Creativity and Prometheus

This morning I was reading about Greek mythology, when I was struck by the myth of Prometheus. I was already quite familiar with the story, but this time, it applied to the life of an artist. Allow me to explain.

The story of Prometheus is one of a mortal, a Titan, who challenged Zeus, the chief Olympian God.

There was a feast, where the mortals came to “settle the debts” with the Gods. Prometheus tricked Zeus with his offerings, and Zeus, in a word, fell for his trick. This enraged Zeus to such a great degree that Zeus took fire from the mortals.

Fire, itself, not only represents cooking and nourishment, but it is also a symbol of creativity, of passion.

Prometheus turned around and bravely stole the secret fire back from the Gods and gave it to humanity. Zeus was outraged! The punishments were severe. Zeus, in his rage, sent Pandora to live amongst the humans, unleashing all kinds of plagues and evil upon the humans.

(Side note: Pandora did not open her jar (some say it was a box) in order to deliberately unleash evil, she opened it out of curiosity. So similar to the story of Eve, eh? It is said that she closed the jar (or box) out of compassion, but in doing so, she left Hope sealed within. I could go on, but Pandora is not the reason for this particular entry…) As I was saying. Back to Prometheus.

Prometheus’ punishment was even more severe than that unleashed upon the humans. He was bound to Mount Caucasus, where a vulture (or eagle) was to come each morning and eat away at his liver, which would grow back again at night. This torture went on for years, until eventually Prometheus was freed by Hercules. Hercules shot and killed the bird which tormented Prometheus, freeing him once and for all from his torments.

I see a great parallel between the story of Prometheus and the artist – a reflection of the creative process itself.

There is, inevitably, a time (or many times) where an artist fears they have ‘used up’ all of their creative ideas. A time when they feel tired, spent, used up, and so certain that they will never again create anything meaningful or have the ability to express the deeper yearnings of their spirit, that they decide to give it all up. They vow to quit, to take up something much easier (like a corporate job) just to ease the pain of (the fear of) never being able to create again.

Then something miraculous happens. In the dark of that night, their liver ‘grows back again’. The artist suddenly arises with a new optimism, a heart full of energy and passion, and they return to the canvas (or to the page, or the camera) and begin creating once again.

As with Prometheus, however, the cycle continues. The birth of creativity is followed by its death, as the birth of Prometheus’ liver was followed by the painful destruction of it. Suddenly, a sense of regeneration, hope and creativity flourishes. This cycle continues until a force stronger than the doubts that pluck away at us (or our liver) free us from our chains.

What is that force? The spirit of a champion? True courage? Is it someone outside ourselves? Is it inside us, the bravest part of ourselves? Could it be our rock solid resolve to end the cycle of suffering over our artistic expressions…

I don’t know the answer to that, as I too suffer from many of those dark nights. But I find comfort in the story of Prometheus, and the idea that liberation from torment is indeed possible. So keep creating, even when it feels hard or impossible. Cultivate courage, like Hercules, to free yourself.

-Liz Huston
August 11, 2011


Afterword: It’s February 24, 2018, 7 years later. I just rediscovered it and wanted to share!