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There is not a torture or an engine wherewithal Zeus can induce me to declare these things, till he has loosed me from these cruel shackles. So let him hurl his smoky lightning flame, and throw in turmoil all things in the world with white-winged snowflakes and deep bellowing thunder beneath the earth: me he shall not bend by all this to tell him who is fated to drive him from his tyranny.
Here, in lines 987 to 998, Prometheus, challenged by Hermes to bow to Zeus's power and reveal his secret, utters the ultimate statement of rebellion. Though Hermes does not seem to notice, Prometheus here predicts what Zeus's punishment for him will be, thus showing his prophetic powers to be reliable. This quotation underscores the differences between Prometheus and a servant of Zeus like Oceanus. First, Prometheus does not let fear of punishment alter his resolution. He knows exactly what his punishment will be and, as he had indicated when first chained to the rock, he does fear this punishment. Yet he refuses to compromise, and here lies his strength. Oceanus gives in to Zeus's authority and counsels Prometheus to be submissive. Io's father throws out his own daughter when Zeus instructs him. Prometheus is aware that he can mitigate his punishment if only he will reveal his secret, but he knows that his secret is the only power in the universe stronger than Zeus, and he decides to suffer rather than cave in.
It is clear that Prometheus is extreme, which is why the Chorus and Oceanus counsel him to be more moderate, to watch what he says, and to avoid offending Zeus. Yet Prometheus shows that his excessive rebellion is different from the rebellion of other Greek tragic heroes who go too far. Others are excessive in their pride and are punished because this excess offends the moral norm of moderation. Prometheus, however, is excessive only in response to Zeus's own excess. His offense against the moral norm does not come independently from his pride, but derives directly from Zeus's own stubbornness. Thus Prometheus tells Hermes that he will gladly tone down his excessive defiance if Zeus will free him from his excessive punishment. That Zeus will not do so is reason for Prometheus not to relent.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Prometheus Bound!