Prometheus Bound by Rubens (Philadelphia Museum of Art [1]

Word Smith: Prometheus Gap

There is a play ripe with Greek mythology that is often attributed to Aeschylus. Written in about 500 BC, one of his many stories is about the Titan, Prometheus. The stories are written in three plays: “Prometheus the Fire-Bearer,” “Prometheus Bound” and “Prometheus Unbound.” Aeschylus becomes the narrator of a titanic battle of the ages. The only surviving play in the trilogy is the second one — “Prometheus Bound.”

Prometheus Bound

Prometheus, having stolen fire from his fellow Titans, delivered it to humans, Zeus and the gods knew he had to be punished. With fire humans were launched on the road to evermore powerful inventions, a fate the Titans could not tolerate. They knew that the knowledge and use of fire would diminish the power of Mt. Olympus and that belittling would create a cascade of technological advances (think of the Bronze Age) that would unleash new forms of death, destruction and exploitation beyond anyone’s control. In the myth the gods chained Prometheus to a rock and an eagle made daily visits to eat his liver, which grew back overnight. The Titans banished Prometheus to a life of torture for the rest of eternity.


The corollary to the Prometheus myth shows up from time to time in psychology for other victims of bringing torture to humans without the ability to control future outcomes. In the New York Times, on Sunday, September 6, 2020 was an article about the dropping of the hydrogen bomb on Hiroshima. Maj Claude Easterley was one of the pilots who gave the “go ahead” for the dropping of the bomb to the pilots of the Enola Gay: Col. Paul Tibbets and Robert Lewis. Although Easterly was not aboard the plane, which dropped the bomb “Little Boy” on August 6, 1945, he was forever haunted by his part in the attack. In the article, Easterly confides in the German-Jewish philosopher and anti-nuclear activist, Günther Anders, to help him cope with his nightmares, anger, self-sabotage and guilt. In the process Anders describes the condition of Easterly as experiencing a Prometheus Gap. Easterly’s guilt complex with the bombing of Hiroshima drove him to commit petty crimes as if he longed for public punishment. A jury at a trial for post office burglaries found him “not guilty by reason of insanity,” and he was released.

Anders provided Easterley with a platform for him to speak out about his disdain of nuclear weapons. Easterley used the podium to influence the world toward reconciliation and peace. He publicly condemned nuclear devastation and sent a message to the people of Hiroshima: he said he was unable to forget the act and the guilt caused him much pain and great suffering. “I asked them to forgive me.” Thirty young females, who had survived the blast, despite their scaring from the destruction, responded, “We have learned to feel towards you a fellow-feeling, thinking that you are also a victim of war like us.”

No Nukes, Now What

As a follow-up to the Anders-Easterely debates, how many of the supposed good deeds of countries have blown up in our disparate societies today? The SALT-CTBT-NPT-PTBT-TPNW-UNODA is an alphabet soup of treaties enacted to keep nuclear weapons out of the hands of rogue nations. How many countries have the power for nuclear destruction today? Pakistan/India, Iran/Israel, USA/Russia, China/North Korea. It is a growing list of tit-for-tat warfare. Who has the bigger arsenal?

How about actions further from nuclear armament but just as wrong-headed and harmful: The G.I. Bill and the systemic racism that resulted in its payments to white-only veterans. The Jim Crow laws that were enacted in the south were nothing like separate but equal. The redlining of where Blacks could rent, own, shop, dine and worship.

The land treaties with the Native American tribes, which were summarily ignored and violated. The treatment of Japanese during and after the internment camps. The immigration and Visa process, first defining what it meant to live on American soil, now restricting who and how can new members can join the club. Public education that has been segregated by the actions of “Nice White Parents” for decades to perpetuate the racism of this “melting pot” of America. The list goes on and on. As the Yale professor, Seymour Sarason, wrote more than 50 years ago, “The More Things Change, the More They Remain the Same.

What gaps in society and technology have you seen repeated over and over and over again? What are the Prometheus Gaps you have seen and witnessed in your life? And what can we do to stop the Titans from stifling the prosperity and humanity of everyone else?

[1] http://www.philamuseum.org/collections/permanent/104468.html

[2] https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/09/magazine/we-hated-what-we-were-doing-veterans-recall-firebombing-japan.html?searchResultPosition=3