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
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
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.
Prometeo encadenado by Rodrigo Arenas
Betancourt.Photo by David Nieto on
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.
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
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. 
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."  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."  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."  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." 
Mark Schorer insists the term myth
must include "delusions and neurosia."  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.  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."  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
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."  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
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