Prometheus and Pavka






Somewhere in the middle of the vast ocean, a lone bare rock rises above the water. Not a blade of grass grows on it, but Prometheus, the Titan, is chained to that rock. In the daytime, the sun scorches him, at night he is tormented by the cold. Every day a huge eagle flies in to peck his liver, which grows overnight, and the next morning, everything is repeated again.

Since childhood, we remember this myth about the titan, sentenced by Zeus to eternal torment because he has stolen and given the divine fire to people. In the old days, teachers explained to us the meaning of this myth quite simply: the popular consciousness of the Greeks reflected the process of taming fire by cavemen. The tamed fire gave man so many new possibilities that it can only be compared with a divine miracle.
It sounds logical. In fact, animals use various improvised tools for their purposes, build nests and lairs, and sometimes are able to even erect impressive structures, but none of them tamed the fire: such a developed intellect is not observed in the animal kingdom.
But did Prometheus have to steal the divine fire so that the caveman could just fry the mammoth steak? It seems that a couple of suitable pebbles and a piece of dry brushwood are enough for this.
I'm afraid we all share a kind of teenage sense of our superiority over our ancestors. What did they know? Born in the forest, worshiped stumps. Someone once brought a branch on fire to the camp and therefore was immediately declared a shaman, who eventually may be considered a deity.


But this is not true at all. The myth of Prometheus is not a story about how people learned to fry meat on fire in order to eat it hot. This is a legend about how a man became a man at the cost of self-sacrifice of one hero.

In the complex world of ancient Greek myths, this whole story actually began when Zeus came to the conclusion that the human race does not suit him. He decided to completely destroy the failed experiment, and then create new people. But Prometheus, passing fire to people, interfered with his plans. And the formidable god could not do anything.
Could it be that the omnipotent Zeus was unable to extinguish all the fires on earth? What a strange weakness. So what was the Prometheus’s gift people?
The philosopher Heraclitus of Ephesus, who lived in the 6th – 5th centuries BC, answered this question. He considered all being as various manifestations of a certain "cosmic fire", the subtlest energy, whose activity gives a moving beginning to the Universe. And the very "cosmic fire," he argued, underlies the human soul, psyche.
Here is what Prometheus gave to people: a soul that made them equal to the gods. And Zeus, with all his might, could not do anything with the human race.
This gift is truly divine. But, one has to admit it is somewhat inspiring. It seems to me that it is this "cosmic fire" that constantly pushes us to heavy, complex and sometimes dangerous enterprises, without which, however, we would not have become humanity.
Look here: our African ancestors suddenly moved from their homes and went to explore other territories. What for? They say it was due to climate change. I am not sure about it: people still live in places where it seems impossible to live. And what made our ancestors look up in the sky dreaming to conquer not only them, but also what was above them?
I'm not talking about how we honour the heirs of Prometheus – the people who sacrifice everything for the salvation of others. What made doctors go to the plague huts or test new drugs on themselves? What makes heroes step into the fire or jump into icy water to save strangers? The fire burning in their souls.
One of my favourite literary characters, that was undeservedly forgotten, is Pavka Korchagin from Nikolai Ostrovsky's novel How Steel Was Tempered. Today, both the author and his hero are considered apologists for Bolshevism and are treated with slight contempt. This is almost a trend. But, it seems to me, the real reason for this rejection lies somewhere else. As someone once put it, "Pavka Korchagin is not a hero of our time."
Let me remind you that Ostrovsky wrote a novel based on events of which he was a participant. His hero, Pavel Korchagin,  expelled from school for his misdeeds, begins his journey from the very bottom of the life and became a victim of social injustice from an early age. It is not surprising that the ideas of the Bolsheviks on the reconstruction of the world fell on fertile soil. Having barely matured, he finds himself captured by the turbulent events of the beginning of the 20th century: world war, revolution, war again, now civil.
Later, storms were abating, it was time to build a peaceful life. But it didn’t work for him. He was not used to it. Korchagin is constantly at the centre of difficult, dramatic processes that ultimately lead to his early death. Nobody made him to rush to the front line but a burning desire to make people's lives better. Already overwhelmed by paralysis (like Ostrovsky himself, who had lost mobility at age 23), he did not regret that he could not "settle in" in civilian life. Summing up, he says the words now famous: “It is necessary to live one’s life in such a way that one does not end in the excruciating”. And we understand: he managed to live just such a life.
Yes, the novel may seem like a hymn to Bolshevism. For a long time, Korchagin was called the "political instructor of Soviet youth." Therefore, it seems not surprising that the novel went into oblivion along with the bankrupt ideology of the Bolsheviks.
But could it have been written differently in the early thirties of the last century, when " How the Steel Was Tempered " was first published? I doubt it. What is it really about? Korchagin was not a fanatical adherent of this ideology.
There is an  example of one of the common quotes from the novel: “As long as my heart beats, no one will be able to tear me away from the Party. Only death will put me out of action. ” Replace the word "party" with "homeland." The meaning of the phrase will hardly change but there will be nothing to blame the hero.
I am afraid that Korchagin became a stranger and unpleasant to many, not because he was a symbol of Bolshevism. A good writer differs from a bad one because he cannot lie. And despite the pages of the novel are filled with the words like “Bolshevik”, “party”, etc., in fact, he created a strong and vivid image of a contemporary Prometheus. Not a titan, not even a superman who stole fire from the gods. But a simple city boy, wounded, shell-shocked, bedridden by a serious illness but who was able to give the same fire to people. He is just like us but stronger, kinder and nobler.
I’m afraid, we, contemporary people, would not be able to understand this. We replaced the fire of the soul with sober calculation and the pursuit of the common good with a dream of arranging a cosy place to live. And that’s why Korchagin scares us.
We buried Prometheus under the desire of material well-being, career, pleasures and other tangible and tempting things. As Heraclitus would say, our souls, under the influence of passions, "were filled with moisture" that is softened. And the "cosmic fire" burns less and less brightly in our souls.
True, it is never too late to revive the fire of the soul. One has to agree that wandering in the dark is rather dreary. Maybe someday we will find the strength to free our Prometheus and begin to care not only about ourselves?