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The Sublime and Eternal Suffering in Byron’s PROMETHEUS and Lermontov’s THE DEMON

It has been a long-standing tradition to consider massive and multidimensional influence of Lord Byron on Romantic literature in general and on Russian Romantic literature in particular. Mikhail Lermontov is the one who is considered to be the most romantic out of all the Russian poets. Many scholars pointed out that Byronic influences permeate Lermontov’s numerous lyric poems, and there have been several research studies which compared and contrasted Byron’s and Lermontov’s literary works and their similarities and differences. Indeed, in his early poems, Lermontov drew heavily on Byron’s verses and on his romantic themes, patterns and ideas. However, starting in 1836 in his later works, he was able to forge his own authentic literary identity, which was especially evident in his major prose work A Hero of Our Time written in 1839. 

Lermontov himself has stated a number of times that, although in his earlier works he aspired to write like Byron, by no means was he merely a Russian Byron but somebody entirely different. In his famous poem written in 1832 he states.

Flying Demon - Illustration by Vrubel to Lermontov's The Demon

While acknowledging the parallelism and resemblances between Byron’s “Prometheus” and Lermontov’s The Demon, the intent of this study is to examine how the dual and conflicted nature of the Demon compares to that of Prometheus and how their ambivalent and ambiguous identities are forged and shaped when considered within the paradigm of the sublime, the divine and the eternal suffering. 

             I propose to demonstrate that the most defining characteristics of Prometheus are conviction and transformation while Demon’s identity is dominated by the states of void and stasis. Such concurring dualistic themes and dichotomic paradigms as immortality/mortality, pride/sacrifice, tyranny/rebellion, possession/love and power/freedom will also be examined in the two poems. 

There exists a myriad of interpretations of what the Sublime represents and means in Romantic literature. In the second half of the eighteenth century the meaning of “sublime” moved from the realm of rhetorical to aesthetic, psychological and philosophical domains, and it has since become a common critical term. Literal or rhetorical meaning of sublime is of excellence, grandeur, or beauty and causing great admiration. 

            It was examined in 1757 in the landmark treatise on the sublime “A Philosophical Inquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful” by Edmund Burke, although it has even earlier origins. Burke defines the sublime as "whatever is fitted in any sort to excite the ideas of pain and danger... Whatever is in any sort terrible, or is conversant about terrible objects, or operates in a manner analogous to terror" (Drakshayini 338). Burke argued that the sublime was capable of provoking awe, pain and even “delightful horror” in the spectator or the audience because terror and pain were the most powerful and compelling of emotions (Bois 61). 

This idea of the sublime was further explored by Immanuel Kant who developed the idea of sublime primarily in its contrast to the beautiful. He affirmed that the beautiful in nature is not quantifiable with a focal point on only in color, form, surface, etc. of an object. However, the sublime is more infinite to Kant and can be found even in an object that does not possess any definite form. Kant suggests that the sublime in itself is so great that anything compared to it must necessarily be regarded as small. The aesthetic and psychological pathos of sublimity was developed by the Romantic Poets, and especially by William Wordsworth. According to his definition of the sublime, “the mind tries to grasp at something towards which it can make approaches but it is incapable of attaining” (Drakshayini 337). John Milton is perceived by many as one of the most ‘sublime writer’, who has expressed sublimity in his famous epic Paradise Lost

 We could expand on the ideas of Burke and Kant about the nature of the sublime to delve and highlight the aesthetic, existential / philosophical and psychological aspects of Byron’s Prometheus and Lermontov’s Demon. The shifts between the external and internal manifestations of the sublimity in both Byron and Lermontov together with major differences (and not just similarities) will also be regarded and emphasized. My analysis will be founded on the two operational definitions of the sublime by Burke and Kant. The first definition of the sublime by Burke as being something that provokes horror, pain and suffering, a sort of “a state of the soul where all its motions are suspended with some degree of horror” (Rosebery 1), could be worked through and applied to both poems. The second definition by Kant who believed that the sublime should be considered as a "presentation of an indeterminate concept of reason” reveals the possibility of deeply rooted internal conflicts and dilemmas which could afflict the characters of Prometheus and Demon when faced with the “delightful horror” of sublimity. (Drakshayini 337).  


