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A Semantics/Roots of Names/Entymological Essay
on the Characters of Promethea

by Philip Graves


The Characters of Promethea, Unbound

There are some books and comics that can be read and understood on several levels. There are levels of levels in Promethea, shades of meanings, allusions and symbolism. From the simplest platform, one of the greatest stories ever told is being woven with a truly informative ‘lecture’ on the nature of ‘things’, as great ‘truths’ are being told. To aid in this journey, names of Magic and Man are being evoked and utilised in old ways, new ways, and beyond. All these strands are seamlessly woven together: the Graeco-Roman Myths, Poetry down the ages, characters and creators from across the universes and beyond, are all being twisted and spun into fabric that is all, but none of these things. It has become Moore’s. It is Promethea. An in-depth study of all the multiple allusions, parallels, influences and asides imbued into the pages of Promethea is, frankly, impossible. To even begin to research such an endeavour would require limitless time and resources - a testament to the skills of Mr Moore and Mr Williams that they can weave so vividly a tapestry that is so complex and yet readable, visible and comprehensible. Instead, for better or worse, this will attempt to discern some of the ‘meanings’ given (be they meant or no) to the primary characters by virtue of their Names. It is important to remember that in days of yore, a person’s name was not merely a tag distributed at random, but rather a label that stays with you for your whole life. Biblical, Mythical and literary names are often particularly descriptive of their host, with some passing into the language. ‘Simony’ to pay for privileges in the Church, for example is taken from the name of Simon Magus from the Biblical book of Acts, and the apocryphal book the Acts of Peter.
The name of Promethea’s human heroine is Sophie Bangs - a common enough name, but with much deeper meaning and connotations. We learn from the comic itself that Sophie is short for Sophia, and then that she is ‘Wisdom’s Female Face’. The name ‘Sophia’ does indeed mean ‘Wisdom’ in the original Greek - - indeed, there is a Church in Istanbul named ‘Hegia Sophia’, or ‘Scared Wisdom’ - but furthermore ‘Sophia’ was ‘the name of an early, probably mythical, saint’. We are told that Margaret Taylor Case’s version of Promethea sounds alternately like an American (MTC’s nationality), and an Arab - which ties in further with the knowledge of the child’s origin, and the mythic Saint. This description, if you compress Promethea’s ‘Goddess’ like status by way of her protestations at such a label with the Christian post of ‘Saint’. Promethea the child, in the opening pages of Promethea is indeed ‘early’ in human terms and the whole character and history adds to her mythic nature. ‘Promethea’ the name, we are informed also comes from Greek origins - being a feminine form of ‘Prometheus’, the mythical benefactor (and sometimes creator) of humankind. His name means ‘foresight’, so logically the feminine form retains this gift, and we know that Promethea does indeed have knowledge of her ultimate goal or fate. Prometheus brought fire to mankind, and Sophie-Promethea’s early words and deeds invoke this in a wonderfully literal sense.

