Prometheus Bound

by

Aeschylus

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Zeus Character Analysis

The ruler of the Olympian gods and the antagonist of Prometheus Bound. Zeus as an actual character never makes it into Aeschylus’s play, but his violent wrath and immense power are present throughout. Zeus orders Prometheus to the top of the Scythian mountains to be bound by chains for all of eternity as punishment for Prometheus stealing fire and giving it humankind, and his power is seen in other ways as well. Prometheus tells of the Battle of the Titans—the legendary war fought between Zeus and the Olympians and Kronos and the Titans for power of the universe—and he also warns Okeanos against angering Zeus by reminding Okeanos of the fates of Atlas and Typhon at the hands of an angry Zeus. Io herself tells the story of how Zeus transformed her into a cow and turned her out to wander the world endlessly pursued by a biting gadfly. Zeus’s power and wrath are immense, and he is often unyielding and tyrannical. His wrath is often arbitrary and used only as a display of force and power. As he is presented in the play, he knows nothing of loyalty or friendship, and even after Prometheus helps Zeus win the Battle of the Titans using his foresight and reason, Zeus still punishes Prometheus severely for giving fire to humanity. Zeus rules by brute force and fear, although Aeschylus implies that this type of power is limited and cannot be sustained indefinitely. Prometheus’s foresight means that he has the power to see Zeus’s impending “downfall,” and unless Zeus sets Prometheus free, he won’t tell him what he knows. Zeus threatens to bring the Scythian mountains down around Prometheus and then dispatch his “winged hound, a scarlet eagle,” to feast on Prometheus’s liver every day until he talks, but Prometheus won’t budge. Zeus may have the upper hand now, Aeschylus implies, but he will one day need Prometheus’s foresight—again. The character of Zeus underscores Aeschylus’s overarching argument of the ultimate power of reason and intellect over that of brute force and strength.

Zeus Quotes in Prometheus Bound

The Prometheus Bound quotes below are all either spoken by Zeus or refer to Zeus. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Power vs. Reason Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the New York Review Books edition of Prometheus Bound published in 2015.
Prometheus Bound Quotes

We have arrived at the far limit of the world.
These are the Scythian mountains, desolate and vast.
Hephaistos, you must carry out the Father’s will
and bind the criminal to this steep looming rock
with chains of adamant, unbreakable.
It was your flower he stole, the bright and dancing fire,
and gave its wonderworking power to mortals.
This is the crime for which he now must pay
the price to all the gods, that he may learn
to love the tyranny of Zeus
and quit his friendship with the human race.

Related Characters: Kratos (Might) (speaker), Prometheus, Zeus, Hephaistos, Bia (Force)
Related Symbols: Fire, Chains
Page Number: 5
Explanation and Analysis:

Thus at all times one torment or another
will plague you. Your rescuer is not yet born.
This is the fruit of your philanthropy.
A god, you scorned the anger of the gods
by granting mortals honor above their due.
For that, you will keep vigil on this rock,
upright, unsleeping, and never bend a knee.
And many a groan will pass your lips, and sighing,
and bitter lamentation, all in vain.
Zeus’ vengeance is implacable. His power is new,
and everyone with newborn power is harsh.

Related Characters: Hephaistos (speaker), Prometheus, Zeus, Heracles
Related Symbols: Fire
Page Number: 6
Explanation and Analysis:

And yet, though I am tortured now
and bound immovably,
the Lord of the Immortals will one day
have need of me
to show him the new plot
that dooms his scepter and his pride.
No honeyed words, or threats, will sway me
to tell him what I know,
until he frees me from my chains
and grants me what he owes me for this outrage.

Related Characters: Prometheus (speaker), Zeus, The Chorus
Page Number: 15-6
Explanation and Analysis:

To know my brother Atlas stands,
at the gates of evening, bearing upon his shoulders
the weight of heaven and earth, too vast
for his encircling arms, gives me no comfort.
With grief as well I saw the earthborn dweller
in Cilicia’s cave, the hundred-headed monster
Typhon, conquered, his fury violently subdued,
who once braved all the gods with gruesome jaws,
hissing out terror, eyes ablaze, aiming to crush
the sovereign tyranny of Zeus. But flying
down against him came Zeus’ weapon, the sleepless,
fire-breathing thunderbolt, which cast him
out of his triumphant boast, for he was struck
in the very middle of his power, and all his strength
turned into ash. And now, a sprawling, helpless form,
he lies pressed down, close by the narrows of the sea,
beneath the roots of Aetna.

Related Characters: Prometheus (speaker), Zeus, Okeanos, Atlas, Typhon
Related Symbols: Fire
Page Number: 24-5
Explanation and Analysis:

What did I do, son of Kronos, what fault did you find in me
that you would yoke me to such pain, driving me mad with fear
of a gadfly’s sting?
Destroy me with fire,
bury me under the earth,
throw me as food to the monsters of the sea,
but Lord, hear my prayers, do not grudge me the favor I ask.
Surely my endless wandering has taught me enough.
I can’t find a way to escape my troubles.
Do you hear the lament of the cow-horned maiden?

