Re: Frankenstein in popular culture.
The myth of Prometheus is the archetype of the Frankenstein story, with the ethical question of the morality of humans 'playing God'. Prometheus brought fire from heaven to earth, and as a result was eternally condemned to daily torment of an eagle eating his liver while he was chained to the top of the high forbidding crag of Mount Caucasus. The New Prometheus, science, seeks to play God by doing things that innovate. Traditional piety imagines boundaries which will bring down the divine wrath upon those who transgress conventional limits.
Dr Frankenstein imagines that he can create life, stepping across the threshold of this divine prerogative. We see this Frankenstein trope emerging now into popular culture with the concept of Frankenstein Foods, the idea that genetically modified organisms could prove to be some sort of Sorcerer's Apprentice, giving life to uncontrollable new creations. Similarly, the 'playing God' trope is alleged to bring ethical dilemmas for geoengineering, the idea that we can manage the global climate in order to prevent dangerous global warming.
Frankenstein plays on the fear of the mad scientist, who imagines he can control his invention but finds that he has unleashed forces beyond his control. But this idea raises another myth, Phaethon, who found that once he had taken the reins of the horses of the sun, he had to keep riding, but lost control and plunged from heaven to a fiery death.
Here is the story of Phaethon as told by Ovidhttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phaethon#Ovid
Phaethon ascends into heaven, the home of his suspected father. His mother Clymene had boasted that his father was the Sun-God or Phoebus. Phaethon went to his father who swore by the river Styx to give Phaethon anything he would ask for in order to prove his divine sonship. Phaethon wanted to drive the chariot of the sun for a day. Phoebus Apollo tried to talk him out of it by telling him that not even Jupiter (the king of the gods) would dare to drive it, as the chariot was fiery hot and the horses breathed out flames. He said:
"The first part of the track is steep, and one that my fresh horses at dawn can hardly climb. In mid-heaven it is highest, where to look down on earth and sea often alarms even me, and makes my heart tremble with awesome fear. The last part of the track is downwards and needs sure control. Then even Tethys herself, who receives me in her submissive waves, is accustomed to fear that I might dive headlong. Moreover the rushing sky is constantly turning, and drags along the remote stars, and whirls them in rapid orbits. I move the opposite way, and its momentum does not overcome me as it does all other things, and I ride contrary to its swift rotation. Suppose you are given the chariot. What will you do? Will you be able to counter the turning poles so that the swiftness of the skies does not carry you away? Perhaps you conceive in imagination that there are groves there and cities of the gods and temples with rich gifts. The way runs through ambush, and apparitions of wild beasts! Even if you keep your course, and do not steer awry, you must still avoid the horns of Taurus the Bull, Sagittarius the Haemonian Archer, raging Leo and the Lion's jaw, Scorpio's cruel pincers sweeping out to encircle you from one side, and Cancer's crab-claws reaching out from the other. You will not easily rule those proud horses, breathing out through mouth and nostrils the fires burning in their chests. They scarcely tolerate my control when their fierce spirits are hot, and their necks resist the reins. Beware my boy, that I am not the source of a gift fatal to you, while something can still be done to set right your request!"
Phaethon was adamant. When the day came, the fierce horses that drew the chariot felt that it was empty because of the lack of the sun-god's weight, and went out of control. Terrified, Phaethon dropped the reins. The horses veered from their course, scorching the earth, burning the vegetation, bringing the blood of the Ethiopians to the surface of their skin and so turning it black, changing much of Africa into desert, drying up rivers and lakes and shrinking the sea. Earth cried out to Jupiter, who was forced to intervene by striking Phaethon with a lightning bolt. Like a falling star, Phaethon plunged blazing into the river Eridanos.
The epitaph on his tomb was quite to the point:
Here Phaethon lies who in the sun-god's chariot fared. And though greatly he failed, more greatly he dared.
Phoebus, stricken with grief at his son's death, at first refused to resume his work of driving his chariot, but at the appeal of the other gods, including Jupiter, returned to his task.