The Prometheus Myth and the Limits of Technology

Investigate various approaches to the Greek myth—and what they say about technological advancement—in this discussion with Basic Program instructor Clare Pearson.

Laconian black-figure kylix of Atlas and Prometheus.
Jun 02

About the Event

This talk will explore the core Greek myth of Prometheus, the Titan who gave fire to human beings, and, with fire, the mental capacity to use their minds to technologically transform themselves and the world itself. In its various versions, the Prometheus myth centers on the tensions between the seeming limitlessness of human curiosity and capacity for technological advancement on the one hand and the demands of civic life and political power on the other.

It occurs in several versions, appearing in Hesiod's Theogony, in an Aeschylean trilogy of plays beginning with Prometheus Bound, and in a discussion in the Platonic dialogue Protagoras; the Greek versions all ultimately require some form of reconciliation between Prometheus and Zeus, who rules over balance and justice (among other things). In later European thought the Prometheus story is picked up again, with Shelley writing his own very modernist and political version of Prometheus Unbound.

This talk will address the different approaches to the myth, focusing on the specific dangers the Greeks associated with the unlimited pursuit of technological mastery, as contrasted with Shelley's modern humanist rejection of limits on the human mind and human advancement.

Who's Speaking

Clare Pearson

Clare Pearson

Basic Program Instructor

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