Forethought and Afterthought…The story of Prometheus and Epimetheus

Forethought is a mental exercise, applying planning and consideration before action. Afterthought can result in a fleeting regret…leaving behind a sinking “uh-oh” feeling. Forethought & Afterthought…a mythic juxtaposition. 

Long before humankind or animals walked the face of the earth there existed a race of Titans, and among them lived two brothers: Prometheus whose name means “forethought”, and Epimetheus whose name means “afterthought”. These two brothers were charged by the ancient gods with the task of moulding creatures…animal and human…to populate the earth.

Prometheus took up the dust of earth and mixed it with water to create a foundation of clay. Epimetheus set out to craft animals of all shapes and sizes, choosing to have them stand with their heads near the ground to easily reach food and water. But Prometheus sculpted the image of man to walk on two legs and hold up his head to gaze at the heavens. Epimetheus, having quickly made a variety of creatures, reached for the gifts left by the gods and generously bestowed upon his creations: wings for flight, claws for weapons, a shell for protection, fur and feathers for warmth…courage, strength, and swiftness. When Prometheus finished fashioning his vision of man he saw that Epimetheus had used all the gifts; nothing remained to cover man’s naked body. Left exposed to natural elements, and vulnerable to animals, he feared that man would soon perish.

Prometheus with Fire
Rockefeller Center NYC

Prometheus was a friend to humankind; compassionate and caring of his creations. He went to the gods to acquire the gift of fire to give man warmth and protection. But fire was powerful and the gods feared it would make man far too superior. His request was denied, but a determined Prometheus returned to Olympus and stole a burning ember from the gods.

Adding insult to injury, Prometheus helped man trick Zeus into accepting a tribute of inferior selections from sacrificial offerings. He presented two “gifts” from which Zeus could choose. The first contained bones hidden beneath layers of fine fat. The second contained the choicest cuts, but covered with entrails. Zeus selected the first and was enraged to discover he had been tricked.

Prometheus, and man, were to face the wrath of Zeus…

Hephaestus, god of fire and forge, was commanded to craft the ultimate revenge…woman! The gods called her Pandora, the all-gifted, and endowed her with irresistible beauty, and “a shameful mind and deceitful nature”. They gave her a jar (later called a box) and presented her to Epimetheus (Afterthought) as the “gift” of his bride. Prometheus (Forethought) had long warned his brother not to accept a gift from Zeus, but the guile of such a woman was overpowering. It was not long before Pandora opened that jar and released the cursed ills it held into the world, to plague humankind throughout eternity. (If only Epimetheus had listened to his brother!) 

Prometheus on Mount Caucasus

Zeus would exact his revenge on Prometheus by chaining him to Mount Caucasus and sending a great eagle to peck at his liver each day. Each night his liver would grow back…renewed to repeat this horrid punishment in a continual daily cycle. (Medically speaking, the human liver can lose three quarters of its cells before it ceases functioning. Remarkably, it can also regenerate itself.)

It wasn’t until many generations later that the demigod Heracles (Hercules) freed Prometheus from his torture.

Be forewarned: Think twice and act once. But even applying “forethought” may produce consequences that require a herculean effort to free you from your actions.


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