Prometheus a Hero?

Is the Promethean outcry of atheists against the gods actually heroic? Back when I was somewhat agnostic, I thought so, especially when reading science-fiction. Now I think that the Promethean stance is merely an attempt to give some spiritual and poetic appeal to the dreary landscape of irrationality and nihilism.

Atheistic worldviews can never account for the total reality. Even when drawing from spiritualist or Gnostic views, they usually end up, like Prometheus, in hating the gods and attaching themselves to the rock of materialism, to the point of becoming one with it. In fact, this metaphor may be a half-conscious admission that the transcendent part of reality is inexplicable to atheists, hence their usual attempts to explain it away.

Franz Kafka wrote a satirical, and a bit obscure, comment about the myth of Prometheus, ending with: “Everyone grew weary of the meaningless affair. The gods grew weary, the eagles grew weary […]” “The legend tried to explain the inexplicable. As it came out of a substratum of truth, it had in turn to end in the inexplicable.” (Complete quote below.)

The phrase “substratum of truth” probably alludes to archetypes or other truths, such as the hero or demigod who wants to help lesser beings, but the legend of Prometheus has so many different origins and retellings that it varies widely from one story to another, to the extent of becoming meaningless.


Franz Kafka wrote a short piece on Prometheus, outlining his perspective on four aspects of his myth:

According to the first, he was clamped to a rock in the Caucasus for betraying the secrets of the gods to men, and the gods sent eagles to feed on his liver, which was perpetually renewed.

According to the second, Prometheus, goaded by the pain of the tearing beaks, pressed himself deeper and deeper into the rock until he became one with it.

According to the third, his treachery was forgotten in the course of thousands of years, forgotten by the gods, the eagles, forgotten by himself.

According to the fourth, everyone grew weary of the meaningless affair. The gods grew weary, the eagles grew weary, the wound closed wearily.

There remains the inexplicable mass of rock. The legend tried to explain the inexplicable. As it came out of a substratum of truth it had in turn to end in the inexplicable.

Franz Kafka: The Complete Stories. Glatzer, Nahum N., ed. Translated by Willa and Edwin Muir. Schocken Book, Inc.: New York, 1971.