Prometheus and the eagle: the statue

Noticed in passing on Pinterest yesterday, this dramatic statue of Prometheus and the eagle, by German sculptor Reinhold Begas:

A male nude (unusual for Begas, whose specialty was monumental statues of public figures); I don’t know where it’s located

The eagle looks threateningly at the chained Prometheus, who shrinks back in terror, anticipating the eagle’s next feasting on his liver.

The legend of Prometheus, from Wikipedia:

The punishment of Prometheus for stealing fire from Olympus and giving it to humans is a subject of both ancient and modern culture. Zeus, king of the Olympian gods, condemned Prometheus to eternal torment for his transgression. Prometheus was bound to a rock, and an eagle — the emblem of Zeus — was sent to eat his liver (in ancient Greece, the liver was thought to be the seat of human emotions). His liver would then grow back overnight, only to be eaten again the next day in an ongoing cycle.

Endless hepatophagy. Which — in Begas’s depiction — somehow fails to diminish Prometheus’s powerfully muscular body.

The sculptor. The full story of German sculptor Reinhold Begas (15 July 1831 – 3 August 1911) is available on Wikipedia. Among his well-known works:

the statue of Friedrich Schiller for the Gendarmenmarkt in Berlin; the colossal statue of Borussia [the personification of the Prussian state] for the Hall of Glory; the Neptune fountain in bronze on the Schlossplatz; the statue of Alexander von Humboldt, and the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Nationaldenkmal [Denkmal ‘a war memorial’], both in Berlin; the sarcophagus of Emperor Frederick III in the mausoleum of the Church of Peace at Potsdam; and the statue of Otto von Bismarck in front of the Reichstag building

4 Responses to “Prometheus and the eagle: the statue”

  1. Gary Says:

    It had a long and lively history (including being immured for 50 years) but is now owned by the Akademie der Künste, Berlin:

  2. Michael Warhol Says:

    When I first read this, I was puzzled, as I’d always remembered reading that the bird that tormented Prometheus was a vulture, not an eagle. Your post prompted me to do a bit of research, and I found the following on the University of Texas (Austin) website, referring to the sculptor Koren Der Harootian and his work Prometheus and Vulture: “For Zeus’ sacred eagle, an instrument of divine and righteous punishment, he substitutes a vulture, symbolic of death and decay.” As I’d never heard of Der Harootian, I assume that others over the centuries have made the same substitution.

    The bird in Begas’ work looks much more like a vulture than an eagle. It’s head and neck look devoid of feathers, as are those of vultures, and even the pose looks, to me, more vulturine than aquiline. Seeing the offending creature as a vulture seems more gruesomely appropriate to me, even considering that the eagle was sacred to Zeus, but I will do my best not to think ill of those who bow to tradition and favor the eagle.

    There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our ornithology.

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