Related Characters: Io (speaker), Prometheus, Zeus, Kronos
Related Symbols: Fire
Page Number: 37
Explanation and Analysis:

How can I not comply?
In clear words you will learn
all that you want to know.
Though just to speak of it—
the god-sent storm, and then
this hideous mock of my appearance—
makes me ashamed.
Into my maiden chamber, visions came
by night, and came again, secret
visitors that spoke to me
with smooth and urging voices:
“Oh maiden greatly blessed,
why are you still a virgin,
when you could be the bride of the supreme?
Zeus is in love with you, the dart of passion
has set him on fire, he wants to share his pleasure with you.
Don’t spurn the god’s bed, child, but go to Lerna,
to the deep meadow where your father’s flocks graze,
so Zeus’s eye may find relief from longing.”

Related Characters: Io (speaker), Prometheus, Zeus, The Chorus
Related Symbols: Fire
Page Number: 41-2
Explanation and Analysis:

[…] Immediately my shape and mind
became distorted, my head grew horns, and I,
chased by the gadfly, fled with frantic leaps
to that sweet stream, Cerchnea, good to drink from,
and Lerna’s spring. But my appointed cowherd
was earthborn Argos, terrible in his wrath.
He followed me, he watched my steps,
peering with his countless eyes.
Then an unhoped-for sudden death destroyed him.
But I continued, driven by the god-sent scourge,
the gadfly, from land to land.

Related Characters: Io (speaker), Prometheus, Zeus, The Chorus, Argos
Page Number: 42-3
Explanation and Analysis:

First, from this spot, turn toward the rising sun,
and cross the untilled plains until you reach
the Scythian nomads, whose wicker houses
are built on top of wagons with well-wrought wheels,
a warlike tribe armed with far-reaching bows.
Do not go near them, rather keep to the surf line
of the groaning sea, and travel on.
Off to your left there live the ironworking
Chalybes, of whom you must be wary,
for they are savage and do not
bid strangers welcome.

Related Characters: Prometheus (speaker), Zeus, Io, The Chorus, Hera
Page Number: 44
Explanation and Analysis:

Pompously spoken, as befits
a mouthpiece of the gods.
You’re young, the lot of you, and young in power,
and think your fortress is secure from sorrow.
But I’ve already seen two tyrants fall
and see the third, our present ruler,
falling soon, more suddenly
and much more shamefully than they.
Or do you think I’ll cringe
before these upstart gods, and tremble?
I’m farther from that than you can imagine.
So scurry back again the way you came.
You will receive no answer to your question.

Related Characters: Prometheus (speaker), Zeus, Hermes, Kronos
Page Number: 59
Explanation and Analysis:

But all your vehemence rests on a weak foundation,
mere cleverness, a scheme. What good is obstinate will
untamed by sound thought and good measure?
Consider the storm that will rise up against you
if you refuse to heed my words,
a threefold tidal wave of misery,
impossible to escape. For first,
the Father will destroy this jagged cliff
with thunder and lightning, and bury you,
still gripped by its embrace, inside it.
Then, after an enormous span of time,
you will come back again into the light,
and Zeus’s winged hound, a scarlet eagle,
will carve your body into ragged shreds
of flesh. He will return, day in, day out,
as an unbidden guest, to feast upon
your blackened liver.

Related Characters: Hermes (speaker), Prometheus, Zeus
Related Symbols: Fire, The Liver
Page Number: 64
Explanation and Analysis:

And to this pain
do not expect a limit or an end,
until some god appears as a successor
to take your tortures as his own and willingly
go down into the gloom of Hades
and the black depths of Tartaros.
Make your decision in the light of that!
These are no boastful threats but true words
all too clearly spoken. For Zeus’s mouth
does not know how to lie. Each word of his
comes true. But you, weigh carefully
what you must do, and don’t hold stubbornness
above considered judgment.

Related Characters: Hermes (speaker), Prometheus, Zeus, Hades
Related Symbols: Fire
Page Number: 64
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire Prometheus Bound LitChart as a printable PDF.
Prometheus Bound PDF

