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Frankenstein or the Modern Prometheus

According to the Greek poet Hesiod, the Titan demi-god Prometheus was responsible for the creation of men. He manufactured them from clay, from the natural earth. When Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein or the Modern Prometheus, she left little doubt that the creator of the monster, Victor Frankenstein, by making a living creature from inaminate parts was a new Prometheus. But her metaphor extends beyond the immediately obvious. In Hesiods myth, Prometheus had an inflated sense of self importance and was determined to be adored by men.

Because men had no control over fire they were destined to remain mere animals. The forbidden knowledge of fire, the most basic and natural form of energy was the domain of the god, Zeus. The ego-centric Prometheus became obsessed with devising a means by which he could procure fire and with no other motive in mind than glory, he cunningly stole fire from Zeus and gave it to a grateful mankind. Prometheus trickery was bound to invite catastrophe. Zeus retribution was swift and twofold. Firstly, with the help of Hephaestus, Hermes and Aphrodite, he fashioned out of clay the first woman, Pandora.

Thereafter, men would no longer be born directly from the earth; now through women, they would undergo birth by procreation, and consequently old age, suffering and death. She was given a box which contained all manner of misery and evils and was responsible for letting them escape, to torment humankind forever. Secondly, Zeus caught Prometheus, chained him to a rock, and each day an eagle would visit him and feed on his liver. Prometheus liver, however, replenished itself overnight, so he was condemned not so much to a single act of punishment but to perpetual torture.

This is the price of tampering with nature. Prometheus ultimate downfall was caused, not by a poorly executed theft, but by the driving force of his own self-interest. By characterising Prometheanism, Mary Shelleys Frankenstein is a critique of male egoism. Shelley represents male egoism through the assertiveness of her glory seeking characters. The attitude of her narrator, Robert Walton, is typified by his belief in his God given right to have ultimate success in Arctic explorations.

He writes to his sister Margaret asking, “do I not deserve to accomplish some great purpose? Shelley 17) This attitude continues as he tells Victor that he would sacrifice anything, including mens (presumably other mens) lives for the success of his polar expedition and for “the dominion I should acquire and transmit over the elemental foes of our race”(28). This boast, made in the very midst of vast polar 2. ice fields, impels Victor to tell his story, as both a confession and also as a warning to Walton. If Victor is the Modern Prometheus, Walton is certainly his apprentice.

Like Victors knowledge of how to create a living being from dead matter, the knowledge which Walton seeks is forbidden; the secret of nature. By the end of the novel Walton has become aware of the ominous aspect of the Arctic. Certainly, the cruelty of the Arctic has not been lost on the crew of his ship who threaten mutiny. Their human spirit, in striving for forbidden knowledge, when confronted with the terrifying and mysterious abyss of nature, prefers to retreat trembling from the inhuman and seemingly infinite icy wilds.

On his deathbed, Victor asks them, “Did you not call this a glorious expedition? “….. “You were hereafter to be hailed as the benefactor of your species; your names adored, as belonging to the brave men who encountered death and honour, and the benefit of mankind”(214). Despite Victors rousing speech, the crew resolve to return to the safety and warmth of Mother England, no longer able to call themselves true men. Or, perhaps they have some forethought that, in finding absolution in Walton The Confessor, Victors parting words would be, “Seek happiness in tranquillity, and avoid ambition… 217).

With these last words, Victor is finally able to release himself from his dogma of glory and from life itself but his unflagging egoism will not let him concede that he might have acted in error: “I have myself been blasted in these hopes (of discovery), yet another may succeed”(218). Another, almost passing, reference to Prometheanism appears when Walton tells Margaret that his lieutenant is likewise “madly desirous of glory”(20). Victors closest friend, Henry Clerval, is one male who pursues his objectives without striving for glory.

