Considering Prometheus and Epimetheus

Prometheus and Epimetheus, the embodiments of forethought and afterthought. Generated by DALL-E.

I’m sure you are familiar with this ancient story, but bear with me for a moment. In classic Greek mythology, Prometheus and Epimetheus were Titan brothers. By the order of Zeus, Prometheus formed man from clay and goddess Athena breathed life into man. Epimetheus, in turn, was tasked by Prometheus to gift traits to all creatures in the world. However, when it was finally man’s turn to receive gifts from Epimetheus, he had already given everything away and there was nothing left for man.

In his love for man, Prometheus stole the civilizing arts from Athena and fire from Hephaestus, and gifted them for all mankind; through technology and civilization humanity grew in strength, capability and prosperity.

Zeus was greatly angered by Prometheus’ betrayal, and he looked upon mankind with envy. While Prometheus was cruelly punished, the mankind was cursed by the creation of Pandora and her jar, but that is something for another time. Instead, we should give Prometheus and Epimetheus another look.

Prometheus is the embodiment of Forethought and his brother, Epimetheus, is the embodiment of Afterthought. It was forethought that gifted mankind with technology and civilization, which enabled us to grow and prosper, but all too often it is the afterthought that we take after.

Epimetheus dutifully executed the task given to him, but failing to look ahead he understood his mistake only after it was already too late; afterthought learns from mistakes that could have been avoided with some forethought.

After Hephaestus created the first woman, Pandora, and Olympian gods granted her with many gifts that would torment mankind (according to Hesiod, who might have been a bit misogynistic by today’s standards), Prometheus warns Epimetheus about Pandora and her gifts, but afterthought rejects the advice of forethought, when it is tempted in a present moment: Epimetheus sees only Pandora’s beauty and thinks not of the future.

Like Epimetheus, we humans are tempted by short-term rewards and only through afterthought we often realise how we have acted to our own detriment – even when we might have thought that our actions are reasonable in the given moment.

Now, I could continue by launching into a passionate rant about how businesses could gain some forethought through Enterprise Architecture, or how the need for proper requirements specification often comes to us as a revelation through afterthought, but I won’t. To be fair, I often rant about such things, but the essence of it all is in the story of Prometheus and Epimetheus.

…oh, and what about Pandora’s jar? That is a story for another time, but it is worth noting that the only thing that was forever locked away in that jar, after Pandora closed the lid, was hope.

Originally published in LinkedIn Article.

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