparition has vanished, appears on the scene the great Olympian negotiator, Hermes; who, with the eloquence peculiar to himself, and the threatened terrors of his supreme master, endeavours to break the pride and to bend the will of the lofty-minded offender. In vain. The threatened terrors of the Thunderer now suddenly start into reality; and, amid the roar of contending elements, the pealing Heaven and the quaking Earth, the Jove-defying son of Iapetus descends into Hell.
The superhuman grandeur and high tragic sublimity which belongs to the very conception of this subject, has suffered nothing in respect of treatment from the genius of the bard who dared to handle it. The Prometheus Bound, though inferior in point of lyric richness and variety to the Agamemnon, and though somewhat overloaded with narrative in one place, is nevertheless felt throughout to be one of the most powerful productions of one of the most powerful minds that the history of literature knows. No work of a similar lofty character certainly has ever been so extensively popular. The Prometheus Unbound of Shelley, and Lord Byron’s Manfred, bear ample witness, of which we may well be proud, to the relationship which exists between the severe Melpomene of ancient Greece, and the lofty British Muse.
EnterMightandForce,leading inPrometheus; Hephaestus,with chains.
- At length the utmost bound of Earth we’ve reached,
- This Scythian soil, this wild untrodden waste.1
- Hephaestus now Jove’s high behests demand
- Thy care; to these steep cliffy rocks bind down
- With close-linked chains of during adamant
- This daring wretch2 For he the bright-rayed fire,
- Mother of arts, flower of thy potency,
- Filched from the gods, and gave to mortals. Here,
- Just guerdon of his sin shall find him; here
- Let his pride learn to bow to Jove supreme,
- And love men well, but love them not too much.
- Ye twain, rude Might and Force, have done your work
- To the perfect end; but I—my heart shrinks back
- From the harsh task to nail a kindred god3
- To this storm-battered crag. Yet dare I must.
- Where Jove commands, whoso neglects rebels,
- And pays the traitor’s fine. High-counselled son
- Of right-decreeing Themis,4 I force myself
- No less than thee, when to this friendless rock
- With iron bonds I chain thee, where nor shape
- Nor voice of wandering mortal shall relieve
- Thy lonely watch; but the fierce-burning sun
- Shall parch and bleach thy fresh complexion. Thou,
- When motley-mantled Night hath hid the day,
- Shalt greet the darkness, with how short a joy!
- For the morn’s sun the nightly dew shall scatter,
- And thou be pierced again with the same pricks
- Of endless woe—and saviour shall be none.5
- Such fruits thy forward love to men hath wrought thee.
- Thyself a god, the wrath of gods to thee
- Seemed little, and to men thou didst dispense
- Forbidden gifts. For this thou shalt keep watch
- On this delightless rock, fixed and erect,
- With lid unsleeping, and with knee unbent.
- Alas! what groans and wails shalt thou pour forth,
- Fruitless. Jove is not weak that he should bend,6
- For young authority must ever be
- Harsh and severe.
- Enough of words and tears.
- This god, whom all the gods detest, wilt thou
- Not hate, thou, whom his impious larceny
- Did chiefly injure?
But, my friend, my kinsman—
- True, that respect; but the dread father’s word
- Respect much more. Jove’s word respect and fear.
- Harsh is thy nature, and thy heart is full
- Of pitiless daring.
- Tears were wasted here,
- And labour lost is all concern for him
O thrice-cursed trade, that e’er my hand should use it!
- Curse not thy craft; the cunning of thy hand
- Makes not his woes; he made them for himself.
- Would that some other hand had drawn the lot
- To do this deed!
- All things may be, but this
- To dictate to the gods.7 There’s one that’s free,
- One only, Jove.
I know it, and am dumb.
- Then gird thee to the work, chain down the culprit,
- Lest Jove thy laggard zeal behold, and blame.
The irons here are ready.
- Take them, and strike
- Stout blows with the hammer; nail him to the rock.
The work speeds well, and lingers not.
- Strike! strike!
- With ring, and clamp, and wedge make sure the work.
- He hath a subtle wit will find itself
- A way where way is none.
This arm is fast.
- Then clasp this other. Let the sophist know,
- Against great Jove how dull a thing is wit.
None but the victim can reprove my zeal.
- Now take this adamantine bolt, and force
- Its point resistless through his rebel breast.
- Alas! alas! Prometheus, but I pity thee!
- Dost lag again, and for Jove’s enemies weep
- Fond tears? Beware thou have no cause to weep
- Tears for thyself.
- Thou see’st no sightly sight
- For eyes to look on.
- I behold a sower
- Reaping what thing he sowed. But take these thongs,
- And bind his sides withal.
- I must! I must!
- Nor needs thy urging.
- Nay, but I will urge,
- Command, and bellow in thine ear! Proceed,
- Lower—yet lower—and with these iron rings
- Enclasp his legs.
’Tis done, and quickly done.
- Now pierce his feet through with these nails. Strike hard!
- There’s one will sternly prove thy work, and thee.
Harsh is thy tongue, and, like thy nature, hard.
- Art thou a weakling, do not therefore blame
- The firm harsh-fronted will that suits my office.
Let us away. He’s fettered limb and thew.
- There lie, and feed thy pride on this bare rock,
- Filching gods’ gifts for mortal men. What man
- Shall free thee from these woes? Thou hast been called
- In vain the Provident:8 had thy soul possessed
- The virtue of thy name, thou hadst foreseen
- These cunning toils, and hadst unwound thee from them.
[Exeunt all, exceptPrometheus,who is left chained.
- O divine ether, and swift-winged winds,
- And river-fountains, and of ocean waves
- The multitudinous laughter,10 and thou Earth,
- Boon mother of us all, and thou bright round
- Of the all-seeing Sun, you I invoke!
- Behold what ignominy of causeless wrongs
- I suffer from the gods, myself a god.
- See what piercing pains shall goad me
- Through long ages myraid-numbered!
- With such wrongful chains hath bound me
- This new leader of the gods.
- Ah me! present woes and future
- I bemoan. O! when, O! when
- Shall the just redemption dawn.
- Yet why thus prate? I know what ills await me.
- No unexpected torture can surprise
- My soul prophetic; and with quiet mind
- We all must bear our portioned fate, nor idly
- Court battle with a strong necessity.
- Alas! alas! ’tis hard to speak to the winds;
- Still harder to be dumb! my well-deservings
- To mortal men are all the offence that bowed me
- Beneath this yoke. The secret fount of fire
- I sought, and found, and in a reed concealed it;11
- Whence arts have sprung to man, and life hath drawn
- Rich store of comforts For such deed I suffer
- These bonds, in the broad eye of gracious day,
- Here crucified Ah me! ah me! who comes?12
- What sound, what viewless breath, thus taints the air,
- God sent, or mortal, or of mingled kind?
- What errant traveller ill-sped comes to view
- This naked ridge of extreme Earth, and me?
- Whoe’er thou art, a hapless god thou see’st
- Nailed to this crag, the foe of Jove thou seest.
- Him thou see’st, whom all the Immortals
- Whoso tread the Olympian threshold,
- Name with hatred; thou beholdest
- Man’s best friend, and, therefore, hated
- For excess of love.
- Hark, again! I hear the whirring
- As of winged birds approaching;
- With the light strokes of their pinions
- Ether pipes ill-boding whispers!—
- Alas! alas! that I should fear
- Each breath that nears me.
TheOceanidesapproach, borne through the air in a winged car.
- Fear nothing; for a friendly band approaches;
- Fleet rivalry of wings
- Oar’d us to this far height, with hard consent
- Wrung from our careful sire
- The winds swift-sweeping bore me: for I heard
- The harsh hammer’s note deep deep in ocean caves,
- And, throwing virgin shame aside, unshod
- The winged car I mounted.
- Ah! ah!
- Daughters of prolific Tethys,13
- And of ancient father Ocean,
- With his sleepless current whirling
- Round the firm ball of the globe
- Look! with rueful eyes behold me
- Nailed by adamantine rivets,
- Keeping weary watch unenvied
- On this tempest-rifted rock!
- I look, Prometheus, and a tearful cloud
- My woeful sight bedims,
- To see thy goodliest form with insult chained,
- In adamantine bonds,
- To this bare crag, where pinching airs shall blast thee.
