It's also barbarous. To the Greeks, this is pretty much the end of the earth. But we're not alone.
Four figures walk out into this wasteland. Two seriously evil dudes—the gods of Power and Violence—are leading a prisoner: Prometheus. Behind them limps Hephaestus, the god of craftsmanship.
Anyone else thinking that Hephaestus really got shafted in the name department?
When they finally stop, Power orders Hephaestus to fasten Prometheus to a rock, since that will punish him for stealing fire from the gods and giving it to stinking, puny humans. And it'll also teach him to respect Zeus, the ruler of all the gods, because nothing says "worthy of respect" than "arbitrary and cruel punishment."
Hephaestus apologizes for the misery he's about to inflict and drags his feet a little.
Power tells him to get on with it: it's not his fault. He's just following orders. After a little bit more dilly-dallying, Hephaestus puts the shackles on Prometheus and nails him to the rock.
Hephaestus makes it very clear that he doesn't like what he's doing—but he does it anyway.
Once he's done the dirty work, Hephaestus heads out.
Power and Violence stick around just long enough for Power to mock Prometheus for the human-loving that got him into this fix.
Then they check out too.
As soon as those guys are gone, Prometheus starts majorly complaining. (We can't really blame the guy.) But he doesn't go on for too long.
Pretty soon, he starts beating himself up for complaining: see, he can look into the future, so he knew in advance that this was going to happen to him.
So how'd he get into this mess? He stole fire from the gods and gave it to mortals.
Well, the gods might be angry, but we're happy about that one.
Suddenly, Prometheus smells something real pretty, like perfume. And he hears a fluttering, like bird wings. He assumes, naturally, that someone's coming to make fun of him for being all tied up, but it's actually just a Chorus of nymphs, the daughters of the sea-god Oceanus.
It's cool, they haven't come to make fun of him. They've actually come to make sure that he's all right.
Prometheus is happy they're checking in, but he still wishes he'd been imprisoned in some dark cave under the earth where no one could see him.
Really? Because that sounds majorly depressing.
The Chorus figures that Zeus has to be responsible for this, since he's working on checking "Destroy all Titans" off his to-do list.
Since Prometheus is a Titan, he's on Zeus's hit list.
Prometheus doesn't weigh in on the Titan-angle; he just points out that Zeus won't be able to keep lording it over him forever because he's got some info that Zeus wants: the name of the person who's going to knock Zeus off of his throne.
The Chorus doesn't think this plan sounds awesome, since Prometheus probably doesn't want to tick Zeus off even more.
Prometheus? Not too worried.
One day, he and Zeus will be friends again.
Now the Chorus wants to know why, exactly, Prometheus is in chains. Ahem.
Here's the story: a while ago, the younger gods, led by Zeus, were mounting a rebellion against the Titans, led by Zeus's father Cronus.
Prometheus started out on the side of his fellow Titans, but they wouldn't listen to him.
Then he remembered what his mom said. (Always a good move.)
A little family history: Prometheus's mom is, Gaia, the earth goddess, also known as Themis, goddess of justice. (Fun fact: this is the only source for identifying Gaia with Themis. In most other writing, they're separate ladies.) Gaia/Themis told Prometheus that brains, not brawn, would win the war between the young gods and the Titans.
Realizing that the other Titans weren't buying into this message, Prometheus offered his services to Zeus.
Zeus won, but it didn't do Prometheus much good. Zeus started throwing his weight around left, right, and center.
And you know who he particularly disliked? Humans. In fact, he planned to wipe humankind off the face of the earth and start again from scratch.
Prometheus wasn't too keen on the idea. He stood up to Zeus and protected the mortals—and got chained to a rock for his trouble.
This brings us to the end of Prometheus's story about himself.
The Chorus of daughters of Oceanus agrees that the story was seriously sad. But they have a feeling that there's more to the story.
There sure is, says Prometheus. He made it so mortals no longer know when they're going to die. How? He gave them hope.
That's pretty cool, the Chorus agrees.
And then Prometheus drops the bomb (so to speak): he also gave humans fire. [Insert thunderclap here.]
This act of audacity blows the Chorus away, since fire is majorly sacred.
But Prometheus says that he knew exactly what he was doing—although he didn't quite know how bad the punishment would be.
Prometheus tells the girls of the Chorus to gather at the foot of the crag to listen to him prophesy the future.
As they're climbing down to the base of the crag, which apparently is the only place to listen to prophesies, in comes their father, Oceanus, god of the… well, ocean. (Bet you didn't see that coming.)
Oceanus starts off by apologizing for taking so long to get there, as though anyone was waiting for him, and then drops a casual mention about how his chariot is thought-powered.
He gives some half-hearted sympathy to Prometheus and then offers to help. Nice guy!
But Prometheus doesn't respond too well, since he thinks that Oceanus has just come to gloat.
You can practically hear Oceanus rolling his eyes as he tells Prometheus to get a clue; running his mouth off is just going to make Zeus angrier.
