Once Prometheus investigated the merits of canned heat. Stealing fire from the gods and giving it to humankind hadn’t exactly worked out as he’d expected. More often than being inspired to light their world with his gift and fashion beacons of high purpose, they’d seemed prone to setting their own hair ablaze. For all his wisdom, Prometheus couldn’t fathom this inability to learn the lesson of “Once burned, twice shy” that every other creature appeared to understand immediately. Yet just as incomprehensible was the eagerness so many of his beloved humans showed for grabbing a torch and threatening their neighbors with it. What did they think the gift of fire had been for? Merely to warm themselves with or to roast meat and fill their bellies? Nothing more liberating and exalted than that? No, they were not so shortsighted, Prometheus still believed. After all, how many times had they shown heartening signs of growing tired of a life spent quaking in the dark? How often had a fear of venturing beyond the limits of what little they already knew yielded to the idea that something more grand and more worthy of them might be found just out of sight, if only they had the courage to raise a lamp and set off in search of it? These were moments when Prometheus thought back with pride at having sided with humanity and willingly suffered the wrath of Zeus as a consequence. Come what may, his faith in mere mortals and all they were capable of would remain as constant as the rock to which he was chained and the arrival of the eagle sent to tear at his liver each day. The risk he’d taken for the sake of humans was supposed to make them true rivals of the divine, wasn’t it? Then why did they behave as if they weren’t willing to risk as much themselves for their freedom from the gods? Why did they continue instead to act as if they’d committed a great trespass by accepting the fire he’d brought and pray to heaven to be forgiven for it, when he’d taken everything upon himself and felt no need for remorse? Between jabs of the eagle’s beak, however, the undying affection Prometheus held for humans would move him to admit his agonies might be clouding his own mind. Here, bound to his constant suffering as to this mountain crag, it was easy to slip into questioning his hopes and actions: stealing fire from the gods and passing it to humankind hadn’t exactly worked out as he’d expected. Had he been unreasonable in thinking these mortals might go beyond even what he’d dared? Not simply defying the power of almighty Zeus but burning down the house of the gods with the very flame they’d been denied for so long? Was it too much to believe that humans, given the chance, would summon the courage to clear away in a single act of faith in themselves all the superstitious fears and self-doubts that afflicted them? If they still trembled at seeing how large and far their own shadows were cast by the fire, could Prometheus really bring himself to abandon them for that? No, there was something about humanity he just couldn’t give up on. Perhaps canned heat was a more realistic gift than an open flame had been. It clearly would be safer for them, limited as it was in reach and easily snuffed out if Zeus suspected any defiance of his will, then lit again in secret the next time the Olympian turned away. Besides, no god was going to feel threatened by this lesser flame in any case. As long as humans were content to pass around a candle-in-a-can for their inspiration, what danger was there they’d use it to light up the world with their own glory? Not enough to cause the gods any concern, certainly. If Prometheus could bear his own torment for eons, maybe all of those he’d put such faith in would eventually show they’d truly merited it.
Copyright © 2020 by Geoffrey Grosshans