This is due to the moderating influence of a female, the epitome of a contemporary males idea of femininity, Elizabeth Lavenza. Whilst growing up together, she “… unfolded to him the real loveliness and beneficence, and made the doing good the end and aim of his soaring ambition”(38). As Victor Frankenstein relates his story to Walton, he speaks of the desire to learn beyond the physical sciences, to discover metaphysical secrets which is more than a simple quest for wisdom.

Fuelled by his perceived elevation in esteem and admiration at Ingolstadt University, it becomes his obsession to find everlasting life, a quest for forbidden knowledge. Like Prometheus, he is driven by the thought of glory more than the benefit he might bestow upon humankind: “Wealth was an 3. inferior object; but what glory would attend the discovery, if I could banish disease from the human frame, and render man invulnerable to any but a violent death! “(40). And like Prometheus, he is able to fashion a living being from inaminate parts. But here he has made a double transgression.

Not only has he gone against nature, and circumvented the act of procreation, he has used the parts of dead humans to achieve his result. Compounding his crimes, Victor makes his gravest error. His egoism does not allow him to fulfil his obligations as a creator; to nurture and provide for his offspring . Victor finds the look of the demoniacal corpse too abhorrent; “…. but now that I had finished, the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart”(57). Shelley employs the monster to mete out Victors punishment.

Frustrated by a lack of compassion, the monster seeks revenge upon his creator. By killing William, Clerval, and Elizabeth, the monster enslaves Victor to the turmoil of his own mind and emotions, thereby destroying any hope of tranquillity, and his subsequent ability to rationalise clearly and deeply. Victors ability to devise a plan whereby he can destroy his creation is overshadowed by his own predicament, merely pursuing the monster to wherever the monster wishes to lead him. Victors perpetual punishment is not so much physical as mental and emotional. By contrast, Clervals death has nothing to do with his ambitions.

Perhaps, because his motives are honourable, that is, not ego driven, that he is allowed to die quickly. But like William, Victors brother, and Elizabeth, it is the affection bestowed on him by Victor that makes him a victim; his death is but another part of what keeps Victor, like Prometheus, “chained in an eternal hell”(211). In an attempt to placate the monster, Victor agrees to make a female companion, a Pandora. But when half completed, he claims, like Pandora, “she might become ten thousand times more malignant than her mate” or “a race of devils would be propagated upon the earth”(165).

In the presence of the monster, he destroys his work. But it is the lack of glorification were she to become what he predicts which really stops him proceeding. If his egoism had allowed him to believe humanity would marvel at his achievements, he would have kept going. So, with his Promethean traits in tact, Victors self-interest determines his actions once more. Further retribution from the monster is a fait accompli . Victors egoism even denies him the opportunity of understanding the implications of the monsters 4. promise to be with him on his wedding night.

Victors self obsession leads him to say, “Villain! fore you sign my death-warrant, be sure that you are yourself safe” (168). As far as Victor is concerned, the safety of Elizabeth is not a consideration; as far as his perpetual torture is concerned, her fate is sealed. The seeking of glory is a pursuit of ego driven males which, if left unchecked, deserves the fate of Prometheus. Shelley tells the story of three men who deal with Prometheanism in three ways. Innocent Clerval lived a happy, fulfilled, albeit brief life. Victor, refusing to repent until his last breath, and unable to pursue the monster, is chained to his bed with only his memories to persecute him.

And Walton relinquishes his own egoism and abandons his quest in the Arctic thus allowing the story of The Modern Prometheus to be told. The product of Prometheanism, the hapless monster, regretful of his own existence and with revenge complete, exits stage right, presumably to his death in the unknown wilderness. s What do a god and a crazy doctor have in common? Nothing right! Wrong! In the stories Prometheus and Frankenstein the protagonists are very alike in many ways. They both tried to play god, steal, and they both get punished for what they did.

In the stories Prometheus and Frankenstein the protagonists both tried to play God in their own way. They did this by trying to create their own being or race to worship them. In the story Prometheus, the protagonist Prometheus takes all the human beings under his wing and teaches them the beginning of civilization and changes their lives completely. “He grudged men all the gifts that Prometheus had given them and he was angry with Prometheus for granting to these wretched creatures of an hour the ability to shape their lives into something better and to rise their thoughts up to heaven itself.

