A Note or Two on Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound, lines 18-27

O child, with towering thoughts, of right-counseling Themis,

You, unfree, I unwillingly nail to this place,

Fixed far from man,

In order that neither the voice nor the form of man

You shall see. But, scorched by the radiant flame of the sun,

The flower of your skin you will exchange;

To please you well night with her spangled garb will conceal the daylight,

but the sun, early in the morning, will again scatter the frozen rain.

And always the weight of evils will be present,

Wearing you down; for your relief has not been brought forth yet.

Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound, lines 18-27, trans. Ashok Karra

This is still a work in progress, so please forgive the messiness of the translation. There are several issues that need to be brought up in this speech Hephaestus, who is about to nail Prometheus to a mountain side to linger, is giving Prometheus. The first issue is that of “flower” – that term was used before in the play by Force (“kratos”) to describe what Prometheus stole from Hephaestus to give to Man. One wonders after Hephaestus’ whining “I can’t nail him to the mountain, he and I are like brothers,” whether Hephaestus is eager for revenge of some sort. For one craftsman to steal from another is the breaking of a bond (for more on this, look for the video where Joe Rogan rightly gives Carlos Mencia hell for being a thief).

The issue that is driving me crazy, though, is less speculative and more grammatical. You shall not “see” the “voice” of man? Wecklein, the editor of the Greek edition I’m working from, says that this is an example of a literary device called “Zeugma,” where a verb is used for multiple substantives even though it is “strictly appropriate to only one of them.” I’m hoping that those of you reading this might have examples of this occurring in other works of literature, so I can get a grip on why this device is used here. I suppose that ultimately this has something to do with “seeing” being the primary sense for knowledge. It is not good enough to hear someone, one must know the speaker. Perhaps the implication is that Prometheus, by not participating in society of any sort, cannot know the truth of what is told, or worse yet, know the truth of what he already thinks he knows.

Finally, for those of you who have heard me ranting about Heidegger, there’s something here that is really neat regarding that issue. You will note that Heidegger says the following in Introduction to Metaphysics:

  • “Phusis [“the emerging sway”] is Being itself, by virtue of which beings first become and remain observable.” (15)
  • “This standing-there, this taking and maintaining a stand that stands erected high in itself, is what the Greeks understood as Being. Whatever takes such a stand becomes constant in itself and thereby freely and on its own runs up against the necessity of its limit, peras. This peras is not something that first accrues to a being from outside. Much less is it some deficiency in the sense of a detrimental restriction. Instead, the self-restraining hold that comes from a limit, the having-of-itself wherein the constant holds itself, is the Being of beings; it is what first makes a being be a being as opposed to a non-being. For something to take such a stand therefore means for it to attain its limit, to de-limit itself.” (63)
  • “Phusis means the emergent self-upraising, the self-unfolding that abides in itself. In this sway, rest and movement are closed and opened up from an originary unity.” (64)

(The citations are from the Fried/Polt translation, published by Yale University Press in a Nota Bene edition.)

In any case, to get to the point: that word “phusis” is hiding in the passage by Aeschylus above, in the last line: “has been brought forth” is a form of phuo (to grow), and that coming to “Being” from irrelevance, for the now symbolic Prometheus, could be contingent on enduring evils and still having a place. Granted, Heidegger does ask us to contrast, to some small degree, emerging and standing forth (phusis) with abiding (ousia), and the passages I have cited from Heidegger do say that a being is defined not by the external, but by something internal to it. But I could also say that the eventual reconciliation between Prometheus and Zeus has something to do with what Prometheus has that might not suffer, and that would be a knowledge, perhaps fragmented, that was related to the natures of things – a knowledge of how they are in their flowering. (I am well-aware I could be reading too much into this passage. But it should be noted that there are so few words in this play about the gods and man, that I’m worried I’m not reading enough into it).

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1 Comment

  1. tagged, eh? well that sucks, I know!

    Things are well, just heck tick. Busy bee and all that rut. The important thing is that you are getting the greek done. It’s just around the corner.

    Now that Lent has begun I don’t feel like having any fun. After all, that isn’t what lent is about. No sir! Lent is about misery, pain, sacrifice, suffering, and most importantly – because we are all horrible sinners – penance. So, I’ve been doing the usual flagulistic beatings and what not.

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