Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Savage Jaws

At line 64 of Prometheus Bound, in a section of stichomythia between Hephaestus and Kratos (with an interesting pattern of one line and two lines, respectively), Kratos orders the final action in the binding of Prometheus to the cliff:

ἀδαμαντίνου νῦν σφηνὸς αὐθάδη γνάθον
στέρνων διαμπὰξ πασσάλευ᾽ ἐρρωμένως

[Now drive the stubborn edge of the hard wedge firmly through his chest.]

The word αὐθάδη, according to the LSJ, can mean self-willed, stubborn, presumptuous, and also remorseless, unfeeling. These are all adjectives that we can imagine Kratos using to describe Prometheus, considering his audacity to give mortals more than their due, and his later refusal to moderate his behavior in return for the help of Oceanus. Just 15 lines later, Kratos uses the word again of his own anger.

The word used here for the point of the wedge, γνάθον, literally means jaw, and it appears two more times in this play, in two different metaphors. At line 726 it is used of the cliffs jutting out at Salmydessus in Thrace: τραχεῖα πόντου Σαλμυδησσία γνάθος, the harsh Salmydessian jaw of the sea. And at line 370 it is used of fire:

ποταμοὶ πυρὸς δάπτοντες ἀγρίαις γνάθοις
τῆς καλλικάρπου Σικελίας λευροὺς γύας

[Rivers of fire devouring with savage jaws the smooth fields of fruitful Sicily.]

If the word fire reminds us of the theft of Prometheus, it is certainly different from the παντέχνου πυρὸς σέλας, the flame of fire, source of all arts, that Kratos describes in line seven. This fire is savagely destroying the very civilization that is indebted to Prometheus, with the same ferocity with which the jaw of the wedge was thrust through his chest.

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