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Prometheus Bound
By Aeschylus (525-456 B.C.)
A Study Guide
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Mythology Background
Plot Summary
Setting
Author's Approach
Characters
Type Work, Year of Staging
Prometheus as an Archetype
Themes
Irony, Paradox
Climax
Role of the Chorus
Perplexing Question
Symbols
Does Prometheus Go Free?
Notes on the Text
Author Information
Questions and Essay Topics
Greek Theatre
Free Text: Internet Classics
Free Text: Harvard Classics
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Type of Work and Year of Staging
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.......Prometheus Bound is a tragedy centering primarily on the reaction of a proud god to a terrible punishment imposed on him by Zeus. The date of its writing and staging is uncertain, but the play probably debuted about 450 B.C., six years before the death of Aeschylus. It was the first part of a trilogy. The other two plays–Prometheus Unbound and Prometheus the Fire-Bringer–do not survive except for fragments of the latter play. 

Setting

.......The action takes place on a single day at a time just after human beings begin to use fire as a tool of advancement. The place is a gorge in the Caucasus (Greek: Kaukasos, from Kaz-Kaz, a Hittite word identifying people living on the shore of the Black Sea), a mountain range running southeast from the Black Sea (called the Euxine Sea in ancient times) to the Caspian Sea. To the north of the Caucasus is present-day Russia; to the south is present-day Georgia. The highest peak in the system, Mount Elbrus, rises to a height of more than 18,000 feet. The lands adjacent to the mountain range are known as Caucasia. 
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Characters 
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Protagonist: Prometheus
Antagonist: Zeus
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Onstage Characters

Prometheus: Titan whose name means forethought. After he defied the will of Zeus by becoming the benefactor of mankind, Zeus turned against him, ordering him bound to a rock in a desolate gorge of the Causasus Mountains. There, Prometheus remains proudly defiant, exhibiting no remorse or regret for his actions. Instead, he taunts Zeus, predicting his downfall at the hands of a child he shall beget. 
Hephaestus: The master blacksmith of Mount Olympus and one of the major Olympian gods. Although he sympathizes with Prometheus, he carries out the will of Zeus by making the unbreakable chains that bind Prometheus to the rock in the Caucasus gorge. In Roman mythology, Hephaestus is known as Vulcan. 
Kratos and Bia: Henchmen of Zeus who convey Prometheus to the Caucasus. Kratos symbolizes strength and Bia symbolizes force. 
Oceanids: Daughters of the Titan Oceanus. They act as the chorus in the play. Although they sympathize with Prometheus, they do not sanction his taunting of Zeus. 
Oceanus: Father of the Oceanids. He is a Titan who remained in Zeus's favor after other Titans had been cast out of heaven. 
Io: Young woman with whom Zeus fell in love but turned into a heifer to disguise her from his jealous wife, Hera. Her presence in the play helps to illuminate ancient attitudes toward fate and the humanlike pettiness and jealousies of the Olympian gods. In addition, her dialogue with Prometheus helps to reveal his intellectual gifts, his defiance, and his other character traits. 
Hermes: Messenger of Zeus and one of the major Olympian gods. His dialogue with Prometheus helps to reveal the latter's fierce defiance of Zeus, defiance so passionate that it becomes a kind of madness. In Roman mythology, Hermes is known as Mercury.
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Main Offstage Characters
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Zeus: King of the universe, who rules from Mount Olympus. He exhibits human traits such as pride, lust, deceit, and vengefulness. Although he has no speaking part in the play, his presence as an antagonist of Prometheus is felt throughout the drama. In Roman mythology, Zeus is known as Jupiter. 
Hera: Queen of the universe and wife of Zeus. Her jealousy of Io causes Zeus to turn the young woman into a heifer. But Hera apparently sees through the scheme to hide Io and sends a gadfly to bedevil her. In Roman mythology, Hera is known as Juno. 
Argus Panoptes: A one-hundred-eyed giant assigned by Hera to observe Io.
Inachus: Father of Io.

