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Prometheus, a Titan.
Hermes, messenger of Zeus.
Hephaestus, god of fire.
Oceanus, god of the ocean.
Chorus of Oceanids (daughters of Oceanus).
(Enter PROMETHEUS, escorted by MIGHT and VIOLENCE, and accompanied by HEPHAESTUS, who carries the implements of his craft)
To Earth's far-distant confines we are come,
The tract of Scythia, waste untrod by man.
And now, Hephaestus, thou must mind the task
Ordained thee by the Father—to enchain
This malefactor on yon mountain crags
In indissoluble bands of adamant.
Thy flower, fount of the arts, the light of fire,
He stole and gave to mortals. Such the sin
For which he must make recompense to heaven,
And so be taught to accept the tyranny
Of Zeus, and check his charity to man.
O Might, and Violence, for you the word
Of Zeus hath been fulfilled—your part is done.
But I have not the heart by force to bind
A god, my kinsman, in this wintry glen.
And yet I must brazen myself to do it;
For grave it is to scant the Father's word.
True-counselling Themis' lofty-ambitioned Son,
Not by my will, nor thine, shall rigorous bonds
Imprison thee in this unpeopled waste,
Where neither mortal form shall greet thine eye
Nor voice thine ear, but, parched in the sun's pure flame,
Thy beauty's bloom shall perish. Welcome to thee
Shall starry-kirtled Night enshroud the day,
Welcome the sun dispel the frosts of dawn;
And the anguish of thy state shall gnaw thy heart
For ever—unborn is thy deliverer.
Such thy reward for charity to man:
A god, thou didst defy the wrath of gods
, On men their powers bestowing unrighteously.
So on this cheerless rock must thou stand guard,
Upright, unsleeping, unbending the knee,
And with many a groan of unavailing grief
Cry out. Implacable is the heart of Zeus,
And harsh is every king whose power is new.
Enough: why this delay? why waste your pity?
Do you not hate the god all gods abhor,
Betrayer of your privilege to man?
The tie of kin and comradeship is strange.
True, but is't possible to disregard
The Father's word? do you not revere that more?
Ah, you were ever pitiless and proud!
To grieve for him cures nothing; so do you
Labour no more where labour is in vain.
O most abhorrent handicraft of mine!
Why do you hate it? In plain truth, your art
Is guiltless of the work that's now to do.
Yet would that it had fallen to another!
All things are troublesome, save to rule the gods:
Liberty is the privilege of Zeus.
HEPHAESTUS (pointing to chains)
These teach me that, and I can make no answer.
No more delay then—in these chains bind him,
For fear the Father see your faltering.
Here are the curb-chains, ready to my hand.
Then manacle his hands with all your might,
Uplift the hammer, strike, and nail him down!
See, 'tis not vain, the work proceeds apace.
Strike harder, pin him, leave no fetter loose.
His wit can circumvent the closest strait.
That arm is fixed, fastened inextricably.
And now encase the other, that he may learn,
For all his craft, he is no match for Zeus.
Of none, save him, have I deserved reproach.
Now drive this stubborn adamantine edge
Deep through his breast and nail it firmly down.
Aiai, Prometheus!—for thy pains I groan.
Once more you falter, weeping for the foes
Of Zeus. Beware lest you should need your pity.
The spectacle thou seest doth wound the eye.
A knave I see repaid with his deserts.
Come, cast this iron girth about his ribs.
It must be done, you need not shout me on.
And yet I will shout—ay, I will hound you on.
Step down. Enclose his ankles in these rings.
See, without length of labour, it is done.
Now thrust these penetrating spancels home,
For hard it is to please our taskmaster.
How like your looks the utterance of your tongue!
Be soft yourself, so please you, but do not chide
My stubborn spirit and temperament severe.
His feet are netted. Let us go our ways.
Here now wax proud and plunder powers divine—
Thy gifts to creatures of a day! How can
Mortals relieve thee in thy present state?
Falsely we named thee the Foresighted One,
Prometheus—thine the need of foresight now,
How from this art to extricate thyself!
(Exeunt MIGHT and VIOLENCE)
O divine Sky, and swiftly-winging Breezes,
O River-springs, and multitudinous gleam
Of smiling Ocean—to thee, All-Mother Earth,
And to the Sun's all-seeing orb I cry:
See what I suffer from the gods, a god!
Witness how with anguish broken
Through ages of time without number
I shall labour in agony. Such are the bonds
That the new-throned Lord of the Blest hath designed
For my shame and dishonour.
Pheu, pheu! for the pain that is now and to come
I groan, and I cry, where is the destined
Term of my trial and my travail?
And yet what say I? All things I foreknow
That are to be: no unforeseen distress
Shall visit me, and I must bear the will
Of Fate as lightly as I may, and learn
The invincible strength of Necessity.
