Exploring Frankenstein and Prometheus: From Greek Myths to Ridley Scott
The original and full title of Mary Shelley’s masterpiece is Frankenstein; or modern Prometheus. We all know what Frankenstein is, although many of our conceptions are wrong (seeing the creature as Frankenstein, for example, or thinking that the community gets up and destroys the creature as a way to defend itself, popular misconceptions derived from movie versions, particularly Boris Karloff’s version of 1931). However, we don’t know much about Prometheus, the other half of the title. The title itself tells us that Frankenstein, the doctor, not the monster, is modern Prometheus, but what does this analogy mean?
A great essay would compare Frankenstein with Prometheus myths and explore how Mary Shelley reconstructs the Prometheus myth to create a modern Prometheus. As Harriet Hustis points out, there are two main versions of the Prometheus myth: that of Hesiod. The works and the days and that of Aeschylus Bound prometheus. Hesiod’s version portrays Prometheus as a trickster, while Aeschylus views Prometheus as someone who works to help humanity. However, there are many treatments of the material, from Sappho to Aesop (yes, as in the Fables).
If you’re not familiar with Prometheus at all, you’ve probably at least heard of the idea of ”stealing fire from heaven.” That is Prometheus. But it goes beyond that simple description. In Hesiod, Prometheus is a trickster who challenges Zeus, but in other versions, like Aeschylus, he is the savior of humanity. Zeus actually wanted to destroy humanity and create his own humanity, but Prometheus stole life and fire from Zeus and allowed humanity to continue living.
Prometheus was the son of two powerful Titans, yet he helped Zeus and the other sons of Cronos, the Olympians, to overthrow the terrible and mad king Titan, his own father, Cronos. But Prometheus took pity on humanity after seeing that Zeus would destroy them. In some stories, Prometheus created mankind from clay, gave them civilization through writing and science, and then allowed them to live by stealing fire from Zeus.
His punishment for defying Zeus, however, was being chained to a rock, his liver eaten by a giant eagle over and over again, every day.
Mary Shelley sees Frankenstein as Prometheus, the man who steals the secrets to create life and puts himself in the place of the creator, God. He creates life, but it has disastrous consequences. The very name of Frankenstein when used as an adjective describes the creation of something that gets out of control and becomes destructive or is used for destructive purposes.
But now we can move on to something even more interesting, how Ridley Scott uses these same concepts in his 2012 Alien prequel Prometheus. There, we see the creation of life at the beginning. Aliens (the seemingly good ones, not the evil alien creatures from the early movies) create humanity. However, they cannot foresee what will happen. They cannot see how destructive humanity will become. But the destructiveness of humanity is not really the problem. Instead, the movie focuses on aliens (again, the good guys) as versions of Prometheus. They continue to play the role of creators while experimenting and creating the other life forms, the typical aliens from the early movies. They create aliens as a type of weapon, but the creations become too powerful and eventually outnumber them. His creations: the aliens from the original. Alien movies-destroy their creators.
But then humanity comes along and meddles once more in the affairs of these gods, and then humans have to destroy the created aliens over and over again. In a sense, the endless alien franchise is Prometheus’ own punishment. Alien creatures (from the first Alien movements) implant within humans and then gestate and presumably eat their hosts before they erupt. Apparently it keeps happening too. First, there is the movie Prometheus (the prequel, after all), then it happens again in Alien (1979), Aliens (1986), Alien 3 (1992), and Alien: Resurrection (1997), not to mention Aliens vs. Predator franchise. Aspects of Prometheus myths are everywhere, from the creation of life, to the dangers of science and experimentation, to eternal punishment, as the creatures are seemingly immortal.
Frankenstein; or modern Prometheus It teaches us about the destructive powers of science, and Ridley Scott’s film franchise continues this theme by showing over and over again how the creation of life can lead to destruction. And the punishment of humanity is even now, hundreds of years before the events of the movies occur, as we are subject to more and more movies in the franchise, where each one seems worse than the last, though PrometheusIt certainly wasn’t that bad.