We know the basic story of Prometheus: he gives fire to humans, is punished.
The story in Prometheus Bound
is a little more complicated. One of the old school Titans, when their descendants (the Olympian Gods) under Zeus rebel, Prometheus tries to help the Titans; they spurn his help and he then changes sides. But Zeus turns out to be no more beneficent a ruler than Kronos was, so Prometheus once again switches, siding decisively with the common folk - humans - and giving them, along with fire, math, husbandry, and medicine. Now comes the punishment: the play opens as Hephaistos chains him down, and he whines like a bitch for like 30 pages before turning to self-aggrandizement and finally prophesying his own victory and the downfall of Zeus.
No wonder Karl Marx liked this play.
It's not terribly good. Certainly not as good as the Oresteia, and while it's unfair to say that because we're missing the second two parts of the Prometheus trilogy (stay tuned for my review of Percy Bysshe Shelley's recreation of Prometheus Unbound
next week,) Prometheus Bound
has nowhere near the depth of Agememnon,
the first of the Oresteia
trilogy and Aeschylus's best work. Apparently modern scholars (only in the past 20 years or so) are leaning towards believing that Prometheus Bound
isn't by Aeschylus at all, and I see no reason to disagree.
Prometheus is one of our best metaphors. At his simplest: a genius chooses to share it with the proles against the will of the bosses and is punished. At what this play actually says: a genius goes with the revolution, hoping that life will be better under it; realizes that absolute power corrupts absolutely; and is punished. Either way, useful, although I prefer the second scheme for its depth and for its truth.
As a story it's terrific; whoever wrote this play didn't do a great job of expressing it.
The translation by Scully and Herington falls in the Fagles mode: a few too many modernizations ("Zeus is not / about to mellow," that seriously happened) but some lovely lines as well...uh, no, not really. Fagles can boast that, but Scully/ Herington have at best functional lines. I didn't care for this translation. I can't recommend it.