CSLC 187 Prometheus: Agonies of the Absolute

“The origins of the myth of Prometheus,” it has been said, “are unclear; even in antiquity the story is never told in full.” Right from the very beginning, then—so it would seem--Prometheus arrives on the scene of literature in a torn, dismembered condition, his story diffracted from the outset into a multiplicity of incoherent elements and perspectives: is he a mighty Titan, or merely a trickster? a divine benefactor, or a threat to cosmic peace? an embodiment of the power of thought, or a figure of its eternal helplessness and misery? The primary object of this course will be to survey some of the more impressive and surprising ways in which literature, art, and philosophy have engaged with, and contributed to, the prismatic strangeness of this myth of Prometheus--from the ancient songs of Hesiod and Aeschylus, to the Romantic soundings of Goethe, Shelley and Herman Melville’s Moby Dick; from its intellectual appropriation by Marx, Nietzsche, Heidegger and Freud, to its “plastic” rendering in the murals of Orozco, the statuary of Paul Manship, and the contemporary films of Ridley Scott and Alex Garland (director of Ex Machina). More tentatively, the larger goal of the class will be to consider whether the Prometheus myth in its entirety might not be guided by the reflection that absolute assertions of authority and power always imply their own undoing, and that sovereignty will forever be linked to suffering and to sorrow.


4 units

Core Requirements Met

  • Regional Focus
  • Pre-1800