The thief and the transformer

When Prometheus stole fire from the gods to offer it to men, he didn’t know that he had deprived the Olympians of something far more precious than the flame, which is the monopoly of illusion. If the gods can trick mankind into obedience, Prometheus offered mortals the possibility to trick themselves and each other into submission, and thus become like the gods. Homo deus indeed.

It was only a matter of time (and several mythological narratives) for mortals to join the realm of the immortals. It was through eating a magical herb, Ovid points out, that Glaucus the fisherman was admitted to the company of the gods by joining the divinities of the deep. In Dante’s Divine Comedy, Glaucus is an illustration of trasumanar, the human capacity to transcend its own humanity and accede to a higher plane of existence. Ovid and Dante were no transhumanists but they saw clearly the humans’ thirst for self-transcendence.

Prometheus, on the other hand, was a transhumanist avant la lettre. He understood that technology has the capacity to inspire dreams of power and self-transformation – the power to trascend one’s condition and deploy full mastery over oneself and others. A fiery illusion descending from the divine source of trickery.

The drama of ancient divinity, caught between the risk of being despoiled by mankind and the fear of losing its immortal prerogative is also a feature of the West’s late modern constitution. Prometheus has stolen fire from the gods, hoping to leave the Mount in total darkness. Glaucus finds new ways of transforming himself, imitating the decadent divinities who once served as both model and host for him. The metamorphosis of a modern myth has been accomplished.

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