The play contains little action since its protagonist is chained and immobile throughout. At the beginning, Kratos (strength), Bia (force), and the smith-god Hephaestus chain the Titan Prometheus to a mountain in the Caucasus and then depart. Prometheus is being punished not only for stealing fire, but also for thwarting Zeus's plan to obliterate the human race. This punishment is especially galling since Prometheus was instrumental in Zeus's victory in the Titanomachy.

The Oceanids attempt to comfort Prometheus by conversing with him. Prometheus cryptically tells them that he knows of a potential marriage that would lead to Zeus's downfall. A Titan named Oceanus urges him to make peace with Zeus. Prometheus tells the chorus that the gift of fire to mankind was not his only benefaction; in the so-called Catalogue of the Arts (447-506), he reveals that he taught men all the civilizing arts, such as writing, medicine, mathematics, astronomy, metallurgy, architecture and agriculture.

Prometheus is then visited by Io, a human maiden pursued by a lustful Zeus; the Olympian transformed Io into a cow, and a gadfly sent by Zeus's wife Hera has chased Io all the way from Argos. Prometheus forecasts Io's future travels, telling her that Zeus will eventually end her torment in Egypt, where she will bear a son named Epaphus. He says one of her descendants (an unnamed Heracles), thirteen generations hence, will release him from his own torment.

Finally, Hermes the messenger-god is sent down by the angered Zeus to demand that Prometheus tell him who threatens to overthrow him. Prometheus refuses, and Zeus strikes him with a thunderbolt that plunges Prometheus into the abyss.


The biographical tradition asserts that Virgil began the hexameter Eclogues (or Bucolics) in 42 BC and it is thought that the collection was published around 39-38 BC, although this is controversial.[6] The Eclogues (from the Greek for "selections") are a group of ten poems roughly modeled on the bucolic hexameter poetry ("pastoral poetry") of the Hellenistic poet Theocritus. After his victory in the Battle of Philippi in 42 BC, fought against the army led by the assassins of Julius Caesar, Octavian tried to pay off his veterans with land expropriated from towns in northern Italy, supposedly including, according to the tradition, an estate near Mantua belonging to Virgil. The loss of his family farm and the attempt through poetic petitions to regain his property have traditionally been seen as Virgil's motives in the composition of the Eclogues. This is now thought to be an unsupported inference from interpretations of the Eclogues. In Eclogues 1 and 9, Virgil indeed dramatizes the contrasting feelings caused by the brutality of the land expropriations through pastoral idiom, but offers no indisputable evidence of the supposed biographic incident. Readers often did and sometimes do identify the poet himself with various characters and their vicissitudes, whether gratitude by an old rustic to a new god (Ecl. 1), frustrated love by a rustic singer for a distant boy (his master's pet, Ecl. 2), or a master singer's claim to have composed several eclogues (Ecl. 5). Modern scholars largely reject such efforts to garner biographical details from fictive texts preferring instead to interpret the diverse characters and themes as representing the poet's own contrastive perceptions of contemporary life and thought.

The Eclogues

Scholars at the Great Library of Alexandria unanimously deemed Aeschylus to be the author of Prometheus Bound. Since the 19th century, however, several scholars have doubted Aeschylus' authorship of the drama. These doubts initially took the form of the "Zeus Problem." That is, how could the playwright who demonstrated such piety toward Zeus in The Suppliants and Agamemnon be the same playwright who inveighs against Zeus for being a violent tyrant? This objection prompted the theory of a Zeus who (like the Furies in the Oresteia) "evolves" in the course of the trilogy. Thus, by the conclusion of Prometheus the Fire-Bringer, Aeschylus' Zeus would be more like the just Zeus found in the works of Hesiod.[4]

Arguments for and against the attribution to Aeschylus have been based on metrical-stylistic grounds: the play's diction, the use of so-called Eigenworter, the use of recitative anapests in the meter, etc.[5] In 1977, Mark Griffith made a case against the attribution.[6] C. J. Herington, however, repeatedly argued for it.[7] Since Griffith's landmark study, confidence in Aeschylean authorship has steadily eroded. Influential scholars such as M.L West,[8] Alan Sommerstein,[9] and Anthony Podlecki[10] have made arguments against authenticity. West has argued that the Prometheus Bound and its trilogy are at least partially and probably wholly the work of Aeschylus' son, Euphorion, who was also a playwright. Based upon allusions to Prometheus Bound found in the works of comic playwright Aristophanes, Podlecki has recently suggested that the tragedy might date from ca. 415 BC. Those who trust in the verdict of antiquity and still favor Aeschylean authorship have dated the play anywhere from the 480s to 456 BC.

Debate over authenticity