by Anthony M. Ludovici
PROMETHEUS THE MAN
I SHALL now attempt on Spencerian and anthropological lines, an interpretation of the Fire-Stealer myth of the Greeks, and shall accordingly assume that, not only Prometheus himself, but also Zeus, and the other gods of Olympus, were ancestors of the ancient Greeks – powerful ancestors – who became perpetuated in the memory of their descendants, owing to the brilliance of their deeds, the great wisdom of their rule, and the beauty of their bodies and their lives.
By way of experiment I shall proceed in my interpretation, as if all the details of the myth were material to the understanding of its secret, and on the assumption that, although all the truth is not contained in the traditional account of the myth, all the traditional account of the myth is true. It will be interesting to see whether, on this plan, I arrive at an explanation of the mystery, at once more intelligible, more probable, and more consonant with recognised anthropological data, than by the method which believes from the start that the whole body of the story is a poetic, pleasant, but empty fairy-tale. I think the experiment worth trying.
1. (1)Believing it to be true that great neighbours, visitors, or strange conquerors, of a race, are deified just as readily, and (owing to their more marked differentiating characters) frequently more speedily than actual ancestors, however much distinguished, of the same blood, I express it as my belief that the gods of the Greeks, like the gods of the Indians and Persians, and the gods of some western Asiatic peoples, were derived rather from deified strangers than from ancestors of the same blood. My principal reason for holding this belief is the tradition contained in the early myths themselves. Thus Earth – i.e., the people of the earth, the creatures known and familiar – are the men and women who are regarded as every-day occurrences to the race perpetuating the myth. They are the given quantity. The god, or the "sons of the gods," that mingle with the daughters of the earth, are the new arrivals, the new stock possessed of unaccustomed brilliance, wisdom and beauty, who are deified either immediately or subsequently, by virtue of these qualities.
Thus the alleged crossing of the gods with the earth (or the women of the earth), records an actual cross which took place between an inferior race (in this case the remote ancestors of most modern European peoples), and a race so very much superior as to appear divine to the inferior race. Thus in Greek mythology, Uranus, first ruler of the world, marries Ge, the Earth.(2) In Indian mythology, Dyaus (Heaven) marries Prithivi (the Earth). In Semitic mythology, "the sons of god saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them wives of all which they chose."(3)
Now, as I have been to some pains to show elsewhere, before a superior race condescends to effect any union with an inferior race, the former must have suffered some degeneration.(4) The natural attitude of a healthy superior race towards an inferior race, however healthy and attractive in its own way, is one of aloofness and contempt. Broad-mindedness manifested in interracial or inter-class unions, as in every other department of life, may be said always to constitute degeneration. It is the broad-mindedness of the present day in all matters (and I say this in the teeth – in the false teeth – of a huge majority of modern men and women) that is its most convincing symptom of degeneration.
Despite the fact, therefore, that they were regarded as gods, the strangers who appeared in the midst of the remote ancestors of most European peoples, and of some western Asiatics, although vastly superior to these races, had already suffered probably many hundreds of years of degeneration. They were probably unusually tall, led a simple, tasteful and healthy life, and were too gentlemanly in their instincts, too cultured in their marrow, to abandon the freedom and beauty of a life of hunting, for the more sordid occupations of agriculture and manual industry. But of this anon.
Why do I suggest with so far only the myth to guide me that they were probably tall? – Because the cross between them and the inferior race produced men very much bigger than the people of the inferior race itself. I do not wish to be suspected of assuming for the purposes of my interpretation that the Titans were necessarily giants, or the giants; – though even if I did so I should be sinning in excellent company. Some have even called the myth of the Titans a parallel myth to the myth of the giants. In Greek myth itself, however, we hear that Atlas was supposed to have been condemned by Zeus to support the Heavens on his shoulders; this tradition points to his having been an exceptional monster of a man,(5) – while Heracles, who was also the result of the same cross, was notoriously a man of inordinate size and strength. Now Atlas was the brother of Prometheus. Heracles was the son of Prometheus's first cousin; so I do not think it is even stretching the internal evidence of the myth, to assume that the Titans were a mighty race of people. I therefore conclude that the superior race was a tall race. Some, of course, of the offspring of the cross bred true, either to the one stock or to the other. Zeus was probably one of these true-bred offspring of the cross, who resembled in every particular the superior, immigrant race. Prometheus, on the other hand, first cousin to Zeus and brother to Atlas – and referred to by many as the mighty Titan was probably a perfect blend of the two races, and therefore very much bigger than the men either of the superior or the inferior race. This frequently happens. Darwin has shown sufficiently convincingly how often crossing adds to the size of offspring.(6) But the feature of tallness would be likely to be exaggerated in the cross, if the parents on one side were unusually tall. As therefore the immigrant race was a superior race in this case, I take it that the unusual tallness was on their side, and this would explain the might and probably the size of such men as Atlas, Heracles and Prometheus.
