Promethean Planning Pty Ltd

The Story of Prometheus

This story is extracted from many sources, some serious some not so serious. Nevertheless, hopefully it captures the essence of the titan Prometheus. Apologies to any classical scholars for perceived errors; however, it is a myth and meant to be embellished in the telling.

The Beginning

Interest in combustion goes back to the time of Prometheus, before the Trojan wars. Prometheus [pro-MEE-thee-uhs] was the greatest of that race of giants, the titans, descended from Gaea, the earth god and Uranus, the sky god. To please Uranus, Prometheus created men out of clay (there were no women yet). Prometheus resided on top of Mount Olympus, in a community of Immortals. Olympus is about 100 km south-west of Thessaloniki, not far off the flight path from London to Athens. But so far as is known the Immortals have never been spotted from the air. However, this does not mean that they do not exist. After all, nobody has yet actually seen an electron although there are plenty of them about, so we are told. But back to Prometheus. Prometheus was the son of the titan Iapetus and the goddess Themis, along with Epimetheus and their half-brothers Atlas and Menoitios.

The Fight

Uranus, the first supreme ruler, was deposed by his son, the titan Cronos, who became the second to rule the world. There was a prophecy that he too would be dethroned by his own son, so he ate all his children, except for one that Rhea hid from him. Determined to protect her sixth child from his father, Rhea gave birth in secret. She named the infant Zeus and sent him to the island of Crete, to be raised by nymphs. Then, pretending to obey her husband's cruel command that she surrender all their children to him, Rhea wrapped a heavy stone in a baby blanket and carried it to Cronos, who swallowed it without any notice. As the young god Zeus matured, he became more and more powerful. When Rhea thought him mighty enough to challenge Cronos, she told him about his five brothers and sisters trapped inside their father's body, and about how narrowly he had escaped the same fate. With the help of his Grandmother Gaia, Zeus forced his father to regurgitate his five brothers and sisters, as well as the stone. The stone was taken to Delphi and left there. What Cronos feared all along became a reality. Zeus's brothers and sisters hugged him and thanked him for giving them new life saying; "and now that you have set us free, you must lead us in a battle against Cronos." A few titans joined him and the most prominent among these was Prometheus. After a long and bitter war which lasted for years and almost destroyed the world, Zeus emerged victoriously. The titans and gods who fought on the side of Cronos were punished and cast down into the Tartar, the depths of eternal darkness. However, Zeus did not even thank Prometheus for his help, much less reward him.

The Birth of Athena

One day, Zeus had a terrible headache and had no idea how to cure it. After a few unsuccessful attempts, he called Prometheus. When he showed up, he hit Zeus in the head with a giant axe, and let free the goddess Athena that was in Zeus' head causing the headache.

The Making of Man

To please Uranus, Prometheus formed Man out of water and earth. He wanted him to be more than animals, and unlike animals who look at the earth, Man was made upright, so he could see the mountains and stars - the places of godly nature. This would have remained not more than a statue, if Athena wouldn't have come by and breathed life into Prometheus' creation. Prometheus liked his creation and tried to help any way he could. His brother Epimetheus had been charged with giving different gifts to the living. He gave speed to some, strength to others, but when he arrived at Man, he realized he had dealt out all of the available gifts. He asked his brother Prometheus to help and so he did. So Prometheus decided to make man stand upright as the gods did and to give them fire. With the help of Athena he managed to get the fire for Man, and thus secured him one of the most precious gifts of all. He also taught them how to work the land, make boats and even the basics of healing the sick. Finally, he gave them the knowledge of writing. In this sense, he was the true maker of Man, raising him from the state of animals into a civilised, enlightened form.


Zeus required sacrifices from the people, which were supposed to be animals. Crafty Prometheus decided to investigate the economics of offerings to Zeus. Prometheus aided his human friends by masking a large pile of bones and inferior meat with a small amount of meat and blood and making another smaller pile with all the usable parts of the animal in a hide covered with entrails. Zeus was then invited to choose between the two. He chose the larger package of camouflaged bones. Thereafter, whenever an offering was made to Zeus, men put the inferior meat and fat on the altar and consumed the prime cuts themselves. Although this was as legal as it could get, the ill-tempered Zeus decided to punish the human race, and took away the knowledge of fire so they could not prepare the meat that they acquired. Zeus extinguished all the fire on earth leaving man cold and helpless.

Prometheus, of course, could not bear this injustice knowing that without fire, men could not survive. He visited Hephaistos (Hephaestus or Vulcan or whatever as long as you don't call me late for dinner), the bronze-smith on Olympus, who was lame and easily out-manoeuvred (although he moved fast enough to marry Aphrodite). Traditionally, lameness was the reason for a strong man being a smith and not a farmer, hunter or warrior. The sores on the soles of his feet were possibly symptoms of arsenic poisoning. Arsenic is a common impurity in copper ores. It is released into the air on smelting the ores. Hephaestus may have been an early victim of poor industrial hygiene. Whilst his back was turned, Prometheus stole some fire from Hephaistos' sacred hearth carrying it away from Mount Olympus in a fennel stalk (a method of transporting fire that was used down into historical times) which he smuggled back down to earth. Fire was restored to men, enabling them to cook, keep warm, and later earn a meagre living from combustion research and teaching.

