The "Outcast State":
The Relationships of Gods toward Men in Prometheus Bound and Job

Christine Wallish

	 "When in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes     
	 I all alone beweep my outcast state,              
	 And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries...."
     			--from William Shakespeare's "Sonnet 29," lines 1-3                              

The question of why bad things happen to good people has perplexed and angered humans throughout history. The most common remedy to ease the confusion is to discover the inflicter of the undeserved suffering and direct the anger at them: the horror felt about the Holocaust can be re-directed in the short term by transforming Adolf Hitler into Lucifer and vilifying him, and, in the long term, can be used as a healing device when it is turned into education to assure that such an atrocity is never repeated. What, however, can be done with the distasteful emotions felt about the victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Surely the citizens of those two cities did not themselves directly provoke the government of the United States to deserve the horror of a nuclear attack. Can it be doubted that their sufferings were undeserved and should cause deep sorrow, regret, and anger? Yet for the citizens of the United States to confront these emotions they must also confront the failings of their own government. A similar problem is found in two works of literature, Aeschylus' Prometheus Bound and the book of Job found in the Tanakh. In each of these works a good man is seen to be suffering at the hand of his god; Prometheus is chained to a rock by Zeus who then sends an eagle to daily eat Prometheus' liver while Job is made destitute and brought to endure physical pain through an agreement between God~ and Satan. To examine the travails of these two men is to discover two vastly different concepts of the relationship between god and man.

The first question which must be addressed is, "Why have these men been made to suffer?" To simply say that Zeus or God is displeased is not enough, and to say that Prometheus and Job have sinned is confusing. Most Western readers approach these works with a pre-conceived notion of sin which has been born out of the Judeo-Christian theological tradition a tradition which dictates that there are specific moral rules which must be followed, and to transgress them is to sin. While this interpretation of sin may be functional for a reading of Job, it is useless for understanding Prometheus Bound. To ascertain what the concept of sin was to the Greek society which produced Prometheus Bound it is helpful to consider the story of Io which Aeschylus has woven into his play.

Io's transformation from a young woman into a heifer is a perfect physical manifestation of Zeus's attitude toward his subjects. Io is another of the unfortunate mortal women who catches the eye of the Father of the Gods. As usual, when Hera, Zeus's wife and therefore Queen of the Gods, learns of her husband's infidelity she determines to punish the girl who has caused Zeus to stray (Hamilton 75-78). In all this, Io's only fault is that she is attractive--she has done nothing to instigate Zeus's lust. This is true of nearly all the women with whom Zeus has affairs: Semele, Aegina, Callisto, Leto, Danae. These women suffer various trials not because they have willingly done anything wrong, but simply because their beauty caused Zeus to lust and to be unfaithful to his wife. Zeus's infidelity angers Hera and she vents her rage upon the hapless women. Therein lies the heart of the matter: Zeus's mistresses cause Zeus to anger Hera. While infidelity is a sin according to Judeo-Christian ideology, the only sin of which Zeus's mistresses are guilty is making Hera angry. Another example of this idea of sin is found in the death of Actaeon. While he was out hunting Actaeon accidentally stumbled upon a pool where Artemis had just begun bathing. Outraged that a mortal should see her unclothed she changed him into a stag. Actaeon was consequently chased and killed by his own pack of hounds (Hamilton 255-6). Again, the punished mortal did not intend to offend a divinity, Actaeon was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Although there are some moral standards which humans were expected to uphold (never to take a life in cold-blooded murder, to bury the dead with proper rites, and to treat guests with proper hospitality) often the only sin a punished mortal has committed has been to anger a god by going against the ever-changing wills of the immortals.

