Prometheus Unbound


Percy Bysshe Shelley

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Fire Symbol Icon

Fire symbolizes knowledge in Prometheus Unbound. In the story, Prometheus “tamed fire” for humanity after Jupiter misused his power as a ruler and failed to share the knowledge, which he had been given by Prometheus, with humanity. Without this knowledge that was their “birthright,” humanity had no power of thought or reason and therefore no ability to understand their emotions or to feel love. Rather than providing humanity with fully formed knowledge, however, Prometheus instead gave humankind fire, granting people the freedom to develop tools and advance civilization as they wished. The power and freedom contained within the gift of fire reflects humanity’s instinct to explore, think, experiment, and discover things for themselves.

Prometheus, who is a “champion” of freedom and knowledge, gave this gift freely, while the tyrannical Jupiter fears, denies and represses it. Jupiter’s fear of fire—really, his fear of knowledge and the independent thinking such knowledge inevitably entails—springs from the possibility that his role as supreme authority will be compromised if humanity learns to question the way he rules them. Knowledge in this sense is, like fire, a powerful and unpredictable force that cannot necessarily be contained once it is set free. The Furies imply as much when they suggest that Prometheus’s gift of knowledge to mankind has “kindled” a desire for power that “outran” him. Although the Furies mean this in a negative sense, Prometheus insists that the benefits of knowledge outweigh its destructive tendencies when it is allowed to flourish unrepressed. The ending of Shelley’s poem, in which the Earth is transformed into a planet suffused with love, suggests that true freedom requires full, unbridled knowledge, as only with such knowledge can humans make decisions based in love.

Fire Quotes in Prometheus Unbound

The Prometheus Unbound quotes below all refer to the symbol of Fire. 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

Monarch of Gods and Daemons, and all Spirits
But One, who throng those bright and rolling Worlds.
Which Thou and I alone of living things
Behold with sleepless eyes! regard this Earth
Made multitudinous with thy slaves […]
Three thousand years of sleep-unsheltered hours
And moments—aye divided thy keen pangs
Till they seemed years, torture and solitude,
Scorn and despair,—these are mine empire:—
More glorious far than that which thou surveyest
From thine unenvied throne […]

Related Characters: Prometheus (speaker), Jupiter
Related Symbols: Fire
Page Number: 1.1-5, 12-17
Explanation and Analysis:

Dost thou boast the clear knowledge thou waken’dst for man?
Then was kindled within him a thirst which outran
Those perishing waters: a thirst of fierce fever,
Hope, love, doubt, desire—which consume him forever.
One came forth, of gentle worth,
Smiling on the sanguine earth;
His words outlived him, like swift poison
Withering up truth, peace and pity.

Related Characters: The Furies (speaker), Prometheus
Related Symbols: Fire
Page Number: 1.542-549
Explanation and Analysis:
Act 2, Scene 3 Quotes

[…] Hark! the rushing snow!
The sun-awakened avalanche! whose mass,
Thrice sifted by the storm, had gathered there
Flake after flake, in Heaven-defying minds
As thought by thought is piled, till some great truth
Is loosened, and the nations echo round
Shaken to their roots: as do the mountains now.

Related Characters: Asia (speaker), Jupiter, Panthea
Related Symbols: Fire
Page Number: 2.3.36-42
Explanation and Analysis:
Act 2, Scene 4 Quotes

Who reigns? There was the Heaven and Earth at first
And Light and Love;—then Saturn, from whose throne
Time fell, an envious shadow; such the state
Of the earth’s primal spirits beneath his sway
As the calm joy of flowers and living leaves
Before the wind or sun has withered them
And semivital worms; but he refused
The birthright of their being, knowledge, power,
The skill which wields the elements, the thought
Which pierces this dim Universe like light,
Self-empire and the majesty of love,
For thirst of which they fainted. Then Prometheus
Gave wisdom, which is strength, to Jupiter
And with this Law alone: “Let man be free,”
Clothed him with the dominion of wide Heaven.

Related Characters: Asia (speaker), Prometheus, Jupiter, Demogorgon
Related Symbols: Fire, The Hours
Page Number: 2.4.32-46
Explanation and Analysis:

First famine and then toil and then disease,
Strife, wounds, and ghastly death unseen before,
Fell; and the unseasonable seasons drove,
With alternating shafts of frost and fire,
Their shelterless, pale tribes to mountain caves;
And in their desert hearts fierce wants he sent
And mad disquietudes, and shadows idle
Of unreal good, which levied mutual war,
So ruining the lair w herein they raged.
Prometheus saw, and waked the legioned hopes
Which sleep within folded Elysian flowers,
Nepenthe, Moly, Amaranth, fadeless bloom
That they might hide with thin and rainbow wings
The shape of Death; and Love he sent to bind
The disunited tendrils of that vine
Which bears the wine of life, the hum an heart;
And he tamed fire, which like some beast of prey
Most terrible, but lovely, played beneath
The frown of man […]

Related Characters: Asia (speaker), Prometheus, Jupiter
Related Symbols: Fire, The Spirit of Love
Page Number: 2.4.50-69
Explanation and Analysis:
Act 3, Scene 1 Quotes

Rejoice! henceforth I am omnipotent.
All else has been subdued to me—alone
The soul of man, like unextinguished fire,
Yet burns towards Heaven with fierce reproach and doubt
And lamentation and reluctant prayer,
Hurling up insurrection, which might make
Our antique empire insecure, though built
On eldest faith, and Hell's coeval, fear.
And though my curses through the pendulous air
Like snow on herbless peaks, fall flake by flake
And cling to it—though under my wrath’s night
It climb the crags of life, step after step,
Which wound it, as ice wounds unsandalled feet,
It yet remains supreme o'er misery,
Aspiring . . . unrepressed; yet soon to fall:

Related Characters: Jupiter (speaker), Prometheus, Asia, Demogorgon
Related Symbols: Fire
Page Number: 3.1.3-17
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire Prometheus Unbound LitChart as a printable PDF.
Prometheus Unbound PDF

Fire Symbol Timeline in Prometheus Unbound

The timeline below shows where the symbol Fire appears in Prometheus Unbound. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Act 2, Scene 4
Knowledge and Freedom Theme Icon
Authority and Resistance Theme Icon
Christianity and Forgiveness  Theme Icon
...fall on man, and he played havoc with nature’s seasons. Prometheus saw this and “tamed fire,” which gave man tools of “iron and gold”; “the slaves and signs of power.” From... (full context)
Act 3, Scene 1
Knowledge and Freedom Theme Icon
Authority and Resistance Theme Icon
...The only thing that still evades his influence is the “soul of man, like unextinguished fire”—yet he assures the gods this is “soon to fall.” He tells them that he has... (full context)