Stories of the Ancient Greeks - Charles D. Shaw

Fire from Heaven

The Greeks believed that this earth, on which we live, was once a great heap of matter, in which land and water and air were all mixed together. There was no light or life anywhere except among the gods in heaven.

After a while the gods agreed to put this heap into shape and order. They separated the air from the earth and water. The air being lightest flew up, and formed the sky. The earth being heavy sank down, but the water flowed all around it and held it up, so that it should not sink entirely away.

Then the gods gave form to the earth. They lifted up the mountains, and that left valleys. They dug paths for the rivers; they set islands in the sea, they made the world look as it now does.

They also fashioned the sun and moon and stars, and these gave light. The mountains were soon covered with young trees; grass and flowers grew on the plains; fish were in the sea, birds flew in the air, and animals moved about on the dry land.

All these living creatures were made by two lower gods called Titans. Their names were Prometheus and Epimetheus. They also created man, nobler than the animals, because he walks upright and looks toward heaven, while the other creatures walk on four feet and look downward to the ground.

Epimetheus did the work, and Prometheus was the overseer. The animals had different gifts. The ox was very strong, the horse could run fast, the owl was wise, the fox was cunning, the eagle had wings, lions and bears had teeth and claws to fight with, the snake had poison to kill its victims or its enemies.

Birds had feathers, and beasts had fur, or wool, or hair, to keep them warm. Even oysters and clams had little houses of shell in which they could shut themselves up tight. But man had no feathers, or fur, or wool, or shell, and not a great deal of hair. When his turn came to receive some special gift there was nothing for him. Though he was noblest of all creatures he was really weakest and most helpless of all.

The two Titan brothers stood and looked at each other. "What shall we do now?" said Epimetheus. "Everything has been given out."

"Is nothing left?" said Prometheus.

"Nothing at all," answered his brother.

They looked all around, but no help came. Then they looked up at the shining sun.

"Oh, I know!" said Prometheus. "Stay here and wait for me."

"Where are you going?" asked his brother.

"You will know when I come back," answered Prometheus.

Then he went to the highest mountain and climbed to its top. There Athene, the goddess of wisdom, met him and helped him the rest of the way up to the sky. On the mountain top he had broken a branch from a pine tree. This he took with him, and as the sun came driving by in his chariot of fire, Prometheus touched the branch to the burning wheels. The green leaves snapped and crackled in the flame, the pitchy wood took fire. Prometheus hurried back from the sky and ran down the mountain. All the way he took care to keep the branch burning.



When he reached Epimetheus, he said, "Hurry and get a pile of branches. Here is a fire from heaven. This shall be our one best gift to man. By this he shall conquer all the other creatures and be master of earth and sea and air."

Epimetheus ran and gathered branches and piled them in a heap. Prometheus threw his torch among them. The twigs caught fire at once, and soon there was a bright, roaring cheerful, comfortable blaze. Then the brothers called the man and said, "Come here and be warm;" for the night was falling, and the air was growing chilly. The man stretched out his hands toward the fire and laughed. "This is not a plaything," said the Titans, "You must keep it as your servant, and be very careful that you never let it become your master. Use it rightly, and it will make you ruler over everything in the world."

So the man was glad, and kept the fire burning. When the winter came he did not have to travel south, like the birds, or go to sleep in a hollow tree, like the bears. He made a fire in his hut, and was comfortable there. Soon he learned to cook his food instead of eating it raw. He found stones which would melt, and which we call ores,—lead ore, tin ore, zinc ore, copper ore, gold ore, silver ore. He melted gold and silver, and with stone hammers pounded out rings and bracelets and earrings, which he wore. He melted copper and zinc together and made bronze. This he hammered into spear heads, which he fastened on long sticks. Then he could fight the lion and the bear, keeping out of reach of their claws. With these spears he could also catch fish. Afterwards he made bronze hooks for fishing. He learned the use of the bow, and tipped his arrows with bronze. So he could shoot flying birds, or running deer, or crawling snakes. He made bronze bits for horses, and axes for cutting down trees, and plowshares for tilling the ground. Thus he had much better tools of every kind than the stones he used at first.

Long afterwards men found out how to melt and shape iron, which was better and more useful than bronze. So the fire from heaven gave men mastery over every animal, and made them rulers of the earth.