Kant considers the experience with the sublime to be inherently moral and “dependent upon the inner strength of a person.” At the same time, for Kant the emotions of fear and pain are of “incomprehensible limitlessness and power is balanced by the joy at recognizing our untouchable inner, infinite universe” (Rosebery 2).
 In other words, in Prometheus and in Demon we will see how their attempts to resolve their own inner struggles and contradictions will forge their way from contemplating such vast external realms, domains and magnitudes as infinity and the universe to going on an eternal quest of a transcendence of the self.

It is worth mentioning that the myth of Prometheus has provided a very fruitful soil for many centuries and resulted in a multitude and a variety of human cultural production in such areas as literature, philosophy, history and art, among others. Some scholars have claimed that the myth of Prometheus defines and expresses human identity: “It associates mankind with a rebellions Titan who steals fire from the gods and is punished for his theft by ruling deity; it also establishes man in his place (i.e. on earth), where he must struggle to survive” (McCallum-Barry 99-100). It is necessary to point out that the figure of Prometheus for the longest time has been associated with the Romantic concept of Byronic hero. Some critics have brought up a good point that while the “Byronic hero takes many forms in the works of Byron, of those who influenced him and of those whom he influenced, the age-old tendency to focus on Byron’s biography and sidestep his poetry has dulled our sense of the Byronic hero’s complexity” (Lorenz 11).  Peter Thorslev in his study of 1962 “The Byronic Hero: Types and Prototypes” distinguishes several character types which often overlap and contribute to the tradition of the Byronic hero. These three types are the Gothic Villain, the Noble Outlaw, and the Prometheus figure (Lorenz 11).

 All three types may exhibit both heroic and villainous qualities with Prometheus representing the Noble Outlaw on a on a titanic scale: “Instead of robbing and tricking the rich to help the poor, he robs and tricks the gods to help humankind, and he most likely does so with the knowledge that his actions will have a high price” (Lorenz 16). All three types, among many other qualities, are perceived to share three common qualities: all three, as a rule, represent the characters who are lonely, proud and rebellious. Therefore, we will consider these qualities in the ensuing analysis of both Prometheus and the Demon.  

Byron contemplates his own fascination with the figure of Prometheus in the letter to John Murray of September 17, 1817 by writing that the “Prometheus - ‘has always been so much in my head – that I can easily conceive its influence over all or anything that I have written” (Marchionni 45). 

Why is it that Byron was so taken by the image of Prometheus and incorporated it in many of his poetic works? It could stem from his distinct preoccupation with the tragic state of humans to be forever suspended in the limbo between the mortal realm of human existence with its perpetual pain and suffering and between the divine state of immortality afforded only to Gods who created humans giving them divine origins. It could be argued that this perpetual and tragic contradiction of human condition is embodied and exemplified by the myth and the figure of Prometheus.  

Byron begins his poem with a powerful apostrophe directly addressing Prometheus: ”Titan! to whose immortal eyes / The sufferings of mortality / Seen in their sad reality.” This accomplishes a couple of functions, on one hand, the choice of using the second person and speaking directly to the Titan instead of talking in the third person about the Titan right away frames the poem as a dialogue and instills a sense of intimacy, trust and, in a way, comradeship between Prometheus, a Titan, and the speaker, a mere human. 

Although Prometheus is not physically present, his presence is more of a spiritual and existential quality. This dialogue could be also looked at as a dialogue between Prometheus and his humanity, his human part which is just as strong as his divine part because it is capable of compassion, pity and seeing the “sad reality” of others. 

That is what sets him apart from the gods who do not “despise” the suffering of humans, in fact, they are either indifferent to it or, even more so, complicit to creating additional pain and suffering to the ones that already exist in the world. That is his biggest strength but also his biggest weakness because of his need to help and make a difference in the lives of human beings. One aspect of self-contradictory and ambiguous nature of Prometheus could be argued that he may come across as alone (if not lonely) but, metaphorically speaking, he is not alone because he has the humankind on his side and because his image is forever embedded and imprinted in the collective memory and collective conscience of all the people who carry through centuries their gratitude and admiration for his selfless sacrifice.

 In contrast, Lermontov begins his poem by speaking about the Demon in the third person: “A Demon, soul of all the banished / sadly above the sinful world / floated, and thoughts of days now vanished / before him crowdingly unfurled’ (Johnston 107). 