There are also worrying added connotations to Sophia’s Saintly counterpart - that of her death, and the deaths of her daughters. Sophia [Wisdom] had three daughters - Vera [Faith], Nadezhda [Hope] and Liubov' [Love]. They were summoned by the Emperor Adrian and “urged them to offer sacrifice to the goddess Artemis”. When they refused, “the emperor gave orders to fiercely torture them: they burned at the holy virgins over an iron grating, they threw them into a red-hot oven and then into a cauldron with boiling tar” - but were preserved. “The youngest one, Liubov', they tied to a wheel and beat at her with canes, until her body was covered all over with bloody welts”. Saint Sophia was made to watch, until the three were finally beheaded. She then buried them, and stayed at their graves until she too died. While possibly irrelevant, this history to Sophia may yet have parallels in Promethea. It is eminently possible that the other incarnations of the living story may die - we know they can, since Barbara Shelley eventually died and was reincarnated. If so, which three is open to speculation, but certainly some of the other Saintly counterparts and historical figures met with martyrdom… Sophia’s earthly mother (a coincidental pun on ‘Earth Mother’ who is a wholly separate figure), is named Trish. Tracing this back to an original root leads via Trisha to Patricia and thence to Patrick. The meaning behind the name here is ‘nobleman’. While Trish Bangs is by no means ‘noble’ in the fiscal or historical sense, recent events have shown that she can cope well with her daughters’ revelations, and can be noble in that sense. Saint Patrick (the patron saint of Ireland) was enslaved in his early years, but ultimately escaped his bondage and ultimately became a Bishop and Missionary, spreading the word of God throughout Ireland. To compare and contrast (albeit loosely, as such hypothetical and possibly tenuous ‘links’ are only very, very theoretical!), Trish Bangs is a Prostitute. This state of being may or may not have been her choice - we learn that Sophie’s father died/vanished soon after her birth, leaving Trish alone and in need. Like Patrick, she has since changed her path, and now seems akin to a guiding light in Sophie’s new - transient - ‘current’ livelihood as a Video Shop worker. Interestingly, while in Millennium City, Sophie is using the name Joey, a pet form of Joseph. The etymological breakdown of Joseph means ‘one who will add’, but less cryptically, Joseph the son of Jacob “became an advisor to the pharaoh, and was eventually reconciled with his brothers when they came to Egypt during a famine…” which could be telling. Other biblical 'Joseph's include the father of Jesus - Mankind’s Saviour - and Joseph of Arimathea, the legendary keeper of the Grail. With the Grail symbolism in Promethea, this could also be less than coincidence...!

Sophie’s ‘best friend’ on the earthly plane would appear to be Stacia van der veer. Stacia has a similarly interesting name, and again, one laden with possible hints, tips or red herrings about the future of herself and her surroundings. Thus far, we have been given no clue as to what ‘Stacia’ is a shortened form of, but the most likely two options are Anastasia or Eustacia. One of the first things to strike a chord in these names is the word-group ‘Asia’ or ‘Acia’, which is the name of the Continent from which we assume the child Promethea to hail from. It is also the name of one of the three Oceanides in the lyrical drama ‘Prometheus Unbound’ by Percy Bysshe Shelley. Coincidentally (or not), in Act III Scene iv, the ‘Spirit of the Earth’ utters the line ‘Asia loves Prometheus’, which has no small echo in the relationship between Grace Brannagh and Stacia herself… Asia and her sister Panthea go on a journey not unlike the journeys Sophie undertakes into the Immateria, and then with Barbara through the branches of the Tree of Life. The name ‘Anastasia’ is the feminine form of Anastasius, a 4th Century Saint martyred by the Roman Emperor Diocletian. She is associated with the Virgin’s midwife - and since the Virgin was the mother of the Saviour, and Sophie is tenuously associated with both Mary herself (The Promethea entity’s ‘mother’), and Joseph, this could also be interesting...! Furthermore, ‘Anastasis’ is linked to ‘resurrection’, and means ‘one who will rise again’. Could this have been lived out by Stacia when Grace possessed her for the second time, or is there more to come...?! ‘Eustacia’ on the other hand is from the Greek ‘fruitful’, and Saint Eustace was a 2nd Century martyr who was converted and cast into poverty by the Romans. Reinstated, he led his armies to great victory (Grace eating the demons...?!), but refused to bow to the Pagan Gods (Promethea herself...?!), and was ultimately burned to death. Similarities between these characters may again be circumstantial, but knowing the research put in by Mr Moore et al - you never can tell!