- New gods now hold the helm of Heaven; new laws
- Mark Jove’s unrighteous rule; the giant trace
- Of Titan times hath vanished.14
- Deep in death-receiving Hades
- Had he bound me, had he whelmed me
- In Tartarean pit, unfathomed,
- Fettered with unyielding bonds!
- Then nor god nor man had feasted
- Eyes of triumph on my wrongs,
- Nor I, thus swung in middle ether,
- Moved the laughter of my foes.
- Which of the gods hath heart so hard
- To mock thy woes? Who will withhold
- The fellow-feeling and the tear,
- Save only Jove But he doth nurse
- Strong wrath within his stubborn breast,
- And holds all Heaven in awe.
- Nor will he cease till his hot rage is glutted,
- Or some new venture shakes his stable throne.
- By my Titan soul, I swear it!
- Though with harsh chains now he mocks me,
- Even now the hour is ripening,
- When this haughty lord of Heaven
- Shall embrace my knees, beseeching
- Me to unveil the new-forged counsels
- That shall hurl him from his throne.15
- But no honey-tongued persuasion,
- No smooth words of artful charming,
- No stout threats shall loose my tongue,
- Till he loose these bonds of insult,
- And himself make just atonement
- For injustice done to me.
- Thou art a bold man, and defiest
- The keenest pangs to force thy will.
- With a most unreined tongue thou speakest;
- But me—sharp fear hath pierced my heart.
- I fear for thee: and of thy woes
- The distant, doubtful end
- I see not. O, ’tis hard, most hard to reach
- The heart of Jove!16 prayer beats his ear in vain.
- Harsh is Jove, I know—he frameth
- Justice for himself; but soon,
- When the destined arm o’ertakes him,
- He shall tremble as a child.
- He shall smooth his bristling anger,
- Courting friendship shunned before,
- More importunate to unbind me
- Than impatient I of bonds.
- Speak now, and let us know the whole offence
- Jove charges thee withal, for which he seized,
- And with dishonor and dire insult loads thee.
- Unfold the tale, unless, perhaps, such sorrow
- Irks thee to tell.
- To tell or not to tell
- Irks me the same; which way I turn is pain.
- When first the gods their fatal strife began,
- And insurrection raged in Heaven—some striving
- To cast old Kronos from his hoary throne,
- That Jove might reign, and others to crush i’ the bud
- His swelling mastery—I wise counsel gave
- To the Titans, sons of primal Heaven and Earth;
- But gave in vain Their dauntless stubborn souls
- Spurned gentle ways, and patient-working wiles,
- Weening swift triumph with a blow. But me,
- My mother Themis, not once but oft, and Earth
- (One shape of various names),17 prophetic told
- That violence and rude strength in such a strife
- Were vain—craft haply might prevail. This lesson
- I taught the haughty Titans, but they deigned
- Scarce with contempt to hear my prudent words.
- Thus baffled in my plans, I deemed it best,
- As things then were, leagued with my mother Themis,
- To accept Jove’s proffered friendship. By my counsels
- From his primeval throne was Kronos hurled
- Into the pit Tartarean, dark, profound,
- With all his troop of friends. Such was the kindness
- From me received by him who now doth hold
- The masterdom of Heaven; these the rewards
- Of my great zeal: for so it hath been ever.
- Suspicion’s a disease that cleaves to tyrants,
- And they who love most are the first suspected.18
- As for your question, for what present fault
- I bear the wrong that now afflicts me, hear.
- Soon as he sat on his ancestral throne
- He called the gods together, and assigned
- To each his fair allotment, and his sphere
- Of sway supreme; but, ah! for wretched man!
- To him nor part nor portion fell: Jove vowed
- To blot his memory from the Earth, and mould
- The race anew. I only of the gods
- Thwarted his will;19 and, but for my strong aid,
- Hades had whelmed, and hopeless ruin swamped
- All men that breathe. Such were my crimes: these pains
- Grievous to suffer, pitiful to behold,
- Were purchased thus; and mercy’s now denied
- To him whose crime was mercy to mankind:
- And here I lie, in cunning torment stretched,20
- A spectacle inglorious to Jove.
- An iron-heart were his, and flinty hard,
- Who on thy woes could look without a tear,
- Prometheus; I had liefer not so seen thee,
- And seeing thee fain would call mine eyesight liar.
Certes no sight am I for friends to look on.
Was this thy sole offence?
- I taught weak mortals
- Not to foresee harm, and forestall the Fates.
- A sore disease to anticipate mischance:
- How didst thou cure it?
- Blind hopes of good I planted
- In their dark breasts.21
- That was a boon indeed,
- To ephemeral man.
Nay more, I gave them fire.
And flame-faced fire is now enjoyed by mortals?22
Enjoyed, and of all arts the destined mother.
- And is this all the roll of thy offendings
- That he should rage so fierce? Hath he not set
- Bounds to his vengeance?
None, but his own pleasure.
- And when shall he please? Vain the hope; thou see’st
- That thou hast erred, and that thou hast to us
- No pleasure brings, to thee excess of pain.
- Of this enough. Seek now to cure the evil.
- ’Tis a light thing for him whose foot’s unwarped
- By misadventure’s meshes to advise
- And counsel the unfortunate. But I
- Foreknew my fate, and if I erred, I erred
- With conscious purpose, purchasing man’s weal
- With mine own grief. I knew I should offend
- The Thunderer, though deeming not that he
- Would perch me thus to pine ’twixt Earth and Sky,
- Of this wild wintry waste sole habitant.
- But cease to weep for ills that weeping mends not;
- Descend, and I’ll discourse to thee at length
- Of chances yet to come. Nay, do not doubt;
- But leave thy car, nor be ashamed to share
- The afflictions of the afflicted; for Mishap,
- Of things that lawless wander, wanders most;
- With me to-day it is with you to-morrow.
- Not to sluggish ears, Prometheus,
- Hast thou spoken thy desire,
- From our breeze-borne car descending,
- With light foot we greet the ground.
- Leaving ether chaste, smooth pathway
- Of the gently-winnowing wing,
- On this craggy rock I stand,
- To hear the tale, while thou mayst tell it,
- Of thy sorrows to the end.
- From my distant caves cerulean24
- This fleet-pinioned bird hath borne me;
- Needed neither bit nor bridle,
- Thought instinctive reined the creature;
- Thus, to know thy griefs, Prometheus,
- And to grieve with thee I come
- Soothly strong the tie of kindred
- Binds the heart of man and god;
- But, though no such tie had bound me,
- I had wept for thee the same.
- Well thou know’st not mine the cunning
- To discourse with glozing phrase:
- Tell me how I may relieve thee,
- I am ready to relieve;
- Friend thou boastest none than Ocean
- Surer, in the hour of need.
- How now, old Ocean? thou too come to view
- My dire disasters?—how shouldst thou have dared,
- Leaving the billowy stream whose name thou bearest,
- Thy rock-roofed halls, and self-built palaces,
- To visit this Scythian land, stern mother of iron,
- To know my sorrows, and to grieve with me?
- Look on this sight—thy friend, the friend of Jove,
- Who helped him to the sway which now he bears,
- Crushed by the self-same god himself exalted.
- I see, Prometheus; and I come to speak
- A wise word to the wise; receive it wisely.
- Know what thou art, and make thy manners new;
- For a new king doth rule the subject gods.
- Compose thy speech, nor cast such whetted words
- ’Gainst Jove, who, though he sits apart sublime,
- Hath ears, and with new pains may smite his victim,
- To which his present wrath shall seem a toy.
- Listen to me, slack thy fierce ire, and seek
- Speedy deliverance from these woes. Trite wisdom
- Belike I speak, Prometheus; but thou knowest
- A lofty-sounding tongue with passionate phrase
- Buys its own ruin. Proud art thou, unyielding,
- And heap’st new woes tenfold on thine own head.
- Why should’st thou kick against the pricks? Jove reigns
- A lord severe, and of his acts need give
- Account to none. I go to plead for thee,
- And, what I can, will try to save my kinsman;
- But be thou calm the while, curb thy rash speech,
- And let not fame report, that one so wise
- Fell by the forfeit of a foolish tongue.
- Count thyself happy, Ocean, being free
- From blame, who shared and dared with me. Be wise,
- And what thy meddling aids not, let alone.
