When Prometheus is punished by Zeus for stealing fire and giving it to humankind, Prometheus is chained to the face of a steep mountain. Thus, chains represent Prometheus’s imprisonment and physical confinement within Prometheus Bound, but they are also symbolic of Hephaistos, the Greek god of blacksmiths and metalworking. Zeus forces Hephaistos to chain Prometheus to the mountain because Hephaistos is the god of fire and Prometheus has stolen Hephaistos’s “flower,” but Hephaistos is also the blacksmith of the gods. In addition to forging all their weapons and armor, he presumably fashions the strongest “unbreakable” chains as well. Hephaistos has compassion for Prometheus, however, and doesn’t want to bind him, but that choice is not Hephaistos’s to make. As he binds Prometheus to the mountain with his chains, Hephaistos curses his own “skill.” “I hate you,” Hephaistos says of his “handiwork” and ability to forge metal in fire, thereby reflecting his resentment for both the chains and his “flower,” fire.
While chains represent Prometheus’s physical confinement, they represent Hephaistos’s confinement as well. Hephaistos is not physically chained in quite the same way as Prometheus, but he is bound by his chains all the same. Even though Hephaistos doesn’t want to bind Prometheus and feels compassion and sympathy for his plight, he is still forced by his own fear of Zeus’s power to participate in Prometheus’s punishment. Hephaistos isn’t free to act upon his own will, and Aeschylus thus implies that Hephaistos is just as confined as Prometheus is.
Chains Quotes in Prometheus Bound
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.
I can’t accept my lot—
neither in silence, nor in speech:
that I was yoked in chains
for bringing gifts to mortal men.
I hunted out and stole the secret spring
of fire, and hid it in a fennel stalk,
to teach them every art and skill,
with endless benefit. For this offense
I now must pay the penalty: to live
nailed to this rock beneath the open sky.