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Frankenstein: Penetrating the Secrets of Nature

Preface


An oil painting of an eagle, whose wings span the width of the canvas, tears Prometheus' powerfully muscled body with its sharp talons, rips open his side, and devours his liver. Prometheus Bound, 1611-1612. Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640). Photographic reproduction of an oil painting. Courtesy of The Granger Collection, New York.
Prometheus Bound, 1611-1612. Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640). Photographic reproduction of an oil painting. Courtesy of The Granger Collection, New York.

Mary Shelley subtitled her novel "The Modern Prometheus." According to the Greeks, Prometheus stole fire from the gods. As punishment, he was chained to a rock, where an eagle each day plucked at his liver. Haughty Prometheus sought fire for human betterment — to make tools and warm hearts. Similarly, Mary Shelley's arrogant scientist, Victor Frankenstein, claimed "benevolent intentions, and thirsted for the moment when I should put them in practice." Frankenstein endures not only because of its infamous horrors but for the richness of the ideas it asks us to confront — human accountability, social alienation, and the nature of life itself. These passages illuminate some of them.