So much of who we are is shaded by the validation we seek in the way others perceive us. Our own perception of ourselves shifts between varying combinations of the core of our spirit, and the gossamer overlay of what we see of ourselves reflected in the eyes of other people. We seek the love of others in an attempt to love ourselves better. In Aeschylus' Prometheus Bound and Mary Shelley's Frankenstein or, The Modern Prometheus, two characters find themselves on a quest for love with very different motivations, and for very different reasons.
In Aeschylus' Prometheus Bound, Prometheus, the heat seeker, is persecuted for stealing fire from Zeus and sharing it with humanity. For his act of defiance, Prometheus is chained to a rock to serve out an undetermined sentence for his crimes against Zeus, the ruling god new to power. A reluctant Hephaistos is ordered by an incensed Power to carry out the wishes of the great Father, Zeus. Power enjoys great pleasure in executing Zeus' orders, egging Hephaistos on by reminding him that Zeus' disfavor is a force to be reckoned with, and that Prometheus has stolen a power meant only for the gods. "Clamp the trouble making bastard to the rock.", "He stole (fire), he gave it away to human beings.", "He must submit to the tyranny of Zeus and like it, too" Power [29 (10,15,19)] Hephaistos, who most closely represents humanity in the play, responds with slight hesitation, "We're family, we're friends: there's power in that, too." [31 (75)] Eventually, Hephaistos does do as he is ordered and binds Prometheus to a large rock with chains.
Himself a god, Prometheus fashioned humankind from clay and mud, and soon felt compelled to care for them in a fatherly, if ignorant, fashion. "I began by pitying people (things that die!)" Prometheus [41 (357)] He attributes all of human culture to his own personal sacrifices and gifts, and sees humankind as absolutely powerless and incapable of existence without his guidance and handling. For his 'selfless' acts he desires to be worshiped as a hero by his audience and his creations. "All human culture comes from Prometheus." Prometheus [52 (738)], " … what wretched lives people used to lead, how babyish they were - until I gave them intelligence." Prometheus [49 (631)] Prometheus, though bastardized by the gods for his acts, ultimately takes responsibility for the creatures he has created, and suffers the punishment for it.
In Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, a very different aspect of the father figure is explored than those in Prometheus Bound. The Creature is born of the obsessive experiments of Victor Frankenstein, who, unlike Prometheus, rejects his own creation by going into a dramatic fit of denial and remorse, which renders him virtually useless against his own destiny and decline. Fatherless, the Creature wanders fully unprepared into a world that refuses to accept his monstrous appearance. He engages himself to education by observing a family living in the woods within a cottage home. "On examining my dwelling, I found that one of the windows of the cottage had formerly occupied a part of it, but the panes had filled up with wood. In one of these was a small and almost imperceptible chink, through which the eye could just penetrate." The Creature [103 (13)]
Through a tricky mesh of clever persuasion and subtle manipulation, Prometheus succeeds in gaining the loyalty and sympathy of the god, Ocean's, daughters, known simply as the Chorus. The Chorus represents a motherly concern and affection for Prometheus, and he plays with that feeling in order to gain their favor. "It's painful to speak, it's painful not to. Every way there's misery." Prometheus [39 (291)] When Hermes drifts down to execute the next part of Zeus' dirty work, he tells the Chorus to get out before they too get hurt, and the Chorus, refusing to leave, responds, "Say something else, give us advice we'll listen to! We can't put up with this aside, these words you've dragged up in passing. How could you order me to be a coward, how? I'll suffer by his side whatever comes, because I've learned to hate treachery: to me the filthiest disease." [81-82 (1632)] The Chorus, and Prometheus are driven into a cavernous hole in the ground and isolated there for generations to follow.
