To better understand Prometheus’s crime, we first have to understand the nature of the prize itself: fire. It doesn’t seem like that big a deal to us, since we can summon up fire with the strike of a match or the flick of a Zippo. But to ancient people’s, fire is the difference between a caveman existence with rough furs and the height of democracy and cool togas. No, I’m not exaggerating.
Prometheus himself makes sure to mention in the myths that fire is for developing civilization: cooking, pottery-making, smithing, light in the darkness, and much, much more. Fire is what will elevate mankind from animals to thinking, evolved beings. Fire in this myth isn’t simply the substance and what can be done with it; it’s the knowledge that will be gained as a result of fire. Simply, fire is everything.
So with a prize of this value, it’s a little easier to understand why Zeus levied such an extreme punishment on Prometheus. But it is a little perplexing that Prometheus gets locked up, but humanity doesn’t. Coming soon: Pandora.