Promethean Necessity by Norman W. Wilson

Promethean Necessity

(Norman W. Wilson)


Author’s Note


All photos of the painting in this book are under public domain and are in accordance with appropriate attribution. If any citation is incorrect, I apologize in advance. Any omission  was not intended.




Lead me on, O Muses, as I rise to new themes and dare things greater than my strength, not afraid to enter woods not yet visited.



Many notable scholars have written about mythology; they have written about its origins and history, its symbolic nature, its meanings and its applications for the development of humanity. The list is too long to name all of these dedicated scholars. However, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Claude Levi-Strauss, Otto Rank, Mircea Eliade, and of course, the man who made mythology a household word, Joseph Campbell. Psychological analyzers of myth include Carl Jung, James Hillman, and Jean Shinoda Bolen, all of whom the author holds in high regard.


Mythology has fascinated me since my elementary school days. It was always a favorite time when the teacher would read a myth to the class. Pictures of the Cyclops, Herakles, Poseidon, and Athena leaped from the pages and became wonderfully real, flushed out by a child’s imagination. Jason and the Argonauts gave way to reality with Magellan, Vasco da Gamma, and Columbus. And these, in turn, moved over for a new breed of astronauts, John Glenn, Neil Armstrong, and Edwin Aldrin.


However, in spite of the vast amount of literature containing the myths from around the world and their interpretations I feel there is an area of this literature requiring closer attention. Other writers have fastened upon such mythic characters as Dionysus and Parsifal in an effort to provide new models for organizing human existence. And as such, they have tended to ignore the very fertile area of the persona of the Greek Titan, Prometheus. His Indo-European connections, his philosophical position, and the psychological challenge he hurls at humankind cry out for recognition.


I have tried to trace the various stories of Prometheus in the ancient Greek myths, to isolate the consistencies, to develop a composite of the Promethean character, to reference the cross-cultural Promethean concepts, to analyze the post-Grecian literature about him, and examine the contemporary psychological interpretation of his character and personality.


Joseph Campbell in Myths to Live By (1972) wrote that "it is the job of the psychologist as well as the mythologist not just to identify, analyze, and interpret the symbolized ‘facts of the mind,’ but to help mankind to gain a knowledge of its own inward as well as the world’s outward orders of fact." In doing my research for this book, I had five basic assumptions. First, post-Grecian art forms as well as contemporary psychology has ignored, misinterpreted, and generally misunderstood the Promethean personality. Second, the current metaphors relating to Prometheus extend beyond their original intent with the result being a Promethean personality that is a product of modern metamorphosis. Third, sources besides mythology offer insights into the understanding and interpretation of the Promethean character, and writers in the fields of psychology and philosophy, for the most part, have ignored these. Fourth, there is a specific Promethean character and personality based on the Greek concept of Necessity. Fifth, there is a relationship between Promethean Necessity and Métis.


My major complaint regarding the Promethean character presented in current psychology is the lack of credence because it ignores, largely, those identifiable descriptors available in a considerable portion of mythological literature. Additionally, and ignored is the whole area of the arts. To help the reader understand the implications about the Promethean character for contemporary civilization I have attempted to bring together the areas of mythology, literature, music, art, psychology, and philosophy.



Image result for free to use pictures of Prometheus

Prometeo encadenado by Rodrigo Arenas Betancourt.Photo by David Nieto on Unsplash.




Among all the gods of Greece, it is Prometheus who stands in the most remarkable relation to mankind. More than any other Greek god, he intercedes for mankind, makes common cause with men.

 C. Kerenyi


Mythology has long held a special place in the hearts of humankind. Everyone enjoys a good story and by his or her very nature, human beings are storytellers. We delight in embellishing the details of some experience, of making the throw that saved the game, the fish that got away, or the close encounter with a shark. And our listeners laugh and guffaw at our embarrassing anecdotes. Watch a child’s eyes when it tells you a story. Something magical happens. Broadway shows, operas, Sci-Fi, movies, and television shows have mythic themes as their basis.


The fundamental question now is, is that all myth is—entertaining stories about the creation of the world, of heroes and of grotesque scary monsters? Many believe there is much more to myth than mere phantasmagoria. If that is all there is, why would some stories be preserved, handed down from generation to generation in the oral tradition, and culminating in a written form? All cultures worldwide, from Africa to Asia, to Europe to India, and to both North and South America have held on to their stories of gods, goddesses, and heroes. And not surprisingly, there are parallels between them.

