Prometheus Unbound


Percy Bysshe Shelley

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The Hours Symbol Icon

The Hours represent the passage of time as humans experience it. They are the servants of Jupiter, who uses the Hours to enslave mankind; this personification of time suggests that humans are slaves to the processes of aging and mortality, which is a major cause of suffering in the world. The Hours ride around the world in chariots, some of them racing forwards “as though pursued” and others enjoying the speed at which they travel. This represents human’s inability to live in the present. The Hours, then, symbolize both the experience of wishing time would go faster and the sense of enjoying oneself so much that time seems to pass by too quickly. In either case, humanity cannot control time even as people use it to structure their lives.

The Hours also represent Shelley’s dislike of the industrial work day, which, as factory jobs became more prevalent in urban centers, parceled the day up into working hours and dictated where people must be and what they must be doing at various times. Shelley felt that this was a type of modern tyranny being enacted upon the human spirit and that it went against the natural inclination of mankind, which was to follow the rhythms of nature. Shelley felt that the industrial work day—and the installation of public clocks in cities, which led to an increased awareness of time as a unit of productivity—increased the rift between humans and their natural environment and made city workers the slaves of the greedy and the powerful, who controlled every aspect of their lives.

The Hours Quotes in Prometheus Unbound

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

And yet to me welcome is Day and Night,
Whether one breaks the hoar frost of the morn,
Or starry, dim, and slow, the other climbs
The leaden-coloured East; for then they lead
Their wingless, crawling Hours, one among whom
—As some dark Priest hales the reluctant victim—
Shall drag thee, cruel King, to kiss the blood
From these pale feet, which then might trample thee
If they disdained not such a prostrate slave.—
Disdain? Ah no! I pity thee.—What Ruin
Will hunt thee undefended through the wide Heaven!
How will thy soul, cloven to its depth with terror,
Gape like a Hell within! I speak in grief
Not exultation, for I hate no more
As then, ere misery made me wise.—The Curse
Once breathed on thee I would recall. […]

Related Characters: Prometheus (speaker), Jupiter
Related Symbols: The Hours
Page Number: 1.44-59
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:

The rocks are cloven, and through the purple night I see
Cars drawn by rainbow-winged steeds
Which trample the dim winds—in each there stands
A wild-eyed charioteer, urging their flight.
Some look behind, as fiends pursued them there
And yet I see no shapes but the keen stars:
Others with burning eyes lean forth, and drink
With eager lips the wind of their own speed
As if the thing they loved fled on before
And now—even now' they clasped it; their bright locks
Stream like a comet’s flashing hair: they all
Sweep onward.—

Related Characters: Asia (speaker), Demogorgon (speaker), Panthea
Related Symbols: The Hours
Page Number: 2.4.129-139
Explanation and Analysis:
Act 3, Scene 4 Quotes

Thrones, altars, judgement-seats and prisons; wherein
And beside which, by wretched men were borne
Sceptres, tiaras, swords and chains, and tomes
Of reasoned wrong glozed on by ignorance,
Were like those monstrous and barbaric shapes,
The ghosts of a no more remembered fame,
Which from their unworn obelisks look forth
In triumph o’er the palaces and tombs
Of those who were their conquerors, mouldering round.
Those imaged to the pride of Kings and Priests
A dark yet mighty faith, a power as wide
As is the world it wasted, and are now
But an astonishment; even so the tools
And emblems of its last captivity
Amid the dwellings of the peopled Earth,
Stand, not o’erthrown, but unregarded now.

Related Characters: Prometheus, Asia, Panthea, Ione
Related Symbols: The Hours
Page Number: 3.4.164-179
Explanation and Analysis:
Act 4 Quotes

We come from the mind
Of human kind
Which was late so dusk and obscene and blind;
Now tis an Ocean
Of clear emotion,
A Heaven of serene and mighty motion.

From that deep Abyss
Of wonder and bliss
Whose caverns are chrystal palaces;
From those skiey towers
Where Thought’s crowned Powers
Sit watching your dance, ye happy Hours!

Related Characters: Prometheus, Asia, Panthea, Ione
Related Symbols: The Hours
Page Number: 4.93-104
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire Prometheus Unbound LitChart as a printable PDF.
Prometheus Unbound PDF

The Hours Symbol Timeline in Prometheus Unbound

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Hours appears in Prometheus Unbound. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Act 1
Authority and Resistance Theme Icon
Christianity and Forgiveness  Theme Icon
Despite this, Prometheus still enjoys watching the Hours pass, as he knows that one of these hours will contain the moment in which... (full context)
Act 2, Scene 4
Authority and Resistance Theme Icon
...of chariots racing by, circling around the earth. The Demogorgon tells them that these are the Spirits of the Hours and that One, a spirit “with a dreadful countenance,” waits for them. This spirit introduces... (full context)
Act 2, Scene 5
Authority and Resistance Theme Icon
Christianity and Forgiveness  Theme Icon
The Spirit of the Hour takes Asia, Panthea, and the Demogorgon into the heart of a cloud. The Spirit tells... (full context)
Act 3, Scene 1
Authority and Resistance Theme Icon
Christianity and Forgiveness  Theme Icon
When the chariot of the Hour arrives, the Demogorgon steps out and approaches Jupiter, who is horrified by its appearance. The... (full context)
Act 3, Scene 3
Christianity and Forgiveness  Theme Icon
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... (full context)
Christianity and Forgiveness  Theme Icon
 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... (full context)
Act 3, Scene 4
Knowledge and Freedom Theme Icon
Authority and Resistance Theme Icon
Christianity and Forgiveness  Theme Icon
The Spirit of the Hour returns and tells them that, after he had blown the shell over the world, a... (full context)
Act 4
Knowledge and Freedom Theme Icon
Christianity and Forgiveness  Theme Icon
Nature, Imagination, and the Sublime Theme Icon
...cave. They wake to hear a chorus of spirits passing by. These are the dead Spirits of the Hours holding a funeral for the King of the Hours. The spirits of the elements unite... (full context)