The story of Prometheus is not a cautionary tale

A post by Virginia Postrel: The Myth of Prometheus Is Not a Cautionary Tale

Virginia Postrel is a very good writer who mostly writes nonfiction about the influence of textiles on civilization and glamour and things like that. That’s why her name caught my eye when I happened to see a link to this post about Prometheus. Especially since, I mean, the story of Prometheus is definitely not a cautionary tale. I wouldn’t have thought it was necessary to say so.

But here:

Listening to Marc Andreessen discuss his Techno-Optimist Manifesto on the Foundation for American Innovation’s Dynamist podcast, I was struck by his repetition of something that is in the manifesto and is completely wrong. “The myth of Prometheus – in various updated forms like Frankenstein, Oppenheimer, and Terminator – haunts our nightmares,” he writes.1 On the podcast, he elaborated by saying that, although fire has many benefits, the Prometheus myth focuses on its use as a weapon. 

No. No. No. No.

Prometheus is punished for loving humankind. He stole fire to thwart Zeus’ plans to eliminate humanity and create a new subordinate species. He is a benefactor who sacrifices himself for our good. His punishment is an indicator not of the dangers of fire but of the tyranny of Zeus.

Prometheus is cunning and wise. His name means foresight. He knows what he is doing and what the likely consequences will be.

I … kind of thought everyone knew that. But I guess not.

Quick segue: the Prometheus I best remember from any SFF book is this one

We’ve all read this, yes? I’m not sure where I would put this book among the many DWJ’s works I love, but pretty high up. This is also a story in which DWJ’s showed off her skill at bringing highly disparate threads together into a single satisfying narrative. This is a skill at which she excelled. One of those threads was the Prometheus myth, and I’m glad to say that Prometheus was freed in this story. As was only right, as he was a benefactor of humanity and definitely not the star of a cautionary tale.

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2 thoughts on “The story of Prometheus is not a cautionary tale”

  1. A cautionary tale?!? That’s so weird. On the one hand, we’ve got people going all in on dystopian settings and saying isn’t that cool? (I’m looking at you Warhammer 40K, and I suppose cyberpunk as well. I’m still kind of floored how a tongue-in-cheek spoof of Thatcherism turned into a “cool” setting that lots of people seem to really be down with.) On the other hand, apparently we have tales like Prometheus that are being treated as cautionary tales?!? Yes, let’s have an all-powerful God emperor that lives only by sucking the life from thousands of psychics each year and rules humanity with an iron fist. No, let’s not encourage any self-sacrificing empathetic humanists. Oy. Merry Christmas!

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