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Prometheus Bound

Prometheus Bound


by Aeschylus

Chorus of Daughters of Oceanus

Character Analysis

Oh, the Chorus. Don't you just love them? They're a bunch of big softies—and who can blame them for being terrified of Zeus? In their dancing shoes, we'd probably act just the same

Daddy's Girls

First things first: the chorus is made up of nymphs, daughters of the sea-god Oceanus. Since Oceanus is Prometheus's uncle, we guess that makes the nymphs Prometheus's cousins—although considering the messed up family relationships among the Titans and Olympians, we probably shouldn't get too hung up on specifics. (For some family tree action, check out our Learning Guide on the War of the Titans.)

The Chorus helps move the play along by asking the right questions and urging everyone to tell their stories. (Except for the rock-tastrophe at the end, Prometheus Bound isn't so much about the action.) Also? They're big old softies.

Cry, Cry Ladies

At heart, the Chorus are just bleeding heart liberals, standing up for—or at least sympathizing with—the little guy. They feel really bad for Prometheus. Check it out:

  • Fear brings rushing into my eyes/ a mist full of tears/ on seeing you/ left here to wither, bound to this rock. (144-47)
  • One would have to be made of stone and have a soul of iron, Prometheus, not to share the distress of your affliction. I would not have wished to see it, and now that I have seen it, I am pained to the heart. (242-245)
  • I groan, Prometheus, for your terrible fate:/ I let fall a flow of tear-drops/ from my tender eyes, and moisten my cheek/ with their watery stream. (398-400)

Get the picture? They're sad. And they also feel bad for Io, saying that "sufferings so painful to see, so painful to bear/ ... strike my soul/ ... I shudder when I see what Io is experiencing" (695). (Yes: the Chorus is multiple, but they speak with one voice as "I." It's weird.)

Here's the thing: what Shmoop thinks about all this is that the Chorus is modeling how we're supposed to react. We already know that the Chorus helps provide key information (for more on that, check out our handy-dandy Literature Glossary), and here they also seem to be cuing the audience on how to respond. We're supposed to be sorry for Prometheus.

This is actually kind of helpful, because, as we talked about in Prometheus's "Character Analysis," he's not the most sympathetic dude. Not that we want him to be chained to a rock or anything, but he certainly doesn't arouse warm and tender feelings in our cold, stony hearts. Thanks to the Chorus, we know that we're supposed to feel for him.

The Matrix

If the whole speaking-as-one thing didn't tip you off, we'll just say it: the Chorus are conformists. Sure, they're sad for Prometheus and they make some noise about sticking by him, but at heart they're just scared little girls. And who can blame them? Zeus is a seriously powerful, seriously frightening god. Besides weeping and asking questions, the Chorus spends a lot of time telling Prometheus that he should really shape up.

For example: "You do not fear Zeus/ and, following your individual judgment, Prometheus/ You give too much honour to mortals" (536-544). Three problems here, according to the Chorus: (1) not enough fear of Zeus; (2) too much individuality; (3) mortal-loving. From this, we know that the Chorus fears Zeus, doesn't act as individuals, and doesn't care too much about mortals—although they probably don't actively want us destroyed.

And they seem to use Prometheus's fate as a cautionary tale, freaking out about how helpless they are. They may sympathize with Prometheus, but they sure don't want to suffer his fate. They pray: "May Zeus, the disposer of all things,/ never set his power in opposition to my will;/ nor may I be backward/ in piously approaching the gods with feasts" (526-29).

(Maybe that explains why Zeus is so cranky: he's hungry. Keep with the feasts, people!)

Anyway, the point is that the Chorus still wants to be on Zeus's good side. And no wonder—Prometheus may be a big fancy Titan, but they're just river and lake nymphs. That's probably why they seem to identify much more with Io than Prometheus. "Against such a campaign" as Zeus's against Io, they say, "there could be nothing I could do with myself:/ I cannot see how I could escape the wiles of Zeus" (904-907).

We Are All Together

Sympathetic to Prometheus and scared of Zeus: sound familiar? You could say that the Chorus is us. We're the ones begging him to tell us the future, counseling him not to tick off the Big Guy, and weeping a few tears along the way.

In other words, we may not be willing to get in the middle of the fight, but we'll sure hang around to see what happens afterwards.