Yet of my present state I cannot speak,
Cannot be silent. The gifts I gave to man
Have harnessed me beneath this harsh duress.
I hunted down the stealthy fount of fire
In fennel stored, which schooled the race of men
In every art and taught them great resource.
Such the transgression which I expiate,
A helpless captive, shackled, shelterless!
Ah ah, ea ea!
What echo, what fragrance unseen wingeth nigh me?
Is it divine or mortal, or of mingled blood?
Visiting this desolate edge of earth,
Spectator of my agony—with what purpose else?
Behold in chains confined an ill-starred god,
The detested of Zeus and rejected of all
The celestial band that assembleth aloft
In the heavenly courts of the Highest,
For my too great love of the children of men!
Pheu, pheu! what again is the murmur I hear
As of birds hard by?
And the air is astir with the whispering beat
Of their hurrying wings.
Oh, fearful is all that approacheth.
CHORUS OF OCEANIDS (Strophe 1)
O be not fearful—as a friend in flight contending to this rock my airy voyage have I winged.
Eager for this adventure, my father's leave hardly I won.
Swiftly I rode on the flying breezes.
I heard afar off the reverberating echoes in my hollow cave, and unflushed with the shame of maidens
I sped on my chariot-steed unsandalled.
Daughters of Tethys, the bride many-childed of
Oceanus, who with unslumbering tides
Doth encompass the earth,
Bear witness, behold how cruelly bound
And enchained in a wild and precipitous glen
I shall keep my disconsolate vigil!
CHORUS (Antistrophe 1)
I see, Prometheus, and a mist of grief descendeth on my vision, tears are springing to my eyes
Thus to behold thy beauty by day and night blasted in these
Adamant shackles of shame and torment.
For new the rulers who are throned above in heaven, and the laws of Zeus are new, framed for a harsh dominion.
The mighty of old he hath brought to nothing.
O would in the boundless abyss of the earth,
Where Hades doth welcome the souls of the dead,
In invincible bondage my body were crushed,
That nor god nor another might mock my estate!
But here I am hung as a plaything of storms
And a mark for my enemies' laughter!
CHORUS (Strophe 2)
What god is he so hard of heart that such a spectacle could delight?
Who doth not share thy sufferings, save Zeus? For in his spirit is no pity. Inflexibly
Fixed on vengeance, still his wrath smiteth the Sons of the Sky; ay, and shall not soften
Till his heart have its fill of revenge, or a mightier
Hand from him plunder his stolen kingdom.
Yet of me, yet of me, though battered and bent,
Limb-pierced by his shackles of insolent wrong,
Shall the prince who presideth in heaven have need,
To reveal him the new-found plan whereby
Of his sceptre and sway he shall be stripped bare.
And then I, unappeased by his charms honey-tongued
And unmoved by his merciless threats, will withhold
From him all that I know, till he grant me release
From the bonds that encompass my limbs and atone
For the shameful disgrace that I suffer.
CHORUS (Antistrophe 2)
Nay, thou art bold and dost not bow before thy keen adversities,
And too unbridled is thy tongue. I tremble, and my spirit is a-quiver with a
With terror for thy future state, when is it fated for thee rest from these thy
To behold? Unapproachable, hard to appease is the
Heart in the breast of the Son of Cronos.
Full well do I know he is harsh and a law
To himself, but in time, notwithstanding, I ween,
Crushed by this danger, his heart shall be humbled,
And, becalming his irreconcilable rage,
He shall hasten to union and friendship with me
Eagerly, eagerly waited.
All things unveil, make manifest to us
Upon what pretext seizing thee doth Zeus
Outrage thee with such agony and shame?
Teach us, unless to speak should bring thee harm.
Painful it is for me to speak of this,
Painful is silence—'tis misery every way.
As soon as war among the gods began
And strife internal broke the peace of heaven,
Some eager to cast Cronos from his throne
That Zeus might reign, and others contrary
Intent that Zeus should never rule the gods,
Then I, though wise the counsel that I pressed
Upon the Titans, Sons of Heaven and Earth,
Could win no hearing. All my cunning wiles
Counting as nought, in arrogance of heart
They hoped by force for easy mastery.
But often I had heard my mother, Earth
And Themis, one form under many names,
Predict the future as it would come to pass,
How not by strength nor by the stouter hand,
By guile alone the reigning powers would fall.
Such was the tale they heard revealed by me
But deemed unworthy even of a glance.
And then, it seemed, my best remaining choice
Was, with my mother's aid, to take my stand
Where help was welcome, at the side of Zeus;
And through my counsels in the nether gloom
Of Tartarus ancestral Cronos lies
With all his comrades. Such are the services
I rendered to the tyrant of the gods,
And these cruel penalties are my reward.
For tyranny, it seems, is never free
From this distemper—faithlessness to friends.
