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Thursday 15 March 2012

Why Prometheus?

Why, you may ask, “the modern Prometheus”? Prometheus gave fire to mankind, of course, but I think that’s not what was uppermost in Mary Shelley’s mind. As well as Prometheus Pyrphoros, Ovid tells us, there is Prometheus Plasticator: the creator of (male) humankind. It’s a Roman revision of the myth, but one that makes sense as it provides him with a personal motive for siding with Man against the gods. So it sharpens the story and deepens character too. I guess that makes Ovid the Russell T Davies of his day.

It was left to Hephaestus to create woman (the infamous Pandora, designed by Zeus as a punishment for mankind) and a little echo of that myth too survives in Frankenstein, though the female creature has not been well treated in any of the versions of the story. In the original novel she never even gets to be animated:
…on looking up, I saw, by the light of the moon, the dæmon at the casement. A ghastly grin wrinkled his lips as he gazed on me, where I sat fulfilling the task which he had allotted to me. Yes, he had followed me in my travels; he had loitered in forests, hid himself in caves, or taken refuge in wide and desert heaths; and he now came to mark my progress, and claim the fulfillment of my promise.

As I looked on him, his countenance expressed the utmost extent of malice and treachery. I thought with a sensation of madness on my promise to create another like him, and trembling with passion, tore to pieces the thing on which I was engaged. The wretch saw me destroy the creature on whose future existence he depended for happiness, and, with a howl of devilish despair and revenge, withdrew.
In the 1935 movie, she rises from the slab and enjoys a very brief bad hair day before the spurned monster blows up Frankenstein’s castle with them both inside it: “You stay. We belong dead.” (Oh yeah, in the movies the poor chap talks like the Hulk or Simple Jack. No erudite references to Paradise Lost for him there.) And in the recent stage adaptation (pictured) by Nick Dear, she comes to life but then Victor Frankenstein kills her out of spite when he realizes he will never be able to appreciate the sublime sentiments of love that his creation, noble savage that he is, is able to express.

And in my new interactive version? There, as you’d expect, the creation of the female monster is a major part of the plot, and there are several ways it can play out. But if you think I’m going to discuss them here… I’m tempted, but it’d take a dozen blog posts. You’ll have to buy the book to find out.


  1. Ovid and Russell T Davies: what an intriguing comparison! I'm sure there are many who would apply Aemilius Scaurus' infamous criticism of Ovid to RTD too: nescit quod bene cessit relinquere.

    I read Frankenstein, the Metamorphoses and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man at around the same time and the three are close together in my mind. So when I recall how James Joyce used an Ovidian description of Daedalus for an epigraph, I tend to think that perhaps Victor is more Modern Daedalus than Modern Prometheus.

  2. Yes, that's certainly true of RTD - and of his Dr Who successor Stephen Moffat, who (I thought) spoiled his own version of the Irene Adler story on Sherlock for the sake of adding just one more egg to the pudding.

    I like the idea of Victor as Daedalus, especially as Daedalus is a mortal who creates extraordinary things. A titan who challenges the gods, albeit on mankind's behalf, is less interesting. Victor, of course, never had the wisdom to hang up his wings...

  3. Prometheus' hubris was quite direct, Daedalus' maybe less so. Frankenstein and wings: T'Pau wrote a song about that.

    Talking of Song, and of Steven Moffat and overdoing it... I think I prefer the more subtle Picard and Guinan take on meeting in reverse. (I'm a series behind on Sherlock so Series 2 is waiting in the, er, wings.)

  4. Song... I see what you did there. ST:TNG is more subtle, yes - though, really, what isn't?

  5. I don't know if we can accuse Prometheus of hubris. That implies getting above his station, and he was a titan, after all. He's more of a Julian Assange type, surely?