Theogony

One commonality in the image of Zeus in Hesiod’s Theogony and Aeschylus’s Prometheus Bound is that Zeus is portrayed to be an unfair God who leads his newfound rule through intimidation and punishment. We see much of the extent of Zeus’s fear of opposition in the way he punishes Prometheus for defying his rule.
As demonstrated in Theogony, “there is no way of deceiving or evading the mind of Zeus, since not even…sly Prometheus, escaped the weight of his wrath” (Hesiod, lines 97-98). Zeus is under the impression that he should hold the utmost power, and his indifferent and harsh treatment towards humans and anyone who crosses him perfectly encaptures this.
Prometheus Bound opens in the wasteland of Scythia, with the gods Power, Violence and Hephaestus entering with a restrained Prometheus as their prisoner. As per Zeus’s orders, the deities are to chain Prometheus up for disobeying and tricking Zeus. Hephaestus reluctantly carries out this order, though the other two gods are less sympathetic. When the deities leave, and Ocean and his daughters, the chorus of Oceanids, enter, we learn of the crime Prometheus committed.

Prometheus stole fire and gave it to the humans as it was necessary for their survival, even though this was an act prohibited by Zeus. As punishment, Zeus orders Prometheus to be chained up to a mountain. Though Zeus is not directly in the play, we get a sense of the type of ruler he is through the other characters, such as when Power declares that Prometheus, “must submit to the tyranny of Zeus and like it, too” (Aeschylus, lines 19-21).
Interestingly, Zeus’s absence from the play provides a notable outlook on his character as we are left to better understand him through his followers who are very subservient towards him. Zeus clearly has unchecked power over Power and Violence and this is evident when Power says, “What the Father wants done you’ve got to do”, and, “But how can you refuse the Father’s orders! Don’t they scare you even more?” (Aeschylus, lines 5-6, lines 76-78).
Power states this as if questioning Zeus’s orders is an inconceivable notion. However, though Zeus is depicted to be a tyrant by the other characters, there is no doubt that Prometheus’s actions were indeed rebellious and threatening to Zeus’s rule. But, because Prometheus is a character that we come to pity because of his justifiable acts and the sympathy displayed upon him by his friends, the chorus and Hephaestus, Zeus’s punishment seems even more harsh and because of this, the audience sees him as an unfair ruler.
Similarly, in Hesiod’s Theogony, Zeus is portrayed to be an unjust character. Prometheus feared that Zeus would destroy mankind, so in order to protect mankind from Zeus’s wrath, he devises a plan to deceive Zeus. After Zeus demanded that humans offer a sacrifice of their best meat to him, Prometheus wraps two bundles of ox meat: one with the best meat hidden inside the ox’s stomach, and the other with the bones wrapped in fat as if to appear to be the better of the two choices. Zeus recognized the deception and in order to punish Prometheus, he takes fire away from mankind.
Prometheus proceeds to steal fire from Mount Olympus, at which point Zeus decides to retaliate in the worst way he knows how: by giving mankind women. Zeus’s constant reprisals and acts of spite appear to be done in an effort to assert his dominance as a new ruler. To punish Prometheus, Zeus, “bound craftly Prometheus in inescapable fetters, grievous bonds, driving him through the middle of pillar. And he set a great winged eagle upon him, and it fed on his immortal liver” (Hesiod, lines 427- 429).
In Theogony, we see Zeus unleash his wrath on many other characters as well, such as Atlas, who is condemned by Zeus to hold up the sky, and mankind who is given the advent of women and are forced to give up their lives of leisure to care for their newfound families. Based on these unfair and cruel acts, Zeus is depicted to be a strict leader who operates through his own definition of justice that stems from his fear of being defied or questioned.
This commonality in the portrayal of Zeus’s character in both Theogony and Prometheus Bound, emphasizes the fact that Zeus is a figure that fears opposition. Zeus represents the figure in Greek mythology that feels his control could be threatened, much like his parents, and his actions towards those who disregard his rule and towards those who are more or less innocent bystanders show this. Prometheus, for example, represents a figure who is not afraid to challenge a leader’s rule, so long as he is doing it in the best interest of those that are less fortunate.
However, this raises concern for Zeus because Prometheus’s disregard to Zeus could possibly inspire others to act the same. Therefore, this emphasis makes Zeus a figure that is relevant to our world today because he represents dictators and leaders throughout history and in modern day time whose inept actions of ruling are reminiscent of Zeus’s egotistical and spiteful retaliations.

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