August 6, 2013

R. J. Zwi Werblowsky On Prometheus

"Lucifer and Prometheus: A Study of Milton's Satan" by R. J. Zwi Werblowsky (1952).

 Related: Henry Geiger - The Chains Of Prometheus (1959).

Lucifer and Prometheus is the title of a classic work of psychological literary criticism written by R.J. Zwi Werblowsky and published in 1952. In it, Werblowsky argues that the Satan of John Milton's Paradise Lost became a disproportionately appealing character because of attributes he shares with the Greek Titan Prometheus. It has been called "most illuminating" for its historical and typological perspective on Milton's Satan as embodying both positive and negative values. The book has also been significant in pointing out the essential ambiguity of Prometheus and his dual Christ-like/Satanic nature as developed in the Christian tradition.
Below is an excerpt from R. J. Zwi Werblowsky's "Lucifer and Prometheus: A Study of Milton's Satan." 1952. Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd: London. Pg. 53-58.
"It is necessary first to state who Prometheus is and what the Promethean myth may mean, before one can hope to extract the full value of the comparison. Only with a right understanding of this myth is it possible to read the texts with their full resonance. I do not suggest that by then we shall have discovered an identity of the Lucifer and Prometheus myths, or that the Satan of Paradise Lost is simply a blend of the two. I merely claim at present that the Promethean myth shows a harmonious development which overlaps to a great extent that of the Christian Satan, and that by looking closer into the meaning of the former, we shall understand many things about Milton and his Paradise Lost.

As has already been remarked, the Promethean myth can also be read romantically, that is with an antinomian attitude. But the Prometheus of Goethe, Shelley and Spitteler is not the classical one. Although the romantic readings may thus have to be discarded when we want to analyse the Greek Prometheus in a scientifically responsible manner, yet, even so, they can claim legitimate consideration. The fact alone that the original myth showed itself capable of so vital and strong a development is at least as interesting as the exegesis of the Greek texts. In trying first to give a short outline of the Promethean myth, I shall therefore limit myself to a statement of the essential facts and data, in so far as they seem to me of direct relevance to our present inquiry, without going into technical detail such as, e.g., a comparison of the Hesiodic and Aeschylean versions. In the first place it should be noted that the Promethean world lacks the sense of creation. Man's creatureliness, as we have it in biblical tradition, is unknown. Men and gods are coeternal and of common origin; both are children of Gaia, in spite of all their fundamental differences. They are two poles of existence. Prima facie man is therefore neither creature nor rebel.    

Secondly, Prometheus himself is a god, like Zeus. The fact that somehow he comes to stand for mankind as their suffering champion, and possibly as their type and symbol, must not make us oblivious to his essentially divine nature. As Kerényi says, Prometheus is first and foremost a god. The paradox here lies in the fact that he undergoes insult and suffering in a typically human manner. This distinguishes him both from Christ and from the romantic Prometheus. Jesus is primarily a man. In his case the paradox comes through the faith that the man Jesus is also God. The romantic Prometheus, Goethe's for instance, is man claiming the rank and dignity of God. His suffering is that of mankind, but his protest is that of outraged divinity, or rather of the divine quality of his humanity. The only parallel to Prometheus would therefore be a gnostic Urmensch, anthropos or Adam Kadmon. In the mythological sphere Prometheus is thus the divine representative of the non-olympic, the human pole of the world.

Thirdly, the fact should be noted that Prometheus suffers during daytime. With sunrise the eagle of Zeus, itself an obvious symbol for the sun (which is actually apostrophized once by Prometheus as 'bird of Zeus'), comes to feed on his liver. Now the liver of Prometheus grows again during night. But also generally speaking the liver belongs to the night as the traditional seat of the passions, partly also because of its dark colour, and last but not least in its function as a means of divination. The unbinding of Prometheus and his liberation from daylight suffering therefore correspond to an important step forward in the evolution of the human image in man. He has now become a daylight being, and is accepted as such by the gods.

This brings us back again to the problem of the development of consciousness, already discussed in the preceding chapter. The view put forward there was that the hubris problem was essentially one of the evolution of the human psyche to consciousness. The connection with the Promethean myth, based on the same problem, though dealing with it in a more inclusive and existential way, is obvious.

