English Paper: Prometheus as Byronic Hero, from Frankenstein to Battlestar Galactica

Today, a break from Cymbeline

As many of you know, I’ve gone back to school (part-time) to get my Masters; I’m kicking off my seventh course, now, “Renaissance and Restoration Literature.” A couple of month ago, I posted my “Literary Criticism” paper where I discussed Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, through Marxist and Deconstructionist theories. Late last year, I took a course on the Romantics, and I wrote a paper on the concept of the Byronic Hero, as seen in the mythical figure of Prometheus; the “Modern Prometheus” of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; and a kind of “postmodern Frankenstein” in Battlestar Galactica‘s Gaius Baltar.

So if that sort of thing floats your boat, check it out…

“No More Mr. Nice Gaius”: Battlestar Galactica‘s Baltar
as the Byronic Post-”Modern Prometheus”

Conventional wisdom posits that the writers of the Romantic period had little interest in mining earlier artistic epochs–like the Classical era–for imitation (“Romanticism” LVIII), and that the movement itself can be viewed as a reaction against Neoclassicism. Yet interest in Classical Greece helped shape many writers of the period (Hebron). This melding of the modern with the ancient informs a trio of works from the era, all concerning the same mythic figure, a kind of rebel hero. This focus on Prometheus, pulling elements from versions of the myth by Hesiod, Aeschylus and Pausanias, can be found in Lord Byron’s poem “Prometheus,” Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein (subtitled The Modern Prometheus), and her husband Percy’s lyrical drama Prometheus Unbound. An evolutionary leap from Aeschylus’ mythic figure, Mary Shelley’s ‘Modern Prometheus’ has had a ripe “fecundity” (McQueen 125; Blais 67) of its own, spawning generations of works in a new medium: cinema–from the James Whale/Universal films of the 1930s to twenty-first century science-fiction pieces like EX_MACHINA and Westworld. Running through the works, however, from the ancient (proleptically) through today, is that same rebel protagonist archetype, the Byronic Hero. Gaius Baltar, the flawed human scientist from Ronald D. Moore’s 2003-2009 television series Battlestar Galactica, is a kind of post-“Modern Prometheus,” a neo-Romantic Byronic Hero who can trace his literary evolution back through Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, to the ancient myth of the life-giver/fire-bringer, as found in Aeschylus’ Prometheus Bound.

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