Entrepreneur; or The Modern Prometheus
If there were ever a mythological role model of entrepreneurship and corporate entrepreneurship, it would definitely be Prometheus. Prometheus is the trickster Titan that created man and woman from clay. He is best known for defiantly stealing fire from the Olympian God Zeus and gifting it to his beloved mankind, for which he was condemned to eternal suffering; The irate Zeus chained poor Prometheus to a rock to have his liver eaten by an eagle during the day, only to have it grow back again at night to indefinitely repeat the process, which mercifully ended after a mere 3,000 years! Think this episode is where we get the saying: “No good deed goes unpunished!”
In Percy B. Shelley’s famed version of the story (Prometheus Unbound), the hero Prometheus was the epitome of moral virtue. He remained unbreakable in spirit and unrepentant of his actions to help mankind, with head held high no matter how much or how long he suffered on the cold harsh rock. Moreover, he refused to succumb to feelings and plans for revenge, instead pitying and forgiving his archenemy.
Prometheus shouldn’t be held up as a role model simply because he rebelled against tyranny and struggled mightily, but because he was driven by a pure and noble end – the uplifting of mankind towards progress and happiness, regardless of personal consequences.
Prometheus gift of fire was a game-changer for mankind, whether we interpret it literally or figuratively. Literally, fire was a revolutionary, platform technology allowing for light, warmth, protection and better food. Taken figuratively, fire is symbolic for the enlightenment of man, i.e. giving man the courage to use his own judgment, or reason and conscience (‘sapere aude’), as the defining factor of what it means to be human (vs. simply another animal).
This is in stark contrast to a similar yet very different enlightening fictional character, Lucifer (which in latin means the light bearer), from Milton’s Paradise Lost. Lucifer also daringly rebelled against what he believed to be tyranny and remained uncompromising in his suffering “The mind is its own place, and in itself, can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven”.
So far so ‘good’, but once fallen from grace and turned into Satan for his hubris, Lucifer did not sue for appeasement, but sought revenge against God through the corruption of mankind (“Evil be thou my good”). Talk about a sore loser! Ironically, he too brought enlightenment to mankind, ending the age of innocence by tricking Eve to eat the forbidden fruit from the tree of knowledge. In Immanuel Kant’s terms, he was not morally justified because he treated humans as a means and not as an end, as Prometheus had done.
Contrasting the story of Prometheus vs. that of Lucifer helps us to properly define the practice of Entrepreneurship – Entrepreneurship is an inherently personal and creative act, involving determination and risk taking, for the betterment of mankind.
The moral of Prometheus’s story vs. Lucifer’s is also clear: It isn’t enough to be a rebel. Rebellion, or the willingness to sacrifice for that matter, doesn’t justly define entrepreneurship – we should NOT have Sympathy for the Devil – there has to be a noble purpose – struggling against the universe isn’t the same as struggling for humanity.
So long live Prometheus, the first entrepreneur! And long live the Entrepreneur, or the modern Prometheus!
Notes related to literary and musical references in this blog:
In 1818 at age 20, Mary Shelley, P.B. Shelley’s wife, wrote “Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus” – A horror tale of creation gone bad, the dangers of pushing science too far.
P.B. Shelley wrote the closet drama “Prometheus Unbound” shortly after in 1820. It is considered a great work of literature, even against his earlier inspiration “Prometheus Bound”, presumably by Aeschylus in ancient Greece.
John Milton wrote Paradise Lost in 1667, which tells the story of Lucifer, and Adam & Eve’s fall from grace (who represented humanity). Some say Milton portrayed Lucifer a bit too sympathetically (P.B. Shelley himself compared Prometheus only to Lucifer – Although most people would say Prometheus has a lot more in common with Christ). It is considered one of the greatest all time poems of the English language.
Immanuel Kant coined the term “modern Prometheus” referring to Benjamin Franklin and his experiments with Electricity.
Sympathy for the Devil is a Rolling Stones’ song written by Mick Jagger – one of the best rock songs of all time according to Billboard magazine – I humbly concur.