Chapter

The Problem with Prometheus

Edith Hall

in Ancient Slavery and Abolition

Published in print July 2011 | ISBN: 9780199574674
Published online September 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780191728723 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199574674.003.0008

Series: Classical Presences

The Problem with Prometheus

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The multivalency of myth had lent it a particular attraction to authors and artists who wanted to draw parallels between different arenas of struggle for freedom and equal rights, especially universal suffrage. Yet the quest for mythical heroes who could be press-ganged into the abolitionist cause proved frustrating: experiments were conducted on several ancient Greek figures — Atlas, Polyphemus, and Telephus, for example — with this end in mind. In the wake of the first French and English translations of Aeschylus’ tragedy Prometheus Bound in the 1770s, it was the chained, tortured philanthropist Prometheus who emerged as the most promising prototype of the slaves whom the abolitionists hoped to emancipate. But the recalcitrant, defiant, and vocal rebel of the Greek play needed considerable adjustment to render him acceptable to mainstream society.

Keywords: myth; abolition; radicalism; Prometheis; painting; drama; poetry; hero

Chapter.  10856 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Classical History

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