The word mythology has nearly as many definitions as there are people who write about it. An overview of these definitions indicates a range from the simplistic to the complex. Further, the etymology of the word mythology will prove helpful. The word comes from two Greek nouns, mythos, and logos; each originally had the same meaning. In its broadest sense, mythos meant anything uttered by mouth. Gradually, it came to mean an account of something; a story that was understood. In Attic Greek, it meant a prehistoric story of only the Greeks. Today, it applies to any civilization at any time, including our own. Logos meant the controlling principle behind the universe and made manifest by speech. In religion, and specifically Christianity, it meant ultimate reality, the sustaining spirit of God as revealed through the person of Jesus Christ. [1] Finally, it came to mean, in its highest exaltation, Divine Logos or God’s Word. However, Jerome Bruner urges, "that we not be too easily tempted into thinking that there is oppositional contrast between logos and mythos, the grammar of experience and the grammar of myth; for each complements the other." [2] Mythology relates to controlling principles of the universe and those stories centering on those principles. The suggestion here is myths "are the product of man’s unceasing effort to interpret meaningfully the world around him." [3] Claude Levi-Strauss defines myth as "something, which tells a story. It is an anecdote. Unlike poetry, where the individual word is all-important, in myth, what matters is the story, not the word." [4] In other words, myth relates to a sequence of events whose importance lies in the events themselves. Henry Murray reminds us that "myth is subject to many variants and often opposing definitions—especially as it is applied to the products of modern man’s imagination." [5]


Mark Schorer insists the term myth must include "delusions and neurosia." [6] Henry Murray suggests that even a very loose definition of mythology would not include the "current sense of falsehood." Walter Burkett in Structure and History in Greek Mythology and Ritual (1983) advances the idea that myth is a function of its relation to ritual, and that it is subordinate to that ritual. Not everyone agrees with this assessment. G. S. Kirk in Myth: Its Meaning and Function in Ancient and Other Cultures (1970) views myth as something independent of ritual. He claims myths are traditional tales, which "are, on the one hand, good stories, on the other hand, bearers of important messages about life in general and life within society in particular." At least, he didn’t tell us that myth provides us a moral to imitate. Myths are not fairy tales.


Mythologist Levi-Strauss says mythology gives man the illusion he can understand the universe and further, that he does understand the universe. [7] Goethe reminds us that mortals need their illusions in order to provide a sense of order. And I do have to agree that myths, in their own way, do provide a sense of order and that we do, in fact, need our illusions no matter how great or small they may be.

Whatever the final definition is, one thing is clear: myths are the very instruments by which we struggle to make our experiences intelligible to ourselves. They give meaning to whom and what we are. They are not just remembered legacy of past times; they are alive! A myth, any myth, for that matter, is a large, controlling image that provides wondrous philosophical and psychological meaning to who we are, and to our daily experiences, to the value of those experiences, and the effect had upon our individual lives.


For humankind, image is essential. Think about that for a moment. How much of our daily lives are impacted by image: public, private, professional, personal, individual, religious, and or family? Companies spend millions of dollars for the right image. Commercials on television are all image bound. Magazines and newspapers, books, storefronts all depend upon an image. If images were not essential, our experiences would be chaotic, fragmentary, and mere phenomenon. Mythology has provided that essential image for thousands of years. Today, we simply have moved to different mythologies, those created by modern institution.

Joseph Campbell points out myths are "metaphorical in two senses simultaneously: psychological and metaphysical." My interest here is the nature of a particular personality as revealed in the myth of Prometheus. Kerenyi’s statement at the beginning of this chapter is an indicator of the importance of Prometheus. Kerenyi further tells us that "Prometheus is a paradox because he defends the cause of humanity, when, he a god himself, suffers injustice, torment, humiliation, and pain—all of these are hallmarks of human existence." [8] This paradox is just one of the reasons why Prometheus is such a fascinating study. Adler reminds us that if humankind is to know the reason for its existence, it must look for its formula, and that formula will be found in the willingness of individuals to help others, in a capacity for sacrificing themselves for others.


And that’s exactly what Prometheus did! To do so; however, he had to hurl challenge to the god of gods, Zeus, and this adds more to the Promethean mystique. I believe it is this particular characteristic of Prometheus that made him of such interest to Beethoven, Schubert, Hugo, Liszt, Orff, Browning, Shelley, Spottier, and Sheldon. All of whom have had Prometheus as central in some of their creative works. Maybe, just maybe this is a reason why the psychology of personality types has chosen to name a temperament after him.

Scholars, such as Kerenyi have suggested that Hesiod’s Theogony from its very beginning places emphasis upon the nous, that is, the mind. What is the Promethean mind? What is the Promethean character? In Prometheus, we have an assertion of human strength, an assertion of man’s essential humanness. This humanness found Prometheus sundered by Zeus and in times that are more recent, Jesus Christ nailed upon the cross.

Of all the Greek myths, the myth of Prometheus has been most often misunderstood or misinterpreted, and this has been particularly true in psychology. There are several reasons for this misinterpretation. Park McGinty reminds us that all interpretations begin with a fundamental problem: distance. He states, "The passage of time and the changing nature of cultures have imposed a distance between the original intent of the documents’ producers, and the interpreter’s accepted and determined meanings." [9] What has happened, and unfortunately, is that all too often translators of ancient Greek literature seem to have had an uncanny knack for changing words, reorganizing manuscript content, and providing different definitions for words. Frequently, interpretations get caught up in the social structures of the psychological images and not the psychology of the mythic character. Myth should not be viewed as a faulty approximation of scientific statement of psychological imagery, but as having its own body of legitimate content.

There are varieties of approaches to interpretation. Even though discussing those approaches is not my intent here I feel I should point out that it appears that the most serious reason for the problem of interpretation of Prometheus is the lack of a thorough scholarship in the identification of Promethean personality and character as it is shown in mythology. I strongly feel that the current psychological descriptors of the Promethean type or temperament are not only misleading but are incorrect.