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Through Self's Veneer: Poetry by Robert J. Nolan (drawing of two heads in profile facing each other)


Prometheos Revisited

The Myth of the mikrometheoi
(trans. “mental midgets”—nickname mikroms)

“Inferior intellects generally succeeded best. For, aware of their own deficiencies, and fearing the capacity of their opponents . . . they struck boldly and at once.”

                             Prometheos’ gift
Of forethought, given to humanity
On old Kronos’ reign, the very reign
In which the foolish Epimetheos
Had squandered all his gifts among the beasts,
Was insufficient to preserve mankind
From sure oblivion. In pity, then,
For his own creation, Prometheos—
Hoping to make some use of the good will
He felt should come his way, when he conspired
With Zeus to overthrow the other Titans—
Stole Hephaestos’ flame and gave it to man.
He took this step because that knew that Zeus
Would never have permitted such an act
Of pity for a creature not designed
By him, one formed in fact by the old group
Of gods whom he had only lately conquered,
And who at any moment might attempt
An insurrection and destroy the state
Of Olympian accord.
        What he could not account for, though, this god
With bold ideas, was the severity
Of Zeus’s wrath. To him the Titan’s act,
Especially since it came from one who’d helped
Maintain the older ways, was nothing short
Of mutinous. Swiftly and pitilessly
Prometheos was bound to a high rock
In the Caucasus; and to guarantee
He knew the enormity of the crime,
Zeus charged that a vulture, with claws and beak
Like razors, tear the Titan’s liver out
Each day, until he should repent and swear
No more would he defy the will of Zeus.
But the punishment, rather than unnerve
The Titan, filled him with a frenzied rage
Toward Zeus, and made his will as adamantine
As the rock on which he lay. No excuse
Would he accept—that Zeus’s reign, though harsh,
In time would be a great deal more benign,
Once he felt secure; or since the Olympian
Had such power, Prometheos should accept
His fate and spend his time exhorting Zeus
To moderate his tyranny. The wounds,
Though, had cut too deep: through clenched jaw and teeth
He shouted he’d endure the pain forever.
There were, however, moments of self-pity,
Which, though brief, were critical. One such time
Earth, the mother of us all, hearing him
Weep for all the pain and agony, tried
To intercede for him, but all she got
From that aloof Olympian were scorn
And castigation. Does a lesser god,
He said, dare to question the laws of Zeus?
He knew the danger lurking underneath
An overconfident Promethean will,
Allowed to run about without restraint.
Prometheos, if willing to be free,
Had to give in to Olympian law,
Completely and without reserve.
        The sting of Zeus’s harsh rebuke turned Earth
Away from pity for Prometheos
To anger with Zeus. How dare he affront
His own progenetrix, without whose pain
In labored birth he’d have no reign at all,
To mention nothing of existence?
Anger fixed her mind on vengeance, and she
Recalled the service done for her by Kronos,
Her youngest son who gelded Ouranos—
His father and her own incestuous son—
As once again he tried to lie with her,
And how the flowing blood, on touching earth,
Had brough forth the wild-eyed Furies. She looked
Around, and noticing the vulture’s litter,
Took those pieces of Prometheos’ liver,
And formed from them the mikrometheoi.
        Torn from the bowels of Prometheos,
They had their father’s shrewd mentality,
But they had, too, a wild intensity,
Begotten of the wrath Prometheos
And Earth would not contain. In consequence,
They’d neither balanced mind nor common sense.
One trait especially distinguished them:
Prodigious speed and vigor, which increased
In inverse ratio to the size of liver
From which they’d been created. Plainly put:
The smaller the mind, the swifter the movement.
Such a dangerous union of energy,
Intensity and guile was oftentimes
Disastrous for the rest of humankind,
For it gave them power to control whatever
True humanity created. They were,
Of course, unable to originate
A thought, and only vaguely catching on,
They’d cling to one as if it were their own,
And as one might expect from such small minds,
Would shrink it so, it suffered as complete
A transformation as a piece of meat
Which, though firm and succulent in the mouth,
Having made its way through the body, drops
From the rectum a tiny, steaming turd.
So endowed, they brought to birth a world rife
With violence and confusion. Language suffered
First and most disastrously. Deviousness,
Especially when it worked, the mikroms called
Genius; a show of violence signified