No worries, though: Oceanus and Zeus are tight, and he'll totally put in a good word for Prometheus. Thanks but no thanks, Prometheus says, except not so politely: Oceanus is a wimp who would never have the courage to stand up to any god.
Anyway, it's pointless to try to talk Zeus out of his anger, and Oceanus will just end up making Zeus angrier.
And when Zeus gets angry, bad things happen.
For example, he forced Prometheus's brother Atlas to hold the heavens on his shoulders and then buried another guy, Typhon, under Mt. Etna.
Way harsh, Zeus.
Oceanus can't quite believe that Prometheus is refusing his offer of help, but he finally takes the hint and jets off in his flying chariot.
After their daddy's gone, the girls of the Chorus start dancing and singing. Way to celebrate, ladies. They tell Prometheus how sorry they are to see him in this state, then add that the whole world is lamenting with him.
When they've finished their routine, Prometheus speaks up. He tells them not to blame him for keeping silent—he's just been wrapped up in his own brooding thoughts.
Now he says that he's going to let them in on how utterly wretched humanity was before he helped them out.
Before Prometheus came around (says Prometheus), humans lived underground in caves and didn't plan for the future. They didn't know how to use numbers or writing, they couldn't interpret the stars, they didn't have any domesticated animals, and they didn't know how to sail the sea.
Next he'll be telling us that they didn't have smartphones or Facebook, either.
The Chorus tries to get Prometheus to shut up, since they're afraid that he's going to get into even bigger trouble with Zeus. But Prometheus is on a roll. Now he says that, before him, humans didn't know the arts of medicine. They also didn't know how to use the various techniques for predicting the future, nor did they know about mining and metalworking.
Basically, Prometheus taught humans everything useful they know.
The Chorus then tells Prometheus that he's spent too much time helping mortals and not enough time on himself. You know, he needs some "me" time.
(Sure. And now that he's chained to a rock, he's got all the "me" time he could want.)
Oh, but it's okay. The Chorus is totally sure that Zeus will let him off the hook. Er, rock. Prometheus thinks this is hilarious, since it's not even up to Zeus: it's up to the Fates, who are way more powerful than Zeus.
Plus, it's not in Zeus's destiny to rule forever. But he's not going to say a word about it: that's his "get-out-of-jail" free card.
Time for another song-and-dance: the Chorus wants to honor Zeus for the rest of their days. You know, so he won't punish them.
Oh, and they also slip in a little lecture about how Prometheus totally went against the will of Zeus to help humans.
This is a bad move, because humans are puny, worthless weaklings, and they'll never triumph over Zeus.
Just then, the Chorus is interrupted when a cow charges onto the scene.
But this isn't just any cow—it's actually the mortal girl Io, who has been transformed into animal form.
Io is not in good shape.
She's disoriented, and is not too pretty to look at.
Oh, and there's a gadfly that keeps biting her. For some reason, Io thinks that praying to Zeus is going to solve her problems.
Anyway, Prometheus totally recognizes Io, even though she, well, looks like a cow. (But not in the bad way.)
Io wants to know if he can tell her what's going on.
Sure, Prometheus says. Every day is better with a little prophesying.
But there's one thing we won't tell her: anything about himself. See, he's tired of feeling bad for himself. Okay, okay, fine: Hephaestus chained him to the rock, but Zeus is the one who gave the order. Enough about him: back to Io, who wants to know when her sufferings will be over.Oh, Io so does not want to know that.
Eventually her feminine—er, bovine—wiles win him over, though, and he agrees to tell her about her future. But first, the Chorus wants to hear how she got into this predicament. And they want to hear from Io herself.
When she was a young girl in her father's house, Io had some bad dreams. And we're talking bad: Zeus, the king of the gods, has a massive crush on her, and wants her to give herself to him sexually.
Eventually, Io got up the courage to ask her father about these dreams. (That must have been one awkward birds-and-the-bees conversation.)
Dad asked various oracles what to do. Most of them gave him confusing, riddling answers (as oracles always seem to do).
Finally, one of them gave him a clear message: Zeus gets Io. And so, Io was turned loose into the wilderness, an outcast from her father's house. Buuut, things didn't go as expected. Shock! Instead, Io was transformed into a cow.
Then, as if that wasn't bad enough, a gadfly appeared, and began stinging her, driving her over the face of the earth. The gadfly had some help: Argus, a herdsman. Even though Argus soon died, the gadfly kept stinging.
Anyway, Io's terrible wanderings have finally brought her right here to Scythia. This is the end of Io's story about herself.
Now that she's kept up her end of the bargain, she asks Prometheus again to tell her what troubles are still in store for her.
But first, the Chorus has to butt in again to be all scared about what Io's suffering at the hands of Destiny. LOL.
Just wait until you hear what Prometheus is about to reveal.
By the way, Prometheus says, Io's enemy is Hera, Zeus's wife.
Notice anything weird going on here?
Yes: Io thinks Zeus is punishing her, the Chorus thinks Destiny/Fate is punishing her, and now Prometheus says Hera is punishing her. Weird stuff.
Anyhow, Prometheus has bad news. He says that Io will have to make a long journey to various desolate locations inhabited by barbarians. Gasp!
