A Gift of Fire:
Social, Legal, and Ethical Issues for Computing Technology

by Sara Baase

The Prometheus Myth


In Greek mythology, Prometheus was the creator of mankind. The goddess Athene taught him architecture, astronomy, mathematics, navigation, medicine, and metallurgy, and he in turn taught them to humans. Zeus, the chief of the Greek gods, became angry at Prometheus for making people powerful by teaching them all these useful skills.

When the gods chose Prometheus as arbiter in a dispute, he fooled the gullible Zeus into picking the worst parts of the sacrificial bull by hiding them under a rich layer of fat. To punish Prometheus, Zeus withheld fire from men. "Let them eat their flesh raw," he declared. In response, Prometheus, snuck up to Mount Olympus, lit a torch from the sun, and hid a burning piece of charcoal in a hollow stalk. He slipped away with it and thus delivered fire to mankind.

Zeus, as revenge, tried unsuccessfully to trick Prometheus' brother, Epimetheus, into accepting the beautiful but mischievous Pandora as a gift. Epimetheus, mindful of earlier advice from his brother, refused. Even madder now that his trick had failed, Zeus had Prometheus chained naked to a pillar in the Caucasian mountains. A griffon-vulture ate at Prometheus' liver all day long. During the bitter cold of the mountain night, the liver became whole again.

So it went day after day, year after year. Epimetheus married Pandora in an effort to free his brother. Pandora -- as devilish as she was beautiful -- opened the famous box in which Prometheus had shut up all the evils that might plague mankind: Old Age, Labor, Sickness, Insanity, Vice and Passion.

Only years later, at the behest of Heracles (Hercules), did Zeus free Prometheus.

(Source of information: Robert Graves, The Greek Myths, Moyer Bell Ltd., 1955.)