Transformations of Prometheus throughout the Ages

By Zuhre Indirkas.

Published by The Humanities Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Prometheus has one of the most important mythological
images. He appealed to the imagination
of artists. From antiquity on, he has been repeatedly taken
up by poets, philosophers and artists. In
Hesiod’s (BCE VIII.C.) “Theogony” he was a trickster who was
punished by Zeus for stealing fire from
Mount Olympus. To him the Titan was the destroyer of a happy
state – the golden age – when men
lived a remote life. However two centuries later in
Aeschylus’s (BCE 525-456) “Prometheus Bound,”
Prometheus was transformed into a tragic hero who gave
humankind not only physical fire but also
the subtler fire for reason and wisdom from which all
aspects of civilization derived. In the Graeco-
Roman world of the early Christian centuries, the myth was
Christianized, as exemplified by Plotinus’ (CE 205-270)
complex allegorical interpretation. Ovidius (BCE 43-CE 17)
and other authors of the era also interpreted the myth from
different perspectives. With the Renaissance
the Prometheus myth became a popular theme for painters and
sculptors (Boccaccio’s
role is important here). In the XVIIIth century, with the
influences of the philosophical impulses of the
Enlightenment, Prometheus became a symbol of human pride and
sovereignty (Goethe). The aim of
the present paper is to put forward the idea that
Prometheus’s transformation from a trickster to a
savior represents the human mind. Based on the literary
tradition mentioned, the changes in the
iconographical interpretations of the paintings are closely
examined. The semantic changes that the
image of Prometheus has undergone in the course of millenia
in line with the prevailing zeitgeist and
their impact on the art of painting will be discussed.

Keywords: Prometheus, Aeschylus, Enlightenment, Painting

International Journal of the Humanities, Volume 9, Issue 8, pp.109-128. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.955MB).

Dr. Zuhre Indirkas

Professor of Art History (Teaching), Department of Art History, Faculty of Literature, İstanbul University, Istanbul, Turkey

Professor Zühre İndirkaş is a graduate of Ankara University (Faculty of Philology, History, and Geography), where she studied classical archaeology and art history. She began working on her doctorate in the Department of Archaeology and Art History of İstanbul University in 1985. She did research for a time in London on a grant received from the British Council in Turkey and was awarded her doctoral degree in 1990. Dr İndirkaş is now a professor of art history at İstanbul University. The author of Ana Tanrıça Kybele ve Çağdaş Türk Resmindeki İzdüşümleri (2001), Türklerde Hükümdar Tacı Geleneği (2002), Die Alttürkischen Mythen in Mittelasien und Ihr Weiterleben inb Anatolien (2003), Türk Mitosları ve Anadolu Efsanelerinin İzsürümü (2007), she has also published numerous articles in English on the subjects of culture, mythology and iconography.

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