Prometheus moulded men out of water and earth1 and gave them also fire, which, unknown to Zeus, he had hidden in a stalk of fennel.2 But when Zeus learned of it, he ordered Hephaestus to nail his body to Mount Caucasus, which is a Scythian mountain. On it Prometheus was nailed and kept bound for many years. Every day an eagle swooped on him and devoured the lobes of his liver, which grew by night. That was the penalty that Prometheus paid for the theft of fire until Hercules afterwards released him, as we shall show in dealing with Hercules.3
This text is part of:
Table of Contents:
1 As to the creation of the human race by Prometheus, compare Philemon in Stobaeus, Florilegium ii.27; Paus. 10.4.4; Lucian, Dial. Deorum i.1; Libanius, Declam. xxv.31, vol. ii. p. 552, ed. R. Foerster; Ov. Met. 1.82ff.; Juvenal xiv.35. It is to be observed that in the earliest versions of the legend （Hes. Th. 510ff. Hes. WD 48ff.; Aesch. PB） Prometheus appears only as the benefactor, not the creator, of mankind.
2 Compare Hes. WD 50ff., Hes. Th. 565ff.; Aesch. PB 107ff.; Plat. Prot. 321; Hyginus, Fab. 144; Hyginus, Ast. ii.15. According to Serv. Verg. Ecl. 6.42, Prometheus stole the fire by applying a torch to the sun's wheel. Stories of the original theft of fire are widespread among mankind. See Frazer's Appendix to Apollodorus, “Myths of the Origin of Fire.” The plant （νάρθηξ） in which Prometheus is said to have carried the stolen fire is commonly identified with the giant fennel （Ferula communis）. See L. Whibley, Companion to Greek Studies （Cambridge, 1916）, p. 67. Tournefort found the plant growing abundantly in Skinosa, the ancient Schinussa, a small deserted island south of Naxos （Pliny, Nat. Hist. iv.68）. He describes the stalk as about five feet high and three inches thick, with knots and branches at intervals of about ten inches, the whole being covered with a tolerably hard rind. “This stalk is filled with a white pith, which, being very dry, catches fire just like a wick; the fire keeps alight perfectly in the stalk and consumes the pith only gradually, without damaging the rind; hence people use this plant to carry fire from one place to another; our sailors laid in a supply of it. This custom is of great antiquity, and may serve to explain a passage in Hesiod, who, speaking of the fire which Prometheus stole from heaven, says that he carried it away in a stalk of fennel.” He tells us, further, that the Greeks still call the plant nartheca. See P. de Tournefort, Relation d'un Voyage du Levant （Amsterdam, 1718）, i.93. The plant is common all over Greece, and may be seen in particular abundance at Phalerum, near Athens. See W. G. Clark, Peloponnesus (London, 1858);, p. 111; J. Murr, Die Pflanzenwelt in der griechischen Mythologie （Innsbruck, 1890）, p. 231. In Naxos Mr. J. T. Bent saw orange gardens divided by hedges of tall reeds, and he adds: “In Lesbos this reed is still called νάρθηκα （νάρθηξ）, a survival of the old word for the reed by which Prometheus brought down fire from heaven. One can understand the idea well: a peasant today who wishes to carry a light from one house to another will put it into one of these reeds to prevent its being blown out.” See J. T. Bent, The Cyclades （London, 1885）, p. 365. Perhaps Bent mistook fennel for a reed. The rationalistic Diodorus Siculus explained the myth of the theft of fire by saying that Prometheus was the inventor of the fire-sticks, by the friction of which against each other fire is kindled. See Diod. 5.67.2. But Greek tradition attributed the invention of fire-sticks to Hermes. See the HH Herm. 108ff.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.