- In vain thou plead’st with him; his ears are deaf.
- Look to thyself: thy errand is not safe.
- Wise art thou, passing wise, for others’ weal,
- For thine own good most foolish. Prithee do not
- So stretch thy stubborn whim to pull against
- The friends that pull for thee. ’Tis no vain boast;
- I know that Jove will hear me.
- Thou art kind;
- And for thy kind intent and friendly feeling
- Have my best thanks. But do not, I beseech thee,
- Waste labour upon me. If thou wilt labour,
- Seek a more hopeful subject. Thou wert wiser,
- Being safe, to keep thee safe. I, when I suffer,
- Wish not that all my friends should suffer with me.
- Enough my brother Atlas’ miseries grieve me.25
- Who in the extreme West stands, stoutly bearing
- The pillars of Heaven and Earth upon his shoulders,26
- No lightsome burden. Him too, I bewail,
- That made his home in dark Cilician caverns.
- The hostile portent, Earth-born, hundred-headed
- Impetuous Typhon,27 quelled by force, who stood
- Alone, against the embattled host of gods,
- Hissing out murder from his monstrous jaws;
- And from his eyes there flashed a Gorgon glare,
- As he would smite the tyranny of great Jove
- Clean down; but he, with sleepless thunder watching,
- Hurl’d headlong a flame-breathing bolt, and laid
- The big-mouthed vaunter low. Struck to the heart
- With blasted strength, and shrunk to ashes, there
- A huge and helpless hulk, outstretched he lies,
- Beside the salt sea’s strait, pressed down beneath
- The roots of Ætna, on whose peaks Hephaestus
- Sits hammering the hot metal. Thence, one day,
- Shall streams of liquid fire, swift passage forcing,
- With savage jaws the wide-spread plains devour
- Of the fair-fruited Sicilly. Such hot shafts,
- From the flame-breathing ferment of the deep,
- Shall Typhon cast with sateless wrath, though now
- All scorched and cindered by the Thunderer’s stroke,
- Moveless he lies. But why should I teach thee?
- Thou art a wise man, thine own wisdom use
- To save thyself. For me, I’ll even endure
- These pains, till Jove shall please to slack his ire.
- Know’st thou not this, Prometheus, that mild words
- Are medicines of fierce wrath?28
- They are, when spoken
- In a mild hour; but the high-swelling heart
- They do but fret the more.
- But, in the attempt
- To ward the threatened harm, what evil see’st thou?
Most bootless toil, and folly most inane.
- Be it so; but yet ’tis sometimes well, believe me,
- That a wise man should seem to be a fool.
Seem fool, seem wise, I, in the end, am blamed.
Thy reckless words reluctant send me home.
Beware, lest love for me make thyself hated.
- Of whom? Of him, who, on the all-powerful throne
- Sits, a new lord?
- Even him. Beware thou vex not
- Jove’s jealous heart.
In this, thy fate shall warn me.
- Away! farewell; and may the prudent thoughts,
- That sway thy bosom now, direct thee ever.
- I go, and quickly. My four-footed bird
- Brushes the broad path of the limpid air
- With forward wing: right gladly will he bend
- The wearied knee on his familiar stall.
- CHORAL HYMN.
- Thy dire disasters, unexampled wrongs,
- I weep, Prometheus.
- From its soft founts distilled the flowing tear
- My cheek bedashes.
- ’Tis hard, most hard! By self-made laws Jove rules,
- And ’gainst the host of primal gods he points
- The lordly spear.
- ANTISTROPHE I.
- With echoing groans the ambient waste bewails
- Thy fate, Prometheus;
- The neighbouring tribes of holy Asia weep
- For thee, Prometheus;29
- For thee and thine! names mighty and revered
- Of yore, now shamed, dishonoured, and cast down,
- And chained with thee.
- STROPHE II.
- And Colchis, with her belted daughters, weeps
- For thee, Prometheus,
- And Scythian tribes, on Earth’s remotest verge,
- Where lone Mæotis spreads her wintry waters,
- Do weep for thee.
- ANTISTROPHE II.
- The flower of Araby’s wandering warriors weep
- For thee, Prometheus;30
- And they who high their airy holds have perched
- On Caucasus’ ridge, with pointed lances bristling,
- Do weep for thee.
- One only vexed like thee, and even as thou,
- In adamant bound,
- A Titan, and a god scorned by the gods,
- Atlas I knew.
- He on his shoulders the surpassing weight
- Of the celestial pole stoutly upbore,
- And groaned beneath.
- Roars billowy Ocean, and the Deep sucks back
- Its waters when he sobs; from Earth’s dark caves
- Deep hell resounds,
- The fountains of the holy-streaming rivers
- Do moan with him.
- Deem me not self-willed, nor with pride high-strung,
- That I am dumb, my heart is gnawed to see
- Myself thus mocked and jeered. These gods, to whom
- Owe they their green advancement but to me?
- But this ye know, and, not to teach the taught,
- I’ll speak of it no more. Of human kind,
- My great offence in aiding them, in teaching
- The babe to speak, and rousing torpid mind
- To take the grasp of itself—of this I’ll talk;
- Meaning to mortal men no blame, but only
- The true recital of mine own deserts.
- For, soothly, having eyes to see they saw not,31
- And hearing heard not, but like dreamy phantoms,
- A random life they led from year to year,
- All blindly floundering on. No craft they knew
- With woven brick or jointed beam to pile
- The sunward porch; but in the dark earth burrowed
- And housed, like tiny ants in sunless caves.
- No signs they knew to mark the wintry year.
- The flower-strewn Spring, and the fruit-laden Summer,
- Uncalendared, unregistered, returned—
- Till I the difficult art of the stars revealed,
- Their risings and their settings Numbers, too,
- I taught them (a most choice device)32 and how
- By marshalled signs to fix their shifting thoughts,
- That Memory, mother of Muses, might achieve
- Her wondrous works. I first slaved to the yoke
- Both ox and ass. I, the rein-loving steeds
- (Of wealth’s gay-flaunting pomp the chiefest pride)
- Joined to the car; and bade them ease the toils
- Of labouring men vicarious. I the first
- Upon the lint-winged car of mariner
- Was launched, sea-wandering. Such wise arts I found
- To soothe the ills of man’s ephemeral life;
- But for myself, plunged in this depth of woe,
- No prop I find.
- Sad chance! Thy wit hath slipt
- From its firm footing then when needed most,
- Like some unlearned leech who many healed,
- But being sick himself, from all his store,
- Cannot cull out one medicinal drug.
- Hear me yet farther, and in hearing marvel,
- What arts and curious shifts my wit devised.
- Chiefest of all, the cure of dire disease
- Men owe to me. Nor healing food, nor drink,
- Nor unguent knew they, but did slowly wither
- And waste away for lack of pharmacy,
- Till taught by me to mix the soothing drug,
- And check corruption’s march. I fixed the art
- Of divination with its various phase
- Of dim revealings, making dreams speak truth,
- Stray voices, and encounters by the way
- Significant; the flight of taloned birds
- On right and left I marked—these fraught with ban,
- With blissful augury those; their way of life,
- Their mutual loves and enmities, their flocks,
- And friendly gatherings; the entrails’ smoothness,
- The hue best liked by the gods, the gall, the liver
- With all its just proportions. I first wrapped
- In the smooth fat the thighs; first burnt the loins,
- And from the flickering flame taught men to spell
- No easy lore, and cleared the fire-faced signs33
- Obscure before. Yet more: I probed the Earth,
- To yield its hidden wealth to help man’s weakness—
- Iron, copper, silver, gold None but a fool,
- A prating fool, will stint me of this praise.
- And thus, with one short word to sum the tale,
- Prometheus taught all arts to mortal men.
- Do good to men, but do it with discretion.
- Why shouldst thou harm thyself? Good hope I nurse
- To see thee soon from these harsh chains unbound,
- As free, as mighty, as great Jove himself.
- This may not be; the destined course of things
- Fate must accomplish; I must bend me yet
- ’Neath wrongs on wrongs, ere I may ’scape these bonds.
- Though Art be strong, Necessity is stronger.
And who is lord of strong Necessity?34
The triform Fates, and the sure-memoried Furies.
And mighty Jove himself must yield to them?
