Having just spent the weekend helping Janet sell plants, I return today to my day job. Farming is a lot of work, by the way; the thing that causes the most work is that plants, unlike people (other than my children), are incapable of taking care of themselves. So, when it is a really hot day, and the little plants get all hot and thirsty, then someone has to bring them water—lots of water, it turns out. All weekend, I was remembering our graduate school days; I would go off to my office in the daytime and figure out economic models, and then at night, I would head over to Janet’s lab and help her wash soil (not dirt, mind—dirt is what you get under your fingernails; soil is the substance in which plants live) off of roots so that the weight of the plants could be accurately measured. In graduate school, we could never leave town for more than a day because her experiment needed to be constantly tended. And here we are years later with no summer vacation planned because, you guessed, the plants need to be watered. It makes me feel young again! All in all, I really like Janet’s new business—in my job, I rarely see the result of what I do all day, but in Janet’s job, the plants grow from little baby plants into nice big plants and then people buy them and said people look really happy which makes Janet really happy which makes me really, really happy. There is something quite soothing about spending some time watering plants in a greenhouse. I just wouldn’t want to do it all day every day.
But, now that I have returned to my Day Job, I hereby offer up a review of Aeschylus’ Prometheus Bound (which I read because I needed to read Shelley’s Prometheus Unbound for a paper on which I am working, and so it seemed like a good idea to read the source material first). Aeschylus’ play isn’t really a play—it is more a set piece in which our Hero is bound to a rock and talks to a bunch of people who wander by—a stage adaptation of this play would realize significant cost saving on scenery—Big rock with chains? Done.
The most interesting part of this only mildly interesting play is Prometheus’ boast that he provided all good things to man. Not just fire, but all the arts and protection from Zeus who had decided to obliterate man for no apparent reason. Prometheus is, in other words Our Hero, and not just any Hero, but the Greatest Hero Ever. Without Prometheus, you would still be living in a cave bashing rodents over the head with a stick and eating them raw before dying either from cold exposure because you hadn’t quite figured out that it is cold in winter or from some disease for which you knew no cure. Life before Prometheus was a miserable affair; Life after Prometheus? Well you can sit around and read Aeschylus. And what does Prometheus get for being the Greatest Benefactor Ever? He gets tied to a rock because Zeus is really mad at him. And Prometheus howls rebellion and prophesies doom to Zeus. Quite the Hero.
(You can see why Shelley liked Prometheus so much—greatest benefactor of mankind rebelling against the gods and bringing light to the world. Shelley was a megalomaniac. The more I read Shelley, by the way, the more impressed I am with his ability to write a nice line of poetry and the more disdain I have for him.)
The best bit in the Aeschylus play:
Chorus: Did you perhaps go further than you have told us?
Prometheus: Yes, I stopped mortals from foreseeing doom.
Chorus: What cure did you discover for that sickness?
Prometheus: I sowed in them blind hopes.
Chorus: That was a great help that you gave to man.
Prometheus: Besides, I myself gave them fire.
There is a lot packed into that series of one-line dialogue. The “Besides” alone is worth the price of admission. What’s better than fire so that you can actually cook your dead rat and ward off the cold? Blind hope so that you won’t see that you are still doomed. I can’t decide if that is true or not. On the one hand, I’d like to think that we can all face the future even knowing what is to come; on the other hand, I am afraid that Prometheus is right , that if we did know what was to come, we would all just collapse in misery. Who would fardels bear to grunt and sweat under a weary life if we knew what was to come—not in the afterlife, but in this life?