Like Prometheus' creations, Frankenstein's Creature is without culture and education, and, without a father or teacher to guide him, must seek out his own culture and education. In watching the cottage dwellers, Mary Shelley's Creature begins to get his first glance into society. "… and, still more, they enjoyed one another's company and speech, interchanging each day looks of affection and kindness." The Creature [106 (13)] With this, he begins to feel his initial longings to seek and find a sense of community, and of belonging to the larger scope of humanity. Unfortunately, he is made powerfully aware of his 'wretched' appearance by his reflection in a pool of water. "I had admired the perfect forms of my cottagers - their grace, beauty, and delicate complexions: but how was I terrified, when I viewed myself in a transparent pool!" The Creature [109 (18)] Eagerly, he begins to search for ways to better his mind, so that he might impress upon the cottage family the greater aspect of his gentle soul over his hideous appearance. "I imagined that they would be disgusted, until, by my gentle demeanour and conciliating words, I should first win their favour, and afterwards their love." The Creature [110 (25)] The Creature hatches a plan to first speak with the blind elder of the family, so that he might be judged only by his innocuous personality, and not his unwittingly threatening physical image. After spending months in preparation consisting of, reading, observing, and mastering the language, the Creature's attempt to win over the family's love is thwarted by the unexpected early return of the younger cottagers. His attempt to persuade the affections of humanity is lost, unlike Prometheus' gained affection of the Chorus.
Scorned and frustrated by the way in which he is perceived, the Creature resorts to monstrous acts of murder in an attempt to avenge his own damaged psyche and imposed exile. "All, save I, were at rest or in enjoyment: I, like the arch fiend, bore a hell within me; and, finding myself unsympathized with, wished to tear up trees, spread havoc and destruction around me, and then to have sat down and enjoyed the ruin." The Creature [132 (15)], "The child struggled, and loaded me with epithets which carried despair to my heart. I grasped his throat to silence him, and in a moment he lay dead at my feet." The Creature [139 (16)]
In an effort to redeem his own soul, he seeks out his creator and demands that Frankenstein create for him a female companion, so that he will not have to endure his entire life span alone, isolated, and without love. "You must create a female for me, with whom I can live in the interchange of those sympathies necessary for my being." The Creature [140 (25)]
Again, his father-creator denies the Creature love, and only reluctantly agrees to the Creature's request in an attempt to ease his own guilty conscious. Ultimately, Frankenstein fails to fulfill his promise, and the Creature is driven to further acts of barbaric murder and violence. He becomes the monster that his creator has told him he is, the wretched being that the world sees when they look upon him. Hopeless, and unloved, it is all he knows. Unlike Prometheus, who won the Chorus over and is swallowed up by the earth with some companionship, the Creature is left with no one. "When I call over the frightful catalogue of my deeds, I cannot believe that I am he whose thoughts were once filled with sublime and transcendent visions of the beauty and the majesty of goodness. But it is even so; the fallen angel becomes a malignant devil. Yet even the enemy of God and man had friends and associates in his desolation; I am quite alone." The Creature [219 (8)]
It would seem that in Aeschylus' world, though Prometheus ultimately succeeds through his persuasion to gain the favour of a few sympathetic characters, he leaves a reading audience questioning his motives and tactics. In Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, the Creature, whose true voice we only hear at the very end, may fail to fully gain the sympathy or love he so desires from the humans who inhabit the story world, but ultimately, he wins the empathy and heart of the reader. Had Prometheus possibly split off his egotistical self, and successfully become more human than god-like, would we, as an audience have felt a stronger sense of sympathy for him? Inversely, had Victor Frankenstein not absolved himself from his shadow creation, and had instead resolved his daemon half, would we have forgiven the Creature's criminal acts of desperation? Shelley seems to be telling us that a motivation without false ego is more pure, and that the suffering of an individual seeking love in an innocent form is more tragic than the suffering of an individual who falls into his own punishment on a quest for glory. The Creature becomes more deserving of sympathy and regard than Prometheus, for Prometheus knew exactly what he was getting into, and the Creature, never asked to be born/created.
Perceptions of both Prometheus and the Creature greatly influenced what they ultimately became, and how we ultimately perceived them. Prometheus, in Aeschylus' play, never does gain the hero worship he insists is his due, much like Victor Frankenstein never receives the glory and praise he sought when engaged in his experiments, but Mary Shelley's Creature does win our love.