While Prometheus, even in all his loneliness of being chained to the rock, is seen in the company of the speaker/narrator or possibly of the poet himself, a compassionate and comprehensive companion, the Demon is accompanied by nothing or nobody but a crowd of sad thoughts and vanishing memories. All his feelings, emotions and frustrations are preoccupied with himself and with those long-gone days, blissful, pure and happy, before he was banished from Heaven, this divine “space” where he could “with love and faith to lean upon / happy first-born of our condition / he knew no evil, no suspicion” (Johnston 107).  

The poet continues with his description of the Demon by building on the idea of him being not just lonely but also “banished” and “long-since outcast” (Johnston 107) which associates him closer, in a way, to the image of Prometheus who is generally considered to be a rebellious outcast banished by Zeus from the realm of immortals and then punished.  

This conception of the Demon brings forth the associations and allusions to metaphysical, religious and Christian interpretations of his character as a Fallen Angel who rebelled against God and was cast down by him from Heaven as a punishment for his defiance and rebellion against the will of the Supreme Being. This parallel between Prometheus and Demon has been widely explored by many scholars, and it is so vast and expansive that we do not see the need to discuss it in depth here. 

What could be helpful though is to point out another element which sets apart Lermontov’s poem from that of Byron which are the detailed and grandiose descriptions of natural settings and surroundings of the vast realms and spaces above the Earth and beneath the Sky where the Demon presided and “wandered” (Johnston 107). In the second stanza of the poem Lermontov creates a vision of a very empty, desolate and desert-like space where centuries pass by as one minute “each one monotonously dull” (Johnston 108) and where the Demon aimlessly roams and flies in his domains as a lost spirit, proud and lonely in the darkness of his utter solitude, boredom and despair: 

One would think that to any other being or creature on the face of the Earth this spectacle of the Eternal Creation could seem magnificent and awe-inspiring, but not to the Demon. In fact, Mikhail Vrubel, a famous Russian painter, created a series of paintings between the early 1880s and 1902, inspired by Lermontov’s poem and by the figure of Demon such as Flying DemonSeated Demon and a number of others. He tried to express and visually immortalize the poet’s lines and passages, an experience and a process with which he became obsessed and which (among other reasons), allegedly, ended up driving him to the brink of insanity. 

Here it might be also pertinent to return and consider another captivating idea of Kant’s concept of the sublime when he theorizes that the experience with the sublime occurs as a response to the shapelessness, formlessness and limitlessness in Nature. Kant believed that “the Sublime was beyond human senses, in the realm of the Supersensible, where human imagination strains to its limits and fails” (Rosebery 2). He distinguished between a ‘dynamical sublime’ when one was confronted and remained in awe in the face of powerful and awesome elements of Nature, such as oceans, earthquakes, volcanos or hurricanes, and between a ‘mathematical sublime’ when one simply contemplated vast spaces and magnitudes, such as universe and infinity (Rosebery 2).  

Here are the audio recordings of five stanzas/verses from Demon in Russian by my friend Inna S.  

According to these definitions, Lermontov’s Demon self-identified with the ‘mathematical sublime’ when he, as seen above, he contemplates the vastness of the infinity and the universe but none of them impress him or touch his soul, he is unmoved, dulled and bored by the limitlessness and greatness of God’s creation. The same sentiment and emotion are continued in the third and the fourth stanzas of the poem where we are thrust and immersed even into more beautifully superb and sublime descriptions and passages of the natural landscapes. We are transferred by the magic of the poet’s pen, first, to the breathtaking terrains of Caucasus mountains with their majestic Mount Kazbek whose “diamond-faces glittered with snows that never melt” (Johnston 108), and then, to the luxuriously green and resplendent valleys of Georgia with their “watercourses that run loud, over the dappled pebbles rolling, and nightingales that in the crowd of roses voice their amorous trolling” (Johnston 109). These could easily be some of the finest and most beautifully romantic descriptions of Nature that one could encounter in the poetic works by Lermontov or by any other Romantic poet, Russian or not. Yet again, the Demon stays indifferent, untouched and unperturbed by all this beauty. 

At the same time, Byron’s Prometheus does not seem to be too concerned either with the physical beauty of the world around him. His immortal eyes seem more turned inward, sharp and piercing into the depths of his own internal conflict with the idea of perpetual pain and suffering of his entire existence, just as sharp and piercing as the eagle’s picking piece by piece at Prometheus’s liver every day. No wonder that the Titan’s big sacrifice of stealing fire to give it to humanity comes at an enormous cost of causing a rift between the Titan himself and his own ‘divine’ kind, the gods, and facing the wrath of Zeus who inflicts on Prometheus one of the cruelest forms of punishment for not so much his kind deed but for his defiance and rebellion against the ultimate and superior authority. In other words, it is not the act of kindness or pity in itself that is threatening to gods and needs to be punished but what stands behind it, what it signifies, which is the ideology of this act, the ideology that questions and challenges the already existing hierarchies in the world and power relations between mortals and immortals.  