Author's Approach

.......Looking back from the mid-Fifth Century B.C., the author retells a mythological tale transmitted over the centuries to him and other ancient Greeks. He presents the story from the perspective of an enlightened Greek attempting to underscore the importance of intelligence, creativity, and resistance to tyranny. Depicting Zeus as a strongarm bully was daring and controversial. 

Introduction: Mythological Background

.......Aeschylus based the plot of Prometheus Bound on parts of mythological tales well known to Greeks of his time. Modern readers and theatergoers need to become familiar with these tales to understand the play. Following is a summation of the tales:
.......After the birth of the universe and the first gods, Uranus rules the heavens and fathers children with Earth, a planet as well as a goddess, called Gaea. These children include three one-eyed giants, three fifty-headed monsters, and twelve gods known as Titans. Fearing that his offspring might try to overthrow him, Uranus thrusts them back into Gaea, causing her severe pain. After fashioning a sickle, Gaea asks her sons to castrate Uranus. Only the youngest one, Cronus, is willing to take up the challenge. After he castrates and overthrows Uranus, he becomes king of the universe, with most of his brothers and sisters assuming positions of power. 
.......The Titans then beget another generation of children, one of whom is Prometheus, the son of Cronus’s brother, Iapetus. Cronus himself fathers children after taking his sister, Rhea, as his mate and queen. Told that one of his children will overthrow him, he attempts to thwart fate by swallowing the children after they are born. His first five children all meet this fate. After Rhea bears a sixth child, Zeus, she acts to protect him. Instead of giving the child to Cronus, she hides him in Crete and gives Cronus a stone wrapped in swaddling. Believing it is Zeus, he swallows it. 
.......After Zeus comes of age, he gives Cronus an emetic that causes him to spew out his brothers and sisters. Zeus and his siblings then wage war against Cronus and his Titan allies. However, two of the Titans, Prometheus and Oceanus, decide to fight on the side of Zeus. With their assistance, Zeus and his siblings overthrow Cronus and his forces and cast them into the underworld, known as Tartarus. Zeus then enthrones himself as king of the gods, apportioning various powers to his brothers and sisters. After Zeus takes up residence with them on Mount Olympus, they become known collectively as the Olympians (as opposed to the defeated Titans). Zeus marries his sister, Hera, who becomes queen of the gods. 
.......Meanwhile, men come into existence on earth. (One ancient writer says Prometheus created them from clay; another source says they were born out of the earth). Although Zeus despises these lowly creatures, Prometheus pities them and acts to sustain them, saving ox meat from sacrifices for men and serving the bones to Zeus after wrapping it with savory fat. Upon discovering the deception, Zeus retaliates by withholding fire from man. Prometheus then steals fire from the heavens and gives it to his earthling friends as a valuable tool for their advancement. 
.......The ancient Greek writer Hesiod presented two versions of what Zeus did next. In one version, Zeus concocts a scheme to plague man. First, he orders his brother, Hephaestus, the forger god, to create a woman. Named Pandora, she is the first of her kind. Zeus sends her to earth with various gifts from the gods, including great beauty and winsomeness, as well as curiosity. She carries with her a jar that she is never to open. In time, her curiosity gets the better of her and she opens the lid, releasing disease, sorrow, evil, and hard labor upon the world. In the other version, Zeus vents his anger on Prometheus, ordering him chained to a rock in a gorge of the Caucasus Mountains. Each day, an eagle comes to feed on his liver. But because Prometheus is immortal, his liver restores itself by the following morning. Then the eagle returns to feed again. Such is the torture that Prometheus endures. Aeschylus recounts this version of the story in Prometheus Bound, beginning on the day when Zeus’s henchmen bind Prometheus to the rock. 
.......In the play, Prometheus receives a visit from Io, the daughter of a river god named Inachus. She had been a priestess in the service of Zeus’s wife, Hera. One day, Zeus fell in love with Io. To hide her from Hera, he changed her into a white heifer (a cow that has not yet given birth). Suspecting trickery, Hera asks Zeus to give her the heifer as a gift. After he does so, Hera assigns a one-hundred-eyed monster, Argus Panoptes, to watch her. Zeus’s cat’s-paw–the messenger god, Hermes–kills the monster. Hera then sends a gadfly to torment Io with repeated stings. Still in the form of a heifer, Io bounds off and begins wandering from place to place, eventually turning up at the rock to which Prometheus is bound. 
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Plot Summary
By Michael J. Cummings...© 2008
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.......In a gorge of a mountain range near the Euxine Sea (ancient name for the Black Sea), Kratos and Bia–henchmen of Zeus–lead a shackled prisoner, the Titan Prometheus, to jagged rocks. With them is the blacksmith god Hephaestus carrying chains, nails, and a hammer. Kratos reminds Hephaestus that his task is to fetter Prometheus to a rock as punishment for stealing fire from heaven and giving it to lowly earth creatures called men.
.......Hephaestus is reluctant to confine a fellow god to so desolate a place to suffer exposure to heat, cold, raging storms, and ridicule. But do it he must, he realizes, for it is the will of the king of the universe, Zeus. With Kratos standing over him, Hephaestus claps iron bracelets on the arms of Prometheus and nails the bracelets to the rock. Then Kratos says, “Now take thine iron spike and drive it in, / Until it gnaw clean through the rebel's breast.”
.......Hephaestus does his bidding, then secures the Titan’s legs. All is done. Prometheus is bound to the rock in unbreakable chains. He cannot escape.
.......“Woe’s me, Prometheus,” Hephaestus says, “for thy weight of woe!” Kratos, Hephaestus, and Bia depart. Prometheus speaks:

