Tuesday, January 10, 2012

TFBT; To Lead Mankind in Revolt against Zeus

The intent of this paper is to document the Promethean revolt against Zeus discussed in the first two chapters of Anthony M. Ludovici’s “Man's Decent from the Gods". Like Ludovici, most readers would agree that in “Prometheus Bound“ Aeschylus’ Prometheus is the protector of mankind and a blameless hero”. Zeus on the other hand, the poet villianized as the “arch-oppressor.” The premise of Ludovici’s first two chapters boils down to a question in which he follows Professor Blackie,

“ … Prometheus appears as the most oppressed of martyrs, and Zeus
as the most unjust of tyrants, the question arises how an Athenian
audience, could tolerate such a representation ?"
Zeus appears extravagant in his wrath regarding culture-hero's deed, and inflicts upon the Titan a cruel and savage punishment. But Prometheus apparently conferred a benefit upon mankind. He gave them a coveted power, fire. Was this a deed that could be justly rewarded with the excruciating punishment?

Prometheus (Forethought) was one of the Iapetides, the brothers that lead the younger Titans in the ten-year war against the Olympian. He switched sides at some point taking along his brother Epimetheus. Prometheus, was first cousin to Zeus and brother to the fallen Titan leader s Atlas and Menoetius. Ludovici suggests that Prometheus was a perfect blend of the two races. All the second generation Titians who fought against the Olympian were the sons of nymphs rather than the sons of Titanesses. Ludovici refers to Prometheus as a turncoat and a traitor. “In the Theogony, even before his tricks are disclosed, Hesiod refers to him as a matter of course as " clever Prometheus, full of various wiles” Ludovici adds that Prometheus was “ believed to surpass mankind in cunning and fraud shows him, from the first, to be curiously associated with the mankind.” Ludovici suggest that he was even playing for popularity among men and suspect his aspiration to lead mankind in a revolt against Zeus

Ludovici suggests that, following the end of the Titanomachy before the division of spoils at Mecone, mankind lived an idyllic life, where the living was easy and wild food abundant. After Prometheus tricked Zeus into taking the worst part of the sacrifice for the gods (or after Zeus allowed himself to be tricked), Zeus removed fire from the earth and made life much harder. The “once and for always” agreement made at Mecone did not end up being the best for mankind. At which point Ludovici comments, “Outwitted by Zeus at Mecone, and finding himself even less popular than before with mankind because by identifying himself with them he made their position worse than previous … now makes his highest bid for popularity among the ignorant and inferior men. Thwarted and desperate, he resolves to reinstate himself in their favor by any means, at all costs. “

At which point Prometheus stole fire from Heaven. Either from Helios’s chariot or Hephaestus furnace. Both of whom are the most marginalized of the Olympian gods. (See my article “Friendship Amongst the Gods.”)
Zeus retaliates with the creation of Pandora; a mortal woman full of the gods’ gifts. She weds Epimetheus and shortly thereafter “Pandora then lifted the lid of the vessel in which the foresight of Prometheus concealed all the evils which might torment mortals in life, and diseases and suffering of every kind now issued forth” I always wondered how they got into to there.

Consequently, “the stealing of fire, with all its consequences, was by no means an unmixed blessing to those for whom it was stolen. We encounter this Promethean spirit, as the wrecker of mankind's happiness on earth. Ludovici suggests that knowledge of Prometheus crimes against humanity is why Plato’s twenty thousand friendly faces at the drama tolerated Zeus cruelty to the fallen Titan. He deserved it. Ludovici argues that “ The Greeks loved and revered Zeus very much more than they loved and revered Prometheus. Does not Hesiod speak of Zeus as the most excellent among the gods, as the father who distributed fairly to the immortals their portions and declared their privileges,”

Prometheus was chained to Mount Caucasus, by Cratos and Bia and tormented by an eagle every day devouring his liver that was restored in the night.

Ludovici therefore concludes that “the punishment of Prometheus, cruel as it was, appeared just and well- deserved to the ancient Greek mind…because; “1. “…of the infinite trust the ancient Greek had in the wisdom and justice of Zeus.
2. “…the career of crime imputed to Prometheus, in which Zeus figures not only as an outraged god, but also as a benevolent power who ultimately pardons the deceiver3. “…while in the Prometheus Bound of Aeschylus we have only one section of a trilogy …. How do we know what the other parts of the trilogy contained, what balance they struck between the myths’ two principal figures Zeus and Prometheus and how much they modified the impression made by the Prometheus Bound?” Greek choruses are notorious for the sympathy they show the character on the stage; most disturbingly in “Medea”

Ludovici tried to show, the crimes of the Titan Prometheus proved a disaster to mankind, and that benevolent Zeus was conceived by the Athenian audiences at the dramas as being so deeply outraged by their suffering.“Zeus, therefore, stands for the sound principle in Greek life, for the beneficent power meaning well by man ; Prometheus stands for the reverse, for the malign power the power that descends to any shift, however base, in order to satisfy the blind Promethean ambition”

Note; There is some argument to the notion that “men” were mightier than gods. At least in the case of demi-gods. See James C.Hogan and David J. Scheneker; Challenging Otherness. In which they list a number of mortals who got the better of various gods. And my paper “Five Reasons to Fight the Fates”.


