Once Prometheus investigated the merits of canned heat. Stealing fire from the immortals and giving it to humankind hadn’t exactly worked out as he’d expected. More often than being inspired to light their world with his gift and fashion beacons of high purpose, they’d seemed prone to setting their own hair and skin ablaze. For all his wisdom, Prometheus couldn’t fathom this refusal to learn the lesson of “Once burned, twice shy” that every other creature appeared to understand immediately. Just as incomprehensible, however, was the eagerness so many of his beloved humans showed for grabbing a lit brand and threatening their neighbors with it. The risk he’d taken for their sake was supposed to make them true rivals of the gods, wasn’t it, not rouse them to set upon each other. What did they think the gift of fire had been for? Merely to warm themselves with, or to roast meat and fill their bellies? Nothing more liberating and exalted? No, they were not so shortsighted, Prometheus still believed. After all, how many times had they shown heartening signs of growing tired of a life spent quaking in the dark? How often had a fear of venturing beyond the limits of what little they already knew yielded to the idea that something more grand and more worthy of them must lie just out of sight, if only they had the courage to raise a torch and set off in search of it? These were moments when Prometheus thought back with pride at having sided with humanity and willingly suffered divine wrath as a consequence. Come what may, his faith in mere mortals and all they were capable of would remain as constant as the rock to which he was chained and the arrival of the eagle sent to tear at his liver each day. Then why did humans behave as if they weren’t willing to risk as much themselves for their freedom from the gods? Why did they continue instead to act as if they’d committed a great trespass by accepting the fire and begged to be forgiven for it, when he’d taken everything upon himself and felt no need for remorse? Between jabs of the eagle’s beak, however, the undying affection Prometheus held for humans would move him to admit his agonies might be clouding his own vision. Here, bound to his constant suffering, it was easy to slip into absolutes and exaggerated hopes. Had he been unreasonable in thinking these mortals might go beyond even what he’d dared? Not simply defying the power of Zeus but burning down the house of the gods with the very flame they’d been denied? Was it too much to believe that humans, given the chance, would summon the courage to clear away in a single act of faith in themselves all the superstitious fear and insecurity that afflicted them? If they still trembled at seeing how large and far their own shadows were cast by the fire, could Prometheus really bring himself to abandon them for that? No, there was something about humanity he just couldn’t give up on. In wisdom then, perhaps canned heat was a more realistic gift than an open flame. It clearly would be safer for them, limited as it was in reach and easily snuffed out if Zeus suspected any defiance of his will. No immortal was going to feel threatened by this lesser flame in any case. As long as humans were content to pass around a candle-in-a-can for their inspiration, what danger was there they’d use it to light up the world with their own glory? Not enough to cause a god concern, certainly.
Copyright © 2003-2004 by Geoffrey Grosshans