While in Aeschylus’ Prometheus Bound, Prometheus helps Zeus in his battle against the older generation, here in the Birds, he helps Pisthetairos and the birds against Zeus. The obvious reason for his change of sides is the horrific treatment that he has received at the hands of an ungrateful Zeus in Aeschylus’ drama – a play which the Birds appears to echo in several places. In the Birds, it is clear that Prometheus has been released from his sufferings and restored to the community of gods so that he can report on their current food shortages.
Aeschylus and Plato have completely inverted the story of decline and fall told by Hesiod’s Prometheus while Aristophanes plays with both of these traditions to comic effect. The key elements are still there – Prometheus steals fire for mankind and is punished for it – and yet the story that the myth tells is very different. While Hesiod’s version laments mankind’s fall from the Golden Age and their proximity to the gods, the Prometheus of Aeschylus and Plato celebrates the progress that mankind has made away from a state of nature, side by side with the beasts. It all depends on where you start, and yet in spite of their different conclusions, each of these authors turns to Prometheus to grapple with the human condition, staking out a place for mankind somewhere between gods and beasts.
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