The Modern Prometheus

In the summer of 1816, five young people vacationed together on the shores of Lac Léman in Switzerland. In one cottage were the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, his wife Mary Shelley, and Mary’s stepsister, Claire Clairmont. In a grander house nearby, the Villa Diodati, were George Gordon, better known as Lord Byron, and his personal physician and friend, John William Polidori. It was an unusually rainy summer, spoiling all of the friends’ outdoor plans. One rainy night, however, as the five were gathered at the Villa Diodati reading German ghost stories in French translation, Byron was seized with an idea: “We will each write a ghost story.”

It proved to be a momentous choice of pastimes, though only two complete ghost stories resulted from the challenge. One of them, Polidori’s The Vampyre, was published in 1819. The other was written by Mary Shelley, a gothic tale called Frankenstein, which would become, after its publication in 1818, one of the best-known novels ever written and one of the founding myths of the modern world.

A myth is a story that addresses the deepest hopes and anxieties of a people. Because of its profundity, a mythic narrative tends to be told again and again, in variation after variation, yet with its essential meaning always remaining intact. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, remarkably for a novel begun when its author was only eighteen, vividly strikes at one of modern man’s darkest fears: the fear of his own power to manipulate nature according to his wish.

Mary Shelley, of course, did not invent the myth of Prometheus, the Titan who defied the gods. But she did concoct a decidedly modern variation of that myth, one making thematic the prodigious capabilities of modern technology combined with the terrible desire to create human life out of nothing.

Mary Shelley, in fact, subtitled Frankenstein, “The Modern Prometheus.” But as Maurice Hindle points out in his introduction to the Penguin Classics edition of the novel, in Frankenstein Mary Shelley actually fuses two versions of the Prometheus myth. On the one hand, there is the ancient Greek version of the story, in which the rebellious and cunning Prometheus steals fire from Olympus in order to help mankind. On the other hand, there is the later version of the story found in the Roman poet Ovid’s Metamorphoses. In this version, Prometheus is not so much concerned with saving human beings as with creating them.

As Hindle argues, both Lord Byron and Percy Bysshe Shelley were much taken with the Greek version of Prometheus as defier of the gods and savior of humanity. Each wrote a work focusing on this aspect of the myth. “But Shelley,” writes Hindle, “took the story to heart in a monumental way, developing to a fine pitch the Romantic notion of himself and his heroes as suffering champions of humanity. In Prometheus Bound and other poems [Shelley] was to elaborate this essentially religious feeling of election to saviourhood into his own version of socialist aspiration.”


But while her husband was styling himself as Promethean savior, Mary Shelley was more absorbed with the Roman version of the Prometheus myth, with Prometheus as creator, and the dangers that come from this aspiration.

In fact, as Hindle and others have shown, Frankenstein can be read as a critique of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s Romantic and very progressive idealism. Victor Frankenstein brings to life his Creature because he sees himself, as Shelley did, as a kind of minor divinity driven by a sense of destiny.

The Frankenstein myth continues to resonate with us because we are daily threatened by the counterblasts from our own attempts to dominate nature. Hindle writes: “is it not the modern experience of feeling manipulated by forces larger than ourselves (which are nevertheless humanly managed) – Big Science, technology, the ‘machinery’ of State, globalization, the mass media, and so on – that links the lay person’s predicament with that of Frankenstein’s Creature, he who has been put together from dead human parts and then infused with ‘a spark of being,’ without having any say in the form or purpose of his own genius?”

Two of this summer’s biggest-selling movies, The Avengers: Age of Ultron and Jurassic World, are clear reworkings of the Frankenstein myth. But the clearest resonance of the myth at this moment is not in the world of cinema or fiction, but in the very real killing rooms of Planned Parenthood.

It is a chilling experience to read Frankenstein in light of the recent revelations regarding Planned Parenthood’s harvesting of human organs from crushed babies in order to sell them to “researchers.” What’s especially horrifying is the way in which Planned Parenthood has pursued Victor Frankenstein’s ambition to the point of a gruesome inversion.

Frankenstein wanted to infuse “dead human parts” with a “spark of being.” But the modern Prometheus at Planned Parenthood takes a young life with a spark of divine being, kills it, and then takes the parts, “dead” in the sense of being separated from their organic unity, and sells them so that further research can increase our ability to wreak havoc upon nature.