Behold what I, a God, from Gods endure! 
Look down upon my shame, 
The cruel wrong that racks my frame, 
The grinding anguish that shall waste my strength, 
Till time's ten thousand years have measured out their length! 
.......Sea nymphs called Oceanids enter the scene in a winged chariot, hovering near the rock. They are the daughters of another Titan, Oceanus. Acting as a chorus that speaks as a single person, they commiserate with Prometheus:
Prometheus, I am gazing on thee now! 
With the cold breath of fear upon my brow, 
Not without mist of dimming tears . . . .
.......Prometheus tells them he wishes Zeus had cast him into the underworld, called Tartarus, “where never mocking laughter could upbraid me.” However, Prometheus possesses information that could gain his release. Gifted with foresight–indeed, his very name means foresight–he knows of a plot to overthrow Zeus but says he will not reveal the details of it unless Zeus frees him. The Oceanids observe that the terrible punishment meted out against Prometheus has done nothing to diminish the power of his will or to stay the boldness of his tongue. Although they doubt that Zeus will ever free him, Prometheus thinks the Olympian king’s “implacable wrath” can be overcome. The Oceanids then ask him to tell the tale of how he incurred Zeus’s wrath. 
.......When Zeus acceded to his throne, Prometheus says, he parceled out his empire among fellow gods. But he ignored men, lowly earth creatures who lacked the wisdom and technology to sustain themselves. Zeus despised these beings, who were not of his creation, and withheld fire from them to prevent their survival. Prometheus intervened to save the helpless humans. First, he instilled hope in their hearts. Then he stole fire from heaven and gave it to men to enable them to develop civilization. For these deeds, Zeus “torments me with extremity of woe,” Prometheus says. He acknowledges that he violated the will of Zeus but says he did not expect to receive a “sentence so dread, / High of this precipice to droop and pine / Having no neighbor but the desolate crags.”
.......After the Oceanids land their winged chariot, their father, Oceanus, arrives riding a dragon. He advises Prometheus to contain his anger against Zeus, for a bold tongue may only bring upon him an even harsher sentence. But he pledges to do what he can to improve the lot of Prometheus. (The sincerity of Oceanus is in question here; his offer to help seems half-hearted, a mere gesture to pacify Prometheus while remaining in good standing with Zeus.) When Prometheus warns him that in so doing he himself may provoke Zeus, Oceanus responds, “My oath upon it, Zeus will grant my prayer / And free thee from these pangs.” But Prometheus renews his admonition, saying Oceanus must see to his own safety while Prometheus abides his suffering “until the wrathfulness of Zeus abate.” In other words, Prometheus is telling his brother god to get lost; his policy of appeasement is not welcome. Oceanus rides off on his dragon.
.......When the Oceanids commiserate further with Prometheus, he tells them human have also suffered. Lacking the knowledge to construct dwellings, they lived in “burrows of their unsunned caves.” Moreover, they were ignorant of the signs heralding winter, spring, and summer. To help them, Prometheus gave them arithmetic and writing, and he yoked beasts to do their heavy work and showed them how to use horses to pull wheeled carts. He also introduced them to ships with sails and taught them to make potions and mixtures to cure disease. And many other gifts he bestowed on them, so that “all manner of arts from Prometheus [they] learned.”
.......Io, a young woman who once served as a priestess to Zeus’s wife, Hera, queen of the gods, comes upon the scene in the form of a white heifer. When she asks Prometheus who bound him to the rock, Prometheus says Hephaestus did it at the command of Zeus. When she asks what wrong he committed, he tells her he has said enough. Io then asks Prometheus how long she must wander as a heifer before her suffering ends. However, the Oceanids asks her to tell her tale of woe first.
