Prometheus (hymn)

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Prometheus bound with the eagle, on the left his brother Atlas with the globe (drinking bowl from Cerveteri , around 555 BC; Vatican Museums , Rome)
Reading of the Ode Prometheus

Prometheus is the title of an ode or hymn by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe . The work is one of his most famous poems and emerged from the drama fragment of the same name.


Prometheus was written between 1772 and 1774. Like the other hymns of Mahomets Gesang , Ganymed , An Schwager Kronos , this work was written in Goethe's Sturm und Drang time . Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi printed the hymn for the first time in his work "On the Teaching of Spinoza in Letters to Mr. Moses Mendelssohn " without authorization and anonymously. Goethe did not include them in his newly edited writings until 1789 and had them appear together with the Ganymede Ode. The form of the hymn (or ode) is the lyrical form of expression that best does justice to Sturm und Drang, because it contains mythical figures that can be seen as representatives of the artists of Sturm und Drang and thus the dilemma of art and embody life. One of the main concerns of Sturm und Drang is to overcome traditional authorities, and thus Prometheus can be seen as programmatic for this epoch.


Heinrich Füger : Prometheus brings fire to mankind (around 1817)

A hymn is usually a hymn of praise; This principle is reversed here, however, because Prometheus by no means praises the gods, but rather brings a complaint against them, which is characterized by reproaches, but also mockery. He addresses Zeus rebelliously, even contemptuously, and compares him to a child who lets out his anger on the world, like a boy who "decapitates thistles":

Cover your sky, Zeus,
with cloud haze,
And practice like a boy who
decapitates thistles,
On oaks and mountain tops; [...]

In the second stanza he accuses not only Zeus, but all the gods, of "poorly" feeding themselves (verse 15) on the sacrifices of the gullible, and confesses just as insultingly: "I know nothing poorer / under the sun than you gods "(Verses 13-14). He too turned to the gods, lost and in good faith, in the hope of an open ear and help - but it was not the gods who helped him, but his own “holy heart” (verse 34). Prometheus not only places himself at least on an equal footing with the gods (he is, as it were, a god himself and helped Zeus to his power), Goethe also refers to the genius concept of Sturm und Drang , whose representatives understood a genius as a person, who lives completely in harmony with himself, is above the world and nature and has almost divine abilities.

In the following stanzas 4 and 5, Goethe has Prometheus ask several rhetorical questions with which he increases his allegations against the Olympians . Prometheus now accuses the gods of having neither healed nor alleviated, and denies them his awe. It was not the gods but time and fate that "forged him into a man" (v. 43). By virtue of his decision not to respect the gods, in the last stanza he even gains the power to shape people in his own image. This self-exaggeration ( hubris ) is sealed with the last words “like me” and supported throughout the poem with verses and stanzas of different lengths that seem to “rush”.

Prometheus wants to dethrone the gods. He sees in them pitiless, parasitic and envious figures who are pitifully dependent on human smoke sacrifices. This topic is typical of the epoch of Sturm und Drang, in which the term genius had a slightly different meaning than today: the ingenious, creative person breaks - according to the view at the time - all fetters and restrictions and becomes stronger in strokes of fate, which also means that he doesn't evade them.

The Titan Prometheus stands for a lonely creator, whose rebellion against the 'divine order' makes his own act of creation possible for him. In this way, in his ode , Goethe refers to his own artistry in an auto-referential manner . But the ode also says something heteroreferentially about the new poetics of the Sturm und Drang era : Detached from conventional religious ideas as well as from the meanwhile ritualized sensitivity (whose emotionality Goethe takes over here), the Promethean act of creation enables the genius to have a full Substitute for religion. However, the Prometheus Ode does not have to be understood as a rejection of religion, but can also be read as a projection screen for the pantheism debate of the time.


The poem is (apart from the third to last and last verse, which are thereby emphasized) written without rhymes in free rhythms , which Goethe finds particularly in the poetry of his Sturm und Drang period. The shape underlines the message of the poem. The many irregularities in the shape reflect the hero's typical emotionality and boldness of the Sturm und Drang. The imperative is used several times in the first of the seven stanzas, the possessive pronouns 'your' and 'mine' are emphasized. Verses 4-6 are written in question form. Some of the questions are shortened in the manner of a stitch mystery and undoubtedly with pathetic expressive aim to verse length and below.

Comparison with other texts by Goethe

Limits of mankind (around 1776–1781, exact date unknown): In this poem the adjectives predominate (in contrast to Prometheus , where verbs are more likely to be used). This creates a calmer mood. Goethe no longer accuses the gods as in Prometheus , but says that one cannot compete with the gods. Man should be humble and have respect for the gods. In terms of time and content, this poem stands on the border between the Sturm und Drang and the Weimar Classics .

The Divine (1783): This poem is aimed directly at noble people and says that people should take an example from the gods ( Incipit "Noble be people / helpful and good!"). In addition, nature plays a role that does not value people ("The sun shines / About bad and good, / And the criminal / Shine like the best, / The moon and the stars"). In addition, humans should differ from other beings that we know by being able to judge and decide. Here the Weimar Classic and its ideal of the “noble person” became manifest.

In his tragedy Faust , however, Goethe reminds through Mephistopheles that the sentence "Eritis sicut Deus scientes bonum et malum" ("You will be like God and know what is good and what is bad", 2047) was uttered by the snake in Paradise and that he had initiated the expulsion of Adam and Eve from it. Mephisto, the devil, then mockingly comments: “You will certainly be afraid of your likeness to God!” What is meant by this becomes clear in Goethe's poem The Sorcerer's Apprentice (1787): The apprentice summons ghosts in apparent equality with the master whose work he can no longer control later. Here, as in Faust , the idea that man should become similar to God (or the gods or deity ) is relativized.


  • Edith Braemer: Goethe's Prometheus and the basic positions of Sturm und Drang (= contributions to German classical music , 8). Third edition, Aufbau-Verlag, Berlin / Weimar 1968.
  • Barbara Neymeyr : The Proclamation of Creative Autonomy. Poetological aspects in Goethe's “Prometheus” hymn against the horizon of mythological tradition. In: Olaf Hildebrand (ed.): Poetological poetry from Klopstock to Grünbein. Poems and interpretations. Cologne et al. 2003, ISBN 3-8252-2383-3 , pp. 28-49
  • Inge Wild: “Young man's grilling” or “Igniter of an explosion”? In: Bernd Witte (Ed.): Interpretations. Poems by Johann Wolfgang Goethe. Reclam, Stuttgart 1998, pp. 45-61.

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Hartmut Reinhardt ( Prometheus and the consequences . In: Goethe-Jahrbuch 1991, pp. 137–168; online in the Goethezeitportal , there p. 1, footnote 3) refers to the contemporary type of the "ode of affect" ( Johann Gottfried Herder ) , admits the content-related similarity to the hymn (direct addressing of a deity), but considers the term "antihymn" to be justified by "the special way of addressing - protest, yes contempt instead of submission and adoration -". Cf. Edith Braemer: Goethe's Prometheus and the basic positions of Sturm und Drang . Third edition, Berlin and Weimar 1968, p. 301.
  2. See, for example, Kant's definition in the Critique of Judgment .