What Was the Effect of Prometheus’s Gift to Humans?
In the modern age, it’s easy to take fire for granted. But the Greeks knew that the ability to build and utilize a fire was the cornerstone to their very survival.
When Prometheus gave men the gift of fire, it had the immediate effect of ensuring their ability to cook food, stay warm, and see in the dark.
But this gift had many other consequences that the Titan did not foresee.
Keep reading to find out the huge effect Prometheus’s gift had on mankind, and some gifts you might not have even known he gave!
The ability to create and use fire was, according to the legend of Prometheus, absolutely vital for the survival of humanity.
Humans were completely helpless creatures when left on their own. They had none of the natural defenses or weapons that were given to animals.
Men had no claws with which to hunt for food. They also had dull teeth and could not digest most foods unless they were cooked.
The weak eyes of humans kept them from being able to see in the dark. They had no fur to keep themselves warm at night or through the long, cold months of the winter.
Humans were weak creatures, but the gift of fire helped them to survive. More than that, it allowed civilization to develop and flourish.
Fire was used to cook food, making it easier for humans to eat. Not only did the cooked food taste better, but grains and meat could only be eating when prepared over a fire.
Fireplaces and torches brought light into the night so people could see around them. It not only let them see if any predators were coming, but fire also scared most animals away.
Without the warmth of a fire, most humans could not survive through the winter. Their bare skin did little to protect them from the elements.
Of course, people covered their bodies with clothing. But without tools to hunt animals or shear sheep, hides and wool would not be available to them.
The archaic Greeks had long forgotten for techniques of the Stone Age, so forging metal over fire was necessary for them to create the tools they needed for hunting, building, and agriculture. Even the most basic spears made out of sticks had to be hardened over a hot fire!
When Zeus took away the use of fire, he intended to hurt people only by denying them the pleasure of cooked meats. Prometheus understood, however, that the survival of humans depended on the use of fire.
Without the gift of Prometheus, the human race would have died out.
Of course, the gift of fire from Prometheus was not one that he came by honestly.
According to many traditions Prometheus had once given fire to mankind with Zeus’s blessing, or at least without attracting Zeus’s ire. But when the king of the gods took that gift away, the Titan was forced to steal it in order to return it to mankind.
Prometheus had tricked Zeus into taken inferior parts of a sacrificial ox, setting the precedent that humans got to keep the best meat for themselves. Zeus had avenged this embarrassment by taking fire away from humans.
Prometheus, knowing the great suffering that would result from the god’s short-sighted vengeance, stole fire from Zeus’s own hearth to give back to people. The theft was only the first of his crimes, though.
The Greeks believed that civilization, and the world as a whole, only functioned when natural laws were followed. These laws were handed down from the gods, essentially meaning that dictates from Zeus were to be followed at all times.
Zeus had dictated that mankind should not have access to fire, but Prometheus had disobeyed this order. The violation of natural law required harsh punishment from the king of the gods.
Prometheus was famously punished with lengthy torture. Bound to a rocky mountainside with unbreakable chains, the Titan had his liver torn out of his body every day by a giant eagle.
Mankind was punished as well for receiving the gift against Zeus’s will. Their punishment would last even longer than that of Prometheus.
Humans at that time lived in the Silver Age. Life was easy for them, and it was long.
There was no disease or old age for the people of the Silver Age. They did not have to do hard labor to grow their food or fashion the things they needed because the gods made life easy for them.
Zeus decided the best way to punish humans was to make their lives much more difficult and painful.
He ordered Hephaestus to create a beautiful woman. She would be named Pandora, “all gifts,” although the gifts she carried would not be appreciated.
Prometheus’s short-sighted brother Epimetheus was living among the humans of the Silver Age and happily accepted Pandora as his bride. He did not know that her arrival on earth would lead to the release of a host of ills on the human population.
Pandora carried with her death, disease, and old age. She brought toil, pain, hunger, and all matter of other forms of suffering.
The Silver Age of man ended with the arrival of Pandora and her unwelcomed gifts. Because they had gotten fire from Prometheus, humankind was forever destined to live short, difficult lives.
Not every gift Prometheus gave to humankind came with terrible consequences, though. According to some sources, he gave men many boons besides just fire.
Listen to the miseries that beset mankind–how they were witless before and I made them have sense and endowed them with reason. … They had neither knowledge of houses built of bricks and turned to face the sun nor yet of work in wood; but dwelt beneath the ground like swarming ants, in sunless caves. They had no sign either of winter or of flowery spring or of fruitful summer, on which they could depend but managed everything without judgment, until I taught them to discern the risings of the stars and their settings, which are difficult to distinguish.
-Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound 441 ff (trans. Weir Smyth)
While the Greeks had many stories to explain where elements of their culture came from, Prometheus took credit for virtually all of mankind’s knowledge in Prometheus Bound.
The many gifts Prometheus claimed to give to humanity enabled the rise of Greek civilization. Without writing, chariots, ships, and the use of plow animals the culture of Greece could not have existed.
Of course, not all myths credited Prometheus with the many inventions and gifts described in Aeschylus’s play. But at least some Greeks recognized the Titan as the source of not just fire, but of virtually every piece of knowledge that made their lives possible.
The Titan Prometheus is remembered for stealing fire from the king of the gods to give to mankind.
Zeus had forbidden humans from using fire out of anger and being denied the best meats in a sacrifice. While his intention was to keep humans from cooking the good meats they had won, Prometheus recognized that the lack of fire would do far more harm to mankind than Zeus anticipated.
With fire, the Greeks could do much more than simply cook food.
They used fire to see and night and keep themselves warm. They forged their tools over the heat and used fire to repel predators.
Without fire, the Greeks would have no food, no tools, and no protection from the elements. In short, without fire mankind could not survive.
Prometheus’s gift to mankind attracted further ire from Zeus. He was brutally punished for theft and for defying the natural laws ordained by the Olympian gods.
Mankind was punished as well. Pandora was sent to release all the ills that would make men’s lives miserable, from illness and old age to hard toil and hunger.
In some traditions, Prometheus was believed to have given the people of Greece many more gifts that made their culture possible. He will always best be remembered, however, as the Titan who gave mankind the all-important gift of fire.