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Stealing Fire from the Gods: The Prometheus Complex

Updated on May 25, 2011
Prometheus steals fire from the gods.
Prometheus steals fire from the gods.
Lightning bolts in the synapses. The "fire" of knowledge.
Lightning bolts in the synapses. The "fire" of knowledge.

The Consequence of Forethought

In the movie, Percy Jackson and the Olympians, The Lightning Thief, an adolescent child diagnosed as having dyslexia and ADD finds out he is actually the son of Poseidon. Apart from that, he is accused of stealing the bolt of Zeus!

While I personally think the movie is average at best, it gave me reason to be interested in reading the books. Somehow the author (Rick Riordan) touched upon a recurring theme in world myth--the theft of fire from gods.

One of the most interesting stories of fire theft is by a Titan named Prometheus. The Titans ruled before the Olympians. In one account, Prometheus stole fire from the gods and gave it to man. As a result, Zeus chained him to a rock where an eagle fed on his regenerating liver everyday.

Prometheus stands for "forethought" and could see the future. He is the wisest of the Titans. Before the theft, Zues asked him to create man along with his stupid brother Epimetheus. Epimetheus means "afterthought". Personifications of concepts is the way the Greeks are able to show the relationships of ideas. According to this mythical kinship, Forethought and Afterthought symbolically created the consciousness of man.

It is interesting to note that the human brain is made of two distinct brains, the Cerebrum and the Cerebellum. The Cerebrum is the Cortex. It is highly intelligent and can predict outcomes. You could say that this is where our forethought is processed. The Cerebellum is the reptilian brain which is largely autonomic. It is where instinct and reflex comes from. It does not deliberate, it just responds based on past programming.

When Prometheus stole fire from the gods and gave it to humans, Zues was furious. Fire is a creative element. The ability of man to control fire gave man the ability to control nature and ensure his survival. It is forethought that enabled our consciousness to acquire the knowledge to control our environment. As a consequence, the forces of consciousness (the gods) created a scenario where the automaton (the Caucasian Eagle) would torture the guts.

Birds are also a recurring symbol in mythology. Our consciousness seem to know that the bird brain within us, the limbic system is in charge of fear! Fear undermines forethought and feeds upon whatever we come to know. The image of Prometheus being chained to a rock is an archetypal symbol of being immobilized by the fear of things to come. It is worry, the consequence of forethought. When man gained knowledge to control nature, man gained the awareness of the dangers and became immobilized.

The liver is considered a holy organ in many ancient cultures. It is the seat of courage in Hinduism. The liver does actually regenerate so it is interesting that myth talks about this. What the liver essentially does is help the body digest food slowly. So the symbolic relationship of the liver to consciousness in the esoteric tradition is, that it is the gateway to understanding. But understanding comes with a price. To know you will die if you save your friend can potentially immobilize you. Hence you need to conjure the hero within.

To rise above this fear is how Forethought will be released from its chains. This is the role of Heracles, or Hercules. Riding on Pegasus, the symbol of creative inspiration, we can be freed from the constant gnawing of knowing the possible consequences of our actions.


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    • ceciliabeltran profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from New York

      I published a new book, and if you like this hub, you'll like this:

    • ceciliabeltran profile imageAUTHOR


      11 years ago from New York

      Joseph Campbell is a philosopher and an academic. Here is a video of his talk:


      I have read those books in college (not to be annoying, I really did) as for pontius pilate and the crucifixion, I once again return to world myth and the symbology surrounding that so that you can understand why history and causality has nothing to do with its aim or power.

    • A.Villarasa profile image

      Alexander A. Villarasa 

      11 years ago from Palm Springs

      I found J. Campbell's prose somewhat dry and droll... or was it G.Campbell? hhhhmmm. But for pure magical realism I go to Gabriel Garcia Marquez. You should read his Nobel Prize winning novel "A Hundred Years of Solitude". Right now I'm trying to tackle a hefty book called "What if" (edited by Robert Cowley). In it prominent historians imagine what might have been as in...what if Pontius Pilate hadn't ordered Jesus Christ's crucifixion?

    • ceciliabeltran profile imageAUTHOR


      11 years ago from New York

      Hi, It makes me wonder why you even read it. It will probably help to read Joseph Campbell's work first. Thanks for expending the energy to read it even if as you said it went over your head.