The Bible tells us that after the sons of god had taken the daughters of men as wives: "There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of god came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown."(7)
Dr. Skinner's comment on this important verse is strangely in keeping with what I am now contending. He says: "The idea undoubtedly is that this race [the giants] arose at that time in consequence of the union of the divine 'spirit' with human 'flesh.'"(8) I would add: not the idea is, but the fact was.
Dr. Tuch's view agrees with Dr. Skinner's, but Dr. Tuch would have it that the word "giants" in the text should be understood as "extraordinary" men, or "big" men (Ausserordentlichen, Grossen).(9) I can see no objection to this, provided that "extraordinary" size is implicit. Luther translates "Ne Phe Lim" by "tyrants," but I can nowhere find the slightest justification for this exceptional translation. Our own Revised Version has "or giants" in the margin, by the side of the "Ne Phe Lim." It rather makes me suspect that Luther was simply endeavouring to circumvent what appeared to him to be a prickly problem; for, to the Christian, I should imagine that this mention of the "sons of god" appearing so early in the Old Testament, and followed by "giants," must present a somewhat grave difficulty. However, that is not my present business. The text in any case affords me another and probably independent example of an occurrence similar to that which we find at the opening of Greek mythology.
It is curious, moreover, that in the ancient north, according to legend, there was a great mingling of the people after the immigration of Odin, and the giants took to themselves wives from Mannliezen; but some married their daughters there.(10)
However, I only mention these allied myths in order to assist the understanding of the principal myth with which we are concerned; just as, if anyone did not possess any information about Englishmen, and only had the record of the savages Englishmen had visited or conquered to assist him in visualising them, he would naturally endeavour to compare as many of these savage records as possible. As I believe that the race which, in the present union of races with which we are concerned, was fairly widespread, I think it not at all unlikely that these various accounts of their cross with the "Earth" and the "daughters of men," relate to similar but not identically the same experiences. In the case of the Aryan family, for instance, it is possible that the various accounts all refer to one original cross. This, however, is by no means certain.
But to return to the subject of our enquiry. Having considered the probable physical characters that resulted from the union of "gods" and "men," what are we to suppose were the moral characters that were the outcome of the blend?
Now we know very definite things about the moral effects of racial crosses. We know that whereas fertility and size are increased, character is destroyed. This matter I have gone into with sufficient detail elsewhere, to spare myself the pains of a further statement of the arguments here.(11) Thus Eurasians and Mulattoes and cross-bred Europeans and Chinese are proverbial for their unreliability, shiftiness and even dishonesty. Where the blend is perfect, obviously both moral characters are destroyed; both inherited moral attributes tend to neutralise each other, and leave but a residuum of somewhat savage primary instincts behind, denuded of their usual overlay of social and aesthetic inhibitions.
Thus in the race of giants we should expect to find, owing to their not having bred true to either race, moral imperfections of the worst order. We should expect to find the Titans unreliable, crafty, deceitful, "full of wiles," and even inclined to treachery. It is not out of keeping, therefore, that Prometheus should appear as a creature of no moral character in the myth. On the other hand, his first cousin Zeus – who, owing to the fact that he must have impressed the memories of his contemporaries most by his wisdom and brilliance, was made the head of all the gods – I believe to have bred true to the superior race.
The Titans, I claim, had a bad character. For a confirmation of this, look at the parallel myths!
Immediately after the appearance of the "giants" in Genesis, "God saw that the wickedness of man was great on earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And it repented the Lord that He had made man on the earth, and it grieved Him at His heart. And the Lord said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth Me that I have made them. But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord."(12)
Yes, but Noah had had nothing to do with the crossing of the "sons of god" and the "daughters of men." His immaculate pedigree is given in full in the preceding chapter.
