The titan Prometheus is most readily pictured chained to a rock with an eagle gnawing daily at his immortal insides - his theoretically eternal punishment for defying Zeus on humanity's behalf.  However, the most obvious reference for Frankenstein's subtitle is his depiction in some versions of the Greek myth as mankind's creator as well as its benefactor; Ovid, in his Metamorphoses, has him crafting the bodies of men from clay, before stealing for them the life-giving fire of heaven.  The figure of Prometheus is often invoked with a mixture of meanings.  Frankenstein's title echoes that applied to Benjamin Franklin in the previous century by German philosopher Immanuel Kant, who hailed him as a "Prometheus of modern times" for his famous experiments with electricity (See note to page 24).

George Cruikshank cartoon, 'The Modern Prometheus, or Downfall of Tyranny', (1814)
Permission Granted by Copyright Owner for Use on Book DrumGeorge Cruikshank cartoon, 'The Modern Prometheus, or Downfall of Tyranny', (1814) - Credit: AN169608001© The Trustees of the British Museum

   The myth of Prometheus has inspired the works of artists and writers for millenia, including the English Romantics.  The figure of a heroic rogue, struggling against an oppressive established order in pursuit of divine truth, allowed poets like Shelley and Byron to express their mixed feelings towards the bloody aftermath of the French Revolution.  The connection between Prometheus and Napoleon Bonaparte was made not only by Byron himself (see below), but by several satirical cartoonists depicting the leader's downfall (as pictured).


Online edition of Ovid's 'Metamorphoses', (1st-century AD)

Online text of 'Ode to Napoleon Buonaparte' (1814), and 'Prometheus' (1816) by George Gordon Byron

Online edition of 'Prometheus Unbound', by Percy Bysshe Shelley, (1820)