“The acquirement of knowledge”: Prometheus as a Catalyst for Identity Formation in German "Sturm und Drang" and English Romantic Literature
In the German "Sturm und Drang" Movement, as well as the English Romantic Movement, the figure of Prometheus came to represent an ideal rebel. The popularity of this myth among the Romantics originates from the "Sturm und Drang", and for this reason, it is important to compare the language and imagery of texts about Prometheus from both movements. This paper looks at speech and symbolism in Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s anti-hymn “Prometheus” (1774), Lord Byron’s lyric “Prometheus” (1816), and Chapter 10 of Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus (1831). These texts all demonstrate that psychological development and self-realization stem from control over language. This study argues that such control is frequently represented as the result of Promethean hubris, as each text applies similar diction and imagery to its treatment of the same myth. Furthermore, this paper uses a framework of Jungian psychoanalysis to theorize that (in the texts examined) Prometheus is viewed as the catalyst for identity formation. In "Sturm und Drang" and Romantic literature, humanity acquires the knowledge of language and speech through Prometheus’ hubris, and is thus able to assert a fixed identity. The paper concludes that in these texts the way the hubris synthesizes its own transgressive force with a tyrant’s arbitrary power to create independence parallels the synthesis of the childhood self and the adult self, which according to Carl Jung is needed in order to create a fixed identity.