Prometheus Unbound

Summary  

The play is comprised of 3 acts:

Act 1

Prometheus is waiting for the Oceanids, whom he has sent to the edge of the earth in order to find Heracles, to return bringing him the news. The Oceanids soon arrive and inform Prometheus that they found Heracles travelling on a red ship, ready to embark upon his last Labour; the descent to Hades. While they recount to Prometheus what happened, a strange noise of rolling stones and gasps is heard, and four Titans, blind, with the broken chains still on their hands, neck and legs, crop up. Prometheus exhorts them to remember their past strength and regain their rigour, but the Titans reply that they remember nothing. Prometheus enquires about their release from Hades, only to find out that it was Zeus who set them free. At first he reproaches them for this; yet, as soon as the Titans describe to him what really happened, Prometheus realises that their release was due to Heracles’ descent to Hades. Prometheus then asks to know the reason of their coming, and the Titans reveal that it was Zeus, who sent them. They encourage Prometheus to reconcile with him, stressing that this is the only possible way he could regain his freedom. Prometheus retorts that only he can set himself free, because freedom cannot come from outside (Ἡ λευτεριὰ δὲν ἔρχεται, ὄχι! ἀπόξω). Prometheus is waiting for Heracles to arrive and the Oceanids are preparing him for the encounter by bringing water to wash his feet and by weaving a wreath of wheat. Suddenly Silenus makes his appearance accompanied by a new god, Bacchus, who has come hoping that Prometheus could set him free. While the two are approaching the Titan, they hear noise and see a herd of humans ascending to the top of the mountain, where Prometheus is bound.

 

Act 2

The Act opens with a group of old men upset by the shade of a man with a bow that they saw approaching. Epimetheus arrives and Silenus questions him about this ‘wild shade’. Epimetheus replies that they saw it while they were getting ready for the annual festival where they would plea the God not to release Prometheus. Silenus announces that Heracles is about to perform his ultimate task; to release Prometheus (the Mind) from Zeus. Shocked by the unexpected news Epimetheus and the old men grasp stones in order to prevent this. Then Bacchus, who was hidden behind the altar, appears in front of them. Silenus advices Epimetheus and his people to treat this new god with respect; and he pleads Bacchus to give him the wine. The wine’s odour fuels Epimetheus’ desire to drink. Despite the cautions of the old men, Epimetheus drinks and all of a sudden his perception of the world changes. Accordingly, he decides to go and speak to the Titan. The old men start throwing stones against Prometheus, but Epimetheus manages to talk with his brother, beseeching him not to disturb their peaceful and carefree life. Suddenly Zeus’ eagle appears and swoops down, at the rejoice of the old men. Yet, immediately it drops dead by Heracles’ arrow. Epimetheus and the old-men rush to hide themselves in the rocks, deploring the dreadful struggles that Prometheus’ release will inflict upon mankind.

 

Act 3

Heracles enters the scene and places the dead eagle in front of the Titan’s feet, at the rejoice of Prometheus and the Oceanids. Athena arrives holding an olive wreath; she is followed by Violence and Wrath. She offers the wreath to Prometheus, as a gift from Zeus, and the Titan accepts it. In order to reciprocate Prometheus asks Athena to bring his chains as a gift to Zeus, so that he always remembers his stubbornness and pride. The goddess orders Wrath and Violence to break Prometheus’ bonds and set him free. When the chains are broken Prometheus hesitates to descend from his rock; he takes the dead eagle in his arms and places him on the rock calling it ‘my child’. Heracles reveals to his father that he wants to fight with God, but Prometheus tries to restrain him, declaring that Heracles now needs to move a step further and perform an even greater task. Heracles wonders what this could be and Prometheus reveals to him that his greatest accomplishment is called Harmonia, whom the chorus praises as the daughter of Need and Love. Heracles then expresses the wish to ascend to Olympus, but Prometheus advises him to stay on Earth. Athena wants to take Heracles with her, but Prometheus resists, declaring that the greatest deed is to be performed on earth not in the sky. Bacchus then comes to the fore pleading Prometheus to teach him to control himself and help him to turn the wine into a sober Spirit. Athena brings wings and gives them to Heracles, so that he can follow her to Olympus. In his attempt to prevent Heracles Prometheus embraces him and is amalgamated with him; the two become one. Despite Athena’s exhortations, Heracles decides to stay on earth and continue his father’s legacy. He also asks Athena to be his wife with the secret name Harmonia. The Act closes with Pan’s song.

 

Themes

References to Kazantzakis’ Prometheia will be by page number. These page numbers refer to the collective edition of Kazantzakis’ tragedies: N. Καζαντζάκη, Θέατρο: Tραγωδίες (Athens 1964).

