Ridley Scott doesn’t know Greek mythology

I was lurking around on the interwebs today, and was interested to find this interview with Ridley Scott, director of the original Alien film and the upcoming prequel, Prometheus. The interview starts off with a bang:

Why use the myth of Prometheus to revisit this universe you created?

Ridley Scott: The myth of Prometheus, Prometheus was a demi-god who challenged the gods. He received a gift of fire, which we consider in the film to be our first technology….if you think about that, fire IS technology. It’s how we use it after that. And then Prometheus was punished by the gods. So it’s a metaphor that unfolds in the movie, you’ll understand when you see it. I don’t want to give too much away.

Since Scott gets the facts of the Prometheus myth wrong, I don’t really think he’s in danger of giving much about the film away here.

Fact 1: Prometheus isn’t a demi-god. Prometheus is a Titan. Although such things as Clash of the Titans and Wrath of the Titans may leave you scratching your head as to what exactly a Titan is, a Titan is an immortal being of the generation before the Olympian gods. Thus, he cannot be a demi-god, for demi-gods would be his grandchildren. He challenged the gods because all the Titans challenged the gods. It was the story of one generation rising up and taking over the next; the Titans wanted to maintain their own control. Prometheus was one of the ‘good’ Titans, so he didn’t get thrown into Tartaros with the rest of them.

Indeed, this theme of one generation taking over the next is tied up in the Prometheus myth to a large extent, as we shall see.

Fact 2: Prometheus did not receive fire. He gave fire to humans against the wishes of the new ruling class of Zeus and the Olympians. This was the main cause of his punishment. So technology in the Greek myth is not something that humans are given and then challenge the gods with it; it’s something that is given them in challenge to the gods by another immortal, and their benefactor is punished.

Mind you, Zeus doesn’t want humans having fire in the first place because he does not want them to gain too much power. So perhaps Ridley Scott is not so far off in his assessment as it first seems.

Tied into the whole myth, as stated above, is the idea of dynastic struggle amongst the immortals. Ouranos gives birth to the Titans. Led by Kronos, they overthrow him. Kronos gives birth to the Olympians. Led by Zeus, they overthrow him and the Titans. Zeus, now King of the Gods, ruling the world on high from Olympus, fears that somewhere one of his own progeny will do the same.

This is the image of Zeus we get in Aeschylus’ play Prometheus Bound. We also learn in this place that Prometheus is privy to knowledge about the sea-goddess Thetis, upon whom Zeus’ eye rested for a while. This knowledge, we learn, is that her son will be greater than his father. Zeus, in fear of another dynastic struggle amongst the gods wherein he goes the way of Kronos to Tartaros (the deepest, darkest depth of the dungeons of Dis) marries her off to a mortal, Peleus. Their son is Achilles. Problem solved.

Interestingly, this ties into the nineteenth-century humanist worldview that fuels such things as Wagner’s opera Siegfried (a topic I’ve blogged about before). There we see that the next generation after the gods is the race of mortals, created and mixed with the gods as we are in most mythologies. And there we see mortal humans rise, and the gods (Aesir) have their Twilight (but not their New Moon or their Breaking Dawn).

Anyway, who knows how Ridley Scott will use his understanding of the Prometheus myth in his Prometheus film? Time will tell. It looks to be a good, rollicking adventure, though!


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