.......It began, she says, with dreams in which a voice said Zeus was sick with love for her and that she was to go to a meadow near Lerna’s marsh so that Zeus could there look upon her. When she told her father, the river god Inachus, of the dreams, he sent envoys to the oracles at Pytho (Delphi) and Dodona to learn the will of the gods. The envoys returned with perplexing messages. But Inachus realized the gist of them: He was to send forth Io to wander the earth. If he did not, Zeus would obliterate his race with a mighty thunderbolt. And so, with sorrow in his heart, Io says, her father sent her out and bolted his door against her. Zeus then changed Io into a heifer, “horned / even as ye see me now,” to hide her from jealous Hera. A gadfly sent by Hera came and stung her into a frenzy. Bounding off, she did not stop until she arrived at Lerna. There, a giant with one hundred eyes kept a vigil over her. But Hermes, Zeus’s messenger god, killed him. Io ran off, doomed to roam from land to land. Following her everywhere was the ghost of the giant, as well as the relentless gadfly. 
.......Io’s tale horrifies the the Oceanids, but Prometheus tells them that after all of her travels through lands with perils at every turn a “stormy sea of wrong and ruining” still awaits her. Io, wishing she were dead, asks whether Zeus will one day fall. Prometheus tells her a woman will one day bear him a “child more excellent than his progenitor.” The only one who can save Zeus from the threat posed by the child is Prometheus–if someone frees him. Io asks who this someone is. Prometheus says she must choose between knowing his name or knowing her own fate. The Oceanids ask him to disclose to Io her fate and next to tell them the name of his liberator. Prometheus then decides to disclose all. 
.......In Asia, Io must pass through Kisthene, where live three old maids shaped like swans who have but a single tooth and a single eye among them. Nearby dwell the Gorgons, three sisters with snakes for hair. One who looks upon them is turned to stone. He tells of other perils that she must negotiate before arriving in Egypt, where she and the children she bears must remain for a long time.
.......At a city called Canobus, Zeus shall restore her to her original form by laying on his hands. From that encounter, she shall conceive and bear a child, Epaphus, who will prosper. In the fifth generation springing from him, fifty women will flee to Argos to escape the shame of having to marry their cousins. But their cousins will pursue and marry them. However, all the brides except one will kill their husbands at night. The one who spares her husband out of love shall bear a child who will become a great archer (an allusion to Herakles, known in the literature of the Romans as Hercules). It is he who will free prometheus. This was the vision Prometheus’s mother, Titan Themis, gave him. The gadfly stings Io and she bounds off.
.......Zeus, meanwhile, is preparing to bed the woman whose child will bring him down, Prometheus says. The chorus asks him whether he is afraid to speak of Zeus's downfall, for Zeus could cause him even greater pain. Let him, Prometheus says. The chorus may be diplomatic if it wishes, but not Prometheus.
.......The messenger god Hermes arrives and, speaking on behalf of Zeus, demands to know details of the future plot to bring him down. Be specific, Hermes tells him, or he will suffer the wrath of Zeus. Prometheus sneers at the threat, saying, 
Seem I to thee 
To shrink and quail before these new-made Gods? 
Far, very far from that am I. 
.......It was such defiance that caused Zeus to punish Prometheus, Hermes says. Prometheus says, 
There is no torture nor device by which 
Zeus can impel me to disclose these things 
Before these bonds that outrage me be loosed. 
.......The Oceanids encourage Prometheus to heed the words of Hermes:
  For he bids thee quit
Thy self-willed pride and seek for counsel good. 
Hearken thou to him. To the wise of soul
It is foul shame to sin persistently. 
.......Hermes warns Prometheus that if he continues to defy Zeus the great god will cast him into underworld. But Prometheus remains uncooperative. Suddenly, lightning flashes and thunder rumbles. Prometheus says, 
O Mother venerable! 
O Æther! rolling round 
The common light of all, 
Seest thou what wrongs I bear? 