Likewise in another stray fragment of a similar myth in India, it is Hajagriva, one of the giants, who by stealing the sacred books of the Vedas, brings on the Flood.(13)
From the fact that they were the result of a cross between widely divergent races, it seems correct to infer that, wherever they represented a complete blend (different from either race) they would show a certain looseness of principle and general moral depravity; but seeing that the myths actually tell us definitely – as in the case of Prometheus(14) and Hajagriva, that this was so, and in the case of the Old Testament giants, certainly implies that it must have been so, we have a curious coincidence between a biological truth and an oral tradition, which goes a long way towards helping us to suppose that this tradition found its source in a singularly accurate memory.
Very well then, we can now return to the remote ancestors of the ancient Greeks, and try to picture what had actually happened to them.
I have already suggested that the superior race with which they had come in contact had suffered degeneration, probably for many centuries. I gave as my reason for this that they were broad-minded enough to see beauty and attractiveness in the females of another obviously inferior race. But there is another reason also reported in the myth. Their advent into Greek life reveals the fact that their degeneration had just recently culminated in a period of anarchy. For two generations the throne had been contested by both King and Crown Prince – by father and son – probably owing to the incestuous desires of the two sons for their respective mothers, on the one hand,(15) and owing to the lack of ruler ability, humanity and wisdom in the dethroned kings on the other.
With the arrival of Zeus, however, everything gets into order again, feuds quiet down, the throne is stabilised, and nobody appears to dispute his right to sovereignty. Now, while this is another reason for supposing him to have bred true to the noblest elements of the very superior stock from which he hailed on his male ancestors' side, it also affords some support for the belief that an actual mingling of races had recently occurred. For clearly if a mingling of races had taken place, fresh territory had most probably been acquired by the dominating race. This would mean immensely increased responsibilities, and a greatly magnified demand for determination, rigour and wise rulership on the part of the governing sovereign. As history shows us, however, long after the existence of Zeus, such exalted demands have frequently stimulated corresponding high qualities in the distinguished individuals who have happened to co-exist with them, and to occupy a position in which they could effectively display their great gifts, the case of Frederick the Great of Prussia is typical, as is also that of Napoleon. In fact, very often it is precisely the apparent hopelessness of the situation which impels those who are witnesses of its recovery to perpetuate and glorify the memory of him who was responsible for the improved state of affairs.
Whereas there was every incentive for Zeus to act with determination, rigour, and the highest political skill, therefore, we cannot help assuming, ex hypothesi, and in accordance with the internal evidence of the myth itself, that he succeeded in meeting the very difficult demands of the moment – in the first place, because he must have so consolidated his position as to remain in the memories of his contemporaries the greatest of the superior people of his time, and secondly, because the superior people themselves of his period appear to have remained loyal to him, and to have acquiesced in his rule. Until Heracles, Zeus's own son, pleads on behalf of Prometheus, there was evidently no concerted action on the part of any group in Zeus's entourage to release Prometheus from the great Chief's judgment, cruel as it was. And even when his release takes place, Heracles, Prometheus's first cousin once removed, effects it only after having received the sanction of Zeus for so doing.
How foolish Shelley's words, "successful and perfidious adversary" as applied to Zeus, already appear in the light of this reasoning. We shall see how still more utterly ridiculous they seem later on.
