On the mountaintop in the Caucuses, Hercules unchains Prometheus. Asia, Ione, Panthea, and the Spirit of the Hour gather around him. Prometheus tells Asia and her sisters of a beautiful cave in Asia’s valley where they will live from now on. From this vantage point, they will witness the progress of mankind, who now will develop “arts unimagined” and grow “wise and kind” as “veil by veil, evil and error fall.”
Hercules is a hero and a demigod (part god and part mortal) from classical mythology. It was common in epic poetry, and imitations of classical mythology, to include cameos of classical heroes who perform great deeds but do not feature heavily in the action of the story. Here, Hercules performs a heroic act by freeing Prometheus. Meanwhile, the fall of Jupiter allows knowledge to flow freely back into the world, and Prometheus predicts that, with this knowledge, humans will discover new arts and sciences. The image of veils fallings refers to the image of Asia, or love, being unveiled and revealed to the world, just as knowledge now is also revealed.
Prometheus instructs Ione to give the Spirit of the Hour the “curved shell” that was a wedding gift to Asia from “Proteus old.” Prometheus then tells the Hour to fly around the world, blowing the shell like a horn and “loosening its mighty music.”
In classical mythology, Proteus is a sea god. Asia’s shell reflects her connection with Venus and Venus’s birth from a shell in the ocean. The Spirit of the Hour is not only a menacing figure, who brings about Jupiter’s doom, but also functions as a positive figure, sounding the horn (shell) which alerts humanity that tyranny has fallen, and love is brought back into the world.
Next Prometheus addresses the Earth. She is so delighted by his words that joy runs through her “icy frame” and deadly plants and poisonous insects are transformed into beautiful, nourishing versions of themselves. She also describes a cave “where her spirit was panted forth in anguish” while Prometheus was chained. The cave made those who went there mad, but it is now restored and will be Prometheus’s home.
The connection between humanity and nature is reinforced in this passage, as the end of tyranny among mankind also means the rejuvenation of the natural world. The Earth is described like a human body, which is healed by the renewal of love in the world. This suggests that humans and nature are intimately linked and that violence hurts both while love and compassion heals and supports both.
The Earth calls up a childlike messenger, the Spirit of the Earth, to lead Prometheus, Asia, Panthea, and Ione to this cave, where there once was a temple in which people worshipped Prometheus as an emblem of hope.
The Spirit of the Earth is childlike because she is associated with new life, innocence, and purity. Now, as Prometheus and Asia’s home, the cave will symbolize hope, knowledge, and love. This will replace the classical temple dedicated to worship of Prometheus. This suggests that people in classical society worshipped knowledge, but that this practice has degenerated in contemporary society. The fall of Jupiter represents a return to this classical reverence of knowledge and reflects Shelley’s belief that modern society has deteriorated compared to the classical period.