Knowledge is an addictive drug. If administered in controlled dosages, it has the ability to cure a critical illness; however, if taken whimsically and in excess, it acts as a consumptive toxin that can result in powerful suffering or even death. If this is the case, then what makes knowledge so desirable? Throughout their texts, Aeschylus and Shelley depict numerous characters in mad pursuit of knowledge, like Victor’s creature from Frankenstein or Io from Prometheus Bound. Yet, one after another, characters are propelled into an existence of utter despair because of their unquenchable thirst for new enlightenment. Prometheus Bound and Frankenstein demonstrate that the pursuit of knowledge often results in grave suffering, physically and mentally; yet, Shelley and Aeschylus’ characters cannot abandon their chases, as knowledge provides the ultimate form of individual glory, power, and freedom.
Oftentimes, knowledge evokes desire because it can lead to profound glory, since new discoveries transform average people into valiant heroes. The pursuit of knowledge thus colludes with the intrinsic, selfish human desire to be recognized. For example, in the opening letters of Frankenstein, adventurer Robert Walton explains his motives for sailing to the North Pole: “I may there discover the wondrous power which attracts the needle … and may tread a land never before imprinted by the foot of man” (Shelley 1-2). In essence, Walton wants to be the first human ever to cross the Artic strait, and have firsthand knowledge of its polar magnetism. People want to be acknowledged for achieving great feats, and are willing to “endure cold, famine, thirst, and want of sleep” to do so (Shelley 3). The pursuit of knowledge is simply the route to this praise.
Even though knowledge can glorify the average man, it also enacts a sort of “Devil’s exchange,” an extreme future cost for an immediate payout. The desire to attain glory from knowledge pervades a person’s mental and physical health, similar to the gadfly in Prometheus Bound: physically taxing, mentally draining, and infinitely tormenting (Aeschylus 560-592). For instance, Dr. Frankenstein becomes “ill, very ill,” in his quest to animate the inanimate (Shelley 48). While creating his monster, Victor sacrifices his personal time, weakens his already scanty health, and disconnects with his loved ones. People like Victor greedily chase knowledge, but the quest often proves too gruesome to handle. Io and Victor suffer in all facades of their lives because of their respective gadflies. The pursuit of knowledge draws people’s attention, with hopes of glory and prestige; however, in reality, it carries an extreme cost that most cannot afford.
More importantly, throughout ancient and modern times, people cannot resist the distinct power and freedom inherent in attaining knowledge. People have an innate desire to be dominant over others, and for that reason they pursue knowledge insatiably. Even though Prometheus...