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Hi ;
I've been enjoying your blog very much.
Feel impelled to make criticism; Prometheus was punished twice.
For the fire theft charge, he was punished by having Pandora married to his brother Epimetheus. We all know how her box turned out.
The second time around, he was chained to the rock for contempt of court - he knew a secret that he would'nt tell the Gods. Its suggested that the centaur Chiron (mentor of Hercules) gave up his life to free Prometheus.
Incidently, I've been told that Prometheus means 'Fore Thought' and in addition to being one the first altruists, probably one of the first privacy advocates.
Keep up the good work.

That's not so much a criticism, as a correction/clarification, which are always welcome. Clearly, my Greek mythology is a bit rusty. I briefly considered re-reading the story of Prometheus before posting, but time constraints -- or outright laziness -- prevailed. "Time constraints" sounds more impressive. :)

Good for Mr. Bodanis on recognizing a debt owed, and doing something about it.

And we know what happened after Prometheus: Pandora. She was trouble with a capital P.

Tesla was also a pretty good rock band of the late '80s/'90s. People forget that, too.


The thing about Greek mythology, or mythology in general, is that one can be nit-picky and most often be correct according to somebody's account of the story. However, in regards to Prometheus and his punishment, I'm not sure what sources RCushnie is using. Pandora was not a punishment to Prometheus, it was a punishment to man--those pesky mortals in Zeus's eyes. The whole darn liver-pecking mess started because Zeus's intent was "to obliterate [man] and plant fresh stock." (Aeschylus, "Prometheus Bound") and Prometheus felt sorry for the wretched lot of humanity and stole the fire from the flaming chariots of the sky, becoming a half-mortal, half-deity himself. Hesiod tells the story of Pandora, and how Zeus, all ticked off at Prometheus's cunning, said, "As recompense for the fire I shall give them an evil in which all may take delight in their hearts as they embrace it." Though Prometheus had warned Epimetheus not to take gifts from the Olympians, he couldn't resist the beautifully adorned Pandora. Before that, man had enjoyed leisure and freedom from pestilence and such. Pandora conveniently explains all the evil and suffering in the world. All they were left with was Hope.

Those arrogant Olympians didn't much fancy losing their power to mere mortals, but they were subject to fate. Prometheus says he gave blind hope and fire (technology) to man. ; fire as in illumination, and technology as in the advancement of civilization. But a central point to the story is Prometheus's disobeying moral law--that of the gods' moral law. Really, he's taunted by Power and Force, "Where's now the great prognostic of the mind, shall from this science extrication find?" There's this ying-yang between technical skills and morality: disobey the higher powers and they will smack you with a dose of humility (at least this is how they thought.) Sophocles later talks about how an intelligent man does not a moral man make, which leads to, as Jennifer alluded to in an entry below, "Scientists playing God." Where does obedience lie? And for atheists, where does "obedience" lie?

Fortunately Prometheus had that little secret of Zeus's fate up his sleeve, but in "Prometheus Bound" this is not told--Prometheus is saved by Heracles later...both Zeus and Prometheus (and Io) learn about suffering. So basically, we're all just made to live and suffer...ah hah…but advance in doing so. But what of Prometheus’s “blind hope” given to man? Blind hope is the stuff of dreams…

But back to Jennifer's "essay," Prometheus is from the Age of Heroes, and heroes give to humanity and fortunately have secrets up their sleeves in order to free themselves, though not without suffering. I liked the analogy to Kelly, and Bodanis's honoring that. I don't know Bodanis, so with all acts of kindness my innate cynicism kicks in regarding parading one's acts of kindness around, but I'll give him the benefit of doubt and applaud his sincerity. It was a very thoughtful gesture to Kelly's family.

As far as Tesla--you're just full of interesting anecdotes about quirky/quarky scientists I know little about. Interesting about the Twain visit to Tesla's lab (cool to learn that). Thanks for that info. But why is it when people, especially those who have "personal relationships with electricity," tend to have the death-ray paranoia? I was reading this longish article below via 3Quarks on the history of neuroelectronics and it appears that fear of being zapped is quite common and usually tied in with govt death-rays supposedly lurking in space. Others find some degree of zapping quite pleasurable. Even lightning itself has caused a variety of neurological effects (often depression), so I wonder what did all of Tesla's playing with electricity do to him?

Speaking of truth, I liked McEwan's essay:

BTW, the ending of Aeschylus’s short play is worth re-reading. Unbounded from the Abyss, the Forethinker’s knowledge of the fate of gods proves correct, but there is debate about his “fore thinking.” Some scholars feel that his fore thinking applies to the use of technology because his prognostication was correct only in a roundabout way....taking raw materials, humanity can build a future for itself.

If I give them fire, they will save themselves.