Pg. 5. In the story Frankenstein, the protagonist creates a creature to worship and control. Dr. Frankenstein is trying to be a god which is why he is trying to create this new race. “I became myself capable of bestowing animation upon lifeless matter. What had been the study and desire of the wisest men since the creation of the world was now within my grasp. ” Pg. 167. To hold their roles of playing Gods both characters in each story had to steal to get the creation they wanted, which is what they both did.

Prometheus and Frankenstein both stole different things to achieve their own creations but their lack of knowledge about what they were doing was the same. To finish his own creation of the human being, Prometheus stole fire from Zeus without a doubt of what he was doing. “He took the fire from the very hearth of Zeus himself on Olympus and brought it to man concealed in the stem of a plant. Prometheus who gave men every art and every science; and finally he gave them the gift of fire. ” Pg. 5. Dr. Frankenstein stole body parts of dead people, even without fear that he was disturbing the dead in peace.

One secret which I alone possessed was the hope to which I had dedicated myself, and the noon gazed on my midnight labors, while with unrelaxed and breathless eagerness I pursued nature to her hiding places. Who shall conceive the horrors of my secret toil as I dabbled among the unhallowed damps of the grave or tortured the living animal to animate the lifeless clay? ” Pg. 168. They did steal things but in return they both got punished for what they did. Prometheus and Dr. Frankenstein were both punished for the things they did in the stories. In Prometheus he was sent to the top of a high mountain and was nailed there to be tortured.

Seize Prometheus and to carry him to the highest peak of the dreadful Caucasus. There among the crawling glaciers, beneath the lashing hail and winds of storm, or, in the summer time, shelterless against the scorching heat of the sun, Prometheus was to be bound fast with unbreakable chains. ” Pg. 5. In Frankenstein Dr. Frankenstein is punished by having nightmares of dead people and he starts to go crazy and a little insane from the thought of disturbing all the dead people. Also he is punished by his creation turning out to be an ugly hideous looking monster. “For this I had deprived myself of rest and health.

I had desired it and ardor that far exceeded moderation, but now that I had finished, the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart. Unable to endure the aspect of the being I had created. ” Pg. 169. Who would have guessed that a role model and a nut case could be so much alike? Therefore, in the story Frankenstein and in the story Prometheus both protagonists play god, steal, and get punished. Go figure? Prometheus Who was responsible for bring fire to mankind, who was chained to the top of a mountain and had his liver devoured by an eagle every night?

The answer: Prometheus. This god was part of a mighty group of gods called Titans. The poet Hesoid described Prometheus as a trickster, and a troublemaker. Aeschylus described Prometheus as a “tragic hero”. Many plays have been written about Prometheus, including “Prometheus”. Prometheus was a cunning, intelligent being. During the war of the Titans, he advised them to use strategy, instead of just going out and having a massive bloodbath. (Encyclopedia Americana, 577) Beethoven, Wolfgang Von Goethe, Percy Bysshe, and Bach all created works inspired by the myths of Prometheus.

Prometheus had no Roman name, only a Greek name, Prometheus. (Graves, 185) He was one of the few gods that only had a Greek name. No one knows why he only had a Greek name, we can only guess. His father, Iapetus was also a mighty Titan, one of the first Titans. His mother, Clymene, was a beautiful nymph from the deep trenches of the oceans of the world. (Hodge, 352) The story of his birth is rather sketchy, most books just outline the story of Iapetus and Clymene being madly in love with each other, and having a son, and naming him Prometheus. He had a brother who was named Atlas.