Now among the entourage of Zeus, there can be little doubt, from the renown he enjoys for acumen in the myth, that Prometheus was probably the most powerful intellectually; or rather the most unscrupulous, while being at the same time generously endowed with brains. He was not necessarily more richly endowed in this respect than the rest of the minor gods, and he was certainly very much less gifted than Zeus himself, but we can safely assume that he was highly intelligent and also unscrupulous. This, however, only made his gifts the more formidable to Zeus. Now the fact that, according to the myth, he was traditionally believed to have surpassed mankind in cunning and fraud ("mankind" meaning here, of course, the inferior race), shows him, from the first, to have been curiously associated with the inferior race. We suspect, as we continue the story, that he was even playing for popularity among them; but we are anticipating. Let us anticipate to this extent, however, that seeing how subsequent events confirm our suspicions regarding his aspiration to lead the inferior people in a revolt against Zeus, we may now, with the help of a little insight into psychology and humanity, set it down as only natural and probable that Prometheus was enormously jealous of his brilliant first cousin. Their close relationship made them equally ambitious for the highest honours. It could only have been the overwhelming superiority of Zeus that established him in the eyes of all as the proper claimant. But we can well imagine that Prometheus would not have taken the same view – particularly as he esteemed himself no fool. Besides, is it not recorded in the myth, that Prometheus had already twice changed his mind about Zeus, that he had fought against him and then rallied to his side? That there were elements of hostility towards Zeus in the heart of Prometheus we therefore know without going beyond the actual wording of the myth. We may consequently safely assume that he bore to Zeus the rankling, bitter jealousy that all gifted mediocrity feels towards genius. He loathed him and most probably cherished the deliberate intention of turning the circumstance of the recent mingling of the two peoples to account by leading a popular party of the inferior race against his first cousin. As subsequent European history was to show, first cousins are certainly not averse from similar hostile tactics towards each other, and as the evidence in the other divisions of the myth confirm our present suspicions, and the development of the story reveals the bottomless hatred existing between these two, I think it reasonable – nay imperative – at this stage in the analysis, to regard their relationship at the beginning of the reign of Zeus more or less as I have outlined it above.
So much for the examination of Division I.
2. We now come to Division II. (Life and Works), the precise interpretation of which will not be as easy as that of the previous division, in the first place because we have so very few details about the religious practices and ceremonies of the superior people themselves, with which I believe it possible to identify the race that supplied the deities of the ancient Greeks; and secondly, because we cannot be certain that even had religious practices existed among them, more or less similar to those we are familiar with in very early Greece and Egypt – the sacrifice of human beings, animals, etc., to the gods – we don't at present know who the gods of this superior race were, or whether they were ever transmitted as deities to the inferior race. This makes the interpretation of Division II. very difficult, if we take the meeting at Mecone to have been a religious assembly, and I may therefore appear to the reader to assume very much more than is actually warranted either by the text of the myth, or by my own reasoning. In my interpretation of Division I., at least, I kept strictly to the myth, never once departed from rigid Spencerian principles, and always endeavoured to observe those well-known rules of human conduct and human commerce, which an enlightened psychology would hold to be inevitable if not eternal. In this Division, however, I may, as I say, in the opinion of the reader, surmise more than the traditional story justifies.
I need hardly say that my opinion in that case will differ from the reader's, and on the following grounds:–
(a) My reasoning will follow out the reasoning of Division I.
(b) The explanation I offer of the meeting at Mecone does not really affect my main thesis, because the actual meaning of the assembly is less important than what, according to the myth, actually took place at it.
(c) Unless we know on what terms fire was granted by Zeus, we cannot understand all his reasons for withholding it; but once more the reasons are not so important as the act itself, unmistakably reported in the myth.
(d) Whatever may be said for or against my explanation, it is obvious that more people were punished after the Mecone meeting than Prometheus himself, otherwise the withholding of fire would not be said to have been "from the mortals." (Again Prometheus is connected with the inferior race.)
(e) No explanation as satisfactory as my own has hitherto been offered.
We are told that on a certain occasion the gods and men contended together at Mecone, that at this meeting a certain offering or tribute was prepared for Zeus, and Prometheus was responsible for the subdivision of this offering or tribute, out of the body of a huge bull or ox. We are not told what the nature of this conference was.
I cannot help feeling, however, seeing that the word ekrinonto is used, and that the idea of contending or disputing is therefore meant, it could hardly have been a religious function for which they were assembled.(16) Otherwise why does this word ekrinonto seem to hang unexplained amid the other details given about the meeting? That it should have come down by oral tradition seems to point to the fact that this conference, where the gods and men contended, was not convened for a religious ceremony. And apart from the subdivision of the ox, why should we conclude that it was a religious meeting, particularly as we know nothing of the religion of the superior race which represented the gods on this occasion? We do not even know whether they had a religion at all.