Other quotations from Kazantzakis are taken from the following editions:

TόνταΡάμπα (Αthens 1969).

Ασκητική, Salvatores Dei (Athens 1985).

Ancient Greek quotations are taken from H. Weir Smyth (1988) [1922], Aeschylus I: Suppliant Maidens, Persians, Prometheus, Seven Against Thebes [Loeb Classical Library], Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, and London.

 

Page 181

Prometheus calls on the elements

ΠΡΟΜΗΘΕΑΣ

Ὤ Θάλασσα καὶ Γῆς, μεγάλες Μάνες,

καὶ σεῖς, κρουσταλλοκάθαρα ποτάμια,

φλέβες τῆς γῆς, γλυκὲς νερένιες στράτες,

κι ἀγέρα μου ζεστέ, φουσκοδεντρίτη,

ἀθάνατοι τοῦ στοχασμοῦ συντρόφοι,

σέρνω φωνή, ξημέρωσε, κοπιάστε

τὸ Νοῦ, τὸ στερνογέννητο ἀδερφό σας,

νὰ δεῖτε στὴ σκλαβιὰ πῶς φτερουγίζει!

This is the soliloquy that opens Prometheus Unbound. The Titan calls on the elements, the sea, the earth, the rivers, the wind to come and witness his suffering. This monologue brings to mind the invocation uttered by Aeschylus’ Prometheus as soon as Violence, Might and Hephaestus depart from Caucasus: “O you bright sky of heaven, you swift-winged breezes, you river-waters, and infinite laughter of the waves of ocean, O universal mother Earth , and you, all-seeing orb of the sun, to you I call! See what I, a god, endure from the gods. Look, with what shameful torture I am racked and must wrestle throughout the countless years of time apportioned me” (PV 88-127).

But whereas Aeschylus’ Prometheus invokes the elements to witness his sufferings, in Kazantzakis Prometheus calls on the elements to admire his endurance and adamant will.

 

Page 183

The Oceanids to Prometheus

ΩΚΕΑΝΙΔΕΣ

Tί τὸ ἀπίστευτο θάμα ὁλοτρόγυρα;

σὲ μιὰ νύχτα ὁλοπάρθενα

λουλουδίσαν τ’ ἀγκάθια, στεφάνι

στὸ ἀψηλὸ ματωμένο σου μέτωπο!

Prometheus’ portrayal as having a wreath of thorns around his head moves away from the Aeschylean image of the enchained Titan and conjures up Prometheus’ visualisation as Christ. Yet, we should not forget that PV formed part of Aeschylus’ ‘byzantine triad’, not least for its susceptibility to allegorical interpretation, so the Christian take is not altogether a move away from the Aeschylean tradition at least.

It should also be noted that Prometheus’ visualisation as Christ first occurs in Costas Varnalis’ poem ‘The burning light’, the first version of which was published in Alexandria in 1922. Kazantzakis was aware of the poem; in fact, he even makes an explicit allusion to it in his Prometheus the Fire-Bringer: Tὸ φῶς αὐτὸ ‘ναι / τὸ ἀληθινό, πάντα ἄσπλαχνο, καὶ καίει!” (p. 40)

 

Page 196

Prometheus reproaches the Titans

Tὸ στόμα σας ἀφρίζει αἱματωμένο,

σφιχτὸ σὰ νὰ μασᾶτε χαλινάρι!

Ἀφῆστε τὰ μουγκρίσματα, ντροπή σας!

After Heracles’ descent to Hades and their release, the Titans visit Prometheus. Prometheus enquires about their liberator, but the Titans hesitate to reveal his name (Don’t tell him! / Do not ask! I won’t say! p. 196). Prometheus scorns them for their silence, declaring that they act as if they had a bit in their mouth. This imagery echoes the colt metaphor employed by Hermes when Prometheus refuses to reveal the secret regarding Zeus’ fatal wedding: “but you have taken the bit between your teeth like a newly-harnessed colt, struggling and fighting against the reins” (PV 1008-10).

 

Pages 197-8  

Prometheus to the Titans

ΠΡΟΜΗΘΕΑΣ

Λυτρώθηκα καὶ δὲν τὸν ἔχω ἀνάγκη!

Ἡ λευτεριὰ δὲν ἔρχεται, ὄχι! ἀπόξω∙

μὰ δαίμονας ἐντὸς μας, καὶ μᾶς τρώει,

ἀιτὸς κι αὐτὸς ἀνέσπλαγχνος, τὸ σπλάχνο!

Ἕνας μπορεῖ μονάχα, ἀκοῦς; νὰ δώσει

τὴ λευτεριά, τὴν ἔχει δώσει κιόλας

στὸν Προμηθέα!

ΤΙΤΑΝΑΣ Δ’: Ποιός;

ΠΡΟΜΗΘΕΑΣ: Ὁ Προμηθέας! 