Encyclopedia Americana, 576) (Picture taken from Microsoft Encarta, 1998) Prometheus isnt really in charge of anything, except bringing fire to mankind and creation on man. When responsibilities were handed out, Prometheus was left out, possibly because he was a Titan, no one really knows. ) Prometheus is recognized by his nudity, the stalk of fennel that he carried fire to mankind in, and the crown of sticks and leaves that sits atop his head. (Tripp, 439) A giant, roaring fire symbolizes Prometheus, most people understand why, and that is because he gave the gift of fire to mankind.

Prometheus has few unique characteristics. He isnt a massive beast, he doesnt have magical powers, and he doesnt have huge, rippling muscles. He does, on the other hand, have an immortal liver. In a certain Greek Myth, Prometheus stole fire from the hearth of the gods, the gods became angry, especially Zeus. (World Book Encyclopedia, 567) Zeus ordered Prometheus chained to the top of a huge mountain as punishment for stealing fire from the hearth of the gods. During his imprisonment atop the mountain, he was tortured daily by either a vulture, or eagle.

Academic American Encyclopedia, 743) the vulture or eagle would tear out his liver, and devour it, again, and again, and again. Each night, after enduring the great pain, Prometheus liver would grow back, in the exact same place in his body ready for the next days punishment. It is odd, that being a god, that is his only unique characteristic. (Picture taken from Microsoft Encarta, 1998) There are a lot of Greek myths about the great Titan Prometheus. One of which is about how he stole fire from the hearth of the gods, and gave it as a gift to mankind.

Zeus was angry with the humans, and as a punishment, denied them fire. He then took the fire, that was meant for the humans, and placed it in the hearth of the gods, so he and all the other gods could keep warm. Prometheus sympathized with the humans. During the night, while all the gods were asleep, Prometheus made his way around the slumbering Zeus. He then made his way to the hearth of the gods, and grabbed the fire. Being a god, he was not harmed by the fire. He pulled out the stock of a fennel, that he had prepared earlier and put the fire in it. He made his way past Zeus, and all the other sleeping gods.

Prometheus ran out into the night. He walked all night, and at the break of dawn, finally reached earth. He came upon a group of humans preparing the mornings meal. He handed the stalk of fennel to the eldest of the group and told him what it was, and how to use it. Prometheus began the long journey home. By this time, Zeus had awakened, and discovered that the fire was gone. He was furious. He stormed about the heavens making a huge scene. When Prometheus returned, Zeus almost tore him to bits. Before he could lay a finger on Prometheus, one of Zeus aids suggested a more painful punishment.

Zeus agreed with his aide, and ordered Prometheus chained to the top of Mt. Caucasus. He instructed a vulture to tear out, and eat Prometheus liver each and every day at noon. Prometheus was bound with heavy chains, so heavy that even a god could not break. He began his long, and never ending sentence. Thirteen Generations later, Hercules, the son of Zeus, killed the vulture, and set Prometheus free. (Encyclopedia Britannica, 639) (Picture taken from Microsoft Encarta, 1998) Another myth, which is rather short, involves the creation of man. In this myth, Prometheus was the creator of mankind.

He molded human and animal figures out of soft clay. He made every living thing on earth out of this soft and malleable clay. After he molded the human and animal figures, he placed each figure on a massive, stone slab. He pushed the stone slab into a giant kiln. He let the figures bake in the kiln for two days. When the clay figures were done baking, they were no longer clay figures, but living animals and humans. He placed each animal and human on the earth, where they prospered. (World Book Encyclopedia 568) One of the more popular myths explains how Pandoras box was opened.

Zeus was angry with Prometheus. He ordered the creation of a woman, her name was Pandora. She had this little evil box, in it, was all the evils that would come to plague mankind. She tried to seduce Prometheus, but he refused her. Pandora then went to Prometheus brother, Epimetheus. She seduced him, and persuaded him to open her box. When he did, a great chill came over him, he had released all of the evil things in Pandoras box, only one thing remained in the box, and that was hope. (Graves, 259) Prometheus isnt responsible for naming, or creating anything, it all depends on how you look at it.

