Prometheus: Titan God Of Fire And Creator Of Humanity

Learn about Prometheus, the Greek God of Fire and Creator of Humanity. Learn about his origins and most famous legends.



In Greek mythology, Prometheus is a Titan, culture hero and trickster figure who is credited with creating man from clay, and who defies the gods by stealing fire and giving it to mankind, an act that enabled progress and civilization. Prometheus is known for his intelligence and as a champion of mankind, and is also considered the author of human arts and sciences in general.

who was Prometheus?

Prometheus (meaning “Forethought”) was one of the leaders of the battle between the Titans and the Olympian gods led by Zeus to gain control of the heavens, a struggle that is said to have lasted ten years. Prometheus, however, switched sides and supported the victorious Olympians when the Titans did not follow his advice to use tricks in battle.

Etymology of Prometheus

The etymology of the theonym Prometheus is debated. The classical view is that it means “foresight”, as that of his brother Epimetheus denotes “afterthought”. Hesychus of Alexandria gives Prometheus the variant name Ithas, and adds “whom others call Itax”, and describes him as the Herald of the Titans Kerényi comments that these names are “non-transparent”, and may be different readings of the same name, while the name “Prometheus” is descriptive.

It has also been theorized that it derives from the Proto-Indo-European root that also produces the Vedic pra mathematica, “to steal”, hence pramathyu-s, “thief”, cognate with “Prometheus”, the thief of fire.

The Vedic myth of the theft of fire by Mātariśvan is analogous to the Greek story. Pramantha was the fire-drill, the tool used to create fire. The suggestion that Prometheus was originally the “human inventor of the fire-sticks, from which fire is kindled” goes back to the 1st century BC by Diodorus Siculus.

The reference is again to the “fire drill,” a world primitive method of making fire using a vertical and a horizontal piece of wood to produce fire by friction.

History of Prometheus

Prometheus was a titan god of foresight. He was also known as the father and champion of mankind because he had a special bond with his creation, teaching them and helping them to progress in their lives. Throughout history, Prometheus became a symbol of striving for scientific knowledge and the risk of unintended consequences that could also result in tragedy.

Prometheus fought on the side of Zeus, so he survived. He became powerful and honored in the new court of the Greek gods on Mount Olympus. But he saw that the poor and humble humans were still suffering. So he decided to give them the divine secret of fire.

Piero di cosimo

The gift of fire

Fire was not a common thing at that time. It had been a secret of the gods from the Titans to the Olympians, and it was strictly forbidden to give this gift to any of the animals under the gods.

Although he knew that Zeus would certainly punish him if he found out, Prometheus went one night to the place where the sacred fire was kept, took some of it and carried it from Mount Olympus to the people.

It is the tale of the extreme antiquity of the story that Prometheus transported the fire to humans directly and delivered it to them as if it were a physical object. This is because the story comes from a time before humans had the ability to make fire themselves.

They had to capture it from natural sources like erupting volcanoes or a forest fire, and you can probably imagine how difficult and dangerous that was. Then they had to carry it and maintain that fire as they moved away from the source and around the camp, and this brought with it great difficulty and danger.

If the fire was allowed to go out, then the tribe was doomed. But the fires did not go out, because the people respected the gift of Prometheus. The fires have not been put out to this day.

Unfortunately, fate was not so kind to Prometheus. Zeus and the other gods discovered that he had broken their taboo and given the gift of fire to the tiny people crawling on the surface of the Earth beneath them, and their wrath knew no bounds.


They decided to punish Prometheus not just once, but forever and ever. Although they could not retrieve the secret of fire from mankind, they could make sure that Prometheus would suffer eternally for what he had done. And they found a rock by the sea, and chained Prometheus to it.

Mitos de Prometeo

Every day thereafter, if this myth is to be believed, an eagle would land on the helpless, supine form of Prometheus. This eagle would dig into his living flesh with its sharp beak and talons, and tear out his liver.

To the Greeks and other ancients, the liver was considered to be the seat of the human soul. So it was Prometheus’ liver that was torn out by the Eagle, who would tear it out and eat it.

Every night, Prometheus would come back to life and his liver would grow back. Every day the eagle would fall back on him and attack. This has gone on for hundreds of thousands of years, and if the myth is to be believed, then it still continues.

Dangerous ingenuity

Many people take this myth as a parable of the dangers of ingenuity and innovation. They feel that the story shows that, although the people around them may benefit greatly, the genius and the inventor suffer new pains every day. Perhaps it is because of the misuse of their inventions.

After all, there are other legends of Prometheus and Zeus that remain more obscure. For example, one myth says that Prometheus tricked Zeus into taking only the inedible parts of the sacred bull when he sacrificed himself, leaving the edible parts for the people.

One can easily see how this religious practice, when carried out among the ancient Greeks, led to plenty of food for everyone in any religious ceremony. Legends agree that Prometheus was a smart guy. It’s a pity he had to suffer for it.

Prometheus’ family

According to Hesiod’s Theogony, Prometheus’ father was Iapetus, his mother was Clymene (or Themis in other versions) and his brothers were fellow Titans Epimetheus (Afterthought or Retrospect), Menoetius, and Atlas. One of Prometheus’ sons was Deucalion, an equivalent of Noah, who survived a great flood by sailing in a great chest for nine days and nine nights and who, along with his wife Pyrrha, became the founder of the human race.

Myths of Prometheus

The myth of Prometheus explains how humans first discovered fire, and is so ancient that it almost certainly predates the Greeks. This is early in their mythology, even by their own standards, because Prometheus lived in the dark ages before the Greek gods were born.

Mitos de Prometeo

That’s right, there was a world of Greek mythology before the Greek gods that we know. This was known as the age of the Titans, when Chronos and his monstrous ilk held sway over the heavens.