Prometheus as an Archetype and Symbol
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.......Prometheus has become a famous archetype and symbol in world literature, music, and art for his defiance of established authority and for the suffering he endured. Through the ages, writers and composers have referred or alluded to the Titan to draw attention to a fictional or real person's suffering or his rebellion against a government, a way of life, a tradition, or an accepted practice or principle. 
.......Examples of such references are the titles of Carl Spittler's 1924 poem, "Prometheus the Long Suffering"; Mary Shelley's 1818 novel, Frankenstein: or, the Modern Prometheus; Salvatore Viganò's 1801 ballet, Creatures of Prometheus, with music composed by Ludwig van Beethoven; Nicolas-Sébastien Adam's 1762 sculpture, Prométhée enchaîné; Percy Bysshe Shelley's long 1820 poem, Prometheus Unbound; French symbolist painter Gustave Moreau's 1868 work, Prometheus; Carl Orff's 1966 music drama, Prometheus; Alexander Scriabin's 1910 symphonic work, Prometheus, the Poem of Fire; and André Maurois's 1965 biography, Prometheus, the Life of Balzac
.......In the mid-twentieth century, sculptor Jacques Lipchitz captured the Titan in stone in his work Prometheus Strangling the Vulture II. In 1969, Milovan Djilas, a Yugoslav political writer who criticized communism, wrote in The Unperfect Society, "Though man may endure his ordeal like Sisyphus, the time must come for him to revolt like Prometheus before his powers are exhausted by the ordeal." Writers use the adjective Promethean often in their works to suggest qualities associated with Prometheus. For example, in Act 4, Scene 3, of Shakespeare's Love's Labour's Lost, the character Biron (also known as Berowne) says,