 This way, the use of the apostrophe by Byron in the beginning of stanzas 1 and 2 of his poem contributes and highlights the divine nature of Prometheus who is one of the Titans, the gods, who ruled before Zeus and the Olympians. In a way, we get here a sense of duality or dissonance because he finds himself in discord and in opposition to his own kind, the immortal gods. It could be stated that we encounter in these first lines the first sense of sublimity when we are ushered into the dichotomic theme of immortality-mortality. It is noteworthy that Byron’s interest in the afterlife and his preoccupation with immortality shape a great part of his poetry and poetic theory. Many of his ideas about immortality are based on such complex notions like the one that “the immortal substance of humankind resides in the mind” and that “a poetic vision of a life transcends mortality” (Stevens 334). Therefore, the repeated motif in many of his works focuses on the duality and complexity of the question of coexistence of both mortal and immortal dimensions of human condition.  In other words, the idea of the encounter with the sublime in Byron has inevitable and inherent connection with the ability to transcend within one’s mind through the power of poetic creation or imagination.  

Interestingly, Byron chooses not to explicitly mention Zeus and the story of his wrath and Prometheus’s subsequent punishment. It could be attributed to the fact that he might have been more interested in the story of suffering itself endured by Prometheus because of his choice to sacrifice himself for the good and the benefit of the humankind: “From this figure of suffering, Byron draws the “mighty lesson” of humankind’s fate of being stuck between the mortal realm of suffering and the “pure” state of the divine” (Larson 1). In his “Prometheus” Byron “through the realm of pain and human suffering—dramatizes the concept of the sublime” (Larson 1). 

This brings us back to the idea of feelings such as horror, pain and suffering as ultimate emotions provoked by the sublime. Some critics argue that “Prometheus” as a whole could be perceived and examined as an “ode to eternal suffering” (Larson 1). They point out that Byron builds on and expands Burkean and Kantian concepts in his poem by exploring the boundaries and limitations of human emotion and cognition while placing them within a paradigm of hierarchical and power relationships between the mortal and immortal realms and their inhabitants: 

Prometheus’s experience of human suffering not only constitutes the bridge between the realm of the mortal and the realm of the divine but it exposes a paradox inherent in Prometheus’s dual position between divine provenance and the human experience of pain. As Byron’s poem explores, Prometheus’s “reward” for taking on human qualities is to endure the very human suffering at the center of the gods’ indifference to human suffering itself. This punishment, in other words, is figured not as a “recompense” for Prometheus’s deed of theft, but for his human-like act of pity, which runs against the indifference of the gods and jeopardizes the divine-mortal hierarchy. (Larson 1)

In this respect, the Demon is more aligned with and resembles the gods in a way that he is indifferent to pains and suffering of anybody else around him, anybody else but himself. 

On one hand, the Demon is a rebel, a fallen angel, in his own right for defying the willful authority and cruel tyranny of God who cast him from Heaven. On the other hand, he lacks Prometheus’s empathy and compassion towards the troubles and woes of the human beings, he is just as cold, aloof and removed from humanity as the gods. However, it does not seem to bring him any closer to the divine. He might be immortal but the true and pure state of the divine seems to elude him. He cannot rise above his own pride, or transcend to a higher state of emotion or cognition, or reach the unity with God, with the Creation, with anything or anyone else, himself included: 

The Demon is the ultimate definition of a lonely, proud and rebellious Spirit and, in this sense, he does demonstrate some of the characteristics of the Byronic hero. However, one other important characteristics of a Byronic hero is that whatever he does, he does it for the greater good. What about the Demon? The Demon does everything at his own will and whatever he wants but he does it for his own good without regard for anybody else’s wishes, needs and desires. The Demon is proud but he is also selfish. He is proud for the sake of being proud and simply because he wants to and chooses to be so. 

