April 25, 2007

Would You Be Prometheus?

I told the story of the Ivory Door at dinner tonight with the partners of the firm, both of whom are smart and perceptive. One of them quickly asked the question, "Well, would you really want to be Prometheus?"

I quite enjoyed the sudden shift of symbolism. So, considering the extent of the suffering that Zeus imposed on Prometheus in the myth, I reflected for a moment, but I decided that it would have been worth it. Enlightenment and truth have inherent value and should be pursued for their own sake as well as for the utility that they bring.

Prometheus is perhaps the ultimate heroic figure in all of mythology -- he brought enlightenment to man; he boldly forged his own path and made his own decisions about right and wrong, defying even the arbitrary orders of Zeus when necessary to advance the interests of the good. That he was made to suffer for it later, and indeed given that he acted as he did with full knowledge of the terrible fate that awaited him for so doing, only makes his act more noble by injecting the element of self-sacrifice. He does so not for a desire to assert his own power, as did Milton's Satan, nor does he defy the Gods for the sake of demonstrating his free will like Loki or the pursuit of the enjoyment of life like Kokopelli. Rather, Prometheus acts for the pursuit of an objective good.

Sisyphus had a far more cruel and wretched fate than Prometheus. And more cruel indeed was the fate of Job. Although things turn out for the best for Job in the end, I've always thought the ending of that Biblical story was a narrative cop-out, and Biblical apologists ascribing a good motive to Jehovah for destroying a good man have yet to change my mind that the story portrays Jehovah as anything but arbitrary, capricious, cruel, and ultimately prideful -- all the same sorts of character traits for which he condemns man.

While no one would accept a path of suffering gladly, in some cases it is worth it. Prometheus, at least, suffered for a noble purpose.

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