(pardon my morning prattling) :-)

BTW, I wasn't trying to be pedantic--I just eat this stuff up. Thanks. :-)

Sources, ah sources ... The danger of referencing the
play by Aeschylus 'Prometheus Bound' is that while ancient, is still 'fiction' . As Shakespeare modified the history of King Richard for dramatic emphasis, so did Aeschylus.
Trying to find a definative myth is an exercise in pedantic quibbling, and hence, quite fun.
Its been 10+ years since I had anything to do with mythology, so I'm rusty - rusty enough that I can't easily find the reference to the 'secret which Prometheus knew'. I'm sure I read it - but where? and when? I may have added another bit of misinformation to the Web of a Million Lies.
It appears that Prometheus was the 'creator' of humanity, in the sence of the craftsman - working at Zeus's orders, but unlike Zeus, actually had compassion for the poor little humans.
There are echos of this is Harry Harrison's 'Hammer and the Cross' and in
Karl Edward Wagner's manipulation of the Cain story. 'Bloodstone' 'Darkness Weaves' etc.
Also, Euripides argues that it was Prometheus that operated on Zeus's head with a hammer and chisel, in order to deliver (in the medical sence) Athena.
Athena's connections with technology and wisdom is quite interesting - also note that it was with her direct involvement that Heracules was sent on his Labours - most of which were to slaughter monsters and dread villians that preyed upon humanity.
Incidently, I'm using
Hesiod 'Works and Days'
Bullfinch's 'Mythology'
Apollodorus 'Library and Epitome'
Pausanias 'Description of Greece'

All this talk about getting the story straight on ancient myth is starting to call to mind James Frey's insistence about "essential truth." It's a very murky area that makes even the most exotic physics seem pretty darn clearcut. :)

My favorite CD by Tesla, the band, was actually "Five Man Acoustical Jam" -- acoustic versions of some of the best stuff from their earlier CDs. I always felt they got carried away with the fancy fretwork on their other CDs, to the detriment of the actual song styling, which was far better than would be immediately apparent, buried in all the dueling guitar riffs. Often less is more...

I'm the wrong guy to argue tales of ancient Greek deities. What I know about that stuff is purely hit or myth.

Tesla's big hit off FMAJ wasn't a stripped-down version of one of their older songs (though they are quite enjoyable) but a cover of "Signs", originally written and recorded by - you guessed it - The Five Man Electrical Band (mostly Arthur Thomas IIRC).

And I agree with you, Jennifer, on the occasional excessive fretwork exhibited by Tesla guitarists Hannon, Skeoch, etc. , but I would remind you of the popularity of guitar heroes like Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, Eric Johnson, et al. and especially Yngwie Malmsteen, who may have believed he was being paid by the note. Well, Nirvana put all that to rest, didn't it?


Oh, it's so nice to see so many Tesla fans here, both of the band and the man himself. =) For me, I prefer the band.

Nice post! And, to the bibliographic links, comic fans may add this promising graphic novel, "The five fists of science", featuring Tesla & Twain vs. Edison & Morgan... Amazon page here: More info here: and a preview here:

What a terrific conceit! I'll be heading over to Amazon to order it any time now... thanks for the links! When they make the movie version, Tesla the band can compose the soundtrack...

An interesting essay on Buffy and the modern myth over at 3 Quarks Daily has some bearing on the commentary regarding the inconsistencies among various sources when it comes to mythology:

And of course, it has some bearing on the fact that I, too, am a diehard fan of the Buffyverse. :)

There aren't a whole lot of sources to go on for Greek mythology: the playwrights, Homer, Hesiod, some art...not much. Aechylus wrote over 80 plays, but more so he appeared to grasp tragedy and the Greek mindset of the times quite well. Anyone can pick and choose whatever version of a myth they like--the rest is just academic. You choose your version to fit your analogy. Aechylus's version fits Jennifer's essay.

Prometheus's "secret" was that he knew the fate of a god (Zeus)...that Zeus would be overthrown and lose power, but the main point is that he knew the fate of a god (which apparently really ticks off some gods). Zeus was a Grade-A egomaniac.

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    • Heavy G
      The perfect pick-me-up when gravity gets you down.
      2 oz Tequila
      2 oz Triple sec
      2 oz Rose's sweetened lime juice
      7-Up or Sprite
      Mix tequila, triple sec and lime juice in a shaker and pour into a margarita glass. (Salted rim and ice are optional.) Top off with 7-Up/Sprite and let the weight of the world lift off your shoulders.
    • Listening to the Drums of Feynman
      The perfect nightcap after a long day struggling with QED equations.
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      1/2 oz light rum
      1 oz Tia Maria
      2 oz light cream
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      1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
      In a shaker half-filled with ice, combine the dark and light rum, Tia Maria, and cream. Shake well. Strain into an old fashioned glass almost filled with crushed ice. Dust with the nutmeg, and serve. Bongos optional.
    • Combustible Edison
      Electrify your friends with amazing pyrotechnics!
      2 oz brandy
      1 oz Campari
      1 oz fresh lemon juice
      Combine Campari and lemon juice in shaker filled with cracked ice. Shake and strain into chilled cocktail glass. Heat brandy in chafing dish, then ignite and pour into glass. Cocktail Go BOOM! Plus, Fire = Pretty!
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      Dr. Strangelove's drink of choice.
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