Asia and Panthea find themselves on clifftop surrounded by mountains. Panthea recognizes the chasm in the mountain, which they hover above, as the entrance to the lair of the Demogorgon. This entrance is also a spring which sends up “oracular vapor.” “Lonely, young men wandering in their youth” drink from this spring and it gives them visions of “truth, virtue, love, genius, and joy,” which is “contagion to the world.” The vapor affects Panthea and she cries out in worship of the spring. They look down from the mountain on an “avalanche,” which reminds Panthea of a mass of “heaven-defying minds” gathering “flake by flake.”
Although the spring is associated with sending young men mad, through the strange visions they encounter there, Shelley suggests that it is really the world that is mad and not these men. The visions are seen as “contagion” by the world because they talk about “truth, virtue, love, genius, and joy”—such extreme emotions present a challenge to the powerful forces that wish to keep people unaware of these ideas. The image of the “lonely young men” suggests the Romantic idea of the alienated and misunderstood poetic genius. Although there is ignorance in the world, Shelley suggests that he anticipates change and social reform as more people turn away from old ideas and established institutions. He uses an image from nature to reinforce the link between the natural world and the human mind.
A shape in the mist beckons the two nymphs onwards, and a chorus of spirits calls them to descend “through the shade of sleep” and “through the veil and the bar, of things which seems and are.” These spirits lead them down through the abyss where Heaven’s light does not reach and where One rules alone. This is “life’s portal” through which “the Eternal, the immortal” must travel, and in it sits the “snake-like Doom coiled underneath his throne.”
The Demogorgon is a spirit of the underworld, which is often associated with the world of the dead. The image of passing through a veil is commonly associated with passing between life and death in nineteenth-century fiction. The Demogorgon is described as “coiled” beneath Jupiter’s throne, as he too will have a role in overthrowing Jupiter. The image of a snake links the Demogorgon with Satan and connects Prometheus Unbound to the Romantic idea that Satan is a hero and overthrows God, who is a tyrant.