Frankenstein’s Subtitle “Modern Prometheus” Explained

After finishing Shelley’s Frankenstein, I can fully appreciate the significance and foreshadow of the subtitle: The Modern Prometheus, as it parallels Victor’s story in many aspects.

Prometheus breaks Zeus’s rules, a God, and steals fire to give to mankind. Similarly, Victor violates the laws of nature and steals God’s ability to give life.

Prometheus is punished, and is chained to a rock, where an eagle comes every morning to eat his liver, and during the night, Prometheus’ liver regenerates. This cycle continues for eternity.

Victor is also restrained, as he is bound to his creation, unable to escape his defiance of God. Victor spends the rest of his life chasing after his creation, and sees that as his purpose, resolving not to fail (209).

The Greeks thought of the liver the same way we regard a heart, where all your emotions reside. The creature also assumes the role of the eagle, making Victor suffer by murdering his loved ones. In addition, whenever Victor encounters the creature, a heartbreaking experience occurs. Victor confirms this when he exclaims,

“A fiend had snatched from me every hope of future happiness” (201)

Every time Victor recovers from his hardships, his heart is ripped out again, similar to the fate of Prometheus. Although both are thieves, the difference lies in the purity of their motives. Prometheus, knowing the outcome of his actions, choses to sacrifice himself in order to benefit mankind.

Victor’s intentions, although good, are diluted by ambition for fame. When nearing the completion of the creature, Victor exclaims,

“A new species would bless me as its creator and source” (55).

To Victor, his priority is not to benefit mankind, but for his name to be remembered and worshiped forever.

From Frankenstein, the term “Modern Prometheus” seems to indicate an individual who tries to do great things for mankind but has the wrong intentions. In our modern world, there are many ambitious creators trying to succeed in their endeavors.

Whichever Prometheus they may be, Frankenstein serves as a reminder that great things cannot be achieved without great sacrifice. 


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