    • A.Villarasa profile image

      Alexander A. Villarasa 

      11 years ago from Palm Springs

      Sorry Cecilia but the above give and take of an honest discussion of myths and paradigms and archetypes and metaphors are all Greek to me... forgive the pun. Engrossing read though and for that I thank you.

    • ceciliabeltran profile imageAUTHOR


      11 years ago from New York

      Dear Tony Mac,

      True true. It's funny how that is plain to some and somehow unfathomable to others. I always say religions are ideologies, ways of understanding. Alas the business of spirituality discourages shared markets.

      Thanks for once again adding value to my hubs and love and peace as well.

    • tonymac04 profile image

      Tony McGregor 

      11 years ago from South Africa

      I really enjoyed this read. The theme of "sacred" knowledge or abilities is a constant in mythologies - similar to the "Tree of Knowledge" of which Adam and Eve were told not to eat the fruit. And we people being who we are we tend to be Promethean and disobey the injunction, and that is why we do progress in thought and knowledge - by being heretical and different. It is not always an easy way, though, and the gods always threaten us with dire punishments and so we have depressions and other illnesses, largely of our own creation.

      Myths create wonderful sets of metaphors which help us to be in touch with the universal, and, if we read them correctly, the metaphors of science also do so. I don't see the myth and science as opposed, but as two sides of the same coin, both being able to communicate some aspects of life, both being "true" in their own sets of metaphors.

      Problems of communication arise when we become too attached to one set of metaphors and start to deny the "truth" in other sets of metaphors.

      When one metaphorical system sets itself up as "the truth" then we maybe need to go and steal some fire from another set to re-awaken creativity! Fire can open things to new life by burning away the deadening effects of old growth like a field of grass often comes alive with new growth after the old grass is burnt away.

      Thanks for an interesting Hub.

      Love and peace


    • ceciliabeltran profile imageAUTHOR


      11 years ago from New York

      Hi Petra,

      I totally agree. It is such conceit to think that people who lived long ago cannot possibly have geniuses in the likes of Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking or Benoit Mandelbrot then.

      Greek Philosophers of Antiquity believed that all the knowledge of the universe can be accessed on thought alone. They may be on to something because we are now realizing that the human brain is fractal of the cosmos. The problem is the assignation of words. Words limit the universal that the interconnections of ideas are obscured from out consciousness, until we penetrate it.

    • Petra Vlah profile image

      Petra Vlah 

      11 years ago from Los Angeles

      This is a really great hub combining information and interpretation of science and mythology. It has taken us (modern and technologically advanced people) a long time to realize and understand what others (whom we considere less sophisticated) knew long ago.

    • ceciliabeltran profile imageAUTHOR


      11 years ago from New York

      Hi Cheaptrick,

      There is a lot about Gnoticism that is particularly meshed with Greek understanding of consciousness.

      The feminine has always been attributed to the source of evil. In many myths, it is the feminine that introduced darkness into the world. Pandora, eve, Innana etc.

      But it is not the female that is evil, but our feminine...our womb mentality...the one that desires and seeks to be filled. We are using the biological function of a woman as a metaphor for that ravenous appetite to receive.

      So the punishment of Zues, which means the consequence of the ability to have cognition is desire. To want. The women in all of us. the one with the ever hungering womb to create.

      Hope that clarifies it. Thanks for dropping by.

    • ceciliabeltran profile imageAUTHOR


      11 years ago from New York

      Hi Starvagrant,

      That is a version of the story, that is why I said "in one account". But your version also pertains to digestion. While humans may seem to have all the questions and not the answers and the gods have all the answers, in the end we have the better end of the animal.

      For it is the ability to question that allows us access to better understanding of the truth. The ability to experience this truth subjectively allows for us to experience the truth fully.

      Forethought favored humans is a very profound idea and it is explored further in other myths.

      You can argue that the sacrifice mix-up is what caused the stir, but then the point of it is not to fixate on plots as histories but what it says about what the Greek myths say about the nature of FORETHOUGHT. They are explaining the nature of human Intelligence.

      Thanks for enriching the hub.

    • starvagrant profile image


      11 years ago from Missouri

      Didn't know much about the liver's place in myth. I suppose I learned something. By the way, Prometheus probably ticked the gods off more by robbing them of sacrificial meat. When animals were sacrificed there was always the question of what to do with the body. In Greek myth, Prometheus separated the nasty and delicious parts (these are my names, I can't remember the actual body parts)of an animal sacrifice. He gave the gods a choice between the tasty stuff wrapped in the nasty stuff or nasty stuff wrapped in tasty stuff. Of course the gods choose the latter, giving the Greeks an excuse to eat the meat of a sacrifice while giving the gods the left over bones. I think that was what really created the stir.