Virility; a plea to be more prudent
Was the cry of a coward, and so on.
All sense of shame and righteous indignation
Disappeared, so that vengeance was perceived
As justice, complicity as friendship,
Avarice as ambition, pugnacity
As self-defence, and envy as esteem.
Morons and imbeciles were idolized,
Because they dared to show more ruthlessness
In power. Oaths were sworn and promises made
Merely to throw one’s enemy off guard,
For only the puniest end moved the mikroms:
        Earth, seeing the results of what she’d wrought,
Was horrified. Revenge was wiped away
By agony, because the mental midgets,
Ordering chaos as their way of life,
Had done their work too well. They did, indeed,
Upset Olympian peace, but life on earth
Itself stood threatened, for the mikroms felt
No need to worship any god, and Earth,
Their own progenetrix, they most offended,
Gutting her depths at will, using her gifts,
Those miraculous, life-supporting gifts,
Merely to enhance their power, tossing them
Away as just so much debris, when they
No longer served their paltry purposes.
Such gluttony defies comparison.
The caterpillar of the gypsy moth
Perhaps comes closest, whose prodigious numbers
More than make up for their inferior size,
Numbers so vast that they can strip the trees
In mountain chains teeming with leaves, and where
There once was green, the winter’s grey returns,
And the hazy summer sun casts not shade,
But skeletal shadows across a ground
Now burning with the caterpillar’s ordure.
So did the mental midgets foul the earth.
Consequently, Earth deplored her rash act,
Admitted Zeus’s wisdom was supreme,
And begged him to annihilate this race
Of vicious pigmies. Smiling triumphantly,
Or so it seemed to Earth, he pledged his help,
But she in turn must help undo the harm
By seeing that Prometheos repent
As well, for reconciliation now
Of Titan with Olympian was more
Than ever needed to restore that peace
Subverted by Prometheos and Earth.
        At once she asked Prometheos to change,
Not to please the Olympian, if Zeus
Still vexed him, but to help her to control
The little monsters, who were tearing out
Her very bowels. Suffering, though, appeared
Only to stiffen him. How did her fate,
He shouted, differ from his? Was it Zeus,
Uneasily holding his tyrannic throne,
She feared? How asinine! Prometheos
And she together could have brought that despot
To his knees. He cursed her for giving in
To such a tyrant, and swore, if need be,
To stand alone, because he’d seen the fate
Of Ouranos and Kronos; Zeus’s reign,
Like theirs, he knew was doomed. To transient rule
What fealty should be paid? He’ll surely have
A seat, because he held out long enough,
With deities who’ll replace Olympian law.
        Stung by these strident, bitter words, and stunned
By such conceited, obdurate, defiant
Self-reliance, Earth, abject, returned to Zeus,
Admitting failure, and admitting, too,
How right he was to send Prometheos
That vulture. Such obstreperous willfulness
Deserved the rack, and she’d be at his call,
If Zeus had even greater punishment
In mind, because the present one availed
Nothing. Taking the hint, he thereupon
Replied that Earth herself should open up
Her caverns and consume Preomtheos,
Until he sees that nothing can be done
About the wrath of Zeus, unless he learns
First to moderate his own.
                                             Meanwhile Time,
True wisdom’s most benevolent aide, gave Earth
The mikroms’ better features: only they,
Among her progeny, refined the art
Of self-destruction, finding ways to kill
Themselves unthought of by the greatest gods—
Certainly not intended by them. Better still,
Since they consumed their store of energy
So fast, millions died years before their hearts
Stopped, nature hardly being through with them.
Earth saw the reason now for Zeus’s smile,
One prompted not by triumph but by prescience.
She marveled at his wisdom and good sense,
And only wished he’d not been so abrasive,
When she first petitioned him.
The mental midgets took a vast amount
Of true mankind along, and all that Earth
Could do about those hapless victims was
To hope one day Prometheos would learn
Some wisdom. Til that day arrived, if ever,
She had the heavy task of hurling all
The mikroms toward a deep, black hole, prepared
By Zeus specifically for them, a void
He called Anonion, the Land of Oblivion;
And to further expiate for bringing forth
These monstrous little egotists, she had
To suffer in the knowledge that, unless
Prometheos repent, and raise himself
Once more to his proper station in the scheme
Of things, they might one day destroy the Earth.

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  © Robert J. Nolan, 2010