If you look at it one way, he is just some guy who stole fire from the gods; he didnt create it, or name it. If you look at it form the perspective of mankind, then he did create fire. Think about it, mankind had nothing back then. When Prometheus brought them fire from the gods down to earth, they must have believed that he did indeed create the fire. Prometheus was a great god, and he was one of the few gods that helped humanity. The Greeks were wonderful at creating these myths and gods, and Prometheus has to be one of the better ones.

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Home » Frankenstein or the Modern Prometheus

Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus

In Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus, written in the late nineteenth century by Mary Shelley, Shelley proposes that knowledge and its effects can be dangerous to individuals and all of humanity. Frankenstein was one of our first and still is one of our best cautionary tales about scientific research.. Shelley’s novel is a metaphor of the problems technology is causing today. Learn from me. . . at least by my example, how dangerous is the acquirement of knowledge and how much happier that man is who believes his native town to be the world, than he who aspires to become greater than his nature will allow (Shelley 101)

The popular belief of how Frankenstein came to be written derives from Shelley herself, who explains in an introduction to the novel that she , her husband Percy Shelly, and Lord Byron set themselves the task of creating ghost stories during a short vacation at a European villa.

According to Shelley, the short story she conceived was predicated of the notion as the eighteenth became the nineteenth century that electricity could be a catalyst of life. her introduction she recalls the talk about Erasmus Darwin, who had preserved a piece of vermicelli in a glass case, till by some extraordinary means it began to move with voluntary motion,” (Joseph vii). The extraordinary means forms the basis for Frankenstein. Many people also believe that a nightmare that Mary Shelley had could also be partly responsible for the creation of the novel. At the time the novel was written, England was on the brink of leading the Industrial revolution in Europe.

The experiments of Huntsman (crucible steel manufacture), Newcome (steam-powered pumps), and Cochrane (coal tar production) throughout the eighteenth century in England were decisive in the initial transformation of England into an industrialized country (Burke 137, 173, 195). The emerging age of technology appears to have found followers throughout the culture and to have become firmly reinforced by the time Frankenstein was written. Eric Rabkin (author), says that in England early in the eighteenth century, “there exist a populous discourse community that accepted the rhetoric of science” (Rabkin 39).

This rhetoric has proof extending back to the English Renaissance. Those sensitive to change and those prepared to embrace a rhetoric of change need not be scientists. While scientists address a discourse community of scientists, novelists address a wider discourse community of the literate. If we can accept the earlier argument that science and poetry are not ontologically antagonistic, then we might well hope to find fictional uses of the rhetoric of science . in texts scattered from Francis Bacon’s time to the present. These uses would change as the prevailing first principles of the time evolved under the impact the advances brought by science and as the consequent needs of artist also changed . . . In the early seventeenth century, when the prevailing first principles in the artist’s discourse community were theological, Bacon, as we have seen, used the authority of theology to validate the rhetoric of science.

As science and technology and the persuasiveness of the rhetoric of science changed the world and the way people viewed it, the competing authorities changed their balance until today the rhetoric of science is used to lend authority to religion (Rankin 25, 37). Tillyard confirms the proof of science and technology as firmly established in Mary Shelley’s lifetime by quoting a book on Homer that proclaimed England’s arts improving and its sciences advancing. Tillyard’s point is that “the eighteenth-century myth of freedom in England included the doctrine of progress” ( Tillyard 106).

The doctrine of progress is connected with the emerging doctrine of industrialization and science. It was this doctrine, seemingly inside by English scholars and popular culture, although reflected by imagination it may have been, that it can be said to have provided scientific proof for Frankenstein. Rankin states that “Shelley had written a palpable fable and she knew that its full effect depended on authorizing some possibility of belief” (Rankin 42). Science provided in the novel provided that authority, creating a foundation story in what the English culture current with Mary Shelley would have taken as real world possibility.