From women's eyes this doctrine I derive;
They are the ground, the books, the academes
From whence doth spring the true Promethean fire.
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Themes

Defying the Established Order

.......After Zeus deliberately neglects humans, Prometheus becomes their benefactor, giving them hope, fire, and other gifts. In so doing, he flouts the will of Zeus. After Zeus orders Prometheus bound to a rock in a gorge of the remote Caucasus Mountains, Prometheus continues to defy Zeus, using his tongue–the only weapon available to him–to launch verbal fléchettes at the king of the gods. 

Kowtowing to Authority

.......Prometheus reproaches Hermes, and other characters for becoming subservient to the will of Zeus. According to Prometheus, they should imitate his defiance. They may risk terrible punishment, but they will retain their integrity.

Right vs Might

.......Prometheus represents reason, compassion, righteousness. Zeus represents strong-arm despotism. Although Zeus physically subdues Prometheus, he fails to break his spirit. In one sense, then, the defeated Prometheus wins a victory over Zeus. 

Suffering

.......The play centers in part on suffering. Prometheus suffers pain, humiliation, isolation, and loneliness because of his benefactions to mankind. In this respect, he may be compared to Christ, who suffered an ignominious death to redeem humankind. Io also suffers greatly even though she did no wrong. In this respect, she may be compared to human beings who suffer undeservedly as victims of disease, crime, bigotry, deprivation, and so on. 

Pride

.......Prometheus Bound pits two gigantic egos–those of Prometheus and Zeus–against each other. The pride of Prometheus causes him to glory in his defiance to such an extent that he veers to the brink of madness. Such excess of passion was considered a weakness by the ancient Greeks, who strove to live by this saying: "All things in moderation; nothing in excess."

Hope

.......Seeing the goodness of men and their potential for worthy endeavors, Prometheus gives them the gift of hope to inspire their development. He also gives Io hope when he foretells her settlement in Egypt and restoration to human form. 

Compassion

.......Prometheus is superior to Zeus in terms of compassion. His benefactions toward mankind contrast sharply with the coldly vengeful actions of Zeus.

Jealousy

.......Hera’s fierce jealousy of any woman who comes between her and her husband, Zeus, results in the metamorphosis of Io into a heifer destined to wander many lands while a gadfly conjured by Hera stings Io repeatedly.

Irony and Paradox: Freedom in Captivity

.......Although Prometheus is bound to the wall of a rock–unable to walk, lie down, or use his hands–his mind remains free. Zeus cannot enslave his spirit. Oceanus, Hermes, and others are physically free, but their minds are captives to the will of Zeus. The paradox and irony of liberty in captivity foreshadow similar themes later in literature. For example, in "To Althea, From Prison," poet Richard Lovelace asserts that "Stone walls do not a prison make, / Nor iron bars a cage" because "in my soul [I] am free." 

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Climax
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.......The climax occurs when lightning flashes and thunder booms after Prometheus refuses to cooperate with Hermes, the messenger of Zeus. The thunderbolts indicate that Prometheus has again incurred the wrath of Zeus and is about to suffer further punishment. 

The Role of the Chorus
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.......In Greek plays, the chorus generally observed the action while explaining or interpreting it in relation to the law of the Olympian gods and, in plays set after the development of human society, in relation to the law of the state. Sometimes the chorus participated in the action rather than merely observing it. It was customary for the chorus to sing its lines as poems while dancing to the left, dancing to the right, or standing still. In some plays, the chorus foreshadowed the future. The views it presented were usually those of the general public or the author. 

Perplexing Question, Possible Answer 

.......Prometheus has prophetic powers. His recitation of events that await Io demonstrates this power. However, if he can see the future, why does he press Zeus to release him (in exchange for details about a plot to overthrow Zeus) when he already knows that his release will come at a later time at the hands of a descendant of Io? The answer may be that Prometheus wishes to manipulate, taunt, and deceive Zeus as a way of getting even. His opposition to authority at times becomes highly impassioned and perhaps excessively stubborn and severe. 
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Symbols

One may interpret the following as symbols. Whether Aeschylus intended them as such is unknown.
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Fire: Creativity, inspiration; the beginning of human advancement.
The Oceanids: Prudence, caution; friendship and sympathy.
Oceanus and Hermes: Subservience; sycophancy.
Io's Wanderings: The struggle of humans to find their way in a hostile world. 
The Gadfly: The sting of unjust punishment.
Lightning and Thunder: The wrath of a vengeful authority. 

