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Prometheus: 8 Mythological & Literary Motifs In The Film

1. Greek Myth - Prometheus, Mankind & Zeus

It would be unfair to start with anyone except the titan from Greek mythology who lends his name to the movie! My first introduction to the character of Prometheus was when ice skating in front of Paul Manship€™s bronze statue at the Rockafeller plaza many, many years ago. Now, it seems, the eponymous Titan€™s name is on everyone€™s lips... For that reason Robert Graves, one of our greatest ever experts on the myths of Classical antiquity, would have been happy. It was Graves who gave me my real introduction to Prometheus and the myths and stories that surround him when, as a 21 year old graduate, I traveled the world with a dog-eared copy of his classic €œThe Greek Myths". In the beginning, you could say that things were going well between Zeus and Prometheus. Although Prometheus was the son of the titan Iapetus, he had proved pivotal in helping Zeus gain victory in the Titanomachy- the terrible War of the Titans- a tumultuous battle between those led by Zeus€™s father Kronos, and the Olympian gods. The war culminated in Zeus dethroning his father and establishing his reign as the principal lord of Mount Olympus. Prometheus then helped in the birth of the goddess Athena, by holding open the head of Zeus as a fully-formed Athena came screaming out of the gaping hole in her father's head. Suddenly though the relationship between Zeus and Prometheus went down hill fast€ According to Ovid in his Metamorphoses, Prometheus is credited with the creation of human-beings €œin god-like image€ from clay, and it is this story, in conjunction with the better known myth of Prometheus giving early man a push up the technological ladder by providing us with fire stolen from the workshop of Hephaestus, that provides the mythological and philosophical backdrop for the film. Zeus, almost-omnipotent leader of the Olympians, was not the kind of god to let transgressions go unpunished, and he reprimanded Prometheus terribly€ For his treachery against Zeus and his repeated benevolence towards humankind he was chained to a mountain in the Caucasus, and an eagle was set to tear his liver from his abdomen every day. The actual myth of Prometheus is brandished like a large bright shiny bracelet on the movie€™s sleeve. Peter Weyland has named the spaceship that will transport the crew to €˜meet their maker€™ in homage to the titan. And the movie harks back to the Prometheus myth over and over: the image of Prometheus€™s liver being torn from his abdomen resurfaces repeatedly- i) in the key scene of Doctor Shaw€™s €˜caesarean€™, ii) with the Engineer giving birth to the xenomorph at the end of the movie, and iii) on the mural shown in the dome-like structure which shows an Engineer creating life in a pose showing a damaged abdomen... This oft-repeated motif illustrates that genesis and self-betterment can only come through destruction and sacrifice. Likewise we see the action of Prometheus stealing from the gods replicated in David€™s taking of the black liquid canister from the cave complex, and in Weyland€™s all-consuming desire to obtain the secrets of eternal life from the Engineers.
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Contributor

Relentless traveller whose writing encompasses music, film, art, literature & history. ASOIAF connoisseur.