Thursday, 19 May 2011

Prometheus and romanticism

Romanticism comes from the late 18th to the early 19th century, which involves the move away from the preceding age of reason, which focuses on liberalism and the belief that every person should be free to live how he or she want without being blinded by society. The Romantics loved the idea of nature and the natural life and as Jean Jacques Rousseau said ‘man is born free, but everywhere is in chains’.

Prometheus was seen as a titan in Greek Mythology; a titan is someone who is not human but is also not a God, he is a giant like creature. He was one who revolted against this Kings and stole fire from them and brought it down to Earth where he created the first humans from clay. He was then punished in a cruel way, having defied the Gods, he was chained to a rock and had his liver pecked out by a bird; everyday his liver would grow back, meaning never ending suffering and torture. He was the champion of oppressed human kind.

Prometheus is therefore seen as the founder or the God of romanticism. He is referred to in different names such as the ‘bringer of fire’. He was seen as the earliest form of opposition to society and the Kings in that he was a rebel to their world. Philosophers such as Jean Jacques Rousseau would have loved Prometheus in that he was fighting for the freedom of the naturalistic world, and to not have Gods rule over. It is clear that he was an influential figure in that so many works have been written because of him such as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein that was sub-titled ‘modern Prometheus’.

Percy Shelley wrote a sonnet called ‘Ozymandias’:

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said, ‘Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand
Half-sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal these words appear:
“My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings,
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

‘Ozymandias’ is seen as someone who has fought against a tyrannical power in the face of oppression, similar to that of Prometheus. ‘The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed’, so these are the oppressive rulers who have led to Ozymandias being defeated. We know he has been forced to suffer, just like a typical romantic would, ‘half-sunk, a shattered visage’.

The idea of Prometheus was that he stole the fire to create man, which is also seen as romantic, as the romantics have a notion of making or creating things, hence the creation of the bust of Rameses II, which inspired Shelley to write this sonnet.

John Keats wrote a poem called ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn’ (Link to the poem)

Straight away from the title of the poem we can see that the idea of romanticism was great, in that the poet is in awe of the urn, something that is created or made. This again links back to the idea that romantics loved the idea of creation. Staying with the idea of creativity, it is highly evident in the poem that Keats is trying to give across this romantic ideal in that the urn is personified as a bride, something you associate with beauty and elegance.

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