Bearing in mind all that had recently occurred – the mingling of the two races, and the falling of the inferior race under the rulership, of Zeus, it is not surprising, however, that a general meeting between the superior race and the inferior, or the representatives of each, should have been convened. This was only to be expected. It had certainly happened before – perhaps often before; because certain conventions, certain interpretations of the law had obviously to be agreed upon between the two races. There is even evidence in Hesiod's account of the myth that there had been such meetings before, otherwise it would have been impossible for Zeus to "withhold fire" as the result of what took place at the meeting of which we have the account. Surely at a previous meeting, fire, or access to fire, had been granted by Zeus on certain terms.
It is impossible to conjecture what precisely was being settled at the time when Zeus was deluded by Prometheus. It may have been a matter of tribute; it most probably was tribute due to Zeus and his government in return for various benefits and privileges – one of which was very likely the privilege of being ruled over by a man as wise as Zeus must undoubtedly have been, and another of which was evidently the right to fetch fire from sacred or public fires kindled and kept alive by Zeus's own people. There are innumerable very cogent reasons for supposing that this right to fetch fire by means of a firebrand or a fennel-stalk, from the superior race, which was at that time alone in possession of the secret of kindling it, must have been subject to various rules and conditions wisely laid down by Zeus and his counsellors. (This point will be elaborated later on.)
Now it seems plain from the narrative, that the attitude of Prometheus was certainly not conciliatory on this occasion. In fact it is definitely stated that he attempted to deceive Zeus over the partition of the tribute. Seeing, however, that Zeus's retaliation for this attempted swindle fell not only on the head of Prometheus, but, as we are told, on the heads of "mortal men," it does not require much ingenuity to conclude that Prometheus was at this meeting championing somebody else's cause. For we have seen that "mortal men" or "men" in the myth were the inferior race. So here we have further confirmation of our suspicion that he was associating himself with these, and what is more actually striving for popularity among them, by advocating their rights, or supposed rights, against the better judgment of Zeus. I suggest that being anxious to head a movement of the lower people against Zeus, he was at this meeting endeavouring to enlist their support and affection by trying to rid them of the yoke of the onerous claims or regulations imposed by Zeus. He may even have been contemplating a revolution to rid them of Zeus altogether. As I think it most probable that fire was granted by Zeus to the inferior race only on certain very wise terms, Prometheus may also have been trying to get the apparent harshness of these terms modified. Surely, however, this much at least is certain: if Prometheus had been attempting to deceive Zeus only on his own account, for his own advantage, the punishment would have been so devised as to chastise no one but himself.
To an inferior people, ignorant of all that the superior race in this instance must have known about fire (and I am convinced myself, that this superior race knew more about fire than we do, as we shall see), any restrictions or conditions imposed upon their privilege of fetching fire would naturally after a time appear intolerable – in fact, the less comprehensible the restrictions were to them, the more intolerable would such conditions seem.
The fact that fire is withheld as a result of the attempted deception rather points to the supposition that one of the most important subjects debated at this meeting of the "gods" and "men" was probably the question of the supply of fire. Prometheus, however, playing the part of demagogue, had possibly promised the inferior race to extract from Zeus certain substantial concessions, either by open contract or fraud. The lower race, therefore, must have watched Prometheus's progress with the keenest interest at this meeting; they must even have shown their sympathy with the Titan quite openly, otherwise Zeus could hardly have included them in his general condemnation.
Now either Prometheus was himself aware of the immense wisdom of the restrictions imposed by Zeus regarding the fire-supply, and yet professed not to know it so as to appear an innocent champion of the groaning inferior race, and thus gain popularity (in which case he was utterly abandoned and despicable); or else – and this is unlikely – he was himself genuinely ignorant of the meaning of Zeus's restrictions, and being jealous of him, thought the occasion a good one for furthering his cause with the lower people. In the latter case he was simply a vulgar demagogue devoid of scruple.
3. We now arrive at Division III., which is the kernel of the whole myth, though only a preliminary step in my general thesis.
Outwitted by Zeus at Mecone, and finding himself even less popular than before with the lower people, because by identifying himself with them he had made their position worse than it had been previously – a situation most probably envisaged by Zeus when he designed the punishment – Prometheus now makes his highest bid for popularity among the ignorant and inferior race. Thwarted and desperate, he resolves to reinstate himself in their favour by any means, at all costs. He is related to the gods. He could not therefore have been ignorant of their secrets, although he was not possessed of the wisdom of Zeus. Among the secrets at present held by the gods was that of kindling fire. What did he do? – He divulged this secret of fire-making, fire-kindling, to the inferior race-blurted it out – nay, actually demonstrated it to them, and probably stole the implements for so doing from one of the superior people's fire-kindlers. In a trice the harm was done; for the feat is so simple, that once it is demonstrated, it is possessed for ever by those who have witnessed it.(17) And thus the inferior race got to know the secret of fire-kindling for all time; they were free from the onerous restrictions imposed by Zeus under the old fire-supply contract!