Thus Io's only sin was to have caused Zeus to anger Hera. For that she was changed into a heifer who wandered the earth for years before finding rest in Egypt. Io's transformation into a heifer can be said to be a fitting representation of Zeus's attitude toward his subjects because Zeus treats those lower than he as though they are cattle: the women he "loves" he uses for his trysts and then abandons to their own devices; Prometheus is used to help overthrown the Titans, then is bound to the rock when he begins to act outside Zeus's whims. After Prometheus helped Zeus to win the war against the Titans to gain his throne in Olympus, Prometheus turned his aid toward the helpless humans which inhabited the earth.

              No sooner was he on his father's throne
              Seated secure than he assigned the gods 
              Their several privileges, to each appointing
              Powers, but held the hapless race of man
              Of no account, resolving to destroy  
              All human kind and sow new seed on earth. 
              And none defied his will in this save me.
              I dared to do it, I delivered man
              From death and steep destruction. 
					(Aeschylus 11)  

Prometheus gave man the gift of fire, "planted mind and the gift of understanding" (20), and taught him all the arts of survival. In doing this Prometheus ennobled man and thwarted Zeus's plans for destroying humankind.

Although Io innocently brought down the wrath of a god, Prometheus knew full well he would be purushed for his deed: "I wiUed to sin, I willed it, I confess" (13). Still, it did not matter--Zeus's subjects are his cattle, to be bought, sold, and used as he sees fit: Io is turned into a heifer in a feeble attempt to hide his infidelity; Prometheus is chained to a rock in an attempt to gain submission so that Zeus may obtain one final piece of information--the name of the woman who will bear the son who is fated to overthrow Zeus. Even in the language of the play Aeschylus uses words which relate to binding an animal; manacles, fetters, girth, spancels.~ Hermes comes straight out and compares Prometheus to a bound horse: "like a newly-bridled colt, / Dost champ and chafe against the irksome rein" (44). In all this--Io turned into a cow, Prometheus bound as a horse--Zeus reveals his true tyrant nature as one who shows little to no respect for those who are subject to his rule.

The god depicted in Job is quite different from the reigning god of Prometheus Bound. Although obviously it cannot be said that God acts toward his subjects in a completely kind manner--his servant Job is certainly quite miserable in this work--the trials which God permits Satan to bring upon Job serve to lift him higher in the end, whereas the trials which Zeus inflicts upon Prometheus are intended to bring him under Zeus's heel.

Again, it is important to approach the work with an understanding of what the concept of sin meant to the culture which produced the literature. In the Jewish society there was a most definite code of ethical behavior. This moral code was known as the Law and was given to Moses from God: it begins with the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20.1-17) and was added to throughout the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. The Law explained in full and exacting detail precisely what God expected of his servants, the Nation of Israel, and what specific rituals must be performed should someone transgress the Law. At the time of Job's sufferings conventional wisdom dictated that those upon whom great suffering was inflicted were great sinners who had transgressed several of God's commandments. This interpretation of God's relationship with man is embodied in the speeches of the tbree men who come to comfort Job; Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite. Eliphaz says, "Remember, I pray thee, who ever perished, being innocent? or where were the righteous cut off?" (Job 4.7). Bildad: "If thou wert pure and upright: surely now he would awake for thee, and make the habitation of thy righteousness prosperous" (Job 8.6). In his discourse in chapter twenty Zophar cites several of the misfortunes that God would bring upon the unrighteous; "Yet his meat in his bowels is turned, if is the gall of asps within him" (Job 20.14). and "The increase of his house shall depart, and his goods shall flow away in the day of his wrath" (Job 20.28). As the three men point out, all of these calamities were inflicted upon Job; his children were killed, his crops and livestock were destroyed, and Job himself was afflicted with boils. Through all this there appeared to be no mercy from God nor any hope that Job's sufferings would soon end. Thus the obvious conclusion for the three men was that Job had sinned against God and was being punished.

