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The protagonist of the play. Prometheus aided Zeus against his fellow Titans only to be punished for giving fire to human beings. Prometheus demonstrates the value of thought and knowledge in progress as well as in the opposition and temperance of tyrannical power. He is a rare example of a Greek tragic hero whose faults, such as excessive pride and stubbornness, ennoble him. Prometheus opposes Zeus because of his anger over his punishment, bolstered by his anger over the mistreatment of his brothers and Io. He is also driven to opposition by a belief in the value friendship. His friendship for humanity is the cause of his punishment, but he views as equally important Zeus's inability to recognize the importance of friendship. Prometheus shows that if intellect and force cannot work together, then intellect must oppose force, since it is useless if dominated by power.
Read an in-depth analysis of Prometheus.
Though he does not appear in the play, Zeus clearly deserves mention as a major character. He rules by his own laws, creating a world where no one but him can be free. Both the objects of his hatred and his love can easily fall to misfortune since Zeus, unfamiliar with sympathy and pity, does not concern himself with the welfare of others. Unable to rule through any means other than brute force, Zeus is presented as a perfect example of a fairly stupid but powerful tyrant who shows no regard for others not because he is evil but because he hasn't given it any thought. Zeus's servants take it for granted that everyone must be taught to love him and hate his enemies. Zeus's rule demands that his servants surrender any trace of individuality in obedience to his will.
Read an in-depth analysis of Zeus.
A mindless servant of Zeus. Hermes appears in sharp contrast to Prometheus. Like his master, Hermes understands neither friendship nor pity, but only force and obedience. Hermes is certain that he is on the right side, and certain also that his master is all-powerful. Though he comes down from Olympus to question Prometheus about the future threat to Zeus's power, Hermes clearly does not take this threat seriously. He is highly arrogant, but not horribly bright as illustrated in a scene where every insult and accusations he throws at Prometheus gets turned around by the recipient and shipped back in force.
A victim of Zeus's love. Io is exiled from her home because Zeus wishes to deflower her. Transformed into a cow, she wanders the earth awaiting salvation. Io is seen as a parallel to Prometheus: though she suffers, in the end she will be freed and rewarded. Her descendant will free Prometheus, bonding their fates together. As the only human, despite being technically bovine, in the play, Io ties the cosmic conflict of gods to known human history and geography as Prometheus documents her wanderings and the future of her offspring.
Serve the proper role of a Chorus in Greek tragedy. The Oceanids advocate adherence to the moral norm to a protagonist who has deviated from that norm. Until the end, the Oceanids maintain two moral orientations. First, they consistently demonstrate sympathy with the hero's suffering and avow their friendship. Second, they counsel him to bow down to a greater power and tone down his defiance since nothing good can come of opposing Zeus. By deviating from the moral norm at the end, however, the Oceanids manage to establish a new moral norm that contradicts Zeus's own laws.
Read an in-depth analysis of the Oceanids.
Comfortable in his service to Zeus, Oceanus believes that one should not rock the boat but simply obey. He agrees that Zeus is too harsh and extends his sympathy to Prometheus with an offer of help. Something about Oceanus's advice and his demeanor seems a little off-putting, however. First, he suggests that one should simply give up and accept injustice rather than fighting it—Prometheus should stop being defiant and not provoke a stubborn and excessive Zeus. Second, Prometheus clearly does not trust Oceanus, telling him much less than he had told the Chorus only a moment ago. Oceanus, while counseling his friend and expressing sympathy, seems to be waiting to leave the entire time—he does not get off his winged animal and states that it is eager to fly home, as if his visit to Prometheus was only a chore on a long list.
Like Oceanus, Hephaestus is an obedient but unwilling servant. He bows to Zeus's force, but wishes he did not have to. Hephaestus first introduces pity and friendship into the tragedy while chiding Zeus's servants for their insensitivity. Yet Hephaestus does what he is told, showing him to be closer to Kratus than to Prometheus in his outlook. Hephaestus, however, seems to obey more out of fear than out of a complete identification with his ruler, which seems more the case with Kratus and Hermes.
Simply accepts Zeus's orders completely. Zeus's justice, for Kratus, is the only possible justice. Kratus cannot understand how someone might fail to hate an enemy of Zeus. He shows an absolute identification of a slave with his master, taking Zeus's thoughts as his thoughts and Zeus's orders as his maxims. Unlike Hephaestus and Oceanus, Kratus experiences no friendship or pity because he has no value system outside the one imposed on him by Zeus. The name Kratus means force, so as a representative of Zeus, this character demonstrates the nature of Zeus's rule.
Bia's name means violence, representing the nature of Zeus's power. Bia is a silent character, helping Kratus bring Prometheus to the rock to be chained. We can assume that what holds for Kratus holds also for Bia.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Prometheus Bound!