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According to Wikipedia, the myth of Prometheus was first recorded around 800 B.C.:

The first recorded account of the Prometheus myth appeared in the late 8th-century BC Greek epic poet Hesiod's Theogony.

But did the ancient Greeks establish a time when Prometheus supposedly granted fire to humans? That is, did Hesiod, for example, ever say that the tale took place X thousand years ago? Can we establish a rough time when the ancient Greeks believe that humans got fire, i.e., how long they had had it?

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  • According to Hesiod (double check), the Bronze Age ended with the deluge, which comes after Prometheus stealing the fire and Pandora's tale. This Age has to come before the Age of Heroes, which is about 10-12th century BC if one tries to date the Trojan War. However how far in the past it is uncertain. Jul 16, 2023 at 9:44
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    @MardukTrimegistus --- You should amplify your comment slightly (relevant quotes, citations) and post it as an answer.
    – elemtilas
    Jul 18, 2023 at 0:37
  • @MardukTrimegistus The problem is that Hesiod has compiled different traditions without a standard chronology. The reason it doesn't make sense if you lay it all out is because Hesiod did not try to make sense of it.
    – cmw
    Jul 18, 2023 at 2:59
  • @cmw I agree that's why this is a comment and not an answer Jul 18, 2023 at 3:35

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Pretty much, yes, at least according to one source, although that source, technically is Roman, from the time of Augustus Cæsar, and thus nearly a millennium later than Hesiod's Theogony.

At the turn of the 1st centuries BC and AD, a freedman of Cæsar's, namely Hyginus, wrote two works, the Fabulæ and the Poetica Astronomica, in both of which he says that the Titan Prometheus was imprisoned for thirty thousand years before he was released by the hero Heracles (or rather Hercules, as Hyginus would have called him).

In Astronomica 2.15.3, Hyginus cites the Greek tragedian Aeschylus (from about 500 years before Hyginus' own time) as the source of this detail regarding the Titan's incarceration. As Hyginus tells it, humans, actually, had always been in possession of fire, until Prometheus played a trick on Zeus in which mortals got to keep the better part of the sacrificial ox offered to the gods. Indignant at this, Zeus then took fire away from humankind (let's see how they like the meat when it's plain raw!), prompting Prometheus' scheme to steal it back on their behalf. For the theft, Zeus then punished Prometheus by nailing him to Mt Caucasus in Scythia, in which condition, as we have noted, he remained for the next thirty millennia.

Neither Hyginus nor Hesiod makes a direct reference to how long before his own era he understands these events to have occurred, but Greco-Roman mythology has an internal chronology consistent enough for one to calculate, at least roughly, when we should imagine them to have taken place.

Traditionally the Trojan War is dated as having occurred sometime between 1200 and 1180 BC, and Heracles lived about a generation before this war. If he freed Prometheus, say, around 1270 BC, counting 30,000 years backwards from that gives us c. 31,270 BC as the date of the Titan's binding, as Marc Carlson does in his 2004 "Timeline of Classical Mythology."

We might perhaps allow a few years before his punishment in which Prometheus was (re-)teaching humankind the use of fire, but there we have it: People would have been in possession of fire for the past 33,000 years or so, and if we include the era before Zeus deprived them of it, then, really, since the beginning of time.

Most such calculations that I've seen, however, if they know about Hyginus's large time-duration on this question, are evidently not bothered to take him into account, and hence they place the primaeval events at a much more recent time. E.g., Argyros George Argyrou's 2009 "Chronology of Greece and the Greek Myths" places the start of Prometheus' imprisonment at 1667 BC; while Giambattista Vico (writing in his New Science in 1744 AD) has it that Prometheus stole the fire in 2143 BC. This is would make it so that it has been only about 4000 years since he granted it to humans.

The basis of Argyrou's and Vico's dates seems to be the Flood which came in the time of Prometheus's son Deucalion, so that Prometheus was fastened to the Caucasus Mountains not long before that, but otherwise the sequence of events they are working with is the same as that narrated by Hyginus. The main difference would be to understand several thousands of years (about 29,000?) between Prometheus being sentenced by Zeus on the one hand, and Zeus sending Deucalion's Flood to destroy humanity on the other hand.


Related Question: Is it possible to build a timeline for Greek mythology?

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