COLLOQUIUM: Joshua H. Billings, Princeton, "Prometheus and Progress"

Thursday, January 26, 2017 - 4:30pm to 6:00pm

402 Cohen Hall


The paper examines the myth of Prometheus in relation to the “idea of progress” in classical Greek culture. Narratives of cultural development have often been thought to play a significant role in fifth-century thought, and intellectual and literary historiography have seen the story of Prometheus as a key document of such conceptions. The paper critically examines the evidence for such an idea of progress in fifth-century culture as a whole, and uses the depiction of Prometheus in the Prometheus Bound, Plato’s Protagoras, and Aristophanes’ Birds to outline an alternative way of understanding the ideas surrounding him. Rather than articulating a (diachronic) story of progress or development, Prometheus is fundamentally a figure for thinking through (synchronic) questions of human power and autonomy in relation to divinity. Stories of Prometheus in the classical period manifest an anthropological tendency that, the paper argues, becomes central to fifth-century intellectual culture.