Term Paper: Promethean Myth Holds

Pages: 18 (4579 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 1+  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Literature  ·  Buy This Paper


[. . .] Manfred feels superior:

For if the beings, of whom I was one

Hating to be so -- cross'd me in my path, felt myself degraded back to them, And was all clay again.

(Knight 240)

Within Manfred is Byron's expression of his feeling of both humanity and superiority. Additionally, he is emulating the compassionate pull of Prometheus to his human brethren. Though he is immortal, or at least superior he feels kinship with those beings who are made from clay.

With this example, and the accompanying resource of an understanding of the language and illusion of the Prometheus myth a reader can clearly see in the works of at least this one Romantic the clear kinship with the analogous illustrative tool of the promethean myth in the literary context. If nothing else this one short passage of Manfred has clearly illustrated the romantic fascination with creation concepts and the role the mortal and immortal, inferior and superior, human and god relate to one another in passion and compassion. The mortal and the immortal challenge their own true nature to find kinship and belief in the goodness and redemptive power of the other.

In a more direct handling of the Prometheus character Lord Byron attempts to assist his readers in a greater understanding of his own work through the verse with the very name of the giant Prometheus. It is clear from the messages of this work that Byron is attempting to get into the mind of the creator, Prometheus. In the first passages of the work the irony of the promethean punishment of eternal mortal suffering is given to the reader as an example of both kinship and empathy the romantic mind showed to Prometheus.

Through his own humanity Prometheus Byron builds for Prometheus a following of human compassion that mirrors his own compassion for his creation. "Titan! To whose immortal eyes/The sufferings of morality,/Seen in their sad reality, / Were not as things that gods despise;/what was thy pity's recompense? / A silent suffering, and intense;/The rock, the vulture and the chain" (Byron 264) Prometheus' kindness and pity upon mortal man, leads him to be forced to embrace the eternal suffering of all that Gods wish to avoid. Byron questions the nature of Prometheus' crimes and in a sense asks the reader to empathize with his eternal predicament.

Thy Godlike crime was to be kind,

To render with thy precepts less

The sum of human wretchedness,

And strengthen Man with his own mind;

Still in thy patient energy,

In the endurance, and repulse

Of thine impenetrable Spirit, mighty lesson we inherit: (Byron 265)

Byron, here compels his reader and all mankind to listen to the wisdom of Prometheus' mistakes and to find empathy and wisdom in his demise. Byron charges that man is not only like Prometheus but that he will suffer a similar fate.

Thou art a symbol and a sign

To Mortals of their fate and force;

Like thee, Man is part divine, troubled stream from a pure source;

And Man in portions can foresee

His own funereal destiny; (265)

Through his own wretched existence on this cruel earth man will wish for and foresee the "Victory" of his own death.

Byron here states a constant theme of the romantic writer, that of the torturous gift of the knowledge of the frailty of his own existence. Not, unlike the Christian creation story, man took knowledge from the tree and was forever more destined to be stricken from the perfection of the garden and live a life in the limbo of the constant seeking of the divine life of liberty that once was his. Through these first two examples there is a clear understanding that the contemporary trials of the human race are the writer's proof of the truth of his analogy. In these works and especially in Manfred one can see that the expressions of loss, constant seeking, the double edged gift of knowledge and the cruelty that man inflicts upon his brother through war, progress and even good intentions are the window of his soul. In these analogies the writer could not help but continue the living evolving progression of the promethean myth.

In the much earlier works the clarity and view of Prometheus himself are the primary perspective of the verse and prose, yet in the later years and particularly the romantic era the literary tool attempts to use the mind of Prometheus as a template for true understanding of the mind of man. Though clearly the mythology was proliferated in ancient times to send messages of morality and responsibility to man it was not until much later in human existence that the messages and focus of the individual as the primary and most important voice was embraced.

In Manfred, the Faust-like and therefore promethean-like god-man holds the central if not only perspective for the piece. Not only does Manfred hold the characteristics of a God and the perspective of the individual, he is also intended to be a representative of a great and knowledgeable modern man. It is through these associations that the personality and character of the author are clearly developed. Even the very idea that modern literary scholars find the most fascinating of topics to be the inner workings of the mind of the author as can be seen through the mind of his or her characters, in fiction is testament to the modern assumption of universal personal perspective.

The analogous use of the personal view juxtaposed with the collective view of responsibility and guilt for the actions of all man can also be seen as the romantic mind's burning desire to reassert the values of the ancients to a selfish and self-serving modern world. The bearers of the gift of knowledge, such as the great writers being discussed here often feel the most profound responsibility to use the double edged and gilded gift of (the) God(s) to better the whole existence of mankind. Through these illustrations one can see the perspective concept as a reciprocal tool for this purpose, yet it can be argued that the superiority that Manfred speaks of feeling is the writer's own self value given up as both a great reality and a fundamental personal fault. In Percy Shelley's work Prometheus Unbound he clearly elevates reform as one of his chief motivations for creativity.

Let this opportunity be conceded to me of acknowledging that I have, what a Scotch philosopher characteristically terms, "a passion for reforming the world:" (Shelley Preface)

One of hundreds of thousands of real life examples of the knowledgeable man feeling the dire responsibility to perpetuate the growth of human knowledge for the betterment of mankind, is the theological works of C.S. Lewis. (Myers 1-248) Interestingly, C.S. Lewis spent much of his later life exploring theology from a Christian perspective and trying to undo some of the digression he felt had occurred through the focus on the neoclassicism of the romantic era. (182-213) A poignant quote by Lewis deals with the concept of perspective and seeking truth through the interpretation of history and myth: "In The Magician's Nephew the authorial voice says, 'What you see and hear depends a good deal on where you are standing [and] what sort of person you are' (Lewis 125)." (Myers 182)

The central idea of individuality is so ingrained in the modern mind that messages of individuality are often assumed posthumously. This being a rather profound change of view, from the collective to the individual personal focus and responsibility, often overlooked by modern students. Any scholar of Greek literature or culture will clearly recognize that this is one profound way in which the cultures that followed have transposed the lessons of the mythology and culture of the ancients. Though all Greek scholars would acknowledge personal or individual responsibility they would also couple it almost universally with the collective responsibility and world-view of the age. (Cairns 161) this juxtaposition of the individual vs. collective perspective is just one example of how the romantics, their forbearers and even those who come after them have aided in the growth and change of the promethean myth. Even the very idea that modern literary scholars find the most fascinating of topics to be the inner workings of the mind of the author

Likewise, Percy Shelley clearly develops the ideals of the promethean myth throughout much of his work. Without question one of his most popular works, Prometheus Unbound overtly alters the promethean ideal through not only individual view but through many other tools. In the preface to Prometheus Unbound Shelley offers a foundational apologetics comment about the fluidity of myth and literature. Given the topic of the evolution of the promethean myth Shelley's statement becomes exceedingly profound.

The Greek tragic writers, in selecting as their subject any portion of their national history or mythology, employed in their treatment of it a certain arbitrary discretion. They by no means conceived themselves bound to adhere to the common interpretation or to imitate in… [END OF PREVIEW]

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