This painting, by the Dutch artist Dirck van Baburen (c. 1595-1624), depicts the grim punishment inflicted on the Greek deity, Prometheus, after he gave the gift of fire to humanity. Hesiod, an ancient Greek poet from the 8th century BCE, wrote of the myth, saying, “[Zeus] bound crafty Prometheus in inescapable fetters, grievous bonds, driving them through the middle of a pillar. And he set a great winged eagle upon him, and it fed on his immortal liver, which grew the same amount each way at night as the great bird ate in the course of the day” (Hesiod, Theogony, between lines 497-529). In the scene painted above, Dirck van Baburen shows the moment when Prometheus was being chained in his inescapable fetters. Zeus delegated this task to Hephaestus (Romanized to Vulcan), the divine craftsman of the gods. In the upper left section of the painting, the eagle is shown eagerly awaiting its chance to begin devouring Prometheus’ regenerating liver. On the other side, Hermes (Romanized to Mercury)—who often acted as a messenger of the gods—oversees the process, showing very little sympathy on his face for Prometheus.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
- Theogony and Works and Days by Hesiod, translated by M. L. West. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988, 1999, 2008.