No more than others Jove can ’scape his doom.35
What doom?—No doom hath he but endless sway.
’Tis not for thee to know: tempt not the question.
- There’s some dread mystery in thy chary speech,
- Urge this no more: the truth thou’lt know
- In fitting season; now it lies concealed
- In deepest darkness! for relenting Jove
- Himself must woo this secret from my breast.
- CHORAL HYMN.
- Never, O never may Jove,
- Who in Olympus reigns omnipotent lord,
- Plant his high will against my weak opinion!36
- Let me approach the gods
- With blood of oxen and with holy feasts,
- By father Ocean’s quenchless stream, and pay
- No backward vows:
- Nor let my tongue offend; but in my heart
- Be lowly wisdom graven.
- ANTISTROPHE I.
- For thus old Wisdom speaks:
- Thy life ’tis sweet to cherish, and while the length
- Of years is thine, thy heart with cheerful hopes
- And lightsome joys to feed.
- But thee—ah me! my blood runs cold to see thee,
- Pierced to the marrow with a thousand pains.
- Not fearing Jove,
- Self-willed thou hast respect to man, Prometheus,
- Much more than man deserveth.
- STROPHE II.
- For what is man? behold!
- Can he requite thy love—child of a day—
- Or help thy extreme need? Hast thou not seen
- The blind and aimless strivings,
- The barren blank endeavour,
- The pithless deeds, of the fleeting dreamlike race?
- Never, O nevermore,
- May mortal wit Jove’s ordered plan deceive.
- ANTISTROPHE II.
- This lore my heart hath learned
- From sight of thee, and thy sharp pains, Prometheus.
- Alas! what diverse strain I sang thee then,
- Around the bridal chamber,
- And around the bridal bath,
- When thou my sister fair, Hesione,
- Won by rich gifts didst lead37
- From Ocean’s caves thy spousal bed to share.
- What land is this?—what race of mortals
- Owns this desert? who art thou,
- Rock-bound with these wintry fetters,
- And for what crime tortured thus?
- Worn and weary with far travel,
- Tell me where my feet have borne me!
- O pain! pain! pain! it stings and goads me again,
- The fateful brize!—save me, O Earth!39 —Avaunt
- Thou horrible shadow of the Earth-born Argus!
- Could not the grave close up thy hundred eyes,
- But thou must come,
- Haunting my path with thy suspicious look,
- Unhoused from Hades?
- Avaunt! avaunt!—why wilt thou hound my track,
- The famished wanderer on the waste sea-shore?
- Pipe not thy sounding wax-compacted reed
- With drowsy drone at me! Ah wretched me!
- Wandering, still wandering o’er wide Earth, and driven
- Where? where? O tell me where?
- O Son of Kronos, in what damned sin
- Being caught hast thou to misery yoked me thus,
- Pricked me to desperation, and my heart
- Pierced with thy furious goads?
- Blast me with lightnings! bury me in Earth! To the gape
- Of greedy sea-monsters give me! Hear, O hear
- My prayer, O King!
- Enough, enough, these errant toils have tried me;
- And yet no rest I find: nor when, nor where
- These woes shall cease may know.
Dost hear the plaint of the ox-horned maid?
- How should I not? the Inachian maid who knows not,
- Stung by the god-sent brize? the maid who smote
- Jove’s lustful heart with love: and his harsh spouse
- Hounds her o’er Earth with chase interminable.
- My father’s name thou know’st, and my descent!
- Who art thou? god or mortal? Speak! what charm
- Gives wretch like thee, the certain clue to know
- My lamentable fate?
- Aye, and the god-sent plague thou know’st; the sting
- That spurs me o’er the far-stretched Earth; the goad
- That mads me sheer, wastes, withers, and consumes,
- A worn and famished maid,
- Whipt by the scourge of jealous Hera’s wrath!
- Ah me! ah me! Misery has many shapes,
- But none like mine.
- O thou, who named my Argive home, declare
- What ills await me yet; what end, what hope?
- If hope there be for Io
I pray thee speak to the weary way-worn maid.
- I’ll tell thee all thy wish, not in enigmas
- Tangled and dark, but in plain phrase, as friend
- Should speak to friend Thou see’st Prometheus, who
- To mortal men gifted immortal fire.
- O thou, to man a common blessing given,
- What crime hath bound thee to this wintry rock?
I have but ceased rehearsing all my wrongs.
And dost thou then refuse the boon I ask?
What boon? ask what thou wilt, and I will answer.
Say, then, who bound thee to this ragged cliff?
Stern Jove’s decree, and harsh Hephaestus’ hand.
And for what crime?
Let what I’ve said suffice.
- This, too, I ask—what bound hath fate appointed
- To my far-wandering toils?
- This not to know
- Were better than to learn
- Nay, do not hide
- This thing from me!
- If ’tis a boon, believe me,
- I grudge it not.
Then why so slow to answer?
I would not crush thee with the cruel truth.
Fear not; I choose to hear it.
- Nay, hear me rather. With her own mouth this maid
- Shall first her bygone woes rehearse; next thou
- What yet remains shalt tell.
- Even so. [To Io.] Speak thou;
- They are the sisters of thy father, Io;41
- And to wail out our griefs, when they who listen
- Our troubles with a willing tear requite,
- Is not without its use.
- I will obey,
- And in plain speech my chanceful story tell;
- Though much it grieves me to retrace the source,
- Whence sprung this god-sent pest, and of my shape
- Disfigurement abhorred. Night after night
- Strange dreams around my maiden pillow hovering
- Whispered soft temptings. “O thrice-blessed maid,
- Why pin’st thou thus in virgin loneliness,
- When highest wedlock courts thee? Struck by the shaft
- Of fond desire for thee Jove burns, and pants
- To twine his loves with thine. Spurn not, O maid,
- The proffered bed of Jove, but hie thee straight
- To Lerne’s bosomed mead,42where are the sheep-folds
- And ox-stalls of thy sire, that so the eye
- Of Jove, being filled with thee, may cease from craving.”
- Such nightly dreams my restless couch possessed
- Till I, all tears, did force me to unfold
- The portent to my father. He to Pytho
- Sent frequent messengers, and to Dodona,
- Searching the pleasure of the gods, but they
- With various-woven phrase came back, and answers
- More doubtful than the quest. At length, a clear
- And unambiguous voice came to my father,
- Enjoining, with most strict command, to send me
- Far from my home, and from my country far,
- To the extreme bounds of Earth an outcast wanderer,
- Else that the fire-faced bolt of Jove should smite
- Our universal race. By such responses,
- Moved of oracular Loxias, my father
- Reluctant me reluctant drove from home,
- And shut the door against me. What he did
- He did perforce; Jove’s bit was in his mouth.
- Forthwith my wit was frenzied, and my form
- Assumed the brute. With maniac bound I rushed,
- Horned as thou see’st, and with the sharp-mouthed sting
- Of gad-fly pricked infuriate to the cliff
- Of Lerne, and Cenchréa’s limpid wave;
- While Argus, Earth-born cow-herd, hundred-eyed,
- Followed the winding traces of my path
- With sharp observance. Him swift-swooping Fate
- Snatched unexpected from his sleepless guard;
- But I from land to land still wander on,
- Scourged by the wrath of Heaven’s relentless Queen.
- Thou hast my tale; the sequel, if thou know’st it,
- Is thine to tell; but do not seek, I pray thee,
- In pity for me, to drop soft lies, for nothing
- Is worse than the smooth craft of practised phrase.
- Enough, enough! Woe’s me that ever
- Such voices of strange grief should rend my ear!
- That such a tale of woe,
- Insults, and wrongs, and horrors, should freeze me through,
- As with a two-edged sword!
- O destiny! destiny! woes most hard to see,
- More hard to bear! Alas! poor maid for thee!
- Thy wails anticipate her woes; restrain
- Thy trembling tears till thou hast heard the whole.
- Proceed: to know the worst some solace brings
- To the vexed heart.
- Your first request I granted,
- And lightly; from her own mouth, ye have heard
- The spring of harm, the stream expect from me,
- How Hera shall draw out her slow revenge.
