Prometheus Bound

Prometheus Bound Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Aeschylus's Prometheus Bound. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Aeschylus

Aeschylus was born into a wealthy family in Eleusis, the capital city of the West Attica region of Greece, around 523 BCE. His father, Euphorion, may have come from an ancient line of Greek nobility, and Aeschylus led a life of privilege. As a young man, Aeschylus reportedly had a dream in which Dionysus, the Greek god of wine and theater, came to him and told him to write tragedies. As the story goes, Aeschylus began writing his first play the very next day. At the center of Athenian life during Aeschylus’s time was an annual festival, the City Dionysia, held each spring in honor of Dionysus. The festival ended with the staging of several plays, including three tragedies and five comedies, and one winner was selected from both categories by a panel of judges. Aeschylus’s first play was staged around 499 BCE, but he didn’t win first place at the City Dionysia until 484 BCE. Aeschylus is thought to have written somewhere between 70 and 90 plays during his lifetime, but only seven plays have survived. Of Aeschylus’s seven surviving plays, including The Libation Bearers, Seven Against Thebes, and the Oresteia trilogy, each won first prize at the City Dionysia. While history attributes the writing of Prometheus Bound to Aeschylus, many scholars maintain that it was the work of a different writer—potentially even Aeschylus’s son, also named Euphorion, who was also a poet and playwright. Prometheus Bound is thought to be the first in a trilogy called the Prometheia. The second and third plays, Prometheus Unbound (not to be confused with Percy Bysshe Shelley's poem of the same name) and Prometheus the Fire-Bringer respectively, did not survive antiquity. While the authorship of Prometheus Bound may be disputed, Aeschylus’s status as a celebrated Greek tragedian is not. Aeschylus is said to have won first place at the City Dionysia a total of thirteen times, and he is generally regarded as the father of the tragedy. In addition to having been a successful tragedian, Aeschylus is also remembered for his bravery in war. Aeschylus twice fought for Greece; first, in 490 BCE during the initial Persian invasion of the Greco-Persian Wars, and again in 480E BC at the Battle of Salamis, in which the Greeks fought off the invading Xerxes I, again of Persia. The Greeks were victorious both times, but Aeschylus lost his brother, Cynegeirus, during the Battle of Marathon. According to legend, Aeschylus was killed in 456 BCE in the city of Gela, Sicily. According to legend, an eagle or vulture dropped a tortoise from the sky and struck Aeschylus on the head, killing him instantly. Ironically, this tragic accident reportedly occurred after Aeschylus was given a prophecy that he would be killed by a falling object, and he mistakenly believed that he would be safer outdoors.
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Historical Context of Prometheus Bound

For much of Aeschylus’s life, the Greeks and the Persians were involved in a lengthy war. The Persian Wars, also known as the Greco-Persian Wars, were a series of battles that lasted from 499 to 449 BCE. Dissention between the Greeks and Persians began years earlier, however, in 547 BCE, when Cyrus the Great, the founder of the first Persian Empire, invaded and conquered Ionia, a Greek region in present-day Turkey. After the Persian invasion, several tyrants were appointed to rule over the newly conquered Ionian cities, prompting nearly a century of war and political unrest. Aeschylus fought in the Greco-Persian Wars in 490 BCE when an army of Persians was sent across the Aegean Sea to conquer Greece. At that time, the Persians successfully overtook the Cyclades Islands and the city of Eretria before finally being defeated by the Greeks during the Battle of Marathon. In 480 BCE, Aeschylus again fought in the Persian Wars when Xerxes I, the king of Persia, invaded Greece in the famous Battle of Thermopylae. During the Persians’ second invasion, 7,000 Greeks met upwards of 100,000 Persians on the shores of Thermopylae. Xerxes and the Persians gained control of both the Phocis and Boeotia regions of Greece, before finally being defeated by the Greeks in 479 in the Battle of Platea. The Greco-Persian Wars did not officially end until the Peace of Callias, a treaty between the Persians and Greeks, was signed in 449 BCE.

Other Books Related to Prometheus Bound

The fifth century BCE (499-400 BCE), during which time Aeschylus lived and wrote, is known as the Golden Age of the Classical Period. Some of the most important works of poetry, drama, and philosophy came out of the Golden Age, including the only three tragedians whose work has survived antiquity—Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides. Surviving plays of the time include Sophocles’s
Key Facts about Prometheus Bound
  • Full Title: Prometheus Bound
  • When Written: Unknown. Most likely, Prometheus Bound was written near the end of Aeschylus’s career (late 450s BCE); however, if the play was not written by Aeschylus, some scholars believe it could have been written as late as 430 BCE.
  • Where Written: Unknown; most likely Athens or Sicily.
  • When Published: Unknown.
  • Literary Period: Classical Greek Period
  • Genre: Greek Tragedy
  • Setting: The top of the Scythian mountains, at the very edge of Greek civilization
  • Climax: Hermes is sent to the top of the mountain by Zeus and threatens Prometheus if Prometheus refuses to tell Zeus about Zeus’s fated marriage and son.
  • Antagonist: Zeus, through his servants, Kratos and Bia, and his messenger, Hermes

Extra Credit for Prometheus Bound

Sworn to secrecy. Aeschylus was a member of the Eleusinian Mysteries, a cult of Demeter and Persephone, in which members—including Aristotle and Plato—were told the ancient secrets of the afterlife. Members were sworn to absolute secrecy; however, Aeschylus was accused of divulging cult secrets during the staging of a play. Aeschylus was nearly killed by a mob of angry theatergoers afterward, but he was later tried and acquitted.

Like father, like son. Aeschylus’s son, Euphorion, who was also a tragedian, won first place at the City Dionysia in 431 BCE, beating out an unknown play by Sophocles, which was awarded second place, and Euripides’s Medea, the third-place winner that year.