It is hard to speak out now
when so many believe the stories
and the grand exaggerations of my action
and my grudge against the gods
It is tough to move my tongue
against the weight of myth
stacked toward heaven in my image
but I must
I am not the hero you believe me to be
Nor am I justice or redemption
leading you out of darkness into understanding
torch of truth held proud and high
I am a thief
dirty hands and tangled hair
who stole through shadows and snatched the flame
because I was tired of being in the dark
I would like you to take a moment, to step aside from what you know, set down your preconceptions and your understanding of The Way Things Are and listen. What I am about to say is not true, it does not align with the things you have learned, it does not agree with the things that wiser men than me have written. It is a perversion, a blasphemy, a mutation and a possibility.
I have long been fascinated with Prometheus. In my youth as a poet he was an example of what I was trying to do: bring the light of fire through the written word. It was a noble goal, but I grew embarrassed of my youthful naivete and abandoned the idea, or perhaps more accurately, hid my light under a bushel, much to the devil’s delight. But despite my shame, I have never been able to let go of my fascination with the myth itself.
I was thinking about Prometheus the other day, thinking back to the people who conceived of him, who first uttered his name, gave him form and set him in motion, and I thought, blasphemously of course, what really brought fire to the fireless people? It was not a giant who stole fire from the gods, but an actual physical act. There are many answers since many people discovered fired independently of one another, but one of the answers is lightning. In that moment it struck me as the two fire-bringers, one actual and one mythological, conflated upon one another that the true symbol of Prometheus is lightning. Wait, you say, contravening my entreaty to put aside what you know, lightning can’t be the symbol of Prometheus, it’s already the weapon of Zeus! And you would be correct to correct me, but you can’t, we’re off the maps now, just outside the edges of what is, and tumbling merrily in what might be.
Let us continue our blaspheming, let us deepen our perversion and say instead that Zeus’s weapon of choice is not the lightning bolt, but the thunderbolt. It is a small but significant shift, as now we might recreate the myth, a translucent thing, a thin sheet of tissue paper, of connective tissue between our fireless ancestors and the world around them, a set of explanations that served as stories they might entertain and educate one another with. Let us lay that sheet of beliefs out across the stormy Greek sky and watch as the fire-thief escapes from heaven over and over again, shooting down from heaven cradling his stolen fire and occasionally pouring it out on the trees and the scrub. Then close your protesting mouth, remain silent and listen as the thunderbolts of Zeus follow after him, chasing him wherever he goes, the grumbling gods complaining that their power has been stolen and ferried illicitly to earth. Surely it is a blasphemy, but at the very least it is an elegant one.
Now let us hold this possibility in our hands, this delicate thing we’ve strung together from the soft tissue of half-truths and outright lies, and let us invert it from the possibility of an actual mythical root into the possibility metaphorical application. Let us take that actual lightning and compare it to something in the human condition that is like lightning. Let us take the twice-traitor Titan and make him Prometheus, saint of the epiphany, the lightning-like insight, the flash of realization and enlightenment, who in an instant illuminates what is possible, igniting our passions and setting fire to our minds. In this scenario Prometheus’ mythical ability to see the future isn’t the continuous ability of infallible prophecy, but the lightning quick insight of epiphany to know what is possible. This too, then, is a precious gift, another bit of divine loot that he’s laundered into our possession, the gift of fate and destiny, taking the power of the future out of the hands of the ever-so-capricious gods and giving it back to us in the form of realization of the possibility of our potential. It is ours, ultimately, to do with as we wish, since epiphany is not prophecy, it does not come about of its own accord, but requires the application of sustained effort to bring about. But epiphany is the beginning, the spark of something that might become a steady fire if tended to correctly. This is not Prometheus’ gift, but his brother’s, but we will speak of that blasphemy another time. For now let us content ourselves with the secret knowledge of Electric Prometheus, Titan of the Skies, and patron saint of the Epiphany.