Playing With Fire

Everyone thinks they know the whole story. The most recent version I heard came to me in Washington, D.C., and goes like this:

He stole the fire from the gods and gave it to men. The gods weren’t too pleased, because they like having all the power to themselves. He was being insubordinate, radical, rebellious. The head god chained him to Caucasus for eternity. Every day an eagle came down from the skies and ate his blackened liver. Every day the liver grew back. That’s how this version ends, with him chained to a rock forever and with the bird coming every day for fresh liver.

There are other versions. Sometimes the bird is a vulture, sometimes a hawk. I heard someone insert a seagull once. That shows you how careless and irresponsible humans can be. Then there are the disagreements about the organ: “was it a liver? I was sure it was a gall bladder.”

The problem is, none of these humans were there. Of course, even if they had been, it wouldn’t make a difference. Human beings can’t be relied upon to get the facts straight. They mess around with everything, like children. They exaggerate, embellish, distort. They lie when it suits them. It’s a miracle they ever agree on anything. Of course, the usually don’t; they usually end up arguing and fighting.

Still, the basic idea is the same no matter who you talk to. Prometheus is the hero. The gods are tyrants, oppressive and cruel.

This however isn’t the case. When you know all of the facts, you’ll be able to make a more accurate judgement. Of course, you’re probably only human, so it won’t be completely accurate. You’ll need some guidance.

What no one has told you is what happened after he stole the fire.

People were fascinated by the new substance. They lost interest in reading and sat for hours and hours every day staring at fire. Their minds were rotting in their heads. Some of our statisticians tell us that the humans spent on average forty-two hours a week fire-watching. The fires gradually became bigger and more violent. People suffered burns from sitting too close. People paid less attention to one another. Families began to fall apart. Family values were undermined.

Someone discovered that you could ignite dehydrated plant leaves with fire and inhale the by-products of the incinerating material. For some reason completely beyond our comprehension, human beings found this pleasurable. You now call this activity “smoking.” It is both unhealthy and immoral, and it instantly became very popular.

The females experimented with fire in their food preparation. Rather than good, reliable meals such as nuts and berries and raw vegetables, they began to cook and eat the flesh of animals, introducing carcinogens into their diet. We feel it is immoral to eat meat.

Arson became rampant. The usefulness of fire in acts of crime was discovered and exploited, with deadly results.

Fire encouraged romantic behaviour, especially–to our alarm–between unmarried human beings. Not only did men engage in sexual activities with women, but there were also abominations committed between members of the same sex.

It’s no coincidence that we speak of the fires of lust. Fire led to immorality, perversity and unwholesomeness. We knew something had to be done. People were incapable of governing themselves; their thinking and behaviour needed to be directed, legislated. Our decision was intended for their benefit.

We believed that the only way to restore godliness was to make an example of this Prometheus, therefore we drafted a bill outlawing the giving of fire to human beings. The bill was retroactive, enabling us to persecute the criminal responsible for the decline of morality.

You should be able to see that our decision was the right one.

Unfortunately, fire had become so popular that we feared that there was to be no return to the days of decency. We felt that our only recourse was through law, and so we began to punish those who undermined Nature.

Recently, there has been blasphemous talk about the irrelevance of the gods, and some actually believe that we no longer exist. Nothing could be further from the truth. We are still active, although our activities are acknowledged less and less by men. We somehow underestimated the ineptitude of the human race, and the harm that men are able to do to themselves. But we are still acting upon the problem, and we are about to redouble our efforts on behalf of the honourable cause.

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