The rhetoric of science in fiction is not merely a modern overlay on storytelling, nor is it employed, except fortuitously, to convey newly discovered information about the world. Once upon a time fiction, which obviously is not true, took its authority form the Muse: at other times from the Bible. Neither of these sources of authority would do for Shelley, but authority has always to be found somewhere if we are to distinguish the lies that tell truths form the just plain lies (Rankin 43). Industrialization and the development of science were a sign that the mind was no longer medieval as it was modern.

This explains the use by Shelley of The Modern Prometheus, and it does not eliminate the potential for literary investigation. Fellman (178, 180) makes this point when he asserts that Frankenstein was a literary anticipation of the twentieth century with alienation of human beings and technologies. He asserts that technology has led to a culture of control of positive creative energy in favor of technology that developed a life of its own and that there is a parallel in Frankenstein with Victor’s alienation and withdrawal from his family and from the world at large.

Tillyard deals with the troubling element of moral uncertainty certain in a culture of scientism when he cites Percy Shelley’s Prometheus Unbound, were “the poet asks by what means liberty, once lost, can be regained. ” The answer is hope, forgiveness, defiance of absolute power, love, endurance, steadfastness. In this passage Shelley descends from his ecstatic vision of a redeemed universe to the sober thought that a happy state of things on earth is liable to mutability (Tillyard 120). There is uneasiness in the vision of the world could be improved by scientific or at least technical progress.

The consequence of technological action on this view is emotional and psychological on the part of human beings connected with it. In this regard (Brooks 592-4) suggests that in the novel, the monster’s comportment makes it impossible for him to access human interaction; only his ability to speak and communicate offers any opportunity for interaction. Indeed, the monster’s ability to communicate offers suspense and pathos, particularly when he demands that Victor create a mate for him: You have destroyed the work which you began: what is it that you intend?

Do you dare to break your promise? I have endured toil and misery: I left Switzerland with you: I crept along the shores of the Rhine, among its willow islands, and over the heaths of England, and among the deserts of Scotland. I have endured incalculable fatigue, and cold, and hunger; do you dare destroy my hopes? Begone! I do break my promise; never will I create another like yourself, equal in deformity and wickedness (Shelley 167). This goes to the issue of the scientist as villain, as Issac Asimov puts it.

Asimov says that Victor Frankenstein is the prototype of the mad scientist who invades on those things not meant for man to know, because , presumably they are reserved for God alone. What lies behind Victor Frankenstein’s scientific projects is obviously an attempt to gain power. Victor is inspired by the new scientists who acquired new and almost unlimited power. Frankenstein has sought this unlimited power to the extent of taking the place of God in reaction to his creation. In doing so, Frankenstein has not only disrupted nature, but seized the power of reproduction in order to become acknowledged.

This ambition is very close to capitalism (to exploit natures resources for both commercial profit and political control). This is a goal of what many of todays scientist are out to accomplish. ” Frankenstein, Asimov remarks “dared usurp what was considered the divine choice of giving life and . . . paid dearly in consequence” (Asimov 66). The subtle irony of the book is of course that Frankenstein is not portrayed as a villainous character. he is actually, a tragic hero: he meant well” (Asimov 66).

The moral dilemma created by progress that outgrows its creator and develops as it were a life of its own is identified in Frankenstein. Robert Spector sees this as a concern of Shelley’s. Frankenstein (1818), which has long enjoyed a reputation as a monster story, was a warning against man’s domination by the machines he was creating. The evil is not inherent in the monster, but is a result of the attitude toward it. For Mary Shelley, imbued with the ideas of progress and the perfectibility of man, the danger lay in a lack of proper feeling, a failing of charity and understanding.

Her long passages describing the education of the monster have often been criticized as sentimental nonsense, but they were essential to her point of view. If what the monster learns about humanitarian principles comes only from book, it merely increased his wrath to discover their perversion in practice. . . . (Spector 10) Shelley questioned the morals of the advancing technologies. She saw the consequences that all the advances might cause. On this view, the novel is a cautionary tale about what is to come. Shelley’s tale of horror is a profound insight of the consequences of morally insensitive scientific and technological research.

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