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Prometheus
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Prometheus > Prometheus and Fire

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message 1: by Lia (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lia | 522 comments Mod
Fire as key medium for communication between the divine and human worlds

The Pre-Socratic philosopher Heraclitus observed that ‘All things are an equal exchange for fire and fire for all things, just as goods are for gold and gold for goods’ (DK22B90). This notion of fire as the ultimate exchange mechanism is particularly indicative of the reciprocal relationship between gods and men. In spite of its key role in the religious practices of Greeks, fire itself never became a god nor the primary focus of worship, as it did in other traditions. Instead, as we have already seen from Hesiod’s treatment of Prometheus’ myth, fire functions as the key medium for communication between the divine and human worlds. Thanks to Prometheus’ trick at Mekone, fire transfers men’s gifts to the gods through sacrifice, and it is this same fire, stolen from Zeus, that cooks their meals. In other words, like Prometheus himself, rituals involving fire, especially sacrifice, enable a two-way communication between gods and men even as they reinforce their separate worlds.


message 2: by Ian (last edited May 24, 2018 06:26AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian Slater (yohanan) | 103 comments Lia wrote (quoring): "Fire as key medium for communication between the divine and human worlds ..... In spite of its key role in the religious practices of Greeks, fire itself never became a god nor the primary focus of worship, as it did in other traditions

I would assume that the implied comparison is mainly to (a) early India, where the fire-god Agni is both a physical fire regarded as a means of communication with the gods in sacrifice and a mythological character, with many hymns in the Rig-Veda, and (b) Zoroastrianism, with its cult of sacred fire, and reverent practices with ordinary fire.

These are both Indo-European-speaking cultures (more precisely Indo-Iranian), and they share a common linguistic origin with the Greeks and Romans, whose main fire deities were Hestia / Vesta (identified), goddess of the hearth fire in every home. Hesiod has some taboos involving exposing oneself to the the home fire, so the sense of reverence hadn't been lost, and Rome had its fire-tending Vestal Virgins, who maintained the City's central hearth-fire. (There are probably other, less prominent examples, but it would be pointless for me to dig them up.)

Trivia for the day: The name *Agni* is cognate with Latin *ignis,* "fire," with associated adjectives and verbs. It appears in English as the loan-words (seventeenth-century) "ignite" and "ignition." According to the Merriam-Webster on-line dictionary, the exact etymology is: "Latin ignitus, past participle of ignire to ignite, from ignis fire".

(I don't recall ever encountering the verb *ignire* -- not that that means much -- and it is not in the Latin dictionary I usually rely on, not even as a translation of the English verb, so without Merriam-Webster I probably would have put down the loan-word as having a post-classical, possibly medieval, or even post-medieval, literary Neo-Latin, origin.)


message 3: by Lia (last edited May 23, 2018 08:00AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lia | 522 comments Mod
Thanks Ian, I had to double check to make sure I didn't quote out of context. (I should really point out I'm quoting shouldn't I? I need to learn to use GR style better.) I'm so glad you caught that, because it would have been horrible if I walked away thinking this is the accepted consensus.

One of the groups is voting towards a reading of Aeschylus' Prometheus, I thought I'd check out some texts for background/ context. I was slightly worried about using this one, as another Dougherty text I flipped through (The Raft of Odysseus: The Ethnographic Imagination of Homer's Odyssey) turns out to be heavily criticized for inaccuracies.

I'm still shocked at how much you know and remember. From Indo-European deities to Greek to Latin ... (I do know about Hestia, I just somehow didn't connect hearth deity to ... well, fire itself as a god.)


message 4: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian Slater (yohanan) | 103 comments Lia wrote: "Thanks Ian, I had to double check to make sure I didn't quote out of context. ... (I'm still shocked at how much you know and remember.

Thank you -- glad to help.

I learned Classical Mythology beginning in elementary school, and continuing through Graduate School and beyond, so some of it was bound to stick with me.... And these days I try to check it with a mythological dictionary, or, more conveniently, Wikipedia (although has to be used with caution).

Hestia may have been a major deity in Greek private religion (i.e., family rituals), but I've never seen a discussion of this outside of the Hesiodic context (somewhere in "Works and Days"), and the fact that she got the first offering in household sacrifices -- sort of like Agni's role in Indian ritual. I don't know more about her, which is probably a gap in my knowledge, although possibly little is recorded because everyone already knew it. (I confirmed the sacrifice bit on Wikipedia, since I wasn't sure if I was confusing her ritual role with Agni's.)

She *is* easy to forget, with no real mythology to define her character. She does get two Homeric Hymns (#24 & #29), but one is five lines long, the other fourteen -- and she has to share the long one with Hermes. Maybe there just wasn't much to say.

(As for Agni, besides the helpful Latin tag, he has the very first hymn (out of 1,028) in the Rig-Veda, the main collection of early Sanskrit verse, which used to get a lot of coverage in discussions of other mythologies, e.g. by Max Müller. So I necessarily stumble across him every time I *try* to read a translation of the Veda. And he does show up quite a bit in the early mythology, a little of which I know from translations, or know about through secondary sources.)


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