O, Zeus! I am screwed!


Prometheus chained by Vulcan, Dirk van Babueren, 1623

by Setsuko Adachi


“O, Zeus! I am screwed!” Prometheus laughs out happily. His eyes watch the eagle disappear into the last tinge of blue sky from the top of a mountain. Prometheus bends his head down, as far as he can, to see the hollowness the eagle carved in him. It is not easy to do when one’s limbs are bound to a slab, and when the final rays from the Sun are about to go. He wants to see it. When he does, the visual stimulus brings the sensation he enjoyed ― Wow! The eagle certainly is a professional, a Meister. It is a piece of art. The bird works hard all day, and every day, from scratch.

Every evening, with the call to Zeus, a blissful moment starts for Prometheus. As night falls, his body quickly heals; a fresh liver is there under his healthy skin for the eagle to devour come the morning. But until then, Prometheus enjoys the landscape. He can see, in the darkness, tiny shining dots; the glows of fire that spread at the bottom of the mountain. The scenery has a touch of them Impressionists. It gives him great satisfaction. The slab keeps his naked body warm. It has absorbed enough energy from the Sun to last throughout the night. The white slab glows dimly.

During the day, though, Prometheus’ eyes are empty. He sees nothing. The pain and tears depress his vision. The eagle sinks its talons and beak — deep — into Prometheus’ abdomen. The bird of prey pierces and drills Prometheus’ smooth, fresh, sensitive skin, having his day’s fill.

It begins when the first sunlight shines on the slab. Prometheus is a Titan. To eat his entire liver is hard work for the eagle. Eagles may be a big, frightful, majestic, birds to humans, but from a Titanic scale, it is rather small. The liver is a feast, and the eagle is not allowed to leave any morsels of it behind. It has to finish the liver. It takes a long time; the bird can only finish when the Sun is just about to sink into the darkness. It de-livers him neatly; then, with a heavy stomach, exhausted, the eagle flies away only to return with the next sunlight. Zeus had set it that way, a never-ending routine, for Prometheus is immortal. Prometheus does not die. Prometheus cannot even lose consciousness. He must go through the excruciating pain.

This is all because Prometheus stole fire from Zeus and initiated the miserable beings with its power. The fire he gave them had liberated them from their wretched state.

That his deed made Zeus furious was understandable. It made Zeus slightly vulnerable; made Prometheus powerful in the world of the miserables, who are no longer the miserables but homo sapiens, wise man.

Prometheus suffers through Zeus’s punishment in the daytime. Once the sun sets, homo sapiens, holding torches, would appear from all directions, one by one, walking to the top of the mountain. They never get lost. They simply direct themselves to the glow from the slab. When they reach the slab, they greet him. Then they go about cleaning his blood-smeared body and the slab. When they finish applying oil to his body and finish polishing the slab, they dine. Sometimes they sing and dance to entertain him; other times, they tell him stories. These visitors, they honor him. That makes Prometheus happy. They tell Prometheus that the visits always are their pleasure, that Prometheus fills them with joy, and they are thankful for the blessing he endowed them with. It is at these moments when Prometheus knows Zeus will not make him regret what he has done.

The homo sapiens bid goodbye to Prometheus when the slab begins to lose the heat that kept them all warm. They need to leave before the sharp eyes of the eagle see them.

The sun rises. Prometheus sees the eagle coming. The diligent bird never misses a day.

Millennia pass by. Homo sapiens hunt, gather, farm, industrialize… they use the fire well. They are thriving.


Twinkle Twinkle Little Star

“O, Zeus! I am screwed!” Prometheus laughs out happily like any other day.   Prometheus’ ears are straining to catch the signs of homo sapiens. Adults have calm, rhythmical, polite, controlled, footsteps. Children come up in groups with uncontrolled open excitement for their success to reach where Prometheus is. Recently more children visit than adults. Prometheus is, to be honest, disappointed when no adult can supervise them on how to do the cleaning properly. However, watching and listening to children having a great time, then trying to entertain Prometheus with their songs and stories makes up for that.

These days, the children only sing one song. It goes:

Twinkle, twinkle, little star,
How I wonder what you are!
Up above the world so high,
Like a diamond in the sky.

When this blazing sun is gone,
When he nothing shines upon,
Then you show your little light,
Twinkle, twinkle, through the night.

Then the traveller in the dark
Thanks you for your tiny spark;
He could not see where to go,
If you did not twinkle so.