It is possible that the superior race produced fire very much as the present Brahmins of India and the Indians of America still produce it to this day for sacred and religious purposes – that is to say, by friction, either by means of the fire-drill, or by rubbing two dry sticks together until they throw out sparks and ignite some dry grass or fluffy substance held in close proximity to them.
It was probably this mechanical device, or possibly the fire-drill – that is, a vertical piece of wood revolved rapidly to and fro by means of the string of a bow, and pressed against another piece of wood, into which it bores and creates heat(18) – which Prometheus was responsible for having introduced among the lower people.
Being, as I have said, either ignorant or unscrupulous, he did not impart, with the power of producing fire, the essential conditions under which it could be safely used, and the consequence was that the results were disastrous – so disastrous indeed that whatever the punishment was which Zeus imposed on Prometheus for his act of diabolical brutality to the unfortunate inferior race, this race itself and its descendants suffered so terribly from the consequences of the Titan's act, that no possible, human punishment seemed in their tortured imaginations sufficiently excruciating for the expiation of his crime, and they who were ostensibly the "beneficiaries" of his deed, were only satisfied when they could picture him suffering torture beyond the power of man to impose – the torture described in the myth.
This torture is impossible. It is the first introduction of a supernatural element in the tradition. Neither Spencer's theory nor any other can explain it – for how can the human liver be consumed by day and restored by night? But in the imaginations of an outraged and suffering people any agony that was not miraculously diabolical, any agony that was possible, would have been insufficient, inadequate. To satisfy their loathing of the great malefactor they must think of him as undergoing pains so terrific that supernatural agencies must be enlisted; and thus the measure of miraculous horror in the punishment of Prometheus becomes the criterion of the suffering for which he was responsible.
This, I think, is the only way of accounting for the sudden magic turn that the myth here takes. For Zeus would probably have apprehended Prometheus after his crime – this would have been possible and feasible; he would also have punished him with the utmost severity. He might even have left him, as he deserved, to die chained to a rock while a vulture or an eagle devoured his liver. But the torture would have lasted only a few hours – if that, and Prometheus would have died. This would have been too easy a death, even for the faithful oral tradition of a people gifted with a wonderful memory to transmit. – Hence the introduction of the magic element: the restoration of the liver by night, for centuries, for thousands of years! And seeing that it was the people whom Prometheus is supposed to have benefited who were responsible for the oral tradition, I think it safe to conclude at present, on the evidence of the myth alone, that his supposed benefit must have caused them unspeakable suffering.
5. And this brings me to Division V. of the myth (I am leaving out Division IV. for a separate chapter), which I shall now examine from Zeus's point of view, having anticipated the point of view of his subjects in the analysis given above. I have said that Zeus was immensely wise. I hope to identify his stock with an immensely wise race later on; but for the moment the facts of the case convince us sufficiently of what he must have been. He is the chief of a superior race, to whose memory the Greeks remained faithful down to historical times. The impression he originally made upon them, therefore, must have been immense. Now in view of the fact that his wisdom remained traditionally the greatest thing of the kind that the ancestors of the Greeks had ever encountered, while the wisdom of Prometheus was not merely eclipsed by it, but stamped oral tradition only with a memory of cunning, fraud, and the desire (expressed in the supernatural punishment) of the people that he might linger in inexpressible agony, it is inconceivable to me that Zeus should not have had very serious grounds for withholding fire from Prometheus and his followers, or the people he championed, after what had. occurred at Mecone. To suppose that he had not proper and even very serious grounds would, on the showing of the myth alone, imply that in stealing fire Prometheus showed greater wisdom than Zeus, and that he rightly overcame the restrictions imposed by Zeus in regard to fire. But in that case how can we explain:
(1) That Prometheus was nowhere worshipped in Greece.(19)
(2) That the conception of his punishment in the imagination of the people responsible for oral tradition grew to the supernatural dimensions of eternal agony?
