Only Zeus is Free: Reading Aeschylus’ “Prometheus Bound” Online


Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound 609-612 (Full text on Scaife Viewer)

“I will tell you everything clearly that you need to learn,
Without interweaving riddles, in a direct speech,
The right way to open one’s mouth to friends.
You see Prometheus, the one who gave mortals fire.”

λέξω τορῶς σοι πᾶν ὅπερ χρήζεις μαθεῖν,
οὐκ ἐμπλέκων αἰνίγματ᾿, ἀλλ᾿ ἁπλῷ λόγῳ,
ὥσπερ δίκαιον πρὸς φίλους οἴγειν στόμα.
πυρὸς βροτοῖς δοτῆρ᾿ ὁρᾷς Προμηθέα.


Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound 144-151

“I see you, Prometheus. Fear falls like a mist
Over my eyes full of tears
As I witness you bound to this rock
By these unbreakable offensive chains.
There are new leaders ruling Olympos,
Zeus rules without sense over new-cut laws.
He renders unknown what stood out before.”

λεύσσω, Προμηθεῦ· φοβερὰ δ᾿ ἐμοῖσιν ὄσσοις
ὀμίχλα προσῇξε πλήρης
δακρύων σὸν δέμας εἰσιδούσᾳ
πέτρᾳ προσαυαινόμενον
ταῖσδ᾿ ἀδαμαντοδέτοισι λύμαις.
νέοι γὰρ οἰακονόμοι κρατοῦσ᾿ Ὀλύμπου,
νεοχμοῖς δὲ δὴ νόμοις Ζεὺς ἀθέτως κρατύνει·
τὰ πρὶν δὲ πελώρια νῦν ἀϊστοῖ.

The Center for Hellenic Studies , the Kosmos Society and Out of Chaos Theatre has been presenting scenes from Greek tragedy on the ‘small screen’ with discussion and interpretation during our time of isolation and social distancing. As Paul O’Mahony, whose idea this whole thing was said in an earlier blog post, Since we are “unable to explore the outside world, we have no option but to explore further the inner one.

Each week we select scenes from a play, actors and experts from around the world, and put them all together for 90 minutes or so to see what will happen. This process is therapeutic for us; and it helps us think about how tragedy may have had similar functions in the ancient world as well.

Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound 178-187

“…you are bold and bowing
To nothing despite these terrible pains—
And you are too free with your mouth!
A sharp fear pricks at my thoughts
And I worry over your fate,
Where will you ever go to find and end to these toils?
For Kronos’ son has unchangeable ways
And a heart never to be persuaded.”

σὺ μὲν θρασύς τε καὶ πικραῖς
δύαισιν οὐδὲν ἐπιχαλᾷς,
ἄγαν δ᾿ ἐλευθεροστομεῖς.
ἐμᾶς δὲ φρένας ἠρέθισε διάτορος φόβος,
δέδια δ᾿ ἀμφὶ σαῖς τύχαις,
ποῖ ποτε τῶνδε πόνων χρή σε τέρμα κέλσαντ᾿
ἐσιδεῖν· ἀκίχητα γὰρ ἤθεα καὶ κέαρ
ἀπαράμυθον ἔχει Κρόνου παῖς.

This week we turn to Aeschylus Prometheus Bound, a play said to have been part of a trilogy which included the now lost Prometheus Unbound and Prometheus Fire-Bearer. The play as been long attributed to Aeschylus as either late or early in his life based on its style, while for the past two centuries there have been questions based on the content (is this play too hard on Zeus?) and the form (based on uses of meter and language). The play has been attributed to Aeschylus’ son Euphorion and has been dated as early as the 480s and as late as 430.

The play’s use of myth and its exploration of justice and rather problematic Zeus makes it difficult to contextualize in Athens whether it is by Aeschylus or another. The Zeus of Prometheus is a tyrant and its eponymous character his apostate: the play’s tension comes from the interplay between his knowledge and the audience’s and the way his motivations are revealed through his conversations with characters like Okeanos, Io, and Hermes. Indeed, there is so much unclear about this play, that any given performance can radically change what we think about it. And this play hinges on our changing responses to Prometheus and his cherished knowledge.

Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound 263-267

“It is simple when someone is out of trouble’s way
To advise and criticize someone who is doing badly.
I knew all of these things. All of them.
I willingly, willfully, made my mistake—I will not deny it.
By helping people I created troubles for myself.”

λαφρόν, ὅστις πημάτων ἔξω πόδα
ἔχει, παραινεῖν νουθετεῖν τε τὸν κακῶς
πράσσοντ᾿. ἐγὼ δὲ ταῦθ᾿ ἅπαντ᾿ ἠπιστάμην.
ἑκὼν ἑκὼν ἥμαρτον, οὐκ ἀρνήσομαι·
θνητοῖς ἀρήγων αὐτὸς ηὑρόμην πόνους.

Scenes (from the Elizabeth Barrett Browning translation)

Scene 1 – Strength and Hephaestus
Scene 2 – Io, Chorus, Prometheus
Scene 3 – Prometheus, Hermes, Chorus


Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound 447-450

“At first, though they looked, they saw nothing,
While they listened, they did not hear, but they lived
Mixing everything up, like people in dreams…”

οἳ πρῶτα μὲν βλέποντες ἔβλεπον μάτην,
κλύοντες οὐκ ἤκουον, ἀλλ᾿ ὀνειράτων
ἀλίγκιοι μορφαῖσι τὸν μακρὸν βίον
ἔφυρον εἰκῇ πάντα…


Kareem Badr
Sarah-Marie Curry
Tim Delap
Ronan Melomo
Evelyn Miller
Paul O’Mahony

Special Guest: Joshua Billings

Dramaturgical assistance: Emma Pauly

Direction: Paul O’Mahony

Posters: John Koelle

Technical, Moral, Administrative Support: Lanah Koelle, Allie Mabry, Janet Ozsolak, Helene Emeriaud, Sarah Scott, Keith DeStone

Upcoming Readings (Go here for the project page)

Euripides, Andromache, July 8

Aristophanes, Clouds, July 15

Euripides, Alcestis, July 22


“Because you have suffered incurable pain, you’re
Going out of your mind, like a poor doctor fallen ill
you are depressed and you have no way to uncover
Any kind of medicine to use as a cure.”

ᾀκὲς πεπονθὼς πῆμ᾿ ἀποσφαλεὶς φρενῶν
πλανᾷ· κακὸς δ᾿ ἰατρὸς ὥς τις εἰς νόσον
πεσὼν ἀθυμεῖς καὶ σεαυτὸν οὐκ ἔχεις
εὑρεῖν ὁποίοις φαρμάκοις ἰάσιμος.


Videos of Earlier Sessions (Go here for the project page)
Euripides’ Helen, March 25th
Sophocles’ Philoktetes, April 1st
Euripides’ Herakles, April 8th
Euripides’ Bacchae, April 15th
Euripides’ Iphigenia , April 22nd
Sophocles, Trachinian Women, April 29th
Euripides, Orestes May 6th
Aeschylus, Persians, May 13th
Euripides, Trojan Women May 20th
Sophocles’ Ajax, May 27th
Sophocles, Oedipus Tyrannos, June 10th


Euripides, Ion,  June 17th

Euripides, Hecuba June 24th


“Prometheus, your sufferings are my teacher”

ἡ σή, Προμηθεῦ, ξυμφορὰ διδάσκαλος.

Leave a Reply