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.

Divine Intervention Made Aeschylus Write Tragedy

Pausanias, 1.21.1

“I think that the statue of Aeschylus was made much later than his death and the painting which shows his effort at Marathon. Aeschylus says that when he was young while he slept in the field to guard the grapes, Dionysus appear to him and ordered him to compose tragedy. When day came—since he wanted to obey the god—he set out to compose with great ease. He’s the one who used to say these things.”

τὴν δὲ εἰκόνα τὴν Αἰσχύλου πολλῷ τε ὕστερον τῆς τελευτῆς δοκῶ ποιηθῆναι <καὶ> τῆς γραφῆς ἣ τὸ ἔργον ἔχει τὸ Μαραθῶνι. ἔφη δὲ Αἰσχύλος μειράκιον ὢν καθεύδειν ἐν ἀγρῷ φυλάσσων σταφυλάς, καί οἱ Διόνυσον ἐπιστάντα κελεῦσαι τραγῳδίαν ποιεῖν· ὡς δὲ ἦν ἡμέρα— πείθεσθαι γὰρ ἐθέλειν—ῥᾷστα ἤδη πειρώμενος ποιεῖν. οὗτος μὲν ταῦτα ἔλεγεν·


Would you doubt this man?

Mile-By-Mile Quotes for a Marathon


Sentantiae Antiquae is running a Marathon today (For real, Rock N’ Roll San Antonio). Here’s a quote for every mile.


Mile 1: Feeling Irrational Noble Thoughts


Hesiod Works and Days, 289-90

“The gods made sweat the price for virtue.”

τῆς δ’ ἀρετῆς ἱδρῶτα θεοὶ προπάροιθεν ἔθηκαν



Actual Shirt Worn During Marathon
Actual Shirt Worn During Marathon Last Year


Mile 2: Positive Feelings Continue


Horace, Epistles 1.4.12-14

“Amidst hope and anxiety, fear and rage, believe that every day has risen as your last: pleasant is the arrival of the hour which was never expected”.

inter spem curamque, timores inter et iras omnem crede diem tibi diluxisse supremum: grata superveniet quae non sperabitur hora


Mile 3: When I try to Check Myself

Plutarch, Agesilaos 2.2

“His weakness made his desire for glory manifest: he would refuse no labor and shirk no deed.”

ἀλλὰ καὶ τὴν φιλοτιμίαν ἐκδηλοτέραν ἐποίει, πρὸς μηδένα πόνον μηδὲ πρᾶξιν ἀπαγορεύοντος αὐτοῦ διὰ τὴν χωλότητα.

Mile 4: Self-Righteous Thoughts Get Delirious

Cicero, Pro Sestio 143

“Let us spurn the rewards of today and look to future glory; let us deem best what is most honorable; let us hope for what we want, but bear what befalls us; finally, let us consider that even the bodies of brave men and great citizens are mortal; but that activity of the mind and the glory of virtue are forever.”

praesentis fructus neglegamus, posteritatis gloriae serviamus; id esse optimum putemus quod erit rectissimum; speremus quae volumus, sed quod acciderit feramus; cogitemus denique corpus virorum fortium magnorum hominum esse mortale, animi vero motus et virtutis gloriam sempiternam

Mile 5: When I start to Make Jokes to Myself about Pheidippides

Lucian, On Mistakes in Greeting

“After saying ‘hello’ he died with his greeting a gasped out a final farewell”

καὶ τοῦτο εἰπὼν συναποθανεῖν τῇ ἀγγελίᾳ καὶ τῷ χαίρειν συνεκπνεῦσαι

Continue reading “Mile-By-Mile Quotes for a Marathon”

Ancient Criticism of Aeschylus: Athenaeus, Deipnosophistae 1.39

“Chamaeleon says that Aeschylus composed his tragedies when he was drunk. Indeed, Sophocles criticized him, saying that whenever he used the right words, he did so unwittingly.”

μεθύων δὲ ἐποίει τὰς τραγῳδίας Αἰσχύλος, ὥς φησι
Χαμαιλέων. Σοφοκλῆς γοῦν ὠνείδιζεν
αὐτῷ ὅτι εἰ καὶ τὰ δέοντα ποιεῖ, ἀλλ’ οὐκ εἰδώς γε.

A Gentle Master: Aeschylus, Agamemnon 951-3

“God, far away, looks kindly on one who exercises his strength gently. No one, indeed, willingly bears the yoke of slavery.”


“God far away looks kindly on,

a gently-ruling king.”
τὸν κρατοῦντα μαλθακῶς
θεὸς πρόσωθεν εὐμενῶς προσδέρκεται.
ἑκὼν γὰρ οὐδεὶς δουλίῳ χρῆται ζυγῷ.