Nov 15, 2023Liked by Virginia Postrel

Thank you for this badly-needed correction! And keep fighting the good fight, dynamists!

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Splendidly defended. Prometheus, the benefactor and champion of humankind!

A generation or so later, Sophocles covered some of the same ground, although more briefly:

Antigone, Sophocles, trans. E.F. Watling, lines 197 ff.

Wonders are many on earth, and the greatest of these.

Is man, who rides the ocean and takes his way

Through the deeps, though wide-swept valleys of perilous seas

That surge and sway.

He is master of ageless Earth, to his own will bending The immortal mother of gods by the sweat of his brow,

As year succeeds to year, with toil unending

Of mule and plough.

He is lord of all things living; birds of the air, Beasts of the field, all creatures of sea and land. He taketh, cunning to capture and ensnare

With sleight of hand;

Hunting the savage beast from the upland rocks,

Taming the mountain monarch in his lair,

Teaching the wild horse and the roaming ox

His yoke to bear.

The use of language, the wind-swift motion of brain He learnt; found out the laws of living together

In cities, building him shelter against the rain

And wintry weather.

There is nothing beyond his power. His subtlety

Meeteth all chance, all danger conquereth.

For every ill he hath found its remedy,

Save only death.

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Great correction and thanks for the lines of beautiful poetry.

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I'm curious about your reading of Mary Shelley's decision to subtitle Frankenstein "The Modern Prometheus." It's been a long time since I read the book, so I'm not sure if it's addressed at all in the text. Is it just a contrast: the father of humanity who loved his children vs. the new father of an artificial human who turns his back on his creation? Also, it's clear now, and for all of my life, that Frankenstein is used primarly as a metaphor for the mad scientist whose hubris unleashes bad things on the world. When did the change in the culturally dominant meaning of Frankenstein's character occur -- was it a function of the movies? Or, with growing skepticism of technology created by two world wars, the Holocaust, and the threat of nuclear war, was the Frankenstein story appropriated and refashioned as a warning of scientific progress run amok?

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Could you please tell me where you found the illustration you used in this post? It's beautiful.

Thank you.

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Well said, Virginia, and you are absolutely correct. I was a classics major undergrad, and in Greek mythology Prometheus was definitely a heroic --and pro-human--figure.

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Hephaestus was lame (Zeus, again); Daedalus lost his son; Arachne lost her life (or at least her humanity); Odysseus lost at least 10 years; and Epieus, who built The Wall and The Horse, had an even worse fate, for an Argive: who now remembers him? Was there any legendary Ancient Greek great teknician who suffered no tragedy? Given the precedents, I would think twice, or more, before I would admit to have invented, say, a musical instrument.

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I recently had to read Madeline Miller's Circe for a book club. Though I had quibbles with a fair amount, at least she got THAT PART RIGHT. Which I would have thought was a bare minimum understanding of the mythology, but apparently not. Wow.

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In college, I took a course on Faust and Prometheus. The readings have stayed with me for 50 years. (Prometheus Bound and Frankenstein were among them.) One comment from the professor has stayed with me. She said that one interpretation of the Myth of Prometheus is that fire was a metaphor for uncertainty. That before Prometheus, each person knew the date on which he or she would die. In such a world, no one had any motive to do anything creative. Prometheus gave mankind uncertainty--and that is the fire that ignited human passion for progress, creation, change, etc. If you don't know whether you'll live to 30 or to 80, you begin to build for all the contingencies. That I have no idea whether this is a standard interpretation among mythologists or whether it was just a fringe conjecture.

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Wonderful point. Thank you! Dynamists unite! When is the next book coming out?

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Wow. What an unexpected treat from my Substack feed! I have been fascinated with the Promethean myth for nearly twenty years and had no idea at all what the actual myth contained, relying instead (probably as Andreesen did) on popular interpretations of it. Thank you so very much for the brief, yet thorough education! This is why a true liberal arts education (which I did not receive) is invaluable.

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Great piece. Spot on, says this reader with a PhD in Mythology.

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The Greeks were simply adopting and expanding upon the Mesopotamian stories of the apkallu; a race of half/super humans deriving their existence from interbreeding between mankind and the gods. This was also the subject of The Book of Enoch, which outlined the same events but put them into their proper context, identifying the "gods" as well as their offspring, the Nephillim. This was then further refined and correctly interpreted by Biblical authors, specifically Moses in Genesis 6. The struggle of the post-Exilic Hebrews against the descendants of the Nephillim (Anakim, Rephaim, etc.) is further revealed in the Book of Joshua and elsewhere throughout the Old and New Testaments.

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Nov 17, 2023·edited Nov 17, 2023

This post reminds me of the discussion [1] on HackerNews of Charles Stross' article "We're sorry we created the Torment Nexus" [2]. Two of the classic comments were:

"Jurassic Park wasn't a "don't clone dinosaurs" movie, it was a "don't be an idiot" movie with a dinosaur theme. " [3]


"The story of Icarus is the story of inadequacies of wax as an adhesive." [4]

It's amazing that Andreessen got this so wrong.

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=38218580

[2] http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/2023/11/dont-create-the-torment-nexus.html

[3] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=38223020

[4] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=38224507

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Thanks! Prometheus was always one of my heroes but I hadn't thought of Frankenstein's _____ in the light.

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