  1. Ludovici, the bigot he is, swears allegiance to the "facts" of the myth and then cherry-picks, twists and plainly fabricates what suits him.
    The water nymphs to whom Prometheus's mother belonged were daughters of the Titan Oceanus and the Titaness Tethys. Hence, they did not belong to a different race, and Prometheus, as offspring of uncle-niece union where the uncle himself had married his sister, had inbreeding coefficient about as high as that of Zeus, offspring of brother-sister union. There is absolutely no reason (except if one is crazy racist like Ludovici) to call Zeus purebred and Prometheus blend of two races, with the pedigree explicitly given in the myth.
    The evils in Pandora's jar were put there not by Prometheus, but apparently by the gods themselves. The jar with its content was (part of) the punishment, a weapon of mass destruction - I would say bioweapon - against humans.
    The Caucasian nations from whom the Prometheus myth was borrowed have only respect for their hero and hate towards the deities who kept fire hidden from mortals. If we speak seriously, we have no reason to think Greeks truly liked Zeus, either. If they feared him - and most of them did, - they would express awe, and it would be impossible for any observer to figure out their true feelings toward him (or his enemies like Prometheus). Any nation under a dictator expresses loyalty and even love to him, but no one sane observer takes this at face value.
    This said, I agree that Prometheus may indeed have intended to lead mankind in a revolt against Zeus - and I don't think it would necessarily have been a bad idea.

  2. Maya,

    Wow! Bright and passionate. Do you write on mythology much? I'll have to check outyour blog.

    If the Greeks secretly hated any god I propose Apollo. His behavior of all the gods is the most anthropophobic, or maybe I should say Helleniphobic. I mean he was on the trojan side in the first great war in the Western world and a strong supporter of the Persians via the oracle at Delphi.


  3. I admit I am biased against Ludovici - have you read what he has written about women in the same book? I'd wish to know this guy's marital status and general history of relationships with women :).
    Apollo was indeed Helleniphobic, but I think he had mixed attitude to humans - he was, after all, god of healing and father of Asclepius. The most anthrophobic Greek deity was perhaps Artemis. She was just looking for excuses to send a monstrous boar against mortals, or to manage them to be killed by their own hounds, or to demand them to be sacrificed. However, I excuse Artemis to some degree - she cared about environment.
    In my previous comment I meant, of course, that both parents of Prometheus's mother were siblings of his father. This, if my calculations are correct, brings his inbreeding coefficient up to 25%, identical to that of Zeus. Also noteworthy is that the two rivals, though formally first cousins, have kinship coefficient of 75%, much higher than between ordinary brothers (50%).
    Talking about the alleged "nfinite trust of the ancient Greek in the wisdom and justice of Zeus", I find it quite intriguing that it was not Zeus but Cronus who presided over the Golden Age, while under Zeus's rule things generally developed from bad to worse.

  4. Another interesting aspect of the story:
    In the late 19th and early 20th century, many commentators of the Prometheus trilogy said that Prometheus was wrong to interfere with the divine plan of Zeus to exterminate the imperfect human race and to replace it with a more perfect one, and that in the lost later parts even Prometheus admitted this and repented (though, as far as I know, no surviving ancient text claims this). You can read such an opinion e.g. here:


    "Zeus, — so Aeschylus imagined, — on his accession to power, had intended, as part of his wise and perfect reorganization of the universe, to replace the existing race of men, which had survived from early times and still led the stupid unreasoning life of those times, by a new and more perfect race, endowed with qualities like his own. He did not wish to destroy humanity from jealousy or hate, but only to destroy the present human race in the interest of the general good. Prometheus, the short-sighted 'Forethinker' for the immediate and the individual, stepped forth in opposition
    to Zeus's far-reaching plan. He became the preserver of the existing human race, but at the same time the perpetuator of human imperfection..."

    Those same authors justify the rape of Io and other mortal women by Zeus as a method to create worthier humans:

    "How differently, for instance, appears the passion of Zeus for lo. From her is sprung Heracles, the benefactor of the human race,
    the pattern of heroic virtue. We can say of the union of Zeus and lo, what a poet (Hesiod, Scut. Her, 27) says of the love of Zeus to Alcmene, 'the father of gods and men bethought him of another plan, that to gods and busy men he might beget a defender against ruin {άρης άλκτηρα) .' Ιο suffered much, yet she could not
    finally regret her sufferings, since she was deemed worthy to be the ancestress of a noble race." (Same source.)

    It is - or should be - easy for the present-day reader to see that Zeus's plan to destroy the imprefect mankind to make space for a better race was analogous to the Nazi "Final solution", while his embarkment to improve the human race by forcing mortal women to bear his babies was analogous to the Lebensborn project.
    Perhaps some day I'll try to write this properly in a special post.

  5. Maya,

    I think the conscious breeding with mortal woman like Zeus and Alcmene, was not so much an effort to improve the weakly human race, but rather to make demi-gods for the coming battle with the giants. Sculpture shows several like the Discouri helping in the big battle, along with Heracles and Dionysius.

    1. You are right - I remember that Zeus needed mortal allies to kill the giants because they were resistant to killing by gods. What a bastard this "father of gods and men" was.
      We have a joke that once a delegation of former businessmen addressed the newly-installed Communist dictator by "father Dimitrov". He asked them about this unusual address, and they replied, "You are our father because you f***ed everybody's mother."
      Same with Zeus, I would say.

  6. Reading some discussions at Hour25, I remembered this post of yours. It's a pity that you have forgotten where you read about the half-breed rebels and pureblood loyalists. I'd like to see this work.
    You could give W. Leyshon a link to Man's Descent from Gods. Though it's not exactly what he is looking for - he is interested in ancient comparisons between Prometheus and Dionysus, while Ludovici's work is quite modern (though of course not modern enough to have sound ideas about biochemistry).