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Huckel, H. (1955). The Tragic Guilt of Prometheus. Am. Imago, 12(4):325-336.

(1955). American Imago, 12(4):325-336

The Tragic Guilt of Prometheus

Helen Huckel

Whenever we come across an ever recurrent motif in myths and legends, we may be sure that we have found one of the eternal, unresolved or insoluble problems of mankind. One of these themes is the sacrifice or self-sacrifice of a demigod or giant who was dismembered or dismembered himself voluntarily (1) to create the world out of himself. His bones then became rocks, his skull the sky, his hair grass, etc. He sacrificed his life so that the world could be.

According to Otto Rank in Art and Artist every creation is self-sacrifice. This holds true even for the violent sacrifice by identification of the victim with the priest. In artistic creation too the artist has to give up part of his life for his work. He has to sacrifice his individual life and comfort for his spiritual immortality. (2).

But Rank also sees another side to it. The hero does not sacrifice himself without reward. He gives up his life to gain a bigger one. His body becomes the universe itself. It is the age-old dream of mankind to expand, to grow into something bigger than one's self, to be ubiquitous and eternal.

The Greek hero, Prometheus, is not dismembered to form the world. But he sacrifices one part of his body for his creation, and this creation is mankind. Whichever version of the myth we take, and there are many of them, in one way or another he is responsible for the creature which today we recognize as human.

The myth and the evaluation of the personality of Prometheus change with the ideology of the epoch in which they were formed. One element stays invariable; he provides fire for mankind and is cruelly punished for it.


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