Fire is referenced repeatedly throughout Prometheus Bound, and it is symbolic of many things in Aeschylus’s play. Fire at once represents Hephaistos, the Greek god of fire and blacksmiths, as well as Zeus’s power, and the spark of human intellect and knowledge given to humankind by Prometheus in the form of reason. When Prometheus stole fire to give to humankind, he technically stole it from Hephaistos, which is why, in part, Hephaistos is forced to chain Prometheus to the mountain. However, Hephaistos’s compassion and his “kinship” to Prometheus makes him a reluctant participant. He recognizes that Prometheus has betrayed all the gods by giving humanity fire, but he still resents his role in Prometheus’s punishment and, as Hephaistos later reveals, his own connection to fire.
Fire is also symbolic of Zeus’s power in Prometheus Bound. Aeschylus alludes to the myth in which Zeus initially took fire from the humans, prompting Prometheus to steal it to give it back. Indeed, Zeus took fire this first time as revenge for one of Prometheus’s pranks, deying the human race fire as a show of strength to both humankind and Prometheus. Interestingly, Zeus’s power in the form of fire is not entirely his own; it comes to him by way of Hephaistos, which again underscores the limitations of Zeus’s strength.
Lastly, fire represents human intellect and knowledge within the play. Along with fire, Prometheus also gave humankind the ability to reason, and he gifted them every form of human arts and sciences. Prometheus is often interpreted as the guardian god of geniuses, and genius is frequently associated with the symbol of fire. Prometheus refers to this potential genius, or spark, when he explains his gifts of literature, architecture, mathematics, astronomy, and medicine. Though this spark of potential genius, Aeschylus underscores the infinite possibilities of human intellect and the superior power of reason over force.
Fire 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.
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.
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.
Chorus: Did you perhaps go further than you told us?
Prometheus: I gave men power to stop foreseeing their death.
Chorus: What cure did you prescribe for this disease?
Prometheus: I sowed blind hopes to live as their companions.
Chorus: Truly you brought great benefit to mortals.
Prometheus: I gave them fire.
Chorus: Bright fire! Do the ephemerals have it now?
Prometheus: And from it they will learn much craft and skill.
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.
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?
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.”
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.
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.