Zeus didn't like this. He had issued an order that the sacred element of fire should never be bestowed on mortals, and that any who disobeyed would be severely punished. Prometheus pleaded for the race of men, pointing out that the earth was getting colder, entering an Ice Age, and no longer radiating warmth as in the Age of Gold. Without fire, men would perish. But Zeus would not listen, and one day when he saw smoke rising from Arcadia in the heart of southern Greece, he knew that Prometheus had disobeyed him. Outraged, he considered destroying the whole race of men but instead resolved to punish men once and for all time. He decided upon a new invention: women. [This tale is not to be taken too seriously and Greek democracy was only for free men. ]. Hephaestus was commanded to make up the first example, which he did from local sources. The result was a beautiful woman, named Pandora, the all-gifted, because each of the Immortals gave her some power which was to bring about the ruin of men. Pandora arrived amongst the men, bringing her luggage with her. Usually the luggage is described as a box, but the more bibulous chroniclers claimed it was a flask. Her arrival aroused considerable interest, and Prometheus' rather simple brother, Epimetheus, decided to marry her despite severe warnings from his brother. In due course her luggage was opened and out flew all the evils that have since afflicted men. What remained behind was Hope, which remains to this day the driving force behind research into combustion.

Prometheus, being a god, could not be killed, but he could still be made to suffer so to punish Prometheus, Zeus had Hephaistos chain him to a rock at the end of the world.

The Prophecy

Prometheus, however did not fall into despair. His mother Themis had the gift of seeing the future, and Prometheus did not completely lack this gift. He knew that in the future a son of Zeus might be born, who could dethrone Zeus. The prophecy involved the nymph Thetis, also an Immortal, upon whom Zeus had long cast his eye, for strictly extra-marital purposes. But being a sensible girl she had taken precautions and consulted the Oracle at Delphi, who acted as Agony Aunt for the Aegean. Thetis was told that one day she would give birth to a son who would be mightier than his father. Eventually, word of this also came into the ears of Zeus, so he sent Hermes to see if he can find out who this boy could be. He was not the least bit happy when Hermes returned with a message from Prometheus: "I will not change my suffering for a slave service to a tyrant."


In a moment of anger, he cast lightning at the rock to which Prometheus was chained to and so Prometheus fell into the eternal darkness, the depths of Tartar. He stood there for quite a while, but his spirit could not be broken. When Zeus saw that, he prepared an even more cruel punishment. He swore that he would have Prometheus chained to the highest cliff in the Caucasus, and a giant eagle to go to him every day and feast on his liver. As Prometheus was a titan, his liver would regenerate each night so the torture would continue each following day. This went on for years, but Prometheus remained adamant and did not tell Zeus about his successor, nor did he regret his gifts to the human race.


Many years passed and Zeus became even more powerful and secured his throne. Not one thing was nearly as powerful as he was, and so he, in time, became more forgiving and better in nature. He was no longer suspicious and vengeful, and after a while he protected the human race and did not take back what was given to them by other gods and titans. In the end, he even let the beaten titans out of the Tartar. There was only one thing he did not know - who was the son from the prophecy. He sent Hermes to Prometheus again, and offered his freedom and total forgiveness if he told him the complete prophecy. Prometheus of course, did not agree to this deal and so he remained on the highest cliff, hoping that Man, whom he had helped so much would come to his rescue. So it happened - one day, a mortal came along. Hercules was his name and as one of his legendary deeds he shot down the eagle and broke the chains of Prometheus.

Happy Ending

Thus, Prometheus was freed with the help of Man, patience, and a lot of willpower. He made peace with Zeus and as he was not of the vengeful kind, he told him the prophecy. "Make no offspring with Thetis, whom you so much desire, for the son born would surely be even greater than his father. Let Thetis marry a mortal, and no god will be endangered in any way". Zeus realised his lucky escape and had Thetis marry the king Peleus at once. Thetis and Peleus had a son; his name was Achilles. He also admitted Prometheus to Olympus, the mountain of gods, where he was treated as one of the gods themselves.


No god can break his oaths, not even Zeus. Since he swore Prometheus would be chained to a cliff till the end of time, he had to think of something so this could be evaded. Athena came to his help and solved this problem brilliantly - a small piece of rock was broken off the cliff to which Prometheus was chained. This rock was then put on a ring, which is the smallest form of chain - and so, by wearing this ring, Prometheus remains chained to the rock, and yet free to go wherever he wishes. For a long time, rings with precious stones were considered as a symbol of Prometheus.

Titans and Gods

















Goddess of war and knowledge, daughter of Zeus

Titan, son of Uranus and Clymene, punished by Zeus with carrying the globe

Titan, son of Uranus and Gaia, master of Time

Titan, son of Uranus and Themis, known for his dim wits

Goddess of the earth and Earth itself, born out of the initial chaos

God of fire, blacksmith and armourer of the gods, son of Zeus

Mortal, son of Zeus

God of trade, messenger of the gods, son of Zeus

Titan, son of Uranus and Gaia

Titan, son of Uranus and Clymene

Mortal, Phtalian king

Daughter of Uranus and Gaia

Goddess of justice, first daughter of Uranus and Gaia


God of the sky, born by Gaia

Supreme god, son of Cronos and Rhea, master of Lightning


Aeschylus, ca 458 BC. (i) Prometheus bound, (ii) Prometheus unbound. Athens, Greece.

Bellingham, D. 1989. Introduction to Greek Mythology. Sandstone Books

Graves, R. 1955. The Greek Myths. Penguin Books

Palmer, K. 1996. Newsflash of December 1996. Combustion Institute>

Mrs Dowling's Mythology Unit. 2003.