In the dark blue sky you keep,
And often through my curtains peep,
For you never shut your eye
Till the sun is in the sky.

As your bright and tiny spark
Lights the traveller in the dark,
Though I know not what you are,
Twinkle, twinkle, little star.

After they sing, the children always burst out laughing merrily. The children tell Prometheus that their teacher, A. Square, that being the nickname for their teacher, taught them that song in London. A. Square says it was written by Jane Taylor[1] and was published in 1806, even before A. Square was born. A. Square says that then, unlike today, many people could identify the star. Whenever A. Square has a chance, he points at it, so that they learn to identify the dim light shining above a mountain. They call it the little star.

The children tell Prometheus, “A. Square was right! The little star brought us here. It was impossible to get lost!”

The children are so excited to have made the trip successfully. And Prometheus knows from the children that, year after year, A. Square has been initiating children to the little star journey. Prometheus has been putting together what A. Square’s children have been telling him: When there are three to four children that learned how to identify the dim light of the little star, A. Square supplies them with torches and food, and sends them out for the night hike. The children are sad because they know that A. Square would love to go with them, but A. Square’s terrible asthma forbids him from doing so. A. Square assures them that once they know how to locate the little star, they need not worry about getting lost. The little star is something that once seen, cannot not be seen. And, A Square sends them off saying, “The trip there and back is pure pleasure. No words can express it. You need to experience it. Go, have a great time.”

Prometheus enjoys both the newcomers and the familiar faces. For the happy, excited children experiencing the fascination of taking the trip often return to Prometheus on their own.

By the year 1884, A. Square’s children visitors from the early days were in their mid-teens. A decade has gone by since they started visiting Prometheus. Over these years, they have worked out how to take care of Prometheus and his slab on their own. And on that particular night in 1884, after they had made Prometheus feel quite refreshed and comfortable on his smooth and polished (they took extra care to polish so maximum light would glow) slab, they sat around Prometheus to entertain him. They brought a book with them for that purpose. It was the recent publication written by A. Square, and the teenagers were finding it hysterical that their beloved teacher, Edwin Abbott Abbott, was using the nickname they gave him, A. Square as the author’s name.[2]

The book was called Flatland, and A. Square gave it a subtitle: A Romance of Many Dimensions. The teenagers said to Prometheus that they could tell A. Square was having fun writing the book. And, Prometheus could hear in the teenagers’ voice that they were amazed at their teacher’s scholarship. Obviously, A. Square understood the significance of being able to identify the little star much more profoundly than they did. They told Prometheus the dialogue they were about to recite was precisely how they felt. Then two of them — one playing the role of Sphere and the other, the role of I — recited the dialogue that went:


… I would show you what you wish if I could, but I cannot. Would you have me turn my stomach inside out to oblige you?


But my Lord has shown me the intestines of all my countrymen in the Land of Two Dimensions by taking me with him into the Land of Three. What therefore more easy than now to take his servant on a second journey into the blessed region of the Fourth Dimension, where I shall look down with him once more upon this land of Three Dimensions, and see the inside of every three-dimensioned house, the land, and the intestines of every solid living creature, even of the noble and adorable spheres.


But where is this land of Four Dimensions?


I know not: but doubtlessly my Teacher knows.


Not I. There is no such land. The very idea of it is utterly inconceivable.[3]

Prometheus had a delightful time listening. The turning of a stomach inside out to oblige, the idea immensely pleased Prometheus. He told them, “Ah! I know your teacher well,” and “he certainly knows me!” “He is a morsel of my regenerating liver, my soul, my life.”[4]

The teenagers had no idea what Prometheus was saying, but they were not worried that they did not understand. What they knew was that the travels to Prometheus never failed to unfold the pleasure in them that made life meaningful. The path to the little star was always different for each one of them. They were traveling through different dimensions.


The Star

Two years before he published the book, Edwin Abbott Abbott was getting ready for the 1882 Prize Day ceremonies at the City of London School. He heard his younger students singing, “twinkle, twinkle, little star” on the street outside the large windows of the school hall. Abbott tried to make out the children outside through the windows, but London was foggy. He could only hear them.