- Meanwhile, thou seed of Inachus, lend an ear
- And learn thy future travel. First to the east43
- Turn thee, and traverse the unploughed Scythian fields,
- Whose wandering tribes their wattled homes transport
- Aloft on well-wheeled wains, themselves well slung
- With the far-darting bow. These pass, and, holding
- Thy course by the salt sea’s sounding surge, pass through
- The land; next, on thy left, thou’lt reach the Chalybs,
- Workers in iron. These too avoid—for they
- Are savage, and harsh to strangers. Thence proceeding,
- Thou to a stream shalt come, not falsely named
- Hubristes: but the fierce ill-forded wave
- Pass not till Caucasus, hugest hill, receives thee,
- There where the flood its gushing strength foams forth
- Fresh from the rocky brow. Cross then the peaks
- That neighbour with the stars, and thence direct
- Southward thy path to where the Amazons
- Dwell, husband-hated, who shall one day people
- Thermódon’s bank, and Themiscyre, and where
- Harsh Salmydessus whets his ravening jaws,
- The sailor’s foe, stepmother to the ships.
- These maids shall give thee escort. Next thou’lt reach
- The narrow Cimmerian isthmus, skirting bleak
- The waters of Mæotis. Here delay not,
- But with bold breast cross thou the strait Thy passage
- Linked with the storied name of Bosphorus
- Shall live through endless time. Here, leaving Europe,
- The Asian soil receives thee. Now, answer me,
- Daughters of Ocean, doth not Jove in all things
- Prove his despotic will?—In lawless love
- Longing to mingle with this mortal maid,
- He heaps her with these woes A bitter suitor,
- Poor maid, was thine, and I have told thee scarce
- The prelude of thy griefs
Ah! wretched me!
- Alas, thy cries and groans!—What wilt thou do,
- When the full measure of thy woes is told thee?
What! more? her cup of woes not full?
- ’Twill flow
- And overflow, a sea of whelming woes.
- Why do I live? Why not embrace the gain
- That, with one cast, this toppling cliff secures,
- And dash me headlong on the ground, to end
- Life and life’s sorrows? Once to die is better
- Than thus to drag sick life.
- Thou’rt happy, Io,
- That death from all thy living wrongs may free thee;
- But I, whom Fate hath made immortal, see
- No end to my long-lingering pains appointed,
- Till Jove from his usurping sway be hurled.
Jove from his tyranny hurled—can such thing be?
Doubtless ’twould feast thine eyes to see’t?
- Ay, truly,
- Wronged as I am by him.
- Then, learn from me
- That ne is doomed to fall.
- What hand shall wrest
- Jove’s sceptre?
Jove’s own empty wit.
From evil marriage reaping evil fruit.
Marriage! of mortal lineage or divine?
Ask me no further. This I may not answer.
Shall his spouse thrust him from his ancient throne?
The son that she brings forth shall wound his father.
And hath he no redemption from this doom?
None, till he loose me from these hated bonds.
But who, in Jove’s despite, shall loose thee?
- From thine own womb descended.
- How? My Son?
- One born of me shall be thy Saviour!—When?
When generations ten have passed, the third.44
Thou speak’st ambiguous oracles.
- I have spoken
- Enough for thee. Pry not into the Fates.
Wilt thou hold forth a hope to cheat my grasp?
I give thee choice of two things: choose thou one.
What things? Speak, and I’ll choose
- Thou hast the choice
- To hear thy toils to the end, or learn his name
- Who comes to save me.
- Nay, divide the choice;
- One half to her concede, to me the other,
- Thus doubly gracious: to the maid her toils,
- To me thy destined Saviour tell.
- So be it!
- Being thus whetted in desire, I would not
- Oppose your wills. First Io, what remains
- Of thy far-sweeping wanderings hear, and grave
- My words on the sure tablets of thy mind.
- When thou hast crossed the narrow stream that parts45
- The continents, to the far flame-faced East
- Thou shalt proceed, the highway of the Sun;
- Then cross the sounding Ocean, till thou reach
- Cisthené and the Gorgon plains, where dwell
- Phorcys’ three daughters, maids with frosty eld
- Hoar as the swan, with one eye and one tooth
- Shared by the three; them Phœbus beamy-bright
- Beholds not, nor the nightly Moon. Near them
- Their winged sisters dwell, the Gorgons dire,
- Man-hating monsters, snaky-locked, whom eye
- Of mortal ne’er might look upon and live
- This for thy warning. One more sight remains,
- That fills the eye with horror: mark me well;
- The sharp-beaked Griffins, hounds of Jove, avoid.
- Fell dogs that bark not; and the one-eyed host
- Of Arimaspian horsemen with swift hoofs
- Beating the banks of golden-rolling Pluto.
- A distant land, a swarthy people next
- Receives thee: near the fountains of the Sun
- They dwell by Aethiops’ wave. This river trace
- Until thy weary feet shall reach the pass
- Whence from the Bybline heights the sacred Nile
- Pours his salubrious flood46 The winding wave
- Thence to triangled Egypt guides thee, where
- A distant home awaits thee, fated mother
- Of no unstoried race And now, if aught
- That I have spoken doubtful seem or dark,
- Repeat the question, and in plainer speech
- Expect reply. I feel no lack of leisure.
- If thou hast more to speak to her, speak on;
- Or aught omitted to supply, supply it;
- But if her tale is finished, as thou say’st,
- Remember our request
- Her tale is told,
- But for the more assurance of my words
- The path of toils through which her feet had struggled
- Before she reached this coast I will declare,
- Lightly, and with no cumbrous comment, touching
- Thy latest travel only, wandering Io.
- When thou hadst trod the Molossian plains, and reached
- Steep-ridged Dodona, where Thesprotian Jove
- In council sits, and from the articulate oaks
- (Strange wonder!) speaks prophetic, there thine ears
- This salutation with no doubtful phrase
- Received: “All hail, great spouse of mighty Jove
- That shall be!”—say, was it a pleasing sound?
- Thence by the sting of jealous Hera goaded,
- Along the coast of Rhea’s bosomed sea
- Thy steps were driven thence with mazy course
- Tossed hither;47 gaining, if a gain, this solace,
- That future times, by famous Io’s name,
- Shall know that sea These things may be a sign
- That I, beyond the outward show, can pierce
- To the heart of truth What yet remains, I tell
- To thee and them in common, tracing back
- My speech to whence it came There is a city
- In extreme Egypt, where with outspread loam
- Nile breasts the sea, its name Canopus. There
- Jove to thy sober sense shall bring thee back,
- Soft with no fearful touch, and thou shalt bear
- A son, dark Epaphus, whose name shall tell
- The wonder of his birth,48 he shall possess
- What fruitful fields fat Nile broad-streaming laves.
- Four generations then shall pass; the fifth
- In fifty daughters glorying shall return
- To ancient Argos, fatal wedlock shunning
- With fathers’ brothers’ sons; these, their wild hearts
- Fooled with blind lust, as hawks the gentle doves,
- Shall track the fugitive virgins; but a god
- Shall disappoint their chase, and the fair prey
- Save from their lawless touch, the Apian soil
- Shall welcome them to death, and woman’s hands
- Shall dare the deed amid the nuptial watches.
- Each bride shall rob her lord of life, and dip
- The sharp steel in his throat. Such nuptial bliss
- May all my enemies know! Only one maid
- Of all the fifty, with a blunted will,
- Shall own the charm of love, and spare her mate,
- And of two adverse reputations choose
- The coward, not the murderess. She shall be
- The mother of a royal race in Argos.
- To tell what follows, with minute remark,
- Were irksome; but from this same root shall spring
- A hero, strong in the archer’s craft, whose hand
- Shall free me from these bonds. Such oracle spake
- Titanian Themis, my time-honoured mother,
- But how and why were a long tale to tell,
- Nor being told would boot thine ear to hear it.
- Ah me! pain! pain! ah me!
- Again the fevered spasm hath seized me,
- And the stroke of madness smites!
- Again that fiery sting torments me,
- And my heart doth knock my ribs!
- My aching eyes in dizziness roll,
- And my helmless feet are driven
- Whither gusty frenzy blows!
- And my tongue with thick words struggling
- Like a sinking swimmer plashes
- ’Gainst the whelming waves of woe!
- CHORAL HYMN.
