Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, and literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes.

Yoke and Harness

The yoke and harness is a motif recurring throughout the play from beginning to end, and used in all cases except one to stand in for Zeus's tyrannical power. Hephaestus and Prometheus speak of the bonds as a harness. Io compares her torture to a yoke and applies the same terminology in explaining how her father was forced to exile her. Hermes compares Prometheus to a young colt biting at the bit. The persistent repetition of this motif serves to leave us with a particular impression of Zeus's power. We are never told of anything positive that is done with this power, while domination of others seems to be Zeus's only concern. This imagery also strengthens the identification of Zeus with force as opposed to Prometheus's thought. Zeus's exclusive focus on the yoking and harnessing of others is also central to the persistent references to him as a tyrant. Interestingly, the motif appears once without reference to Zeus, when Prometheus lists his gifts to humanity. Not only does he mention that he taught humans how to harness animals, but he dwells on this gift more than on the others, insisting that it was he who first put a yoke on an animal. A few interesting interpretations of this emphasis are possible. Prometheus may be suggesting that the yoke can be used for beneficial and life preserving purposes rather than the purposes to which Zeus puts it. Alternatively, there is a suggestion that Prometheus has given human beings the power to harness others, which previously was a gift reserved exclusively for Zeus.


Time is referred to throughout the play, bolstered by related motifs of Zeus's newness as ruler, generational conflicts among the gods, and the importance of Fate. Prometheus shows a certain conflict between speaking and remaining silent, knowing that the proper time to reveal his prophesy to Zeus has not yet come. In connection with the importance of delay here, conversations in the play often involve procrastination techniques. It takes repeated prodding by the Chorus to get Prometheus to tell the true cause of his punishment, and a similar scenario is repeated with Io. Prometheus suggests that there is a right time and a wrong time for reconciliation, but that at the right time both sides will be ready. Repeated references are made to Zeus's newness as a ruler, weakening his claim to power somewhat, since age is seen as a mark of power. Human beings, for example, are seen as insignificant because they are only "creatures of a day." The passing of time is significant for the generational conflict referred to throughout the play: the older Titans battled the younger Zeus and lost so that a new generation now sits in power. The conflict yields credibility to the prophecy that Zeus will be overthrown by a future son, thus continuing the generational strife. Finally, time is important in its link to Fate. Fate decrees how an individual's life progresses through time and it mandates a particular unchangeable future. Fate, as Prometheus points out, is stronger than Zeus himself, so that even the greatest power is trapped along with all others in the stream of time.