Prometheus: The Good Titan

Ancient Greece regarded Prometheus as the “Benefactor of Man”. A title that is indicative of the titan’s heroic acts, and the esteem in which the people held him.

Prometheus (meaning “Forethought”) was one of the ringleaders of the battle between the Titans and the Olympian gods. Led by Zeus the Olympians sought to gain control of the heavens, a struggle said to have lasted ten years. He did, however, switch sides and support the victorious Olympians when the Titans would not follow his advice to use trickery in the battle.

Prometheus was the son of the first generation Titan Iapetus and the Oceanid Clymene. His brother are Menoetius, Atlas and Epimetheus. Each of the sons of Iapetus had their own special gift, and Prometheus’ name means “forethought”. Conversely Epimetheus’ name means “afterthought”. Prometheus was born at a privileged time for the Titans, for the offspring of Ouranos and Gaia were in the ascendancy, as the Titan Cronus was the supreme deity of the cosmos.


In fear of Gaia’s prophecy that one of his sons would overthrow him, Cronos swallowed each of his children as they were born. Rhea managed to save the youngest, Zeus, by hiding him away on the island of Krete, and fed Cronos a stone wrapped in swaddling clothes.

When Zeus was grown, he fed his father a drugged drink, which caused Cronus to vomit, throwing up Rhea’s other children and the stone.With the help from Gaia and from his mother Rhea, Cronus’ own son, Zeus would challenge his leadership.

Zeus would lead an insurrection against the Titans, and gathered his allies upon Mount Olympus. The army of the Titans faced off against them from Mount Othrys.

One can assume that as a Titan Prometheus would be amongst the Titan force, his father, Iapetus, and his brothers Atlas and Menoetius were. However, Prometheus foresaw the outcome of the impending war, and so he and Epimetheus declined to fight with their kin.

After ten years, the Titanomachy ended just as Prometheus had foreseen, with the Titans defeated and Zeus now the supreme deity of the cosmos. 

Related: The myth of Sisyphus

The Age of Man

Zeus started to allocate responsibilities to the his allies, and although not necessarily his allies, did not punish Prometheus and Epimetheus like the other Titans. Instead Zeus gave them the important job of bringing life to the earth.

Prometheus and Epimetheus would craft animals and man out of clay, and then Zeus breathed life into the new creations. Zeus then tasked Prometheus and his brother with giving the new creatures names, as well as attributing all the characteristics to the creatures that the other Greek gods and goddesses had manufactured.

For some reason Epimetheus took charge of this task, but having only “afterthought”, Epimetheus used up all the characteristics provided before he got to man. Zeus would not allocate any more characteristics, but Prometheus would not simply leave his new creations unprotected and naked in a new world.

Prometheus therefore went secretly through the workshops of the gods, and in the rooms of Athena he found both wisdom and reason, so he stole them, and allocated them to man. 

Outsmarting Zeus

Prometheus knew very well that his actions would anger Zeus, and he had seen the punishments already meted out to his kin. Therefore to placate Zeus, Prometheus volunteered to teach man how they should make sacrifices to the gods. The titan, though, was already planning on how man could gain from this arrangement, and so the Sacrifice at Mecone took place.​ The Titan Prometheus showed man how they should make sacrifices to the gods.

Prometheus had man divide up a prime bull, with the parts placed into two separate piles. One of the piles was made up of all the best meat from the bull, whilst the second pile contained the bones and skin.

​Prometheus though made the second pile look more appetizing by covering it in fat. Zeus suspected the deception, but when asked which pile he wish to have as a sacrifice, the supreme god nevertheless chose the pile of skin and bones, leaving man with all the best meat. As a result, future sacrifices would always be the second best parts of the animal. 


The story of Prometheus stems from the works of Hesiod (Theogony and Works & Days), but many writers in antiquity spoke of the Titan. Three works attributed to Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound, Prometheus Unbound and Prometheus the Fire-Bringer, are about the Titan. Unfortunately, only Prometheus Bound has survived into the modern day.

Laconic Kylix with Prometheus and Atlas
Laconic Kylix with Prometheus and Atlas (Vatican Museum)

Laconic ceramics are distinguished among the production of Greek figured ceramics that arrived in Etruria through trade. Here they are represented by a celebrated kylix (goblet) made in Sparta shortly before the middle of the sixth century B.C., and attributed to the Arkesilas Painter.

One of the first known illustrations of the myth of Atlas, possibly directly inspired by the Theogony of Hesiod. Bearded Atlas bends at the knees under the weight of the heavenly vault dotted with stars that he has to carry, after Zeus sentenced him to keep heaven and earth separated.

The artist associated his punishment with that of another Titan, his brother Prometheus, guilty of having given fire to man, and therefore bound to a pole and subjected to perpetual torture: an eagle pecks at his liver, which then regrows every night, only to be eaten again the following day. The linear plane on which the artist depicts the two Titans, possibly symbolizing the Earth, rests on an imposing Doric column from which two lotus buds branch. The snake on the left may constitute a reference to the subterranean sphere of the underworld.

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