- Wise was the man, most wise,
- Who in deep-thoughted mood conceived, and first
- In pictured speech and pregnant phrase declared
- That marriage, if the Fates shall bless the bond,
- Must be of like with like;
- And that the daughters of an humble house
- Shun tempting union with the pomp of wealth
- And with the pride of birth.
- Never, O! never may Fate,
- All-powerful Fate which rules both gods and men,
- See me approaching the dread Thunderer’s bed,
- And sharing marriage with the Olympian king,
- An humble Ocean-maid!
- May wretched Io, chased by Hera’s wrath,
- Unhusbanded, unfriended, fill my sense
- With profitable fear.
- Me may an equal bond
- Bind with my equal: never may the eye
- Of a celestial suitor fix the gaze
- Of forceful love on me.
- This were against all odds of war to war,
- And in such strife entangled I were lost;
- For how should humble maid resist the embrace,
- Against great Jove’s decree?
- Nay, but this Jove, though insolent now, shall soon
- Be humbled low. Such wedlock even now
- He blindly broods, as shall uptear his kingdom,
- And leave no trace behind; then shall the curse,
- Which Kronos heaped upon his ingrate son,
- When hurled unjustly from his hoary throne,
- Be all fulfilled. What remedy remains
- For that dread ruin I alone can tell;
- I only know. Then let him sit aloft,
- Rolling his thunder, his fire-breathing bolt
- Far-brandishing; his arts are vain; his fall,
- Unless my aid prevent, his shameful fall,
- Is doomed. Against himself to life he brings
- A champion fierce, a portent of grim war,
- Who shall invent a fiercer flame than lightning,
- And peals to outpeal the thunder, who shall shiver
- The trident mace that stirs the sea, and shakes
- The solid Earth, the spear of strong Poseidon.
- Thus shall the tyrant learn how much to serve
- Is different from to sway.
- Thou dost but make
- Thy wishes father to thy slanderous phrase.
I both speak truth and wish the truth to be.
But who can think that Jove shall find a master?
He shall be mastered! Ay, and worse endure.
Dost thou not blench to cast such words about thee?
How should I fear, being a god and deathless?
But he can scourge with something worse than death.
Even let him scourge! I’m armed for all conclusions.
Yet they are wise who worship Adrastéa49
- Worship, and pray, fawn on the powers that be;
- But Jove to me is less than very nothing.
- Let him command, and rule his little hour
- To please himself; long time he cannot sway.
- But lo! where comes the courier of this Jove,
- The obsequious minion of this upstart King,
- Doubtless the bearer of some weighty news.
- Thee, cunning sophist, dealing bitter words
- Most bitterly against the gods, the friend
- Of ephemeral man, the thief of sacred fire,
- Thee, Father Jove commands to curb thy boasts,
- And say what marriage threats his stable throne.
- Answer this question in plain phrase, no dark
- Tangled enigmas; do not add, Prometheus,
- A second journey to my first: and, mark me!
- Thy obduracy cannot soften Jove
- This solemn mouthing, this proud pomp of phrase
- Beseems the lackey of the gods. New gods
- Ye are, and, being new, ye ween to hold
- Unshaken citadels. Have I not seen
- Two Monarchs ousted from that throne? the third
- I yet shall see precipitate hurled from Heaven
- With baser, speedier, ruin. Do I seem
- To quail before this new-forged dynasty?
- Fear is my farthest thought. I pray thee go
- Turn up the dust again upon the road
- Thou cam’st. Reply from me thou shalt have none.
- This haughty tone hath been thy sin before:
- Thy pride will strand thee on a worser woe.
- And were my woe tenfold what now it is,
- I would not barter it for thy sweet chains;
- For liefer would I lackey this bare rock
- Than trip the messages of Father Jove.
- The insolent thus with insolence I repay.
Thou dost delight in miseries; thou art wanton.
- Wanton! delighted! would my worst enemies
- Might wanton in these bonds, thyself the first!
Must I, too, share the blame of thy distress?
- In one round sentence, every god I hate
- That injures me who never injured him.
Thou’rt mad, clean mad, thy wit’s diseased, Prometheus.
Most mad! if madness ’tis to hate our foes.
- Prosperity’s too good for thee: thy temper
- Could not endure’t.
Alas! this piercing pang!
“Alas!”—this word Jove does not understand.
As Time grows old he teaches many things.
Yet Time that teaches all leaves thee untaught.
Untaught in sooth, thus parleying with a slave!
It seems thou wilt not grant great Jove’s demand.
- Such love as his to me should be repaid
- With like!
Dost beard me like a boy? Beware.
- Art not a boy, and something yet more witless,
- If thou expectest answer from my mouth?
- Nor insult harsh, nor cunning craft of Jove
- Shall force this tale from me, till he unloose
- These bonds. Yea! let him dart his levin bolts,
- With white-winged snows and subterranean thunders
- Mix and confound the elements of things!
- No threat, no fear, shall move me to reveal
- The hand that hurls him from his tyrant’s throne.
Bethink thee well: thy vaunts can help thee nothing.
I speak not rashly: what I said I said.
- If thou art not the bought and sold of folly,
- Dare to learn wisdom from thy present ills.
- Speak to the waves: thou speak’st to me as vainly!
- Deem not that I, to win a smile from Jove,
- Will spread a maiden smoothness o’er my soul,
- And importune the foe whom most I hate
- With womanish upliftings of the hands.
- Thou’lt see the deathless die first!
- I have said
- Much, but that much is vain: thy rigid nature
- To thaw with prayer is hopeless. A young colt
- That frets the bit, and fights against the reins,
- Art thou, fierce-champing with most impotent rage;
- For wilful strength that hath no wisdom in it
- Is less than nothing.50 But bethink thee well;
- If thou despise my words of timely warning,
- What wintry storm, what threefold surge of woes
- Whelms thee inevitable. Jove shall split
- These craggy cliffs with his cloud-bosomed bolt,
- And sink thee deep: the cold rock shall embrace thee;
- There thou shalt lie, till he shall please to bring thee
- Back to the day, to find new pains prepared:
- For he will send his Eagle-messenger,
- His winged hound, in crimson food delighting,
- To tear thy rags of flesh with bloody beak,
- And daily come an uninvited guest
- To banquet on thy gory liver. This,
- And worse expect, unless some god endure
- Vicarious thy tortures,51 and exchange
- His sunny ether for the rayless homes
- Of gloomy Hades, and deep Tartarus.
- Consider well. No empty boast I speak,
- But weighty words well weighed: the mouth of Jove
- Hath never known a lie, and speech with him
- Is prophet of its deed. Ponder and weigh,
- Close not thy stubborn ears to good advice.
- If we may speak, what Hermes says is wise,
- And fitting the occasion. He advises
- That stubborn will should yield to prudent counsel.
- Obey: thy wisdom should not league with folly.
- Nothing new this preacher preaches:
- Seems it strange that foe should suffer
- From the vengeance of his foe?
- I am ready. Let him wreathe
- Curls of scorching flame around me;
- Let him fret the air with thunder,
- And the savage-blustering winds!
- Let the deep abysmal tempest
- Wrench the firm roots of the Earth!
- Let the sea upheave her billows,
- Mingling the fierce rush of waters
- With the pathway of the stars!
- Let the harsh-winged hurricane sweep me
- In its whirls, and fling me down
- To black Tartarus: there to lie
- Bound in the iron folds of Fate.
- I will bear . but cannot die.
- Whom the nymphs have struck with madness
- Raves as this loud blusterer raves;
- Seems he not a willing madman,
- Let him reap the fruits he sowed!52
- But ye maids, who share his sorrows,
- Not his crimes, with quick removal
- Hie from this devoted spot,
- Lest with idiocy the thunder
- Harshly blast your maundering wits.
- Wouldst thou with thy words persuade us,
- Use a more persuasive speech;
- Urge no reasons to convince me
- That an honest heart must hate.
- With his sorrows I will sorrow:
- I will hate a traitor’s name,
- Earth has plagues, but none more noisome
- Than a faithless friend in need.
- Ponder well my prudent counsel,
- Nor, when evil hunts thee out,
- Blame great Jove that he doth smite thee
- With an unexpected stroke.
- Not the gods; thy proper folly
- Is the parent of thy woes.
- Jove hath laid no trap to snare thee,
- But the scapeless net of ruin
- Thou hast woven for thyself.