Through his intelligent advice, Prometheus played an essential role during the war between the Titans and the Olympians. Although he himself was a Titan, along with his brother Epimetheus, he sided with Zeus and escaped the brutal punishments that his other two brothers, Atlas and Menoetius, received after the ancient order of the gods was finally defeated.

Prometheus versus Zeus

Things, however, soured between Prometheus and Zeus soon after Zeus had established himself as the sovereign ruler of all gods and men. The main cause of this was Zeus’ tyrannical treatment of mankind, who, in Prometheus’ eyes, deserved a far better master.

The trick in Mecone

The rift between the Thunderer and the Prepenser seems to have begun at Mecone when Zeus charged Prometheus with the task of dividing the meat of a great ox into two meals, one for the gods and one for the humans. Ever the lover of the latter, Prometheus tried to fool Zeus by producing one portion of bones wrapped in fat, and another consisting of the best meat covered with the entrails of the ox.

Curiously, Zeus chose the fat-covered bones, thus setting a precedent that allowed humans, from that day forward, to keep the meat for themselves and sacrifice only the bones to the gods.

The theft of fire

Angered by Prometheus’ trick, Zeus tried to punish mankind by hiding the gift of fire from them. Prometheus didn’t think this was fair, so he stole fire from Olympus and brought it back to earth in a pile of fennel.

In honor of this act, the Athenians instituted a race, during which runners on the same team passed a lighted torch among themselves until the last runner on the winning team had the privilege of using it to light the sacrificial fire on the altar of Athena on the Acropolis. This, of course, marked the origin of the two relay races and the modern Olympic flame ceremony.

The Punishment of Mankind: Pandora and Her Jar

Now it was Zeus’ turn to react he commissioned Hephaestus to fashion a creature as beautiful and devious as any mortal had ever seen before. Even the gods, all of whom had endowed this being with seductive gifts, were astonished to see the “beautiful evil” she embodied, the “sheer cunning” of her appearance.

This creature was Pandora, the first woman in history: “of her,” writes Hesiod, “is the mortal race and tribe of women who live among mortal men in their great troubles, unaided in hateful poverty, but only in wealth.”

To make matters worse, soon after coming to Earth, Pandora was foolishly accepted by Epimetheus, against the better advice of her much smarter brother. Once this happened, Pandora promptly opened the jar she had brought with her, and out of it sprang all sorts of diseases and pains, which have plagued mankind ever since.

The secret of Prometheus

In addition to the theft of the fire, Zeus had one more reason to be angry with Prometheus. Namely, being a Prepenser, Prometheus was the only one who knew the identity of the mortal woman with whom Zeus was not allowed to sleep since it had been prophesied that the offspring of this marriage was destined to overthrow his father. And the Titan was not interested in telling Zeus anything more than this for no reason.

The release of Prometheus

Neither Zeus nor Prometheus backed down in their harshness for centuries. And who knows how many eons their struggle would have continued had it not been for Zeus’ son, Herakles, who encountered the chained Prometheus on his way to the Hesperides.

Whether Heracles shot the eagle and freed Prometheus as a sign of gratitude for having advised him to send Atlas to fetch the golden apples and complete his work, or whether it was the other way around, we may never know for sure.

However, we do know that Zeus allowed this to happen and that later he and Prometheus buried the hatchet and finally made peace with each other.

The creation of man by Prometheus

Prometheus and mankind. Later, Prometheus was promoted from being a benefactor of the human race to being its own creator.

Apollodorus says that before stealing the divine fire and gifting it to mankind, this god had also “molded men out of water and earth.” Other authors claim that the creation of man was a joint effort of Prometheus and Athena, who gave life to the clay figures molded by the Titan.

Two stony remains of the clay that Prometheus used to form mankind – as we learn from the traveler Pausanias – could be seen at Panopeus in Phocis as late as the 2nd century AD. Apparently, these two stones were located in a ravine and had “the color of (sandy) clay.” In addition, they seem to have smelled very much “like the skin of a man”.

Prometheus god

The Flood: the son of Prometheus, Deucalion and Pyrrha

Regardless of whether they had been created by this god or not, the first people were at one point almost completely wiped off the face of the earth by a great flood sent by Zeus.

The only survivors were Deucalion, the son of Prometheus, and his wife, Pyrrha. Afterwards, these two repopulated the earth by throwing stones on their shoulders, which then magically turned into men and women. Thus, it would seem that in more than one sense, mankind owes its existence to its champion and benefactor, Prometheus.

The punishment of Prometheus

Zeus was outraged with he theft of fire and so punished the Titan by taking him far to the east, perhaps to the Caucasus. Here Prometheus was chained to a rock (or pillar) and Zeus sent an eagle to eat the Titan’s liver. Worse, the liver grew back each night and the eagle returned each day to perpetually torment Prometheus.

Fortunately for man’s benefactor, but only after many years, the hero Hercules, passing by one day during his famous labors, killed the eagle with one of his arrows.

In the Works and Days of Hesiod we are told that Zeus punished man for receiving fire by instructing Hephaistos to create the first woman, Pandora, out of clay and through her all the negative aspects of life would fall upon the human race – labor, disease, war and death – and would definitely separate mankind from the gods.

Prometheus was venerated in Athens, particularly by the potters (who, of course, needed fire in their kilns) and an annual torch race was held in honor of the god.

Prometheus first appears in Greek art on a 7th century B.C. ivory from Sparta and on Greek pottery from around 600 B.C., being generally chastised. The myth of Prometheus and his terrible punishment by Zeus was the subject of the tragic poet Aeschylus Prometheus Bound.

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