CHAPTER 10 Transtextual Transformations of Bound in ’s Prometheus Unbound: Prometheus’ Gifts to Humankind

Fabien Desset

Introduction: Shelley’s Reception of

Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792–1822) probably discovered Aeschylus at Eton College, where he studied between 1805 and 1810. He was about 18 when he quoted the Eumenides (48–54) in an epigraph to The Wandering Jew, or the Victim of the Eternal Avenger (1809–1810), obviously to illustrate the theme of retribution, but above all to announce the horrible witch of canto four. At Oxford, his friend shared with him his enthusiasm for the Classics, but Shelley rejected them for a time because he considered them as emblems of the establishment culture, as he wrote in a letter to . The author of Political Justice (1797) soon convinced him to review his judgement and at least study the philosophers and historians. The young poet then ordered a bilingual edition of Aeschylus, whose Prometheus Bound he eventually quoted in Greek (355) in a letter to his future wife Mary Godwin.1 The allusion to the Eumenides in The Wandering Jew had already shown his fascination for monstrous creatures; Shelley’s reference to in the letter does the same—for the sake of the sub- lime, as an outlet for his frustrations or anger, or to express subversion and revolt. “Alastor” (1815), in which the fictional Poet vainly runs after Ideal love, the prod- uct of his imagination, displays a couple of Promethean motifs, from ’s wan- derings to the Hybristes river and Caucasus, whose description is mostly based on Shelley’s first visit of the Alps and modern narratives. Thomas Love Peacock, another friend who was fond of the Classics, explains that the very title, derived from the Greek alastôr, is based on Aeschylus’ evil demons or kaka-daimôn.2 During the summer of 1816, Shelley, Mary, and Byron’s evocations of Aeschylus and, more particularly, of his Prometheus, led to the composition

1 P. B. Shelley 1964, 1:316–8 and 411, letters n°198 and 271 of July 29, 1812 and October 25, 1814 respectively. 2 Peacock 1970, 60.

© koninklijke brill nv, leiden, ���8 | doi ��.��63/9789004348820_012 Percy Bysshe Shelley’s Prometheus Unbound 271 of Byron’s “Prometheus” (July), Mary’s , or the Modern Prometheus (1818), and Percy Bysshe’s Prometheus Unbound (1818–1820). The Titan is a ro- mantic figure par excellence, a powerful artist, as in Goethe’s version (1773), a rebel but also the victim of his passions, which can turn him into his own enemy, like Orc in William Blake’s syncretic mythology or Prometheus/the Phantasm of Jupiter in Shelley’s first act. The French Terror (1793–1794) had indeed shown how pure idealism could be perverted into something mon- strous. By the time Shelley composed his “lyrical ,” both Aeschylus and Prometheus had thus become familiar to him. He occasionally reread the Greek tragedian, compared him to Zeuxis or Phidias to consider the merits of ancient painting and sculpture,3 and eventually transposed into Hellas (1821), another “goat-play” anticipating the Turks’ last days in the Greek war of independence. If Shelley ultimately favoured Sophocles over Aeschylus, the latter accompanied him throughout his life—Agamemnon was also among his favourites—and definitely influenced his poetry. Prometheus Unbound, however, is arguably Shelley’s masterpiece.

A Summary of Shelley’s Transformations of Aeschylus’ Prometheia

Gérard Genette’s critical tool of transtextuality4 has proved useful in the study of Shelley’s rewriting of Prometheus Bound, because it transcends source stud- ies by offering a close textual analysis of concrete formal and thematic trans- formations. This chapter will therefore use Genette’s terminology, which will be explained along the way. I start with a summary of the transformations al- ready studied in previous articles, so as to give the context for Shelley’s rewrit- ing of the Titan’s theft of fire and gifts to mankind. The first obvious transformation is formal,5 since Shelley necessarily trans- lates part of Prometheus Bound into English (the names of the characters to start with) and since he uses blank verse. It is also architectural (relating to genre), as the poet turns the ancient play into a modern one, divided into four acts and sometimes scenes, unlike Aeschylus’ play. Shelley also calls it a “lyrical drama,” giving more prominence to the descriptive lyrics of the chorus than to action proper. The four-act structure actually mirrors the four plays that

3 P. B. Shelley 1964, 2: 53, letter n°486 of November 9, 1818, to T. L. Peacock, and “Preface” to Prometheus Unbound in P. B. Shelley 1988–2011, 2: 456. 4 Palimpsestes, 1982, trans. 1997. 5 Desset 2010b, 101–6.