In Frankenstein, the Creature ultimately finds the voice to rebuke his creator. That rebuke is well encapsulated by the lines from Milton’s Paradise Lost, a poem well known to the Creature, which Mary Shelley chose as the epigraph to her novel:

Did I request thee, Maker, from my clay
To mould me man? Did I solicit thee
From darkness to promote me?

The child being so abused by Planned Parenthood may not, in a literal sense, have the voice to rebuke his destroyers. But through the destruction and selling of his mortal remains this child is crying out to all who will hear. His cry revises Milton. It demands to know, “Why anyone would presume a right to tear apart my clay? Did I solicit thee from the darkness of the womb to destroy me?”

Daniel McInerny

Daniel McInerny is a philosopher and author of fiction for both children and adults. You can find out more about him and his work at

  • givelifeachance2

    Shelleys work would be even more applicable to the child conceived in the test tube, crying out in rebuke to its maker.

  • John Willson

    Chilling. True. Planned Parenthood is evil in that special way that only the state combined with the Prometheus instinct can achieve. Thank you, Dan McInerny, for making the connection. It is, of course, a Nazi connection.

  • Tad

    … brilliant. I will meditate on your words, McInerny. Your writing stimulate my mind, stretches abilities of understanding God’s plan for man and more. Thank you. May God bless you.

  • Manfred

    Thank you for this article, Mr. McInerny. It tells more than you know. It tells of the dichotomy between a Catholic writer and a Catholic businessman with a strong interest in history. When I saw the first three videos showing Planned Parenthood leaders negotiating with the supposed buyers of aborted children’s body parts, I thought immediately that the difference between the Nazis and the modern American was that Naziism was ahead of its time. Planned Parenthood had a list, since scrubbed, of major U.S. corpporations who financially and morally support P.P. My mind immediately turned to Gen. Eisenhower who insisted in 1945 that the German citizens be forced to visit the death camps to learn what THEY and Naziism had accomplished. I thought of the Nuremberg Trials where major Nazis were convicted and were either hanged or served long prison sentences.
    Instead ,you thought of five people vacationing at a lake in 1816, Prometheus and the novel Frankenstein which resulted. The chasm between people such as yourself and people who know that there is a major war being fouight ,( and lost!,) against the secular leviathon is unbridgeable.

    • Mary C-J

      Well put Mr. McInerny and Manfred –
      Though I believe that the American holocaust as perpetrated by Planned Parenthood is far worse than what the Nazis conceived. German’s stood by and for the most part did nothing. Most of the world – did nothing until evidence was soooo overwhelming. Half of my family lineage died at Matthausen. Evil is always pushing forward and we are told “there is nothing to see here.”
      I do not think that any of us are really surprised at PP. Not really, not deep in our hearts. The deafening silence has been shattered – now what are we to do? As a friend and I were discussing, prior to having read this post, PP isn’t going to go away until it is cheaper to birth and raise a child than to abort the child. This is the Cronyism of Big Gov., Big Elite and Big business at work. Godless.
      Pray and pray. Expose PP for what it truly is. Expose our forked-tongue leaders for what they are. Maybe we need our own “Nuremberg trials”. I have a feeling that we will all be judged by what we do or don’t do in the coming months. Pray, stay strong and act when needed.

    • RainingAgain

      Uncharitable, self-righteous and plain wrong.

      • Manfred

        The one time in history where the examples of Prometheus and Frankenstein were accurate was the Manhattan Project which resulted in the Atomic Bomb. Two of these heinous weapons were dropped on Japan, a country which we had provoked into attacking us by shutting off all oil and rubber to the Japanese in July, 1941.
        Robots are rapidly becoming the new Frankensteins.

        Historians seem to agree that 70 million people were killed during W. W. II. Since 1973, well over 50 million Americans were killed in their mothers’ wombs with the full support of our Government and the corporate elites. Remember, the gender, eye color, when, if male, the adult foetus will begin to bald: All are fixed AT THE MOMENT OF CONCEPTION.

        • RainingAgain

          I disagree with nothing you say here, but you haven’t addressed your unjust accusation against Mr McInerney, which is what I called you out on (I apologise for not making that clear enough).

    • debby_d_NJ

      i thought you were lucid until your rant turned calumnious.
      every single word, manfred, every single word we will be held accountable for.
      ask Jesus to Grant you His Mercy.
      there are many ways to make a point.