The childish high-pitched voices chatted: “See the star?” “Where is it?” “There.” “Oh, yea! I do.” “It’s so beautiful!” “It is bigger than yesterday!” The children, being children, they were happy thinking that they could see a star in the daytime. It was only 2 pm, and it was already very dark. The gaslights had to be turned on because Abbott could not read the names of the prizewinners. Yes, London was wrapped in a dense fog caused by the burning of soft coal. It was pretty much so throughout the nineteenth century.[5]

The fog was not the main concern of Abbott. The little star becoming invisible and unidentifiable was. He wanted his students to be perceptive of the little star, so that, when and if they wished, or were in need, they could travel to the little star on their own.

Whenever the fog dissipated, and whenever he saw a chance, he made sure to point the little star out to his students. “See the little star there?” “Yes, Master Abbott, I do!”

Yet, the children outside the window are revealing that they could not identify the little star, the dim glow on the mountain. He was failing them. It was the awareness of his failure on these children that instigated him to write the book.

Abbott passed away in 1926. The fog continued. Up in the mountain, in the crispy clean air, Zeus’s never-ending torturous routine for Prometheus continued too.


Prometheus Unbound

Then, it happened. An arrow pierced the eagle. The eagle dropped dead near the slab. The archer, Heracles, appeared. He unbound Prometheus from the slab, collected his game, and continued with his journey.

“O, Zeus! I am not screwed!”

Prometheus could not stop laughing under the bright blue sky. For the first time, he was sitting on the slab, enjoying the daytime scenery.



After a while, Prometheus decided to descend. He wanted to see where his visitors lived. He walked into the fog, into the darkness, in which the late A. Square suffered. Fog kills people. When killer fog[6] trapped London, thousands died. When Prometheus walked around, the visibility was close to zero. It was a relief to hear the happy voices of children singing the familiar tune. Prometheus listened to the lyrics:

When this blazing sun is gone,
When he nothing shines upon,
Then you show your little light,
Twinkle, twinkle, through the night.

Then the traveller in the dark
Thanks you for your tiny spark;
He could not see where to go,
If you did not twinkle so.

Prometheus could not see where he was going, there was no tiny spark and twinkle for him to thank, but lured by the melody, he found the children. They were looking up at the sky as they sang, and indeed, the visibility where the children were was much better.

“O Zeus, they are screwed!”

Homo sapiens were doomed. The diamond high in the sky was visible because there was a hole. Homo sapiens had pierced a hole in the sky with fire, with the smoke!

In despair, he went back to the slab and waited for the visitors. They would be surprised to see him unbound. After that day, the idea of descending to visit the homo sapiens no longer entered his mind. Prometheus managed to avoid thinking about the hole in the sky and sanctioned himself to the mountain top and around the slab.

His communication with homo sapiens were limited to those that visited him. The visitors entertained him with stories. They brought him offerings. They were the ones that were thrilled and committed to being with him at the slab.


White Out

The next time Prometheus’s self-sanction was broken was on one winter day in the 21st-century when a bleak wind bearing a weak male voice singing “twinkle, twinkle, little star” reached his ears. It came from below, from a tiny delta of Yellow Wood, which was now all white, covered with snow.

Prometheus’s eyes and ears spotted a male singer in the Wood, a father, who had created a shelter for his daughter in the snow with his body. The father was keeping his daughter alive with his frozen body. He was singing to make his daughter feel safe. His singing eventually died out. What took place in front of him gravely upset Prometheus. Prometheus felt utterly betrayed. He was angry at the father for acting like the miserables from a long time ago. A matured homo sapiens should know to carry fire. The altruistic love of the father for the daughter, Prometheus knew, was an exemplary characteristic of them. Actually, that was a factor that drove Prometheus to steal fire from Zeus. If homo sapiens had the fire with them, then the father could have protected his child without sacrificing his life. What was wrong with him? Why did the father not carry fire?

A 21st century newspaper reports the tragedy:

In the massive snowstorm, the father was driving, and his electric car got caught in a ditch. The snow was quickly piling on it. He made a phone call to his friend nearby on his smartphone for help. After a while, he decided to leave the car because the battery was going to run out, and snow was going to close them in. He was sure his friend’s house was close to where they were. They started walking along the road, and the father did not see the road diverge. He and his seven-year-old daughter went astray into the delta between the two roads. Not before too long, they were immobilized and were quickly buried in the snow. The father took off his jacket, put it on the daughter, and covered the daughter with his body.  Ten hours later, she was rescued uninjured. She remembers him singing her favorite song, “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” for her.

Prometheus did not go back to the warm slab that evening. In fact, it took him a week to go back to the slab. He was too distressed and frustrated.