This conclusion is not obvious to Job. No man can claim to be perfect, nor does Job do so in any of his speeches. He does ask for God to reveal to him what his sins were: "How many are mine iniquities and sins? make me to know my transgression and my sin" (Job 13.23). He also maintains that although he did sin (as all men do) he was still a righteous and upright man who obeyed the commandments of God. In chapter thirty-one Job is given a great speech wherein he maintains his integrity; he did not lust after women (31.6), he supported the poor (31.16), he shared out of his plenty (31.17), he did not allow the naked to go unclothed (31.19), he did not lust after wealth or rejoice in personal riches (31.24-5), he did not curse his enemies' souls or take pleasure in their misfortunes (29-.30), he gave welcome to travelers (31.32), and he did not seek to cover up his transgressions so as to keep up his appearances as a righteous man of God (31.33-4).

In all his arguments Job does not seek to prove that he is a who11y innocent man; rather, he argues in support of the position that good and evil befall all men equally: "shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?" (2.10). In fact, often evil men seem to prosper: "Wherefore do the wicked live, become old, yea, are mighty in power?" (21.7). In fact, this is known to be true in Job's instance from the opening of the book. God points out Job to Satan and boasts about Job's righteousness: "Has thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil?" (1.8). In response to that Satan claims that if Job did not have such a blessed and easy life he would turn against God. To prove that Job is a man of great integrity God delivers Job into Satan's hand--"Behold, all that he hath is in thine power. . ." (1.12)--who then brings the numerous calamities upon Job. Finally, in the last chapters of the book, God speaks to Job out of a whirlwind and condemns the arguments of Eliphaz, Rildad, and Zophar, and praises Job: "And it was so, that after the LORD had spoken these words unto Job, the LORD said to Eliphaz the Temarute, My wrath is kindled against thee, and against thy two friends; for ye have not spoken of me the thing that is right, as my servant Job hath" (42.7). As a reward for his right speaking, God restores Job to his health and prosperity: "also the LORD gave Job twice as much as he had before" (42.10).

The notion of an ornnipotent, omniscient deity who governs mankind with a just and good rule is an idea common to the majority of peoples around the world. The gods depicted in Prometheus Bound and Job bring that idea into question. Both Zeus and God seem to act toward their subjects in ways which are unexpectedly human in their capacity for cruelty and trickery: Zeus rewards Prometheus' charity toward mankind by torturing him, while God tests Job's faithfulness by presenting him with a test of tribulations. The initial reaction to these divinities is distrust--who would want either as a god? Yet, upon closer examination it is evident that whereas Zeus acts as selfishly and cruelly as any earthly tyrant who wants only to achieve blind submission and fear, God's actions in Job bring about wisdom and a reasoning mind. "Surely there is a vein for the silver, and a place for gold where they refine it" (Job 28.1).

 1. The most common name of the Jewish deity is Yahweh. In the King James
Version, which was used for this study, this name has been translated as
both God and LORD. For the sake of simplicity the term God has been used
here in all instances.                                                                       
 2. The following have been taken from Webster's New Universal Unabridged         
           1. to put handcuffs on; to fetter.                                     
           2. to confine; to restrain; to hamper.                                 
           a shackle or a chain for the feet; a chain by which a person or        
           animal is confined by the feet.                                        
           1. a strap or cinch used in fastening a saddle or }oad, as upon a      
           horse or mule.                                                         
           a rope used to hobble a horse or to tie a cow's hind legs while        
           milking; a tether.                                                     

Works Cited

Aeschylus. Prometheus Bound. Trans. George Thomson. New York: Dover, 1995.

"fetter." Webster's New Universal Unabridged Dictionary. 2nd ed. 1983.

"girth." Webster's New Universal Unabridged Dictionary. 2nd ed. 1983.

Hamilton, Edith. Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes. New York: Mentor, 1969.

Layman's Parallel Bible, The. Grand Rapid, MI: Zondervan, 1991.

"manacle." Webster's New Universal Unabridged Dictionary. 2nd ed. 1983.

"spancels." Webster's New Universal Unabridged Dictionary. 2nd ed. 1983.

[N.B.: These definitions could have been amalgamated under the title of the dictionary--Dr. Arn]

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