Gateway to the Classics: Greek Gods, Heroes, and Men by Caroline H. and Samuel B. Harding
Greek Gods, Heroes, and Men by  Caroline H. and Samuel B. Harding

Prometheus, the Fire-Giver

I N the great war between the elder and the younger gods, two of the Titans took sides with Zeus against their brother Titans. The chief of these two was Prometheus; and it was because Zeus followed the wise advice which he gave, that the friends of Cronus were defeated, and Zeus became king of the gods in his place.

We should suppose that after this Zeus would have honored Prometheus always, and treated him as kindly as possible. But instead of that, in a little while Zeus became very angry with him, and punished him more severely, almost, than any one else was ever punished. This is the way it happened.

When Zeus became king of the gods, the men upon the earth were nothing more than savages They lived in caves, and wore skins of wild animals, and ate all their food raw because they did not know how to make fires to cook it. Prometheus felt sorry for them, and wanted to teach them many things; but Zeus would not allow him. At last Prometheus decided that he would help them nevertheless. So he stole some of the fire that the gods kept in heave, and brought it down to men hidden in the hollow stalk of a plant. From that time on, men began to make all kinds of things, which they could not have made without the help of fire; and they improved greatly in their manner of living. As Prometheus had also shut up all sicknesses and sorrows in a great chest in his home, so that men might not be troubled by them, it seemed as if they would soon become as happy as the gods themselves.

When Zeus saw what Prometheus had done he was very angry. To prevent men from becoming too proud and powerful, the gods made a beautiful maiden out of clay, and sent her to the brother of Prometheus, to be his wife. She was very curious about everything around her, and one of the first things that she did was to open the great chest which she found in the house. Then all the troubles, which Prometheus had so carefully shut up, at once flew out; and from that day to this, men have had to suffer for the curiosity of this girl, Pandora.

In order to punish Prometheus, Zeus had him chained fast by his hands and feet to a great lonely mountain, where the hot sun shone down on him day after day, and the rains and the storms beat upon him. But Prometheus was as brave and proud as Zeus was cruel. In spite of all that he suffered, he foretold that by and by there would come another god who would conquer Zeus just as Zeus had conquered his father Cronus When Zeus heard this, he sent Hermes to ask who this new god would be. But Prometheus refused to tell, unless Zeus would set him free. Then Zeus hurled great mountains upon Prometheus, and buried him in the earth far down below the world of the dead After many, many years, he brought him up, and fastened him to his mountain again; and then he sent an eagle to pick and tear at his liver every day, while every night the wound healed afresh. But still Prometheus refused to tell the secret that would save Zeus from losing his throne. So for ten thousand years he suffered in this way.

At last Zeus was compelled to yield, and Prometheus was set free. Then he told the danger that hung over Zeus, and how it could be avoided. And by following the advice that Prometheus gave, Zeus was saved from losing his throne.

Because Prometheus had done so much for the race of men, and had suffered so much in their cause, the Greeks were always very grateful to him. But as he was not one of the great gods who ruled the world, they did not build temples to him or worship him, as they did the gods of Mount Olympus.

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