 

Prometheus boldly declares that freedom comes from inside and that one has to find it by himself. This idea differentiates Kazantzakis from Aeschylus, in so far as in the ancient tragedy Prometheus states that someone else will release him, even though ttechnically someone else releases Kazantzakis’ Prometheus, too. The difference lies on that in the latter hero’s case this saviour is an alter ego, a projection of his struggling self, an élan vital released on account of his struggle.

 This idea about the nature of freedom permeates Kazantzakis’ oeuvre as a whole.

Cf. pp. 239-40 Xιλιάδες χρόνια ὁ Νοῦς ἁλυσωμένος / ἀπ’ τὸ Θεό, μ’ ὑπομονὴ κι ἀγάπη / τὶς ἁλυσίδες ἔκαμε φτεροῦγες. / Πρὶν νά ‘ρθεις σὺ λυτρώθηκα, τὸ ξέρεις. / Λυτρώθηκα, τὸν λύτρωσα, μαζί μου / παράπονο ὁ Θεὸς θαρρῶ δὲν ἔχει!

This idea finds its most eloquent expression in the following passage from Askitiki: Ὄχι, ὁ Θεὸς θὰ μᾶς σώσει∙ ἐμεῖς θὰ σώσουμε τὸ Θεό, πολεμώντας, δημιουργώντας, μετουσιώνοντας τὴν ὕλη σὲ πνέμα. Μὰ μπορεῖ ὅλος μας ὁ ἀγώνας νὰ πάει χαμένος. Ἂν κουραστοῦμε, ἂν λιγοψυχήσουμε, ἂν μᾶς κυριέψει πανικός, ὅλο τὸ Σύμπαντο κιντυνεύει. Ἡ ζωὴ εἶναι στρατιωτικὴ θητεία στὴν ὑπηρεσία τοῦ Θεοῦ. Κινήσαμε σταυροφόροι νὰ λευτερώσουμε, θέλοντας καὶ μὴ, ὄχι τὸν Ἅγιο Τάφο, παρὰ τὸ Θεὸ τὸ θαμμένο μέσα στὴν ὕλη καὶ μέσα στὴν ψυχή μας (72).

 

Page 240

Violence and Wrath unbind Prometheus

ΑΘΗΝΑ

Θεοκένταυρο κορμί, καλῶς σὲ βρῆκα!

Λυτρώθηκε ὁ Θεὸς ἀπὸ τὴ Βία

κι ἀπ’ τὸ Θυμό, κι ἡ δύναμη λυγίζει

μὲ σεβασμὸ στὴ γῆς καὶ καλοσύνη∙

Violence and Wrath reappear on the scene near the end of the play. In contrast to their first appearance, however, where they scorn Prometheus, here they are mute and unbind the Titan without uttering a single word. Violence and Wrath come along with Athena “skulking  and grim” (αγριεμένοι και μουντοί). Not only this, but Athena and Heracles even treat them in a deprecatory manner; Athena calls them “bitter servants of God” (Ἔ σκλάβοι τοῦ Θεοῦ φαρμακομύτες p. 241) and Heracles ‘mean lackeys of Zeus’ (κακούργους παραγιούς p. 241). Interestingly, whereas in the second play of the trilogy Violence and Wrath are presented as servants of Zeus (the same applies to Violence and Might in Aeschylus), here Athena declares that it is Zeus who has been released from them!  Οf course this makes abundant sense, if we bear in mind that they are embodiments of inner forces, much like the Saviour is an embodiment of the élan vital released thanks to Prometheus’ struggle.

 

Pages 193-4

Prometheus enquires the Titans to recount their release from Tartarus. One Titan narrates what happened and credits Zeus with their freedom, even though from his description it becomes clear that they were released because of  Heracles’ descent to Hades. The reference to Heracles’ descent to Hades, a task which precedes his release of Prometheus, brings to mind Aesch. PV. 1026-9. In this passage Hermes reveals to the Titan that relief from his torture will come only when a successor will take over his toils and descend into Tartarus − an implicit reference to Heracles who descends into the Underworld to fetch Cerberus.

 

Pages 201-2

Prometheus to the Oceanids

ΠΡΟΜΗΘΕΑΣ

Θ’ ἀνέβουν νὰ μοῦ ρίξουν πάλι ξόρκια

νὰ μποῦν τ’ ἁρπάγια πιὸ βαθιὰ στὶς πέτρες

καὶ τὰ καρφιὰ νὰ μὴ μετακουνήσουν.