Does Prometheus Gain Freedom?
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.......Aeschylus wrote two sequels two Prometheus Bound, neither of which survives intact. However, fragments of one of the plays, Prometheus Unbound, suggest that Herakles (Roman name: Hercules) freed Prometheus. It is believed that Prometheus and Zeus ultimately reconciled in the third play, Prometheus the Fire-Bringer.
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Notes and Comments on the Text

A copy of Prometheus Bound at Project Bartleby contains extensive notes and comments on the text. The citation information for this text is as follows:

Aeschylus. Prometheus Bound. E. H. Plumptre, trans. Vol. VIII, Part 4. The Harvard Classics. New York: P.F. Collier & Son, 1909–14. Bartleby.com. 2001. [Date of Access] <http://www.bartleby.com/8/4/>. 
Author Information
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.......Aeschylus (525-456 B.C.) was the first of ancient Greece's great tragedians. Because of the standards of excellence he established and because of innovations he made in the staging of Greek drama, he is often referred to as the "father of Greek tragedy." Before Aeschylus wrote and staged his plays, Greek drama consisted primarily of choral songs, recitations, and dances, as well as dialogue expressed by a single actor who generally played more than one part. (The actor wore a mask that signified which character he was playing at a given time. When he switched characters, he changed masks.) Aeschylus added a second actor, enabling the first actor to engage in dialogue with the second actor and providing greater latitude for plot development. He also increased the dialogue portions of plays, reduced the lyrical portions of the chorus, and designed stage sets and costumes. 
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Study Questions and Essay Topics

1. Write an essay comparing and contrasting two defiant figures in ancient Greek literature: Prometheus and Antigone. Click here for information about Antigone
2. What is Prometheus’s greatest strength? What is his greatest weakness?
3. Prometheus gave fire to humankind. Write an essay explaining how authors use fire as a primordial symbol.
4.  Identify five persons in world history who exhibited Promethean defiance.
5. Write an essay that interprets famous paintings and sculptures depicting Prometheus. 
6. Hephaestus (Roman name: Vulcan) and Hermes (Roman name: Mercury) were major Olympian gods. What were their duties? Identify literary works in which authors depicted them in a positive light.

Greek Theater: Structure

Definition and Background

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.....The Greek theater was an open-air stone structure with tiered seating, a stage, and a ground-level orchestra. It was an outgrowth of festivals honoring the god Dionysus. In these festivals, called Dionysia, the Greeks danced and sang hymns called dithyrambs that sometimes told stories. One day, Thespis, a choral director in Athens, used spoken words, or dialogue, to accompany the singing and dancing in imitation of poets who had done so before. Soon, the dialogues of Thespis became plays, and he began staging them in a theater.
....."A contest of plays in 535 [B.C.] arose when Pisistratus, the ‘tyrant' whom the common people of Athens invested with power, brought a rustic festival into the city [Athens]," drama critic John Gassner writes in Masters of Drama. Such contests became regular features of the festivals, and the theaters in which they were held were specially built to accommodate them. 

Major Sections of the Theater
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.....(1) A tiered, horshoe-shaped seating area called a theatron. The theatron faced the east to allow the audience to view plays–usually staged later in the day–without squinting. 
.....(2) A stage called a proscenium. The staged faced the west to allow the midday sun to illuminate the faces of the actors. 
.....(3) An orchestra in front of the proscenium to accommodate the chorus.
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Other Theater Sections

.....Skene: Building behind the stage. First used as a dressing area for actors (and sometimes an entrance or exit area for actors), the skene eventually became a background showing appropriate scenery. 
.....Paraskenia: Extensions or annexes on the sides of the skene. 
.....Parados: Passage on the left or right through which the chorus entered the orchestra. 
.....Thymele: Altar in the center of the orchestra used to make sacrifices to Dionysus. 
.....Machine: Armlike device on the skene that could lower a "god" onto the stage from the heavens. 
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