While flipping through my tome of works by the English Romantic writers, I came across “Prometheus” by Lord Byron, which I had not read in a very long time. I figured I should read it again.
The poem praises the god Prometheus, who stole fire from the gods and gave it to humans. The first thing to remember when reading this poem is that fire is a metaphor for knowledge and enlightenment. Essentially, Prometheus is the ancient equivalent to Lucifer. In fact, the name Lucifer has been interpreted as meaning “light bringer.” So in the same way that Lucifer gave the Fruit of the Knowledge of Good and Evil to humankind, thereby making them more godlike, so Prometheus bestowed divine enlightenment on humanity.
Like Lucifer, Prometheus was punished for his transgression. Zeus bound him to a rock, where an eagle came daily to devour his liver. Prometheus’ liver grows back, and the next day, the bird returns to feast again.
From the poem, it appears that Byron sees both Zeus and God as symbols of tyranny and oppression, whereas Prometheus and Lucifer are symbols of human intellectual liberation. This is clearly shown in lines 18 – 22:
While the correlation between Prometheus and Lucifer is quite obvious, I will venture to put forth the possibility that Byron also viewed Prometheus as a Christ-like symbol. Both suffered for humanity: Christ on the cross and Prometheus on the rock. But Byron takes the analogy a step further by stating that Prometheus is like man, a combination of divine spirit and flesh, which also describes Christ:
It’s kind of strange to imagine a symbol that could represent Christ and Lucifer at the same time, and I think this is the genius of the poem. Byron successfully creates a version of the myth that embraces the two opposing figures and exalts both of them. For Byron, the only evil is tyranny, the chaining humanity to the rock of torture and ignorance. Christ, Lucifer, and Prometheus all sought to enlighten mankind, and all suffered as a result.
Click here to read the poem online.