Prometheus Represented as Tied to a Stake
The Watchtower Society, publishers of the “New World Translation”, received a letter questioning a statement in the appendix that the Greek hero Prometheus was represented as tied to a stake. The Society’s answer is here published.
December 1, 1950
Answering yours of November 14 which poses a challenge that the popular Greek hero Prometheus “was represented as tied to a stake or ‘stauros’”.
Just as you have heard, the Americana Encyclopedia in its article on “Prometheus Bound”, the tragedy by the Greek poet Aeschylus, also represents Prometheus clamped to a rock in the Caucasus by forging. However, we should like to refer you to the book The History of the Devil and the Idea of Evil from the Earliest Times to the Present Day, by Dr. Paul Carus, and published in Chicago by The Open Court Publishing Co. in 1900. On page 210 it gives the illustration of a man tied to a stake, under which illustration it says: “Prometheus tied by Zeus to the stake (or cross) and exposed to the Eagle: Rescue by Hercules (A vase found at Chiusi, now in Berlin. Baumeister, D.d.cl.A., p. 1410).” On this page Dr. Carus says: “In spite of the strong admixture of foreign mythology, Hercules has become the national hero of Greece, and the Greek idea of salvation has found in him the most typical expression, which has been most beautifully worked out by Aeschylus in a grand tragedy which represents Prometheus (the forethinker) as struggling and suffering mankind, tied to the pole of misery by Zeus as a punishment for the sin of having brought the bliss of light and fire down to the earth. But at last the divine saviour, Hercules, arrives, and, killing the eagle that lacerates the liver of the bold hero, sets him free. Prometheus and Hercules are combined into one person in the Christian Saviour, Jesus Christ. The similarity of the story of Golgotha with the myth of Prometheus is not purely accidental. For observe that in some of the older pictures, as, for instance, in the vase of [page 211] Chiusi (see illustration on page 210), Prometheus is not chained to a rock but tied to a pole, that is, to a σταυρός or cross, and Greek authors frequently use expressions such as the verb ἀνασκολοπίζεσθαι (Aeschylus) and ἀνασταυροῦσθαι (Lucian) which mean ‘to be crucified.’”
On pages 217, 218 Dr. Carus says: “Plato, who, perhaps under the impression of Aeschylus’s conception of the tragic fate of Prometheus, says of the perfect man who would rather be than appear just: ‘They will tell you that the just man who is thought unjust will be scourged, racked, bound; will have his eyes burnt out; and, at last, after suffering every kind of evil, he will be hung up at the pale.’ The strangest thing about this passage is that the word ἀνασκινδυλευθήσεται, which means ‘he will be hung up at the stake’, or ‘fixed on a pale’, is an older synonym of the New Testament term σταυρόειν, commonly translated ‘to crucify.’”
The above agrees with the New World Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures in its Appendix, page 769, in saying that the instrument upon which Jesus was nailed was a stake without a crossbeam, and not the religiously represented “cross”; and that the Greek word used for that instrument in ancient time meant a “stake” and not the conventional religious cross.
WATCHTOWER BIBLE AND TRACT SOCIETY