Καλὰ μὲς στὴ σκλαβιὰ τους βολευτῆκαν

καὶ τὴν ἀβόλευτη Κραυγὴ τρομάζουν∙

μὰ ἐγὼ πλαντῶ καὶ τὰ καρφιὰ θὰ ρίξω,

στὴ γῆς ξανὰ τὰ πόδια θὰ πατήσω

στὸ δροσερὸ χορτάρι της, στὶς πέτρες,

καὶ τῆς Κραυγῆς νὰ μπῶ ξανὰ μπροστάρης! 

Prometheus refers to the annual festival that men hold in front of the altar allegedly for him , but in reality in order  to exorcise the possibility of his return (for the festival see pp. 209-10, 213, 214). Mankind’s estrangement from Prometheus, her Creator, and her slipping to a condition of total subjection to the power of the flesh evokes the book of Exodus and Israel’s estrangement from God (and Moses) under Mount Sinai.

 

Pages 238-9 

Prometheus’ reconciliation with Zeus

ΑΘΗΝΑ

Κουρσάρε τῆς φωτιᾶς ἀγαπημένε,

ἀγάλια τοῦ καιροῦ ὁ τροχὸς γυρίζει∙

ὁ τρόμος γίνεται χαρά, τὸ μίσος

οὐρμάζει ἀργὰ καὶ γίνεται ὅλο ἀγάπη∙

καὶ νά, στεφάνι εἰρηνικὸ σοῦ φέρνει

ἀπὸ ἥμερην ἐλιὰ λουλουδισμένη,

γλυκὸ πολὺ χαιρετισμὸ τοῦ Δία!

[….]

ΠΡΟΜΗΘΕΑΣ

Συντρόφισσα τοῦ Νοῦ τοῦ πονεμένου,

γαλανομάτα μου Ἀθηνᾶ, τὸν κλῶνο

τῆς ἥμερης ἐλιᾶς τὸν ἀνθισμένο

ἀναγαλλιώντας δέχουμαι στεφάνι.

In the Prometheus Unbound the Titan finally leaves aside his wrath and hatred for Zeus and seeks reconciliation with him. This reconciliation finds its outmost expression in the face of Heracles, son of both Prometheus and Zeus. 

Kazantzakis here follows Aeschylus’ version (even though Aeschylus’ Prometheus Unbound has not survived, we know that Prometheus reconciled with Zeus) and not Shelley’s later adaptation. In Shelley there is no reconciliation between Zeus and Prometheus; the Titan is released because Zeus is abandoned by his supporters and falls from power. Shelley stresses his divergence from Aeschylus in the Introduction to his lyrical drama: “I was averse from a catastrophe so feeble, as that of reconciling this Champion with the Oppressor of Mankind”.

   

Language

Page 182

Πέρα τὰ κύματα γελοῦν καὶ τρέχουν

A verbal allusion to Aesch. PV 89-90:

ποταμῶν τε πηγαὶ ποντίων τε κυμάτων

ἀνήριθμον γέλασμα

 

Characters

Prometheus, Oceanids, Titans, Bacchus, Silenus, Old Men, Epimetheus Heracles, Oceanids, Pan, Athena

Zeus

As in Aeschylus’ play, Zeus does not appear in Kazantzakis’ trilogy, except through his agents (Violence, Wrath, Eagle, Hermes, Athena). Moreover, he is enslaved by Fate (Moira) and cannot escape. Our first impression is that Zeus is an oppressor and stern tyrant; he destroyed the human race in order to create one that would be submissive to him, he enchains Prometheus on Caucasus, he sends his bird − agent of his wrath − to devour the Titan’s intestine, he demands that everyone would yield to his reign. Yet, this impression gradually changes, as Zeus is subsequently transformed into a rather ‘fatherly’ figure, that takes delight at the mankind’s progress and wants to reconcile with Prometheus.  

Prometheus

Unlike Hesiod’s Prometheus, who is a devious figure and a trickster, Kazantzakis’ Prometheus shares many similarities with his Aeschylean counterpart: he is a rebel (ἀντάρτης), stubborn and defiant, the benefactor of humankind, and the inventor of all arts and sciences. Kazantzakis though also moves a step further; his Prometheus is a man-builder and the creator of the ‘prometheian’ race. Ηe is also the personification of human ‘Mind’ and a power that struggles to transubstantiate Flesh (Matter) into Spirit. One could argue that he is the Great Ascetic, another instantiation of the Odysseus-paradigm, which incorporates some elements of the  Nietzschean Übermensch. Finally, it is important to stress that his struggle in Kazantzakis, as in Shelley, is internalised. The Titan is the creative impetus that brings Freedom nigh.

The Oceanids

The stance adopted by the Oceanids in the last two plays of Kazantzakis’ Prometheia brings to mind their Aeschylean counterpart. Although they are quite naive and timid, Prometheus confides his sorrows to them and the Oceanids stand by his side and empathise with his suffering until the very end.

 

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