  • Sheila

    Excellent article. God hears your cries little ones. Although they cannot be audibly heard, we hear them and our hearts sink in sorrow for your pain and death. Just as we do when we contemplate the torture and death of our Savior, Jesus Christ. Jesus fully understands and feels all of your pain little ones. For His flesh was ripped off His body when He was merciless beaten. Dear God, today on this First Friday celebration, let us offer our own miniscule pains, sufferings, and prayers in union with Christ for this evil and barbaric horror to stop. We also ask for our Mother Mary to intercede in a miraculous way to stop all abortions worldwide and that our legal system would pass with a majority ruling uto not only defund Planned Parenthood but to close it down and expose it for all the evil they’ve done over the years. And that our president would not vetoe it. Amen. Little ones, I pray you are comforted in the arms of our tender Savior. We were all given free will as a gift. Let us use it to do good while we still can. Please join with me today in a Rosary Crusade to end abortion.

  • TBill

    Well written and haunting. The horror of this world is truly growing. God help us.

  • Sgt_Rock

    Evil complete uncaged. Decent people have had their shoulders against the door of a room full of monsters now for way over a generation. It seems in the last few years, the monsters have steamrollered right over them on their way to gobble up the remaining traces of decency like something from an evil fairy tale. The last few months have been the worst. People who should know better are looking out their window, staring the Gorgon in the face and giving her a wink and a nod.

    Holy Father in Heaven, watch over us.

  • Alicia

    I urge everyone to go to America Needs Fatima and sign a petition to Congress to investigate Planned Parenthood and defund it.
    A full investigation by Congress will bring everything out, make front page and TV news. This will help make the general public aware of the horror.
    Sign the petition and forward it to everyone you know.
    It may not end all abortion, but it’s a move in the right direction and may change many people’s hearts.
    Remember the Physics experiment : a one gram domino, followed by double its weight in every domino ( 2nd one 2 grams, next one 4, 8,16 etc and the last one 260 pounds ). By pushing the first one you start a chain reaction that brings down 260 pounds. ( crazy to me, but Physics can explain it )
    So let’s push the 1gram domino.
    Sigh the petition !

  • lwhite

    I think it is an even greater “chilling” experience to read the Bible in light of the revelations of what Planned Parenthood does since within it we find the cause and the solution to the evils of not only this organization, but of course, within the very heart of this nation, the world, and ourselves, not found within the book of Frankenstein.

  • debby_d_NJ

    Dear Daniel,
    Thank you. I have printed this for my son’s up-coming high school lit work. Your reflections and application of classic literature to current (yet ever ancient) sins of pride and self-aggrandizement are spot on.

  • Elizabeth Sheehy

    For a Catholic take on the Frankenstein mythos, may I suggest Dean Koontz’s series? Quite fascinating IMO…

  • Timothy O’Donnell

    Terrific article!!!

  • Indeed, Mr. McInerny– but it seems a little easy to pile onto this body parts fury but ignore the huge bio-engineering projects being funded by government and public corporations. These are Shelley’s prophecy, come true. It seems to be a foregone conclusion, that humanity can, through gene-splicing and “selective breeding”, build a “better mankind”.

    There just seems an aversion in the US Catholic community to being considered “anti-science” as all reason is considered to be our “gift”…. no inquiries are out of bounds, which is simply letting Satan have his way.

  • Lori Tischler

    Amazing insights. Thank you.


    Thank you for this insightful article. No doubt, Mr. Daleiden & those at the Center for Medical Progress are angels of God exposing these heinous crimes against humanity committed in the darkness of Planned Parenthood butcher shops. The Senate’s inability to defund them with such obvious evidence astounds me! But, the silver lining in all this is: no longer can they dehumanize the reality of the growing, developing human life they mercilessly kill for profit. The light is shining brightly & the cockroaches are scattering. I’m very much looking forward to the day when I can witness Planned Parenthood take its’ last breath. Until then, we will remain vigilant in prayer b/c there’ no turning back now!

    ******On a side note, can you tell me if you’ll be updating your Kingdom of Patria website? My 10-yr-old has just completed the 1st two books in the Patria series & she absolutely LOVED them! She’s genuinely enjoying perusing through the “Kingdom” website, but, we both became concerned when we noticed that the last post was in January of 2015! This prompted a search to see if you had died, which led us… here. Needless to say, we’re happy you’re still alive & writing about important matters like this! God Bless you, Mr. McInerny!********