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Prometheus Bound and Prometheus Unbound by…
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Prometheus Bound and Prometheus Unbound

by Aeschylus, Percy Bysshe Shelley

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I have always greatly admired Shelley, though primarily through anthologies of his shorter works with the occasional larger piece interposed. Having learned of his Prometheus Unbound, I was on a mission to find it – a much more difficult task than I had at first supposed. Nearly all editions were of scholarly print and as the business often goes, out of print.

My luck changed with the Pagan Press edition. It was well worth the wait. It is a gem in that not only do you get the unabridged tragedy by Shelley, but you also have Shelley’s own translation of the original Prometheus Bound by Aeschylus. Here is not the place to get into the murky realm of interpretive theory, but needless to say Shelley’s translation is spellbinding. He is a master craftsman of the highest order. His translation practically rings as you speak it, with the weight of the words synergized by the unabashed modern forms that he employs. Delectable!

Now what to say for Prometheus Unbound…nothing but the word masterpiece can suffice. I do take Shelley at his word when he states that he is not writing a political piece here. I take this as a response to Milton’s Paradise Lose – though one which takes the theological question down to a proto-ontological one. His poetics for one strongly insert the structural hierarchy of the Miltonion conception of the heavens. Yet he changes Prometheus’ disposition towards Mercury from one of indifference as in Aeschylus to one of complicity in Unbound. This to me plays the old adage that the victor rights the history. God and the angels in Paradise Lost are not holy in and of themselves, but only so by means of authority (the reason for Satan’s fall); they become accomplices to the ‘crimes’ of Satan’s accusations. In so far as the final power/tyranny struggle is played out in Shelley we find the overthrow of said ruler for nothing but an empty chair as well as a caveat from Demogorgon that what has been achieved by man through the help of the gods can be lost again through their lesser natures – with none to blame but themselves.

The greatest difference though I found between Aeschylus and Shelley (aside from Shelley’s characteristically lush prose) is his daring. Prometheus Bound, as in most Greek tragedy, is very concise and with a low number of characters. This of course being for 1 performance and 2 the natural progression of the language. Nevertheless Shelley composes a piece with a panoply of various elements. So much so that Prometheus really only plays a significant role in Act I. However, his depth of poetic genius left nothing untouched. He is not afraid to go to facile arrangements between the spirits dialogues to heavily complex meters for the longer discourses. He has such a dexterity that he is able to make you feel the darkness of Demogorgon’s speech and the hubris of Jove. Even the fleeting act of the two fauns casually observing the outside world, what would be a trivial insertion, becomes an element of beauty in the voices of those minor characters and adds that much more depth to the transitions happening within the world.

I only love Percy Bysshe Shelley all the more.
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  PhilSroka | Apr 12, 2016 |
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» Add other authors (2 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Aeschylusprimary authorall editionscalculated
Shelley, Percy Bysshemain authorall editionsconfirmed
Warner, RexTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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