Already Prometheus' first and original act, as told by Hesiod is one of differentiation. His second act, that to which he chiefly owes his fame, the bringing of fire, equally points to a prise de conscience symbolism. It is unnecessary, indeed it would be impossible here, to mention all the evidence and literature on the subject. The best-known example probably is the descent of the Holy Ghost, visible as 'cloven tongues like as of fire.' But also in Greek philosophy, from Heraclitus to the Stoics, fire and its qualities were a favourite subject of speculation. Empedocles ascribed to fire consciousness, thought and knowledge, qualities which Heraclitus thought were a divine prerogative, whilst Aristotle allowed them to men also, though admitting their divine provenance. For if there is anything divine in man, it is undoubtedly his consciousness of himself, whether we call it soul, spirit, reason or thought. Its most prominent symptom is the loss of man's original unity, or even identity with the world. The primitive participation mystique has given way to a new distance of man not only towards nature, but also towards himself. Man has ceased to exist as a mere piece of nature, something has emerged within him in virtue of which he now stands over and above himself and the world. Life in its specifically human sense, as thought, speech, purposeful and creative activity, is the expression of man's new status and dignity. But every light has its shadow---even as every shadow has its light---and to every medal there is a reverse. Homo sapiens is not only given mastery over the world as homo faber and exercising dominion over 'the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon earth.' He is also harassed by a new uneasiness and a new sense of guilt and danger. Original unity and participation mystique may be characteristic of a low level of psychic evolution, but at any rate they imply living in a stable and integrated community with a greater and more embracing, albeit less conscious whole. The way of individuation, however, and the growth towards consciousness and freedom is a process of severance from this original unity, and is attended accordingly by feelings of uneasiness and loneliness. The image that obtrudes itself is, of course, that of human birth and of the embryonic organism exchanging the security of the motherly body for a more individual existence, exposed to greater dangers. This image is more than a comparison. It is, as experience has shown, a real archetype. To speak here figuratively of a birth-trauma may therefore be misleading. Perhaps it would be better to regard the birth-trauma as the most concrete and obvious example and therefore also the most ready-at-hand symbol of this aspect of the pattern of life. Every dimension stretches into two directions, and every 'birth' opens a new dimension of life. It is only appropriate that man's new sensibilities should also give him the possibility of negative experiences, and that anxiety, care, unhappiness, injustice and spiritual suffering should rear their ugly heads in the newly opened vistas.  

Another danger of increasing consciousness is that it may lead to a feeling of equality with the gods through the awareness that one shares their knowledge, freedom and power. Together with consciousness there emerges thus a sense of guilt and sin. The double consequence is that on the one hand man himself does not want to be free, and on the other, that the gods too look askance at every human attempt to reach out towards higher levels of personality. A third corollary is the rather queer position of religion in this scheme: it is a system of behaviour where man respects and serves his jealous gods, carefully avoiding offense by anything that might look like independence, freedom, or self-consciousness. Literary illustrations are legion; but one thinks in the first place of Nietzsche, though one may also cite Spitteler's Prometheus, Quinet's trilogy Prometheus, Dostoievski's Great Inquisitor, and, for a modern variation on the same theme, Jean-Paul Sartre's play Les Mouches. The hybridic shadow of every new progress of knowledge makes it a boon and a bane at the same time, a victory and a punishment, a double-edged sword---like that mysterious element, fire. It is a blessing, but can also be destruction if it is not carefully limited and kept down. But significantly enough it is also the only element whose natural tendency is upwards. Moreover, like the spirit, it confers might and mastery, and with the fire at his disposal, nature becomes mere raw-material in the hands of man, who in his turn becomes shaper and creator. Fire is the appropriate symbol for the spirit and knowledge which is in man and by which he 'aspires to divinity' and becomes a god. It is therefore quite in order that the bringer of fire is called---nomen est omen---Prometheus, the 'knower,' or, to be more precise, the 'foreknower,' although in his relations with Zeus he proved himself an Epimetheus:

Falsely we named thee the Foresighted One,
Prometheus---thine the need of foresight now,
How from this art to extricate thyself! 
Prom. 85-7

It is of course possible that the two brothers were originally one undifferentiated being. But more important for our present purpose than his probably different and less transparent original name or names, is the fact that he ended as a Prometheus. It is his knowledge which determines his actions, which made him side with Zeus in the Titan war and which gave him security in his perseverance against Zeus.

But Prometheus has more than knowledge. He has cunning. He is astute and clever, and Zeus himself had profited from his 'smartness' not less than mankind. But this astuteness implies, as Kerényi points out, a certain crookedness of mind, ranging from deceitfulness to inventiveness. Prometheus is ankulometes, that is, his thinking is ankulos, crooked---the mark of a basic deficiency which wants to be overcome. Zeus, the god, whose being knows no inherent defections, per definitionem lacks this crookedness, and may thus well need at times the help of a Prometheus.   
The order of Zeus is perfect, regulated and static. His world has measure and limits, and every being is assigned its place. But, and here the trouble starts, the human pole of the universe, as soon as it becomes aware of itself at all, becomes aware of fatal deficiencies. Man's attempt to cope with this situation by remedying these deficiencies, presupposes a mental make-up foreign to Zeus. Cleverness is a compensatory function of defectiveness, and man's resourcefulness is thus the means by which he evades and oversteps the rules and bounds set by Zeus, whilst Zeus, like Milton's God, may ironically look on."