Assuming, as I believe quite rightly therefore, from the internal evidence of the myth alone that Zeus had grave, wise and beneficent reasons for withholding fire from the inferior race after Mecone, he must have been aware of the dangers to which a people would be exposed if they obtained fire, not only in spite of his express will to the contrary, but also free from the conditions he had previously imposed. Apparently, however, although he was able to secure the person of Prometheus and punish him drastically, he was unable to arrest the trouble the Titan had originated. The most he could do was to attempt to mitigate the severity of its consequences. The grief and anger that Zeus must have felt over Prometheus's black-guardly betrayal can therefore scarcely be estimated. In any case the wiser and more beneficent his rule was, the greater must this anger and grief have been; for he would have realised in an instant how much suffering the disaster was certain to bring about, and how deeply his subjects would learn to regret their easy and unquestioning acceptance of Prometheus's blandishments.
But even his anger, great as it must certainly have been, doubtless suffered exaggeration also in the imaginations of his people. Conceiving him, as Greek religion proves they did, as a beneficent deity who meant well by them, they must have over-emphasised his anger, just as they over-emphasised the suffering of Prometheus – hence, I believe, that suggestion of a higher sanction to Zeus's behaviour in the myth, which was faithfully transmitted by tradition, long after the true meaning of the myth had been forgotten.
We know from the history of other peoples on what occasions their "God" is inordinately angry. It is almost always on occasions when they too have reasons for being indignant with the source of their deity's wrath. We have but to think of the seven plagues of Egypt that smote the Egyptians, to understand this psychological process, and to realise why magic is invoked to sate the revengeful appetite of such anger. Bearing such cases in mind, all becomes clear in regard to the anger of Zeus, despite the fact that, in this case, it most probably had a very real existence as well.
The ultimate forgiveness of Prometheus by Zeus, as well as all those matters which in this interpretation I may have appeared to take rather for granted than as proven, I shall discuss in the sequel. I would only at this stage call the reader's attention to the fact that while a reasoning based upon the myth alone has provided me with the greater part of my interpretation, it remains rather to confirm by means of anthropology and other sciences the conclusion reached above, than to supply by means of other studies fresh hints as to the significance of the myth.
(1) These numbers will correspond to my arbitrary subdivisions of the myth given at the beginning of the previous chapter.
(2) It is characteristic, however, of Greek mythology, which is by far the most lucid and most reliable of all, that even the gods of the sky were originally born of earth. This shows exceptional insight.
(3) Gen. vi. 2.
(4) See my Defence of Aristocracy, chap. vii.
(5) Homer, too, seems to have the idea of a giant when he mentions Atlas. See Odyssey, i. 52.
(6) See The Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication, vol. ii., pp.74-158.
(7) Gen. vi. 4.
(8) A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Genesis (Edinburgh, 1910), p.146.
(9) See Kommentar über die Genesis (Halle, 1838), p.159.
(10) See the Hervarasaga.
(11) See my Defence of Aristocracy, pp.298-323, etc.
(12) Gen. vi. 58.
(13) See Fried. Tuch, op. cit., p.154. Tuch is of opinion that the giants mentioned in the mythology of India are comparable to the giants of the sixth chapter of Genesis.
(14) It should also be noted that Atlas and Mencoetius, brothers of Prometheus, are both reported in the myth to have come to a bad end, whilst Epimetheus is represented as almost half-witted.
(15) Hence the famous "mutilation"; but I cannot enter into this matter here. It is alien to the myth with which I am primarily concerned.
(16) See Hesiod, Theogony, 535, 536.
(17) That is the reason why Zeus could not recall the gift once taken. Dr. Petiscus actually remarks that Zeus could not recall the gift; but, of course, gives no reason. See his Olympos (trans. by K. A. Raleigh, London, 1892), p.177.
(18) Personally, I doubt whether it could have been this method, because there is no reason for supposing that the superior race had even invented a bow, though it is always possible, of course, that while they used it for fire-making, they eschewed it as a weapon.
(19) See C. 0. Müller, op. cit., p.60; also E. E. Sikes and St. J. B. Wynne Willson, op. cit., p.xix, which has already been mentioned.