The empty slab confused his visitors tremendously. They loved their little star journeys and to travel through the romance of many different dimensions. However, ultimately they went to be with Prometheus, and they could not help feeling that the trip they made was wasted. Since then, the idea that Prometheus might not be there at the slab made them hesitant to make the travel to the Titan.

That was why, when Prometheus came back to the slab a week later, he had visibly fewer visitors. Some of them returned because they were worried about what had happened to him. After that, Prometheus never left the slab. He enjoyed the small number of dedicated visitors, and they enjoyed him.


Liver On Fire

The doomed are doomed. And the time had come. A pale teenager, who had been surviving the thin air tells Prometheus that he has come to say goodbye. He informs Prometheus that homo sapiens have found good shelter from the airless life. They are stepping out of the Land of Three Dimensions and moving into the Land of Two Dimensions. He will be going there tomorrow while he has the energy to cross over the border to be a lifeless animated being. He will miss Prometheus and the romance of many dimensions, he said. But he cannot live on fire anymore; he has to reduce himself into two dimensions to keep him going electrically.

And, Prometheus watched homo sapiens draw their last breaths from the slab. One after another, they crossed the boundary to Flatland, where their living organism was reduced into flickering lights. Zeus had an inexhaustible supply of electricity. The fittest, homo inanimus, were to survive, and homo sapiens were to be extinct.

When night fell, Prometheus was able to make out sparse tiny shining dots below. They were the fires lit by the mortals that refused to cross the boundary to Flatland.

His liver, the seat of life, soul, and intelligence, ached for them.

Screw you, Zeus!

Prometheus stood up. He ripped his liver out. Slammed it on the slab. The stone slab flared; the smoke rose.

The liver-less Prometheus lay on the ground as he watched the smoke collect and bind together all the smoke coming from the mortals. The thick smoke rose higher and higher. And when the smoke reached the hole in the sky, the mortals saw the inside of every three-dimensioned house, the land, and the intestines of every solid living creature, even that of the noble and adorable spheres.

“We are in the Four Dimensions!” Prometheus heard their excitement, and they heard the smoke from the liver of Prometheus humming Twinkle Twinkle Little Star in French. It was in a good triumphant mood:

Ah! vous dirais-je, maman
Ce qui cause mon tourment?
Papa veut que je raisonne
Comme une grande personne
Moi je sais que les bonbons
Valent mieux que la raison.

In English, it would be:

Ah! Let me tell you, Mother,
What’s the cause of my torment?
Papa wants me to reason
Like a grown-up.
Me, I say that candy has
Greater value than reason.[7]



[1] Jane Taylor (1783-1824) was a poet and a novelist.

[2] Edwin Abbott Abbott (1838-1926) is the author of Flatland (1884), and A. Square is the pseudonym he chose to use. He served as a headmaster of the City of London School in 1865 and was loved by his pupils. (See Appendix B: The Life and Work of Edwin Abbott Abbott, in Flatland: An Edition with Notes and Commentary by William F. Lindgren & Thomas F. Banchoff,  New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010.) However, the children and what he has taught the children in this piece is the author’s creation.

[3] Edwin A. Abbott, Flatland: An Edition with Notes and Commentary by William F. Lindgren & Thomas F. Banchoff,  New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010, p.188.

[4] “In the Prometheus myth, the liver was chosen as the focus of torture because the ancient Greeks regarded the liver as the seat of life, soul, and intelligence.” Dina G. Tiniakosa, Apostolos Kandilisa, Stephen A. Gellerb, “Tityus: A forgotten myth of liver regeneration,” Journal of Hepatology, August 2010. Volume 53, Issue 2, pp. 357–361.

[5] Edwin A. Abbott, Flatland: An Edition with Notes and Commentary by William F. Lindgren & Thomas F. Banchoff,  New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010, p.57, Note 6.14. Fog.

[6] Historically speaking, the worst fog was the one in December 1952 and it is referred to as “killer fog.” It trapped London for five days and is estimated to have killed 12,000. Kacey Deamer, “Scientists determine cause of London’s 1952 ‘killer fog,’”  CBS News, December 12, 2016.

[7] “AH!  VOUS DIRAI-JE, MAMAN,” International Lyrics Playground. Viewed on July 30, 2019.

About the Author:

Setsuko Adachi is associate professor in the Department of Information Studies at Kogakuin University, Tokyo. Her main research interests are identity formation and cultural systems analysis.