And what about the pride and Prometheus, one might ask? Byron’s Prometheus is a proud and formidable character but, on the contrary to the Demon, he is proud (and silent) for the greater, collective good: “What was thy pity's recompense? / A silent suffering, and intense / The rock, the vulture, and the chain / All that the proud can feel of pain / The agony they do not show” (Byron 7-9). Byron’s poetic voice (or, maybe, it is the self-questioning voice of Prometheus directed to gods, to people, to his inner self?) begins these lines with a rhetorical question of “What was they pity’s recompense?” This literary device is also known as aporia where the speaker expresses doubt or uncertainty. This is often used to help the speaker to build and move along the argument and, in this case, the words allow to demonstrate the scope and the magnitude of Prometheus’s suffering for the greater good of all the people while being punished by a cruel force for taking pity on humanity.

In lines 10-14 the speaker continues: “The suffocating sense of woe / Which speaks but in its loneliness / And then is jealous lest the sky / Should have a listener, nor will sigh / Until its voice is echoless” (Byron 10-14). Here we see a contemplation on the very essence of woe and pain when one has to endure them in complete silence and loneliness as Prometheus does (although he is not alone in the global, metaphoric sense, as we had stated earlier). We get a feeling of suppressed tension and restraint from these lines with the effect being made more intense by the poet’s use of repeated consonant ‘s’ as in “suffocating,” “speaks,” “loneliness,” “lest,” “sigh,” “echoless,” etc. This technique is a figure of speech called sibilance when a hissing sound is used in a line or a group of words through the repetition of the ‘s’ sound.

Here this device could serve a couple of purposes with a potential of putting the reader into a more contemplative state with the lines’ musical and monotonous cadence. It could also add a sense of deep underlying caution or potential danger contained beneath the veiled warning when the entire utterance is being, in a way, ‘hushed’ and intrinsically silenced all throughout. Not surprisingly, most Byron’s readers interested in the topic of Prometheus, would know from his myth that the suffering Titan had his reasons to keep his silence. He had a secret to hide from Zeus about a son that Zeus would have and who would be greater and stronger than Zeus himself, a dangerous and, at the same time, powerful secret to hold over someone in power indeed. Zeus later offered Prometheus freedom in return for revealing the secret. Eventually, according to the myth, Prometheus used the secret as his ‘leverage’ to regain his freedom and was freed by Hercules who killed the eagle who tortured the Titan by devouring his liver every day. 

Quite similar effect is created by Lermontov in stanzas VII and IX (Part I) of his poem, where he transfers us into a meditative state of mind when the reader contemplates the beauty of Tamara, a young Georgian princess, who was about to be married to a mortal man. That was right about the time when the Demon happened to lay his covetous, wandering eye on the young beauty who danced the day before her wedding celebrating the last moments of her own freedom before being married off to a stranger by her father. Lermontov uses the Russian sound ‘з’ to create the cumulative effect of additional musicality and tonality of his verses and contribute to the continued effect of awe in the face of the physical beauty of Tamara. Her sublime, superior and surreal beauty, in the Demon’s eyes, does not have any equals, neither in any earthly places nor in any other celestial spaces and under the sun that he has ever encountered when flying among the stars. To the credit of Charles Johnston, whose translation of Lermontov’s poem I am using for the purposes of this study, he tries to employ the same technique and replicate a similar effect by using the sound ‘s’ in stanzas VII and IX of Part I of The Demon in “swear,” “star,” “sunset,” “kiss,” “sultry,” “sparkling,” and “sensed,” “soul’s,” “slowly,” “blissful,” etc.

At the sight of ethereal and unearthly beauty of the mortal girl Tamara, the Demon felt something arising from the dark depths of his lonely soul, a long-forgotten feeling or emotion or, maybe, hope for the new beginning for him, for his possible revival: 

The stanza IX (Part I) is fundamentally important to see how the hopelessness, the loneliness and the emptiness of the dark and desolate Demon gave way to the new sounds and possibilities of bliss, hope and love. It was in Tamara that he saw a glimpse of hope and his chance for redeeming himself and transcending, even for a short moment, from his state of perpetual darkness to the light of “love, beauty, goodness.” It was his only chance to surge from the abyss of despair to the greatest heights of most perfect love and pure unity with the divine. Some interpretations by the critics suggest that the Demon saw this as a chance of belonging and of finding not just somebody to repair his broken soul (in the face of mortal Tamara), to fill his void and to remediate his loneliness but also as an opportunity to rekindle his bond and regain his rightful place next to God, the father of all Creation (Lavrin 78). 

