Prometheus (written 1774, unauthorised publication 1785, authorised publication 1789)
Written at the height of Goethe’s Sturm und Drang period in 1774, this poem presents Prometheus as a rival Creator who scorns God. According to Greek myth, Prometheus, a demigod and the son of a Titan, stole fire from the gods and created humanity from clay. When Goethe published this poem of defiance in 1789 he placed it next to ‘Ganymed’, a poem of submission. Goethe saw life as an alternating process of self-assertion (systole) and self-loss (diastole); ‘systole’ is a movement of convulsion (e.g. of the heart or lungs) and ‘diastole’ is a movement of dilation/relaxation. ‘Prometheus’ exemplifies the former, and ‘Ganymed’ the latter.
Goethe’s ‘Prometheus’ influenced P. B. Shelley (Prometheus Unbound, 1820) and Karl Marx. In the preface to his doctoral thesis (1841), Marx wrote:
‘Prometheus’s confession “in a word, I detest all Gods”, is its own confession, its own slogan against all Gods in heaven or earth who do not recognize man’s self-consciousness as the highest divinity.’ Source: David McLellan, Marx, Fontana Modern Masters (Glasgow: Fontana/Collins, 1975), p. 26
For a detailed study of Goethe’s ‘Prometheus’ and the process of secularisation, see Hans Blumenberg, Work on Myth  (reading list below).
Manfred Beller, ‘The Fire of Prometheus and the Theme of Progress in Goethe, Nietzsche, Kafka, and Canetti’, Colloquia Germanica 17:1-2 (1984), 1-13
Hans Blumenberg, Work on Myth , trans. by Robert M. Wallace (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1988)
E. M. Butler, The Tyranny of Greece over Germany (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1935); (reprint: Boston, MA: Beacon Hill, 1958), section on ‘Prometheus’, pp. 85-93
K. F. Hilliard, Freethinkers, Libertines and Schwärmer: Heterodoxy in German Literature, 1750-1800 (London: igrs, 2011), pp. 148-54
Jonas Jølle, ‘“Prince Poli & Savant”: Goethe’s Prometheus and the Enlightenment’, Modern Language Review 99:2 (2004), 394-415
Edgar Landgraf, ‘Self-Forming Selves: Autonomy and Artistic Creativity in Goethe and Moritz’, Goethe Yearbook 11 (2002), 159-76
Laurence K. P. Wong, ‘Defying Zeus in German: Goethe’s “Prometheus” as a Case of Untranslatibility’, Revue Septet: Société d'Etudes des Pratiques et Théories en Traduction 1 (2007), 233-55