“Zeus, most glorious and greatest of gods eternally living,
choose for yourself of these helpings the one that your heart desires.” – Prometheus, Hesiod’s Theogony

The myth of Prometheus stealing the fire from Zeus first appeared in  Hesiod’s Theogony (late 8th century BC). Prometheus was the son of the Titan Iapetus and the brother of Menoetius, Atlas, and Epimetheus. In Theogony, Hesiod introduces Prometheus as a lowly challenger to Zeus’s omniscience and omnipotence.  In the trick at Mekone, a sacrificial meal marking the “settling of accounts” between mortals and immortals, Prometheus played a trick against Zeus. He placed two sacrificial offerings for Zeus to choose from: a selection of excellent beef hidden inside an ox’s stomach (so that it looks less appetizing), and the bull’s bones wrapped completely in “glistening fat” (so that they look more appetizing to Zeus). Zeus chose the latter, setting a precedent for future sacrifices where humans would keep that meat for themselves and burn the bones wrapped in fat as an offering to the gods.

This angered Zeus, who hid the fire from humans in retribution. In this version of the myth, the use of fire was already known to humans but withdrawn by Zeus. Prometheus, however, stole fire back and restored it to humanity. This further enraged Zeus, who – in yet another a version of the story – sent Pandora, the first woman, to live with humanity. Pandora was fashioned by Hephaestus out of clay and brought to life by the four winds, with all the goddesses of Olympus assembled to adorn her. “From her is the race of women and female kind,” Hesiod writes; “of her is the deadly race and tribe of women who live amongst mortal men to their great trouble, no helpmeets in hateful poverty, but only in wealth.”

The myth of Prometheus and Pandora

The myth of Demeter, Persephone and Hades

The myth of Pentheus and Dionysus

The myth of Aphrodite and Anchises

The myth of Demeter and Triptolemus

Prometheus, in eternal punishment for stealing fire from the gods, is chained to a rock in the Caucasus. His liver eaten daily by an eagle, only to be regenerated by night, because Prometheus was immortal. Years later, the Greek hero Heracles (Hercules) slained the eagle and set Prometheus free from this torment.

Hesiod revisited the story of Prometheus in the Works and Days. Here, the poet expands upon Zeus’s reaction to Prometheus’s deception. Not only does Zeus withhold fire from humanity, but “the means of life,” as well. Had Prometheus not provoked Zeus’s wrath, “you would easily do work enough in a day to supply you for a full year even without working; soon would you put away your rudder over the smoke, and the fields worked by ox and sturdy mule would run to waste.” Hesiod also expands upon the Theogony’s story of the first woman, now explicitly called Pandora (“all gifts”). After Prometheus’ theft of fire, Zeus sent Pandora in retaliation. Despite Prometheus’ warning, Epimetheus accepted this “gift” from the gods. Pandora carried a jar (known as Pandora’s box) with her, from which were released “evils, harsh pain and troublesome diseases which give men death”. Pandora shut the lid of the jar too late to contain all the evil plights that escaped, but foresight remained in the jar, depriving humanity of hope.

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