Lermontov's poem The Demon  
Read by: Vadim Demchog
Painting: M. A. Vrubel (М. A. Вру́бель) Demon Downcast 

However, the Demon’s expectations are pretty high but his intentions and motivations, are they truly as pure as they might seem? As we come to see as the poem goes on, the Demon might be more interested not really in Tamara’s love, true and pure, but in possession of her love as an ultimate rendition of his taking complete and ultimate control, both carnal and divine, over her body and her soul: 

And this time
with ardent lips so lightly grazing 
he kissed her trebling mouth, and then
answered her pleas, in language dazing
with sweet temptation; once again
those might eyes were fixed and gazing
deep into hers. He set her blazing. 
He gleamed above her like a spark
or like a knife that finds its mark. (Johnston 136)

 Stanza XI (Part II) with the “kiss” is fundamentally important, both as the physical manifestation of claiming one’s ‘touch’ upon another’s being, and as the ‘kiss of Death’ in the metaphysical sense of it, for Tamara does, indeed, die after the Demon left the deadening imprint of his poisonous, eternal lips on the “trembling mouth” of Tamara.

When it is really not love but ultimate possession that one seeks, then the ultimate earthly expression of love, which is a kiss, could turn into an “infernal poison”: “That devil triumphed! In the dark / alas, to her bosom the infernal poison of his embrace could pierce” (Johnston 136).
So, instead of purifying his soul with Tamara’s pure love and ascending to light, the Demon dragged her down to the dark abyss of his own fall, tainted with the selfish and the lowest desires of power, possession and destruction.  

Tamara’s poor soul might have been condemned to the eternal suffering of her own in the infernal fires of hell if it were not for the Angel, the messenger from God. The last part of the poem gives way to a number of metaphysical interpretations with Lermontov’s own take on question of eternal struggle between the forces of Good and Evil. The Angel, while carrying Tamara’s soul on his wings to Heaven, is confronted by the Demon, this “deceitful spirit” (Johnston 128), who wants to lay claim to his victim’s soul. The Angel, on the other hand, silently, but with the “stern gaze unsleeping, stared at the tempter” (Johnston 142) is simply soaring away high in the sky towards the Celestial light. This final snub by God’s Messenger and his dismissive demonstration of the supreme and undeniable power of Good over Evil sends the Demon back spinning down to the depths of his desolate, lonely and cursed existence:

Interestingly, Lermontov chooses for his Angel to keep silent and use his “stern gaze” to assert his predominance and power while being challenged by the Demon in this final confrontation for Tamara’s soul. 

This helps us draw yet another parallel to Byron’s Prometheus, who also remains silent in his suffering and endurance in Byron’s poem (Dennis 145). But by doing so, he ends up being victorious and triumphant over the “Thunderer” (allusion to Zeus). The Angel, metaphorically speaking, does a similar thing, he ‘outgazes’ with his eternal eyes the “immortal eyes” of the Demon because he is on the right side of the right and wrong, on the side of the innocent and the pure at heart who are represented by the figure of Tamara. 

Similarly, Prometheus first contemplates with his “immortal eyes,” he is the witness of the wrongdoings and evil acts against the people in the reign of Zeus. Then he becomes the victim of the same cruel treatment and oppression on the part of Zeus and shares in the painful lot and in the “sum of human wretchedness” (Dennis 147). 

However, it has been pointed out by critics that Prometheus’s silence could be discerned not as a weakness but as a strength or even an expression of silent power in the face of an oppressive, tyrannical and abusive force which provokes more pain and suffering than justice and happiness: “Prometheus performs his divine/mortal modeling precisely through his silence. This is not a silence of godlike indifference, but again a performance of modeling divine qualities of pride and endurance” (Larson 2). 

Hence, we see her a shift and a reversal of power between those who oppress and do evil and those who are oppressed and who then rebel and challenge the oppressors: “As the stakes in the struggle here are also metaphysical in the related and more familiar philosophical sense of that word, the ability to resist the attraction of the other, to defy the other's power, is connected to the transcendence of spirit or mind” (Dennis 148). 