Anyway, Prometheus turns to the Chorus and tries to get them to admit that Zeus is a nasty guy for making Io do all that.
Wait a sec, so now Prometheus is blaming Zeus?
Apparently yes, because now Prometheus says basically the same thing to Io. Oh, and her sufferings have barely begun.
Io doesn't like the sounds of that. She starts crying, and considers throwing herself off the rock to put an end to her suffering.
Prometheus puts an end to her pity-party by throwing himself one: he's immortal, so suicide wouldn't do him any good. In fact, he won't be free until Zeus is no longer king of the gods.
That turns out to be just the distraction Io needs, and she asks him how Zeus will fall from power. Prometheus says that Zeus will bring about his own downfall by entering into a foolish relationship.
Ha! Don't we all.
Anyway, at some point in the future, Zeus will shack up with a woman who is destined to bear a son greater than his father—and also have it in for his father.
Is there any way for Zeus to get out of it? Yes. Prometheus can save him after he's been released. And Prometheus is going to be released—by a descendent of Io.
This is turning into quite a family affair.
Here's the thing: despite what he said about speaking clearly, he's really unclear here.
In Sommerstein's translation, he says that his rescuer will be "the third in birth on top of ten other births." From these words, the hero could be either Io's 13th child, or a child in the 13th generation after her.
That's, um, a pretty big difference.
When Io asks for some clarification, Prometheus gets a little snarky, telling her that he can learn either what's going to happen to her or who's going to free him, but not both.
The Chorus has a bright idea: he can tell her what's going to happen to her, and them who's going to release him.
Prometheus continues: Io's going to wander to all sorts of treacherous regions, right up until she gets to the Nile Delta in Egypt.
There, she's going to found a new city for herself and her descendants. When Prometheus finally stops talking, the Chorus needles him to keep going.
Sure, he says. Now that he's told Io's future, he'll tell her past—just to prove his abilities as a prophet.
That said, instead of taking up Io's story at the beginning (which might have been nice in, like, clearing up who exactly is to blame for her being turned into a cow), he just explains the stages of her journey leading up to this point.
But here's a little more info about her future:
While Io is in Egypt, Zeus will approach her and get her pregnant—but no need to bump up that Steaminess Rating, since the deed somehow happens simply by touching her. Her son will be a black child named Epaphus.
Five generations after Epaphus, some of Io's female descendants (the fifty Danaids) will come to the city of Argos, in Greece.
Woohoo! Road trip!
Not so much. In Argos, each of the women will kill her groom on their wedding night, except for one. The one who lets her groom live will become the founder of a royal dynasty in Argos.
Generations later, the royal line of Argos will give birth to a son who will become a famous archer. This guy will rescue Prometheus, although he's a little fuzzy on the details.
This is all too much for Io, who starts singing and dancing off stage.
After watching her go, the Chorus sings a song about how people should choose marriage partners of the same social status as themselves.
Yes, this is the lesson they draw from Io's experience being courted by Zeus.
Prometheus then tells the Chorus that Zeus will definitely meet his downfall, no matter how powerful he seems to be right now.
And the guy who's going to do it? Zeus's kid—a child destined to be more powerful than him.
Is anyone else feeling a little déjà vu? Prometheus seems really stuck on this whole Zeus's-downfall thing. The Chorus is a little suspicious, too. They think Prometheus is just saying what he wants to be true. Prometheus says that it is true; it doesn't matter that he also wants it to be true.
And he's going to keep on speaking the truth, no matter what Zeus does.
When the Chorus warns him again to keep his big mouth shut, Prometheus calls them a bunch of wimps.
Oh, and here comes another visitor: Hermes, the messenger of the gods.
Prometheus says that Hermes is a wimp too—because he's the servant of the gods. He isn't too much of a wimp to tell Prometheus off for thinking he's so tough before delivering his message: Zeus wants to know who this person is Prometheus can't stop blabbing about—the child that will one day defeat him.
Ha! Prometheus disses Hermes and then says that Zeus doesn't scare him—he's seen plenty of gods come and go. He'd rather be chained up than running around doing the gods' errands, like Hermes.
Now we get some fun back and forth: Hermes tries to convince Prometheus to apologize, and Prometheus insists that the gods are totally dumb and Zeus is in for it.
Hermes turns up the threat level: if Prometheus doesn't reveal the truth, Zeus will bury him under mountains of rock, then release him and send an eagle to gnaw on his liver. Delicious!
The Chorus is really pulling for Prometheus to back off, but he won't do it.
Hermes is convinced that Prometheus is certifiably insane (and we think he might be right).
He tells the Chorus to get lost if they want to be safe, since Zeus is probably prepping his lighting bolts as they speak.
Nope; the Chorus members won't budge. Aw, sweet!
Okay, says Hermes, but don't say he didn't warn them. He hightails it out of there just as the earth begins to shake and the lightning flashes in the sky.
The Chorus scatters, Prometheus prays to his mommy (and to the sky), and the rock that he's chained to splits. Prometheus plunges into the black center of the earth.