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Then beneath the earth those hidden blessings for man, bronze, iron, silver and gold—who can claim to have discovered before me? No one, I am sure, who wants to speak to the purpose. In one short sentence understand it all: every art of mankind comes from Prometheus.
In lines 498 to 505, Prometheus wraps up the summary of his gifts to humanity for the Chorus. Prometheus takes credit for every human skill and achievement, or every art of humanity. At first this quotation seems simply like an attempt to find a patron god for human civilization. Apollo was the god of the sun, Hades was the god of the underworld, and it seemed only reasonable that there should also be a god of civilization. But this clearly is not what Aeschylus wants to achieve. He wrote Prometheus Bound at the beginning of a transitional period in ancient Greek thought when philosophers were starting to offer explanations for all sorts of human and natural phenomena that left the gods out of the account. This new thinking is already evident in Aeschylus. Though Prometheus retains the features of a real god, he is also an allegory for human progress standing in opposition to the arbitrary powers of nature.
Prometheus's explanation of his gifts to humanity clearly emphasizes the idea of human progress, suggesting that Aeschylus wants us to focus on that progress and not simply on Prometheus's role in it. Prometheus's gifts are listed in a logical order: first shelter, then writing and mathematics, then agriculture and harnessing of animals, and so on. Each gift results from natural human needs, and each follows upon a previous one of some importance. Finally, the listing of precious metals in Prometheus's account is a clear allusion to Hesiod's list of the ages of human Civilization. Hesiod believed that humanity had declined from the Golden Age to the Bronze Age. Aeschylus lists the metals in the opposite order, from bronze to gold, suggesting that humanity is progressing rather than declining.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Prometheus Bound!