- Now his threats walk forth in action,
- And the firm Earth quakes indeed.
- Deep and loud the ambient Thunder
- Bellows, and the flaring Lightning
- Wreathes his fiery curls around me,
- And the Whirlwind rolls his dust;
- And the Winds from rival regions
- Rush in elemental strife,
- And the Ocean’s storm-vexed billows
- Mingle with the startled stars!
- Doubtless now the tyrant gathers
- All his hoarded wrath to whelm me.
- Mighty Mother, worshipped Themis,
- Circling Ether that diffusest
- Light, a common joy to all,
- Thou beholdest these my wrongs!
NOTES TO PROMETHEUS BOUND
- “Of all the things that breathe the air, and creep upon the Earth,
- The weakest thing that breathes and creeps on nurturing Earth is Man.”
- Homer’s Odvs. xviii. 130.
- “This Scythian soil, this wild untrodden waste”
- “High-counselled son
- Of right-decreeing Themis”
- “. . . saviour shall be none.”
- “Jove is not weak that he should bend.”
This character of harshness and inexorability belongs as essentially to Jove as to the Fates. Pallas, in the Iliad, makes the same complaint—
- “But my father, harsh and cruel, with no gentle humour raging,
- Thwarts my will in all things”
- Iliad VIII 360
- “All things may be, but this
- To dictate to the gods.”
Ἅπαντ ἐπράχθη πλὴν θεο̂ισι κοιρανεɩ̂ν—literally, all things have been done, save commanding the gods. I do not know whether there is any philological difficulty in the way of this translation It certainly agrees perfectly well with the context, and has the advantage of not changing the received text. Schoe., however, adopting Herm.’s emendation of ἐπαχθη̂ translates—
- “Last trägt ein jeder, nur der Götter König nicht.”
- “All have their burdens save the king of the gods.”
On the theological sentiment, I would compare that of Seneca—“In regno nati sumus; Deo parere libertas est” (Vit. Beat. 15)—and that of Euripides, where the captive Trojan queen, finding the king of men, Agamemnon, willing to assist her, but afraid of the opinion of the Greeks, speaks as follows:—
- “Ουκἔστι θνητωˆν [Editor: illegible character]στις ὲστ ’ελέυθερος,
- [Editor: illegible character] χρημάτων γαρ δο̂υλος ὲστιν ἡ τύχης
- η πλη̂θος άυτὸν πόλεως, [Editor: illegible character] νόμων γράϕαι
- [Editor: illegible character]ιργουσι χρη̂σθαι μὴ κατὰ γνωˆμην τρόποις.”
- Hec. 864.
- “Thou hast been called
- In vain the Provident.”
- “My mother Earth,
- And thou fresh-breaking day, and you, ye mountains,
- And thou the bright eye of the Universe,”)
but also its mythological propriety in the person of the speaker, as in the early times the original elementary theology common to the Greeks with all polytheists, had not been superseded by those often sadly disguised impersonations which are represented by the dynasty of Jove. Ocean and Hyperion (ὑπερίων—he that walks aloft) are named in the Theogony, along with Themis and Iapetus, as the first generation of gods, directly begotten from Heaven and Earth.—(Theog. 133-4.) In the natural progress of religious opinion, this original cosmical meaning of the Greek gods, though lost by anthropomorphism to the vulgar, was afterwards brought out by the natural philosophers, and by the philosophical poets; of which examples occur everywhere among the later classics. Indeed, the elemental worship seems never to have been altogether exploded, but continued to exist in strange confusion along with the congregation of fictitious persons to which it had given birth. So in Homer, Agamemnon prays—
- “Father Jove from Ida swaying, god most glorious and great,
- And thou Sun, the all-perceiving and all-hearing power, and ye
- Rivers and Earth,” etc.
- —Il III 277
- “The multitudinous laughter.”
ἀνήριθμον γέλασμα. I must offer an apology here for myself, Mr. Swayne, and Captain Medwyn, because I find we are in a minority. The Captain, indeed, has paraphrased it a little—
- “With long loud laughs, exulting to be free,”
but he retains the laugh, which is the stumbling-block. Swayne has
- “Ye ocean waves
- That with incessant laughter bound and swell
also a little paraphrased, but giving due prominence to the characteristic idea. E. P. Oxon. has
- “Ocean smiling with its countless waves,”
with a reference to Stanley’s note, “Refertur ad levem sonum undarum ventis exagitatarum qui etiam aliquantulum crispant maris dorsum quasi amabili quadam γελασιᾳ,” in which words we see the origin of Pot.’s—
- “Ye waves
- That o’er the interminable ocean wreathe
- Your crisped smiles.”
- “Dimpled in multitudinous smiles.”
And so Blom. in a note, emphatically—
- “Lenis fluctuum agitatio”
- “. . . in a reed concealed it.”
- “. . . Ah me! ah me! who comes?”
- “Daughters of prolific Tethys.”
The ancient sea-goddess, sister and wife of Oceanus, daughter of Heaven and Earth. The reader will observe that the mythology of this drama preserves a primeval or, according to our phrase, antediluvian character throughout. The mythic personages are true contemporaries belonging to the most ancient dynasty of the gods. For this reason Ocean appears in a future stage of the play, not Poseidon. Tethys, with the other Titans and Titanesses are enumerated by Hesiod, Theog. 132-7, as follows—
- “Earth to Uranus wedded bore Ocean deep with whirling currents,
- Coeus, Creios, Hyperion, Theia, Rhea, Iapetus,
- Themis, Mnemosyne, lovely Tethys, likewise Phœbe golden-crowned,
- Then the youngest of them all, deep-designing Kronos”
As for the epithet prolific applied to Tethys, the fecundity of fish is a proverb in natural history; but I suppose it is rather the infinite succession of waves on the expanded surface of Ocean that makes his daughters so numerous in the Theogony (362)—
- “Thrice ten hundred they are counted delicate-ancled Ocean maids.”
- “. . . the giant trace
- Of Titan times hath vanished.”
- “. . . the new-forged counsels
- That shall hurl him from his throne.”
- “O, ’tis hard, most hard to reach
- The heart of Jove!”
Inexorability is a grand characteristic of the gods.
- “Desine fata deum flecti sperare precando”
- —Virg, Æn. VI.
And so Homer makes Nestor say of Agamemnon, vainly hoping to appease the wrath of Pallas Athena, by hecatombs—
- “Witless in his heart he knew not what dire sufferings he must bear,
- For not lightly from their purposed counsel swerve the eternal gods”
- Odys III. 147.
And of Jove, in particular, Hera says to Themis, in the council of the gods—
- “Well thou knowest
- How the Olympian’s heart is haughty, and his temper how severe.”
- —Iliad XV. 94.
- “My mother Themis, not once but oft, and Earth
- (One shape of various names).”
- “Suspicion’s a disease that cleaves to tyrants,
- And they who love most are the first suspected.”
- “I only of the gods
- Thwarted his will.”
- “. . . in cunning torment stretched.”
- “Blind hopes of good I planted
- In their dark breasts”
- “And flame-faced fire is now enjoyed by mortals?”
- “Thought instinctive reined the creature,”
some applying γνώμῃ not to the animal, but to the will of the rider. So Prow.—
- “Following still
- Each impulse of my guiding will.”
But for the poetical propriety of my translation I can plead the authority of Southey—
- “The ship of Heaven instinct with thought displayed
- Its living sail, and glides along the sky”
- Curse of Kehama, VII. 1
and of Milton—
- “The chariot of paternal Deity
- Instinct with spirit”
- —VI 750
- “From my distant caves cerulean.”
i.e., in the far West, extreme Atlantic, or “ends of the earth,” according to the Homeric phrase.
- “To the ends I make my journey of the many-nurturing Earth,
- There where Ocean, sire of gods, and ancient mother Tethys dwells,
- They who nursed me in their palace, and my infant strength sustained,’
- “Enough my brother Atlas’ miseries grieve me”
- “The pillars of Heaven and Earth upon his shoulders.”
- “Knowest thou not this, Prometheus, that mild words
- Are medicines of fierce wrath?”
The reader may like to see Cicero’s version of these four lines—
- “Oceanus Atqui Prometheu te hoc, tenere existimo
- Mederi posse rationem iracundiæ.”
