Assistant Professor of Classics Jesse Weiner recently presented “Promethean Possibilities and Punishments in Dan Simmons’ Hyperion” at two conferences.
He presented the paper at the annual meeting of the Society for Literature, Science, and the Arts in Toronto as part of a larger collaborative project on imagining disaster in and through classical antiquity.
Weiner explained how Dan Simmons’ Hyperion Cantos weaves a complex narrative of science fictional challenges posed by artificial intelligence, bioengineering, warfare and weapons of mass destruction, ecocide, imperialism, and colonization together with an expansive program of literary allusion.
He said that classical allusions feature prominently in this intertextual tapestry and argued that at the outset of Hyperion, Simmons constructs the character of Father Paul Duré and his ecological surroundings as Promethean.
This system of allusion draws upon ancient traditions of Prometheus plasticator (“the molder of men”) and Prometheus pyrphoros (“the fire bringer”). By incorporating these Promethean roles, Simmons introduces many of the central themes and stakes of the Cantos and of science fiction at large.
Weiner said that as plasticator, Duré initiates explorations of the ethics, possibilities, and dangers of creating new life forms. As pyrphoros, the priest taps into science fiction’s concerns over moral ambiguities created in the wake of speculative science, invoking both the wonderful promise and terrible chaos unleashed by Prometheus’ theft of fire.
Finally, Weiner argued that Simmons’ Promethean ambivalence along with the fusion of technoscientific progress and religious motifs is suggestive of Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno’s Dialectic of Enlightenment, in which myth and reason collapse into one another and scientific “progress” becomes a destructive tool and vehicle for social control.
Weiner also presented a version of the essay at the annual meeting of the Pacific Ancient and Modern Language Association at Western Washington University where he co-organized and co-chaired a panel, “Medea on the Contemporary Stage and Screen,” with Zina Giannopoulou of the University of California, Irvine.