 Byron uses the In Byron’s vision, that is how the balance of power and the boundaries between the mortality and immortality and between good and evil could be shifted, transformed and, at times, erased, through the power of one’s will and the strength of one’s spirit and endurance: 

In other words, it is within one’s reach to experience the state of transcendence and transition between the human and the divine. It could happen in this struggle of will and power between two opposing sides, between the “inexorable Heaven / And the deaf tyranny of Fate / The ruling principle of Hate” and between the “impenetrable Spirit” which becomes “Triumphant where it dares defy.” Thus, Prometheus changes places with the “sky-god” by defying the establishment, silently enduring the punishment and then “making Death a Victory” (Dennis 149). And in doing that he becomes a “symbol and a sign” of both man’s humanity and divinity (Larson 2). To highlight this duality of human experience, Byron uses the binaries (Earth and Heaven) and the alliteration by repeating the same sounds in a group of words: Silence and Sentence, symbol and sign, fate and force

In the above lines of Stanza III, Byron asserts and solidifies the eternal conflict and contradiction contained in the fact that humans, just like Prometheus, have divine origin and have come from a “pure source” but their mortal existence is “troubled” with woe, pain and suffering as a way of punishment for their defiance and challenging the very source that created them. Prometheus was able to endure and surpass his suffering of a mortal and transcend the boundaries between mortality and immortality, the human and the divine. In a similar fashion, he showed the way for all the humans to be able to do the same through their “firm will” and their “deep sense.” 

And what of Prometheus and the Demon in the two poems by Byron and Lermontov? It could be discerned that, while both combine some characteristics of a Byronic hero who is lonely, proud and rebellious, the textual analysis of the poems reveals that their identities are highly complex, ambiguous and ambivalent, with the Demon’s character being sufficiently darker and more flawed in the sense that he is selfish, stubborn and unrepentant in his selfishness and disdain for the well-being of others. He serves one thing and one master only, himself and his own urges and desires, notwithstanding the cost and sacrifices brought upon other people, who have to be sacrificed at the altar of his eternal and unrelenting pride and ambition. Prometheus and the Demon, thus, fundamentally and irrevocably stand far apart, as far as the light and the darkness which they exemplify.  

Putting it in more modern terms, Prometheus is an eternal altruist and the Demon is an eternal egoist. Prometheus has and brings hope, hope that people will carry on his fire of knowledge forever, while the Demon is forever hopeless, at least the way he is left by Mikhail Lermontov in his poem. The three true gifts, three powers that Prometheus has given to humanity, no, not has given, has helped to discover them from within, for they have already existed within every and each of us long before, are the gifts or powers of hope, imagination and conviction. 

This unity of Prometheus with the generations of people to whom he brought the fire, this light which warms and nourishes not only their bodies but also lights up their souls with hope and graces their minds with continued knowledge, that is his true immortality. By dying every day on the rock devoured by unspeakable agony and pain, he transcends every single time, surpasses all the boundaries and confines of both the human and the divine. Even if it were for a brief moment, he enters that pure state of the sublime which is so elusive, ephemeral and unreachable for most of us.  

 That is the most essential difference between Byron’s Prometheus and Lermontov’s Demon, for his fire brings not only knowledge and progress but also self-knowledge and self-consciousness. Prometheus is self-conscious, he has free will and freedom to make his own decisions, no matter how flawed or painful, and he is willing to use them for the common good and answer for his own actions. While the Demon has only tried to impose his own will on others, he lacks the willingness to do anything for anybody else but himself. Prometheus reaches immortality through purification of death, and not by his station of belonging to the race of gods by his birth right. He reaches immortality through transformation, not through being static and immortal. 

While the Demon is forever suspended in his state of immortality which is so high above the rest of the world but so deep in the dark of the loneliness and emptiness of his tortured inner self. He is static in a sense that he goes back to his original state of proud, desolate and alienated wanderer of the infinite realms of universe and its dark and infernal spaces. He does not end up changing and transforming although, within the scope and the process of Lermontov’s work on the poem and on the character of his Demon, the persona of the Demon has undergone many changes and revisions, through multiple versions and rewrites that Lermontov did during his lifetime.

 Finally, for all of us, being mere human and mortal, I would like to think that it might be possible to approach if not reach that pure state of transcendence, perhaps just like Prometheus, and if only for a brief moment, and touch the eternal Sublime by dreaming and by igniting and carrying the fire of our own hope, imagination and conviction for centuries and for generations to come.  

Poem read by: Anticonsensus
George Gordon Lord Byron (1788-1824) 


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 Lermontov's poem The Demon  
 Demon. (Dir.: I. Evteeva). 2004 god.video cutting