- “Prom Si quidem qui tempestivam medicinam admovens
- Non ad gravescens vulnus illidat manus.”
- Tusc. Q., III. 31.
- “. . . holy Asia weep
- For thee, Prometheus”
- “. . . Araby’s wandering warriors weep
- For thee, Prometheus.”
- “For, soothly, having eyes to see, they saw not.”
- “Numbers, too,
- I taught them (a most choice device)”
- “. . . the fire-faced signs.”
- “And who is lord of strong Necessity?”
- “No more than others Jove can ’scape his doom.”
The idea that the Supreme Ruler of the Universe can ever be dethroned is foreign to every closely reasoned system of monotheism; but in polytheistic systems it is not unnatural (for gods who had a beginning may have an end); and in the Hindoo theology receives an especial prominence. Southey accordingly makes Indra, the Hindoo Jove, say—
- “A stronger hand
- May wrest my sceptre, and unparadise
- The Swerga.”
- —Curse of Kehama, VII.
- “Plant his high will against my weak opinion!”
- “Won by rich gifts didst lead.”
- “. . . save me, O Earth!”
- “. . . the sisters of thy father, Io.”
- “. . . Lerne’s bosomed mead.”
Here begins the narration of the mythical wanderings of Io—a strange matter, and of a piece with the whole fable, which, however, with all its perplexities, Æschylus, no doubt, and his audience, following the old minstrels, took very lightly. In such matters, the less curious a man is. the greater chance is there of his not going far wrong; and to be superficial is safer than to be profound The following causes may be stated as presumptive grounds why we ought not to be surprised at any start ling inaccuracy in geographical detail in legends of this kind.—(1) The Greeks, as stated above, even in their most scientific days, had the vaguest possible ideas of the geography of the extreme circumference of the habitable globe and the parts nearest to it which are spoken of in the passage (2) The geographical ideas of Æschylus must be assumed as more kindred to those of Homer than of the best informed later Greeks. (3) Even supposing Æschylus to have had the most accurate geographical ideas, he had no reasons in handling a Titanic myth to make his geographical scenery particularly tangible; on the contrary, as a skilful artist, the more misty and indefinite he could keep it the better. (4) He may have taken the wanderings of Io, as Welcker still suggests (Trilog 137), literally from the old Epic poem “Aigimius,” or some other traditionary lay as old as Homer, leaving to himself no more discretion in the matter, and caring as little to do so as Shakespere did about the geographical localities in Macbeth, which he borrowed from Hollinshed. For all these reasons I am of opinion that any attempt to explain the geographical difficulties of the following wanderings would be labour lost to myself no less than to the reader; and shall, therefore, content myself with noting seriatim the different points of the progress, and explaining, for the sake of the general reader, what is or is not known in the learned world about the matter:—
(1) The starting-point is not from Mount Caucasus, according to the common representation, but from some indefinite point in the Northern parts of Europe. So the Scholiast on v. 1, arguing from the present passage, clearly concludes; and with him agree Her. and Schoe.; Welcker whimsically, I think, maintaining a contrary opinion.
(2) The Scythian nomads,vid. note on v. 2, supra, their particular customs alluded to here are well known, presenting a familiar ancient analogy to the gipsy life of the present day. The reader of Horace will recall the lines—
- “Campestres melius Scythae
- Quorum plaustra vagas rite trahunt domos”
- —Ode III 24-9.
and the same poet (III. 4-35) mentions the “quiver-bearing Geloni”; for the bow is the most convenient weapon to all wandering and semi-civilized warriors.
(3) The Chalybs, or Chaldaei, are properly a people in Pontus, at the north-east corner of Asia Minor; but Æschylus, in his primeval Titanic geography, takes the liberty of planting them to the north of the Euxine.
(4) The river Hubristes. The Araxes, says the Scholiast; the Tanais, say others; or the Cuban (Dr. Schmitz in Smith’s Dict.) The word means boisterous or outrageous, and recalls the Virgilian
- “pontem indignatus Araxes.”
- “When generations ten have passed, the third”
- “When thou hast crossed the narrow stream that parts.”
I now proceed with the mythical wanderings of the “ox-horned maid,” naming the different points, and continuing the numbers, from the former Note—
(10) The Sounding Ocean.—Before these words, something seems to have dropt out of the text, what the “sounding sea” (πόντου ϕλο̂ισβος) is, no man can say; but, as a southward direction is clearly indicated in what follows, we may suppose the Caspian, with Her.; or the Persian Gulf, with Schoe.
(11) The Gorgonian Plains.—“The Gorgons are conceived by Hesiod to live in the Western Ocean, in the neighbourhood of Night, and the Hesperides; but later traditions place them in Libya.”—Dr. Schmitz, in Smith’s Dict.: but Schoe., in his note, quotes a scholiast to Pindar, Pyth. X. 72, which places them near the Red Sea, and in Ethiopia. This latter habitation, of course, agrees best with the present passage of Æschylus.
With regard to Cisthene, the same writer (Schoe.) has an ingenious conjecture, that it may be a mistake of the old copyists, for the Cissians, a Persian people, mentioned in the opening chorus to the play of the Persians.
(12) The country of the Griffins, the Arimaspi, and the river Pluto. The Griffins and the Arimaspi are well known from Herodotus and Strabo, which latter, we have seen above (Note 1), places them to the north of the Euxine Sea, as a sub-division of the Scythians. Æschylus, however, either meant to confound all geographical distinctions, or followed a different tradition, which placed the Arimaspi in the south, as to which see Schoe. “The river Pluto is easily explained, from the accounts of golden-sanded rivers in the East which had reached Greece.”—Schoe.
(13) The river Aethiops seems altogether fabulous.
(14) The “Bybline Heights,” meaning the κατάδουπα (Herod. II. 17), or place where the Nile falls from the mountains.—Lin.in voce καταβασμός, which is translated pass. No such place as Byblus is mentioned here by the geographers, in want of which Pot. has allowed himself to be led, by the Scholiast, into rather a curious error. The old annotator, having nothing geographical to say about this Byblus, thought he might try what etymology could do; so he tells us that the Bybline Mountains were so called from the Byblos or Papyrus that grew on them. This Potter took up and gave—
- “Where from the mountains with papyrus crowned
- The venerable Nile impetuous pours,”
- “. . . the sacred Nile
- Pours his salubrious flood”
- “. . . thence with mazy course
- Tossed hither.”
- “. . . Epaphus, whose name shall tell
- The wonder of his birth.”
- “. . . they are wise who worship Adrastéa”
- “For wilful strength that hath no wisdom in it
- Is less than nothing.”
The word in the original, ἀυθαδιά, literally “self-pleasing,” expresses a state of mind which the Greeks, with no shallow ethical discernment, were accustomed to denounce as the great source of all those sins whose consequences are the most fearful to the individual and to society. St. Paul, in his epistle to Titus (i. 7), uses the same word emphatically to express what a Christian bishop should not be (ἀυθὰδη, self-willed). The same word is used by the blind old soothsayer Tiresias in the Antigone, when preaching repentance to the passionate and self-willed tyrant of Thebes, ἀυθαδιά τοι σκαιότητ ὀϕλισκάνει, where Donaldson gives the whole passage as follows:—
- “Then take these things to heart, my son; for error
- Is as the universal lot of man,
- But, whensoe’er he errs, that man no longer
- Is witless, or unblest, who, having fallen
- Into misfortune, seeks to mend his ways,
- And is not obstinate: the stiff-necked temper
- Must oft plead guilty to the charge of folly.”
- Sophocles, Antig. v. 1028.
- “. . . unless some god endure
- Vicarious thy tortures.”
- “Seems he not a willing madman,
- Let him reap the fruits he sowed.”
I have translated these lines quite freely, as the text is corrupt, and the emendations proposed do not contain any idea worth the translator’s adopting. Schoe. reads—
- Τί γὰρ ἐλλείπει μὴ παραπάιειν
- Ἐι τάδ ἐπαυχεɩ̂ τί χαλ[Editor: illegible character] μανιωˆν;
- Was fehlet ihm noch wahnwitzig zo seyn,
- Wenn also er pocht? Wie zahmt er die Wuth?
Prow. from a different reading, has
- To thee, if this resolve seems good,
- Why shouldst thou check thy frenzied mood.