Prometheus Unbound


Percy Bysshe Shelley

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Mercury Character Analysis

Mercury is a messenger God sent by Jupiter to seek a compromise with Prometheus during his imprisonment on the mountain, as Panthea and Ione watch from a nearby peak. Mercury is portrayed as a well-meaning but weak character. It is painful for him to see Prometheus suffer and he shows disdain for the Furies, who are waiting eagerly for Prometheus to reject Jupiter’s compromise so that they can torture him. Mercury pleads with Prometheus to accept Jupiter’s offer and this demonstrates that Mercury, unlike Prometheus, sees the value in negotiation and reaching an agreement which, to an extent, pleases both parties. Prometheus, however, views this course of action as self-serving, implicitly suggesting Mercury’s willingness to value personal gain over the greater good. Mercury’s weakness thus serves to highlight Prometheus’s strength, in that he is willing to sacrifice his own wellbeing for the sake of humanity even though an escape from his torment has been offered. Mercury is clearly a powerful God, as he is the messenger for Jupiter and is able to frighten and hold off the Furies. His decision to work for rather than resist Jupiter, therefore, can be viewed as a personal weakness rather than a lack of knowledge or power. Shelley’s depiction of Mercury draws upon Roman mythology, in which Mercury is a messenger god who negotiates between the realm of gods and the human world. He also frequently represents commerce, trade, and negotiation in classical stories.

Mercury Quotes in Prometheus Unbound

The Prometheus Unbound quotes below are all either spoken by Mercury or refer to Mercury. 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:
Knowledge and Freedom Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the W.W. Norton edition of Prometheus Unbound published in 2002.
Act 1 Quotes

Awful Sufferer! To thee unwilling, most unwillingly
I come, by the great Father's will driven down
To execute a doom of new revenge.
Alas! I pity thee, and hate myself
That I can do no more.—Aye from thy sight
Returning, for a season. Heaven seems Hell,
So thy worn form pursues me night and day,
Smiling reproach. Wise art thou, firm and good,
But vainly wouldst stand forth alone in strife
Against the Omnipotent […]

Related Characters: Mercury (speaker), Prometheus, Jupiter
Page Number: 1.353-362
Explanation and Analysis:
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Mercury Character Timeline in Prometheus Unbound

The timeline below shows where the character Mercury appears in Prometheus Unbound. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Act 1
Christianity and Forgiveness  Theme Icon
...there is a spirit traveling towards them through the dawn. Panthea recognizes the “world-wandering herald,” Mercury, and that the Furies, “Jove’s tempest-walking hounds,” follow behind. (full context)
Knowledge and Freedom Theme Icon
Authority and Resistance Theme Icon
Mercury holds back the Furies while he begs Prometheus to accept a compromise with Jupiter in... (full context)
Knowledge and Freedom Theme Icon
Authority and Resistance Theme Icon
Christianity and Forgiveness  Theme Icon
Defeated, Mercury retreats and the Furies swarm Prometheus, mocking and taunting him. Although Prometheus is horrified by... (full context)