Zeus Character Timeline in Prometheus Bound

The timeline below shows where the character Zeus appears in Prometheus Bound. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Prometheus Bound
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Kratos and Bia, the servants of Zeus, arrive at the top of the Scythian mountains, the very edge of Greek civilization, with... (full context)
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...price to all the gods, that he may learn / to love the tyranny of Zeus / and quit his friendship with the human race.” Hephaistos doesn’t want to chain Prometheus... (full context)
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...good fellowship,” he says. Crying for Prometheus will do no good, Kratos says, and ignoring Zeus’s orders is not advisable. “My skill, my handicraft, I hate you!” Hephaistos cries. (full context)
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Hephaistos wishes his “skill” belonged to someone else. “There are no carefree gods, except for Zeus,” Kratos says. “He rules us all, so he alone is free.” Hephaistos continues to bind... (full context)
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...sure who or what is coming to see the “ill-fated god” bound in chains by Zeus. “Whatever it is,” Prometheus says, “I fear it.” (full context)
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“Who would not groan with pity / at your sight—except for Zeus?” the chorus asks. The women claim that Zeus’s “wrath is constant,” and “his resolve /... (full context)
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Still, Prometheus refuses to tell Zeus what he knows, unless Zeus agrees to free him “from [his] chains.” The chorus is... (full context)
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The chorus asks Prometheus why he has been punished so severely by Zeus. “Tell us,” they say, “unless telling adds to your pain.” Prometheus says there is “no... (full context)
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The Titans refused to listen to Prometheus, so he joined forces with Zeus. Zeus “willingly accepted” Prometheus’s plan, and Kronos and the Titans were defeated and sent to... (full context)
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Not long after the Battle of the Titans, Prometheus tells the chorus, Zeus “intended to expunge” the human race and “grow another one more to his liking.” Prometheus... (full context)
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“Are these in truth the charges on which Zeus—,” the chorus asks. “Torments me and will never let me go,” Prometheus finishes. “Let the... (full context)
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...“Look at me, then, / and view the display,” Prometheus says. “Witness the friend of Zeus, / who helped create the tyrant’s rule, / twisted in agony by his command.” Okeanos... (full context)
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...risked everything to lend me your support.” He begs Okeanos not to attempt to persuade Zeus, as the king is unyielding. “Just see to it that you don’t come to harm,”... (full context)
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Prometheus is thankful for Okeanos’s support, but he cannot let him go to Zeus. “So don’t concern yourself,” Prometheus says to Okeanos, “steer a wide berth / from all... (full context)
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...draw hate against you,” Prometheus replies. Okeanos agrees to leave the mountain and not approach Zeus on Prometheus’s behalf. Okeanos climbs on his winged horse and flies away. “I weep for... (full context)
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...“Now don’t neglect yourself, unfortunate god.” They tell him he will be as powerful as Zeus by the time he is free. “The fate who brings to fulfillment / has made... (full context)
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...why she was “still a virgin” when she could “be the bride of the supreme.” Zeus was in love with her, “the dart of passion” having “set him on fire,” and... (full context)
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...not “drive [Io] from [her] home” and turn her out to “wander at [her] will,” Zeus would “blot out” all of Io’s people with a fiery thunderbolt. (full context)
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...his doors against [her], weeping.” It was, of course, not of his own choosing, but Zeus “pulled the reins and forced him against his will.” As soon as Io’s father closed... (full context)
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...hear the rest.” He claims that Io will greatly suffer at the hands of Hera, Zeus’s wife, but if Io heeds Prometheus’s words, she will “recognize the end” when it arrives.... (full context)
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...I must bear,” Prometheus says. “I cannot die.” He must suffer “until the tyranny of Zeus is overthrown.” Io is shocked. “Zeus overthrown—is that conceivable?” she asks. Prometheus says it is.... (full context)
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According to Prometheus, Zeus can “avert this doom” only if he frees Prometheus from his chains. “But who will... (full context)
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“Beware as well / of Zeus’s sharp-toothed barkless dogs, the gryphons,” Prometheus says to Io, “and the one-eyed horsemen called the... (full context)
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...time than I would like,” he says. According to Prometheus, after Io arrives at “Thesprotian Zeus’s shrine of prophecy,” she will meet Dodona “on her lofty ridge.” “Thou shalt be Zeus’s... (full context)
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In the town of Canopus, Prometheus tells Io and the chorus, Zeus will “cause [Io] to conceive, simply by touching [her].” Io will “bring forth / a... (full context)
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“I tell you,” Prometheus says to the chorus, “Zeus with all his arrogance / will be brought low.” Zeus is already planning his marriage... (full context)
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“You threaten Zeus with what you hope will happen,” the chorus says to Prometheus. “I speak the future... (full context)
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Suddenly, Hermes appears. “But look,” Prometheus says, “here comes [Zeus’s] lackey, / the carrier pigeon of our new commander in chief.” Hermes approaches Prometheus. “Supreme... (full context)
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...mind,” Hermes says to Prometheus. “This is a sickness.” Hermes again asks Prometheus to answer Zeus’s question about his fate. “Am I indebted to him for his kindness?” Prometheus asks. Hermes... (full context)
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...to persuade / a wave out of its course” before he convinces Prometheus to tell Zeus what he knows. Prometheus tells Hermes that he will not beg Zeus to free him.... (full context)
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Hermes warns Prometheus that if he doesn’t tell Zeus what he knows, “a threefold tidal way wave of misery” will come his way. First,... (full context)
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...of fire” that will likely strike his head, and that the world with shake with Zeus’s fury. Zeus can even banish Prometheus to Tartaros if he wishes. “He cannot kill me,”... (full context)
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...this place, / go far away, and quickly” before they become the next target of Zeus’s wrath. “Speak to me in a different voice, / or give me counsel I can... (full context)
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...hissing.” He can see it coming “in plain view, / the onslaught / sent by Zeus / for [his] own terror.” Prometheus is ready. “Oh holy Mother Earth, / oh sky... (full context)