“But He was pierced because of our transgressions, crushed because of our iniquities; punishment for our peace was on Him, and we are healed by His wounds.” ~ Isaiah 53:5

The concept of a savior is dear to every culture.  Whether it’s Herakles (i.e. Hercules) or Superman, every culture in every time period recognizes the need for someone greater to sacrifice themselves for those who are weaker.  God placed that need, that desire, in our hearts on purpose.  

In the Greek culture, there were a plethora of heroes who saved their various cities from monsters and other-worldly creatures.  However, only Prometheus saved all of mankind in Greek mythology.  The myths surrounding Prometheus are contradictory, which didn’t bother the Greeks (even if it does bother us).  He is both trickster and savior, a “semi-comic” and tragic hero.[1]   The former was the prevalent view of Prometheus until about the 5th century BC, when Aeschylus made the Greeks think of Prometheus in a whole new light.

Prometheus

The trickster Prometheus took delight in embarrassing Zeus.  First, he tricked Zeus into taking the worthless bones of a sacrificed animal, thus allowing mankind to keep the good meat.  In retaliation, Zeus withheld fire from mankind.  

This was crucial.  Fire brings warmth, which brings community, which ultimately brings forth culture and knowledge.[2]  Those were the two things the Greeks valued most, and therefore it makes sense that their “savior” would be associated with those things.  That, however, is the least of what fire does.  Far more importantly, fire is the means for sacrifice.  Without fire, there could be no appeasement of the gods.

So, Prometheus tricks Zeus again and gives fire to mankind.  As punishment, Zeus makes Pandora (the first woman) and gives her to mankind.  He then chains mankind’s “savior” to a mountain and has an eagle eat his liver every day.  Each night the liver grows back so as to repeat this torture forever.  (To the Greeks, the liver was the seat of the emotions, equivalent to our modern concept of the heart.)

The Truths Behind the Myth

In this myth, we see several truths.  First, the Greeks knew they must appease the gods – and yet they were unable to do so.  Even after they receive fire, the gods were still fickle and often un-appeasable.  That’s fascinating, for these gods were made in man’s image; yet the Greeks seem to realize that there is nothing they can do to truly obtain their salvation.  They didn’t realize that there was – and is – a God who would provide the only sacrifice that would appease His wrath and deliver them (Isaiah 53:7, John 1:29).

Second, it shows that the Greeks knew they needed a savior.  Throughout “Prometheus Bound,” Aeschylus says Prometheus suffering because he loved mankind.[3]  Anyone who would deign to love mankind deserved death (or worse).  Mankind was not a thing to be loved, but to be hated.[4]  Aeschylus – and thus later Greeks – rationalized their need for a savior who loved mankind enough to sacrifice himself; for only then could mankind live.  They didn’t realize  there was – and is – a God who loved mankind enough to do just that (John 3:16-17).

Preparing their Hearts

Near the end of Aeschylus’ play, we have this fascinating line from Hermes to the suffering Prometheus: “At no point can you expect an end to that anguish, until perhaps a God comes, willing to suffer your pain for you, willing to sink down into lightless Hades and the dead dark hollows of Tartaros.”[5]  Although Prometheus is freed in the end (and not by a god who goes down to Hades), Hermes’ point remains: if Prometheus’ freedom relies upon the gods, then it is impossible; for what sort of god would suffer death in another’s place?  

Roughly 500 years before the Hebrew Messiah, the Greeks began to ponder this vital question.  The Greeks realized that the gods needed appeasement man could not give, and that they needed a savior to love man enough to die.  But what sort of god would do such a thing?  None of the gods in their pantheon, certainly.  But there was – and is! – such a God, and He was preparing their hearts by awakening their need for a savior.

 

Sources

[1] “Introduction” to Prometheus Bound, translated by James Scully and C. John Herington, p. 5 & 6, 1989.

[2] “Prometheus Bound,” Aeschylus, lines 633 & 738

[3] “Prometheus Bound,” Aeschylus, lines 52-53, 185-186

[4] “Prometheus Bound,” Aeschylus, lines 342-352

[5] “Prometheus Bound,” Aeschylus, lines 1568-157


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