    • tom hellert profile image

      tom hellert 

      11 years ago from home


      your still a great writer- i dig the whole mythology gig- great job-


    • cheaptrick profile image


      11 years ago from the bridge of sighs

      Hello C.I finally found time to read this and wish I'd done it sooner.The symbology here is exactly that used by Christian Gnostic's.The Mid plutonians had a huge effect on them.I've studied Christian Gnosticism in it's many forms and was struck by how familiar the personifications were[though the names are different]and how they correspond with ours.

      BTW:I'm not sure if I have the right myth but doesn't Zeus tell men that he will visit a great punishment on them for there sin?If I'm correct here I believe the punishment was women[who I personally see as a great blessing].Thought that was kind of funny.Thanks for affirming that myth has a very real meaning.Excellent writing.


    • ceciliabeltran profile imageAUTHOR


      11 years ago from New York


      It's a big topic! I would go on many angles to tackle that! It will be such consuming work. Your hubs are very thorough, though. I would love to see what you do with that! Good luck and keep me posted. :)

    • ilmdamaily profile image


      11 years ago from A forgotten corner of a dying empire. OK, it's Australia :-)

      Thank you Cecilia - the pleasure really is mine!

      The idea sprung sideways out of a hub i've been working on (foreverrr) about the interplay between religion and science. Until reading this, I hadn't even considered myth as being part of that - but i'm definitely going to have to reconsider much of my views to include this angle:-)

      And I love that quote btw!

    • ceciliabeltran profile imageAUTHOR


      11 years ago from New York

      Oh everyone interested in myths. I got this from a writer's site.

      "The world is made of stories, not of atoms." - Muriel Rukeyser

      I find this is absolutely true. The relationships of all forces of nature can be applied to stories where it will make sense more.

      Credit goes to:

    • ceciliabeltran profile imageAUTHOR


      11 years ago from New York

      Hi Ilmdamily,

      "The really interesting questions come when we invert that, and ask: is science the myth of today? "

      I think you struck gold in this insight. It is not to decry scientific advancement at all but to actually bring credence to all products of the mind including our myths (religious mythology is part of that).

      Thank you for appreciating my work, but your comment certainly has added very interesting dimensions to this hub and I am floored more. That it is it, the thing that Joseph Campbell has been looking for is what you just said.

      What can I say? Maybe you should write about it? Nice to see you drop by again. And I still haven't forgotten my promise to write about other macho archetypes you would probably relate to more. :)

    • ilmdamaily profile image


      11 years ago from A forgotten corner of a dying empire. OK, it's Australia :-)

      Yay! More Cecilia! I've been waiting for your next piece, and you have not disappointed:-)

      I particularly enjoy the way you've worked in a physiological element to the interpretation of these myths - it's not something I was aware of at all.

      It's a fascinating take, and speaks of ancient humanity's (sic?) awareness of the often tortured relationship between mind, consciousness and body, which we are only now becoming able to explain biologically. Though the relationship between the three remains as mysterious and elusive as ever.

      It's possible that myth was in fact the science of yesterday. The really interesting questions come when we invert that, and ask: is science the myth of today?

      This is not to decry scientific advancement or the like, merely to note with interest the role that science has assumed within the mass public consciousness, and how similar that role is to its antecedents of religion and myth.

      All three, while differing fundamentally in the paradigm they construct to explain experience and existence, all perform the role of providing "certainty of knowledge."

      As distant and alien as so many of the ancient myths feel to me today, it is the knowledge of this shared heritage or function that they all share which makes it easier to relate to.

      Great work again Cecilia - keep feeding our minds and imaginations!

    • ceciliabeltran profile imageAUTHOR


      11 years ago from New York

      Hi Tinster,

      I'm glad it helped you. Fear and Panic are the consorts of Hades, remember? Maybe I'll do one on the 12 Labors of Hercules which are also the 12 tasks of the heroic consciousness. :)

      Love and Peace!

    • profile image


      11 years ago

      I needed that. Was just reading up on the deep limbic system.

    • ceciliabeltran profile imageAUTHOR


      11 years ago from New York

      Thanks Davidisaiah!

    • davidisaiah profile image


      11 years ago from Klamath Falls, Oregon

      this was a very interesting and thought provoking read. Thanks.


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