Date of Completion
College of Arts and Science Honors
Dr. Jacques A. Bailly, Ph.D.
Classical studies, Classical reception, Myth-criticism, Romanticism, Frankenstein, Prometheus Bound
The subtitle of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s 1818 novel Frankenstein, or, The Modern Prometheus, draws an immediate connection to Greek mythology and the Titan Prometheus. The “Modern Prometheus” is generally considered to be Dr. Victor Frankenstein; however, in this paper, I argue that Frankenstein’s Creation can also be recognized as a Promethean figure. To identify a Promethean figure, I discuss the varying nature of Greek mythology and how Prometheus is portrayed throughout the ancient literary canon; for example, as Prometheus pyrphoros in Hesiod and Aeschylus, and Prometheus plasticator in Ovid and Pseudo-Apollodorus. Specifically, I compare Prometheus pyrphoros as he appears in Prometheus Bound by Aeschylus to the Creation in Frankenstein. I examine both through themes of humanism, rebellion, and suffering, culminating in the idea that the Creation carries Promethean traits less obviously but more profoundly than Dr. Frankenstein. With the theory of Polyprometheism introduced by Brett M. Rogers (2018), I argue that Dr. Frankenstein and his Creation can exist simultaneously as Promethean figures, with Dr. Frankenstein as a problematic Prometheus plasticator and the Creation as the suffering, rebellious Prometheus pyrphoros. I also suggest, with notes from Genevieve Liveley (2018), that Mary Shelley augmented Frankenstein with conceptions from ancient myths she had read—Prometheus Bound, for example—but especially creation myths from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, such as Prometheus plasticator, Asclepios & Hippolytus, and Deucalion & Pyrrha. Therefore, I suggest that Mary Shelley successfully interpreted ancient mythology to create a bifurcated “Modern Prometheus,” applying it to her creator and creation.
Holden, Annaliese E., "The Ancient and Modern Prometheus: A Re-evaluation of the Promethean Figure in Mary W. Shelley’s Frankenstein, or, The Modern Prometheus" (2023). UVM College of Arts and Sciences College Honors Theses. 117.