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The Essay
Show #513
The Perils of Prometheus
David Gunn

For five thousand years, the numerous chronicles of Greek mythology were attributed to one man, an Ionian shrubberian named Homer, no relation to the famously cartooned Simpson. Homer claims to have been visited one night by a panoply of gods and goddesses in raiment so dazzlingly brilliant that he was permanently blinded. Unable to repair his seared retinas, the gods compensated by regaling him with an endless variety of seemingly chimerical tales of their lives atop Mount Olympus. Homer managed to commit the stories to memory, a prodigious feat, indeed, considering that the discovery of ginkgo was still millennia away. After the gods and goddesses departed--and Homer was pretty sure they swiped his goats when he wasn't looking--he wrote down all of the stories in two epic poems, the Iliad and the Honda Odyssey. The Greek literary intelligentsia of the day were accustomed to prosaic tales of shrubbery and mud. So they found Homer's tales utterly fantastic and labeled him a blatherskite, which severely limited his chances for a book contract.

However, one day, a restaurateur rooting for grubs in a dry riverbed unearthed a stone tablet on which was inscribed in tiny boustrophedonic phonograms a detailed Paleolithic journal. The journal corroborated much of what Homer had asserted. The great publishing institution of the day, Random Housacles, immediately signed him to a four-figure book contract, which consisted of three triangles and a paisley but, because Homer couldn't see, he never knew he'd been swindled. Then they packed him off on a country-wide speaking tour.

At each village, Homer recited a different account of one of the gods or goddesses. His final stop on the tour was Athens, where thirty thousand spectators crowded the Parthenon to hear him. He didn't disappoint them, having saved his best for last. Alas, that story and most of the spectators were lost in the Great Tsunami of 5 BC. But we don't want you, our listeners, to go away empty-eared, so here's the story that led off Homer's tour: the Perils of Prometheus.

Prometheus was a Titan, a giant, but he fell in with a band of humans because they liked him in spite of his girth. In appreciation, the giant stole fire from the gods and gave it to humanity, along with the arts, civilization and an aptitude for line dancing. As punishment, the great god Zeus chained Prometheus to a rock on Mount Caucasus, where an eagle ate his liver. Thanks to recent advances in organ transplantation techniques, the Titan's doctor was able to install a new liver during the night. But, groggy from anesthesia, Prometheus couldn't break free of his chains. And in the morning, Zeus sent the eagle back for breakfast--which was liver, again. This routine went on for millennia. Dawn: eagle appears, tears open Titan's abdomen, eats liver, flies away. Dusk: transplantologist shows up, cleans wound with Bactinium®, inserts liver (the doctor never said where they came from and Prometheus never asked), closes incision, gives Titan a sedative, departs. Night: wound heals while Prometheus sleeps under sedation. Dawn: hello, eagle. After a while (remember, this is millennia of millennia passing here), a protective callus grew over Prometheus' abdomen. It was so thick that even the eagle's razor sharp beak and talons couldn't break the skin. As elated as the Titan was when the bird flew away, he was that much more miserable when it returned an hour later with a ripsaw.

More millennia passed. Maybe it was closer to billennia. Word of Prometheus' plight finally reached mankind. Except for a small anti-line dancing contingent that thought he deserved his fate, they were angry at the gods for punishing the Titan. But they weren't stupid; they knew that the gods were frightfully powerful. So they decided to return the fire to the gods in a way that would clearly illustrate their displeasure.

The world's leading arsonicist built a liver out of fire and delivered it to Prometheus' transplantologist, who gingerly inserted it into the Titan's abdomen. Oh, the giant suffered horrendous heartburn for the rest of the night, and was for once only too glad to see the eagle show up in the morning. The skin was warm and tingly to the eagle's touch, and the bird paused, momentarily suspicious. But then, tens of thousands of years of habit overcame any misgivings and the eagle went straight for the liver. The fiery organ was deep in its maw before the bird realized the pâté de foie was hotter, spicier than normal. As it flew away, the eagle's skeletal system began to incandesce, and it looked not unlike a very uncomfortable Roman candle.

Prometheus' delight in the eagle's misery was short-lived for, that night, the doctor delivered what he admitted would be his last liver and onions sedative. However, the gods at last had a change of heart. In the morning, in lieu of a hungry eagle, Hercules, the god of video card technologies, materialized with a message that all was forgiven. Hercules turned the shackles into a food chain and cast it into the sea, where it thrives to this day. Then the two of them returned to Mount Olympus to rejoin the gods where they lived haphazardly ever after.

The arsonicist, however, had secretly kept a sliver of fire. But instead of using it to torch one of the neighborhood cave dwellings, he built a second fire organ, one modeled after a pancreas. Then he built another fire liver, followed by a fire heart, fire kidney, fire ear and fire nose--six new fire organs in all. Although he kept them locked in an inflammable cavern, they fled one night, becoming the world's first organized fire escape.

The story takes a turn for the verse when Homer describes in oblique rhyme the arsonicist selling a fire nose flute to the Northern Greek Guild of Otorhinolaryngologists, so we'll leave it there and get on with Kalvos & Damian's 513th New Music Bazaar, which features its own fire organ and other assorted incendiary instrumentation pitted against two theremins wielded by Damian and, yes, Kalvos.