The Myth of Prometheus in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein

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Knowledge is a distinctively human virtue. After all, if not for the want of human beings to learn of and master our habitat, would we not still be counted among the beasts? For all of the good that knowledge brings to us, however, knowledge can just as easily bring pain. We discover new types of medicine to extend our lives, but that is balanced by our awareness of our mortality. We find new advances in technology with which to bring convenience into our lives, but those advances are countered by the resulting pollutions that are poisoning our world. These conflicting aspects of knowledge and its consequences were first discussed thousands of years ago by the ancient Greeks. The Titan Prometheus bestowed upon mankind the gift of knowledge, but that gift came with a price. In Frankenstein: or, A Modern Prometheus, Mary Shelley brings the ideas of Prometheus into the early 19th century by co-opting three of the central themes of the Prometheus myth—the themes of knowledge with consequence, the underlying sexism within the story of Pandora, and the use of lightning as a means of representing knowledge. A brief discussion of the myth of Prometheus is warranted. There are two major myths involving Prometheus—those of Prometheus pyrophorus, who brings fire from the lightning bolt of Zeus to benefit mankind, and that of Prometheus plasticator, who creates man out of clay. These two major themes involving Prometheus at first seem disparate but upon close examination fit together quite well. Prometheus is both the creator and benefactor of man. Eventually, “[b]y about the second or third century A.D., the two elements where fused together, so that the fire stolen by Prometheus was also the... ... middle of paper ... ...ic Integrity. 8.3 (2006): 257-270. Academic Search Premire. Web. 17 Nov. 2008. Shelley, Mary . Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus. Mary Shelley: Frankenstein. Ed. Johanna M. Smith. 2nd ed. Case Studies in Contemporary Criticism. Boston: Bedford-St. Martin’s P, 2000. 19-189. Print. Shattuck, Roger. Forbidden Knowledge: From Prometheus to Pornography. New York: St. Martin’s P, 1996. Print. Smith, C.U.M. “A Strand of Vermicelli: Dr. Darwin’s Part in the Creation of Frankenstein’s Monster.” Interdisciplinary Science Reviews. 32.1 (2007): 45-53. Academic Search Premire. Web. 17 Nov. 2008. Smith, Johanna M. “’Cooped Up’ with ‘Sad Trash’: Domesticity and the Sciences in Frankenstein.” Mary Shelley: Frankenstein. Ed. Johanna M. Smith. 2nd ed. Case Studies in Contemporary Criticism. Boston: Bedford-St. Martin’s P, 2000. 313-333. Print.
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