Greek Mythology: Part 3
The Story of Prometheus
HOW FIRE WAS GIVEN TO MAN
In those old, old times, there lived two brothers who were not like other men, or like those Great Ones who lived upon the mountain top. They were the sons of one of those Titans who fought against Zeus and were sent in chains to the strong prison-house of the Lower World.
The name of the elder of these brothers was Prometheus, or Forethought; for he was always thinking of the future and making things ready for what might happen to-morrow, or next week, or next year, or it may be in a hundred years to come. The younger was called Epimetheus, or Afterthought; for he was always so busy thinking of yesterday, or last year, or a hundred years ago, that he had no care at all for what might come to pass after a while.
For some reason Zeus didn’t send these brothers to prison with the rest of the Titans.
Prometheus did not care to live between the clouds on the mountain top. He was too busy for that. While the great Gods were spending their time doing nothing, drinking nectar and eating ambrosia, he was making plans to make the world wiser and better than it ever was.
He went to live between men and help them because his heart was filled with sadness when he found that they were no longer happy as they were during the golden days when Saturn was king. Ah, how very poor and miserable they were! He found them living in caves and in holes of the earth, shaking with the cold because there was no fire, dying of hunger, hunted by wild animals and by one another – the most miserable of all living creatures.
“If they only had fire,” said Prometheus to himself, “they could at least warm themselves and cook their food; and after a while they could learn to make tools and build themselves houses. Without fire, they are worse off than the animals.”
Then he went to Zeus and begged him to give fire to men, so they might have a little comfort through the long months of winter.
“I will not give a spark!” said Zeus. “No!” Why, if men had fire they might become strong and wise like ourselves, and after a while they would drive us out of our kingdom. Let them shake with cold, and let them live like the animals. It is best for them to be poor and stupid, so that we Great Ones may prosper and be happy.”
Prometheus didn’t answer; but he set his heart on helping mankind, and he did not give up. He turned away, and left Zeus and his great company forever.
As he was walking along the shore of the sea he found a reed growing; and when he broke it off he saw that it had an empty center filled with soft dry material which would burn slowly and keep on fire for a long time. He took the reed in his hands and walked towards the sun.
“Mankind will have fire in spite of the tyrant who sits on the mountain top,” he said.
He reached the place of the sun in the early morning just as the glowing, golden ball was rising from the earth and beginning its daily journey through the sky. He touched the end of the long reed to the flames, and the dry material caught on fire and burned slowly. Then he turned and hurried back to his own land, carrying with him the precious spark hidden in the empty center of the reed.
He called some of the shaking men from their caves and built a fire for them, and showed them how to warm themselves by it and how to build other fires from the coals. Soon there was a cheerful glow in every home in the land, and men and women came together round it and were warm and happy, and thankful to Prometheus for the wonderful gift which he brought to them from the sun.
It was not long until they learned to cook their food and so to eat like men instead of like animals. They quickly changed their wild and savage habits; and instead of living in the dark places of the world, they came out into the open air and the bright sunlight, and were glad because life was given to them.
After that, Prometheus taught them, little by little, a thousand things. He showed them how to build houses of wood and stone, and how to raise sheep and cattle and make them useful, and how to plow and sow and reap, and how to protect themselves from the storms of the winter and the animals of the woods. Then he showed them how to dig in the earth for copper and iron, and how to melt the ore, and how to hammer it into shape and make from it the tools and weapons which they needed in peace and war; and when he saw how happy the world was becoming he cried out:
“A new Golden Age will come, brighter and better by far than the old!”