But to your question, on what pretext he
Outrages me thus, I will now reply.
No sooner was he on his father's throne
Seated secure than he assigned the gods
Their several privileges, to each appointing
Powers, but held the hapless race of man
Of no account, resolving to destroy
All human kind and sow new seed on earth.
And none defied his will in this save me,
I dared to do it, I delivered man
From death and steep destruction. Such the crime
For which I pay with these fell agonies,
Painful to suffer, pitiful to see.
For pitying man in preference to myself
I am debarred from pity; and thus I stand
Tortured, to Zeus a spectacle of shame.
Oh, iron-hearted he and wrought of stone,
Whoe'er, Prometheus, grieveth not for thy
Calamities—a sight I never hoped
To see, and now behold with broken heart.
Ay, to my friends, I am a sight for pity.
Canst thou perchance have carried thy daring further?
I stayed man from foreknowledge of his fate.
And what cure for that malady didst thou find?
First, I implanted in his heart blind hopes.
A blessing, truly, hast thou given to man.
And furthermore, I bestowed fire upon him.
Have creatures of a day the flame of fire?
They have, and many arts shall learn therefrom.
Such then the accusation whereon Zeus—
Outrages me and ceases not from wrong.
What, is no end appointed for thy labours?
No end, save when he thinks it meet to end them.
When will he? Oh, what hope? Dost thou not see
That thou hast sinned? And yet that word gives me
No pleasure, and pains thee. Let us dismiss
Such thoughts, and from thy labours seek release.
Easy for him who keeps his foot outside
The miry clay to give advice to one
In trouble. All this was known to me:
I willed to sin, I willed it, I confess.
My help to man brought suffering to myself.
Not that I thought that with such pains as these
I would be wasted on precipitous heights,
The tenant of this solitary rock.
But for my present sorrows mourn no more,
Step down to earth and to my future fortunes
Give ear and learn all things from end to end.
O hearken to me, hearken, take compassion
On him who suffers now, for, ever-restless,
Trouble alights on one now, then another.
To thy eager appeal will thy hearers respond
Lo, fleet-footed I step down from my wind-
Swift seat on the ways of the fowls of the air
And alight on the chill earth, eager to hark
To the tale full-told of thy labours.
(Enter OCEANUS, mounted on a sea-horse)
To the end of my long journey, Prometheus,
Am I come, from afar have I travelled to thee,
Mounted on this wing-swift bird who is quick
To obey my command without bridle or bit;
And in this thy affliction, believe me, I share.
For indeed I am drawn to thy side by the strong
Constraint of our kinship, and, kinship apart,
There is none that I hold in a higher regard.
I will prove thee the truth of my words—it is not
In my nature to flatter with blandishing tongue,—
For behold, make known to me what is thy need,
And ne'er shalt thou say that Oceanus failed
As a friend to thee faithful and stedfast.
Ah, what is this? Hast thou too come to gaze
Upon my labours? How didst thou dare forsake
The stream that bears thy name and vaulted caverns
Of self-grown rock, to journey to this land,
The mother of iron? Is it thy wish to see
My state and share the burden of my sorrows?
Then look on him who was the friend of Zeus
And fellow-founder of his tyranny,
In what fell agonies he bends my limbs!
I see, Prometheus, and I would commend
To thee, so quick of wit, the wisest course.
Prepare to know thyself and change thy ways
Anew, for new the tyrant of the gods.
If with such barbed and bitter words thou criest
Defiance, Zeus, though far from hence enthroned
On high, might hear thee, and thy present host
Of ills would seem no more than child's play then.
Nay, most unhappy, lay aside thy rage
And from misfortune seek deliverance.
Antique, perchance, may seem my counsel to thee:
Yet such, Prometheus, is the penalty
Paid by the arrogance of a lofty tongue.
Unhumbled yet, thou dost not bow to trouble
But to these ills thou hast would others add.
No longer, if thou wouldst be schooled by me,
Wilt thou thus kick against the pricks, aware
That our harsh monarch owes account to none.
And I will now depart and do my best
To find release from thy adversities.
But hold thy peace and curb thy turbulent speech;
Or, over-subtle, hast thou not wit to see
A price is set upon an idle tongue?
I count thee happy to be free from blame,
Though in my perils all participant.
And now have done, take no concern for me.
Thou canst not move him—he is immovable,—
And watch that no misfortune waylay thee.
Ay, thou wast born to teach thy neighbours wisdom
But not thyself—thy works are proof of that.
Yet, since I have the will, oppose me not.
For I declare that Zeus will grant to me
This favour and release thee from thy pains.
Excerpted from Five Great Greek Tragedies by SOPHOCLES, Euripides, AESCHYLUS, Paul Negri. Copyright © 2004 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
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Posted February 5, 2011