Prometheus was one of the titans, the generation of gods whose rule preceded that of the more famous Olympians. His name means ‘forethought’, and he was one of the few titans who sided with Zeus, the Olympians’ leader, rather than Cronos, father of Zeus and titan leader. As such, when the other titans were thrown into Tartarus (darkest pit of the underworld), Prometheus was left in peace.
However, there was a problem. He saw mankind scrabbling about on the Earth, lower than gods but barely above animals, and Prometheus wanted to help them. Zeus forbade it, perhaps fearing men might usurp the supremacy of gods in time.
The titan defied the Olympian, and stole fire from Mount Olympus, which he then gave to people. Knowledge spread rapidly, and the use of fire kickstarted technology. It was used for heat and light, melting down ore and casting metal tools. People benefited greatly and civilisation flourished.
But Zeus was not amused.
Prometheus was chained to a rock, and each day a great eagle came to peck out his liver. The titan could not die, and each day the liver grew anew, only to be feasted upon once again.
It’s a sort of immortal martyrdom that Prometheus suffered to give a great gift to us all.
And yet, there are startling similarities between this story, which portrays Prometheus as a clear benefactor of mankind, and the Devil in the Garden of Eden (Satan, of course, depicted in a rather different light).
For those unaware, in the Bible God creates man and then woman (Adam and Eve). The pair live together in an idyllic garden, Eden, where all is lovely and super. God orders them not to eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge, and they obey.
God then apparently fell asleep or wandered off, or briefly forgot he was omniscient and omnipotent, because Lucifer, masquerading as a snake, slithered into Eden. He persuaded Eve to eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge, and she did so, and gained awareness (not least shame about her nudity). Eve then persuaded Adam to eat.
God returned and was furious. He banished the pair from Eden forever, and handed out punishments. Eve would face pain in childbirth, and Adam would have to toil and labour in order to survive. The snake appears to have gotten off quite easy, as God punished him by sentencing the serpent to ‘slither on its belly’.
The similarities to the Prometheus story are pretty obvious, but so too is the contrast between Prometheus the friend of mankind, bringing us knowledge at great personal risk (and, ultimately, cost) and Satan, the meddler who interfered in paradise and got us thrown out. However, that does lead to the interesting conclusion that, in the Bible, ignorance actually was bliss.
You might simply sign this up to the Prometheus figure being pagan and therefore condemned (as an aside, Lucifer means light-bringer). But lots of pagan ideas (check out how much Christianity stole from Mithridates’ followers) were simply borrowed wholesale, given a lick of paint and incorporated into Christianity. So, why not the story of how mankind gained knowledge?