Grace Brannagh’s first name clearly means nothing other than ‘Grace’, which can be attractiveness, or yet an ‘unmerited favour of God’. Interestingly, of course, Grace is ultimately made to give up being Promethea in favour of Sophie - unmerited...? Her surname may hail from the same root as ‘Brandon’, which means a ‘hill covered with broom’, not particularly enlightening, but then if one were to reach for similarities or grasp at straws… broom can mean various shrubs, or yet ‘bright yellow flowers’. Sunflowers are a bright yellow flower… In Greek mythology, the Graces was a synonym for the Fates or Erinyes, the same three associated with the witches in MacBeth, or the Furies in the Sandman, the Fates in Viking mythology, and so forth. Ultimately, it was they who dictated the fate of all things. Grace Brannagh is also apparently an analogy for the real-life illustrator ‘Margaret Brundage’, the ‘Queen of Weird Tales’. Interestingly, Margaret Brundage’s birth name was ‘Margaret Hedda Johnson’, making her a triple named woman in the vein of Margaret Taylor Case, and to stretch an analogy too far, yet another occurrence of the ‘three’ in conjunction with women, and characters in fact and fiction. Grace’s equally fictional conglomerate Editor ‘Marto Neptura’ has a name derived both from Mars (The God of war, synonymous with anger) and Neptune (The God of the Sea, mildly more peaceful, although not always…), which is another Planetary/Astrological link to the magickal nature of Promethea.

Bill Woolcot, the faintly transvestite or even hermaphroditic Promethea,) has one of the more misleading in a semantics sense, names of all the Prometheas. (The word ‘Hermaphrodite ‘ incidentally derives from the son of Hermes and Aphrodite - Hermes is clearly crucial to the plot of Promethea, and the magical and feminine conjoining inherent in a hermaphrodite should not be overlooked). His/her name derives from the Germanic ‘Wilhelm’ combining both ‘will’ and ‘helm’, or ‘helmet’. Since Margaret Taylor Case has adopted the Greek Helm as part of her costume, it seems slightly odd that it is M. Woolcot who has the ‘appropriate’ name. However, a less literal translation would imply that ‘helm’ merely means protection, and since all the Prometheas (most notably in opening a portal to rescue Grace and Sophie) are protecting their earth-bound counterpart, this is eminently valid. The ultimate fate of Bill’s earthly body is intriguing too, since one of the more famous bearers of the name was Mr Tell, the legendary marksman. Since other notable namesakes include Mr Shakespeare, Mr Blake and even Mr Burroughs, the utilisation of Mr Moore’s own Watchmen into Bill’s comics-work elevates him into high company indeed! Bill Woolcot has been named as a counterpart to William Moulton Marston, the creator and author of Wonder Woman. Mr Moulton Marston has another ‘triplicate’ name, and is one of the landmark names in female comics. As a psychologist, he viewed Wonder Woman almost as an exercise to entice female readers to comics by creating what was the first major female central character. With Promethea, it’s clear that Mr Moore has now followed in those footsteps, too!

Bill’s fictional and real ‘partner’, both have names beginning solely with the letter 'D’. Dirk Dangerfield and Dennis Drucker are interesting names, if a little dull, Mr Dangerfield shares his surname with an old French/Norse placename, and an English fictional detective, while his first name is both a type of dagger, and harks back to the Germanic ‘Theodoric’. This is an illustrious title, meaning a ‘ruler of the people’, and the perfect name to imply a sense of importance. Mr Drucker shares his first name with a 3rd Century missionary to Gaul who was beheaded, but ultimately derives from the Greek God Dionysos ‘from Zeus and Mount Nysa’. Dionysos is chiefly remembered as the God of Wine, but he was more often associated with revelry and fertility - two things that Bill Woolcot as Promethea indulged in with Mr Drucker, whose surname ‘little duke’, and in rhyming slang, could both be synonymous with similar activities.

Charlton Sennet, the poet and conjurer of the oldest main incarnation of Promethea, has a very mundane forename, derived from a surname that means merely a ‘settlement of free men’. Clearly Mr Sennet was a ‘freeman’ in that he was not a slave, so it is ironic that his muse was a hired servant, and not ‘free’ in the same way. Mr Sennet was also not ‘free’ in the unmarried sense, although his wife Emily (derived from the Latin aemulus or ‘rival’!) soon left him when she discovered his indiscretions. Ironically, the name ‘Emily’ is most associated with the author Emily Bronte, and the poet Emily Dickinson, and hence her scorn on her husbands’ work ethic is heightened all the more. Anna, Sennet’s muse and model for Promethea in this time period is a name often associated in literary circles with the heroine of Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Kerinin(a), in which she has to chose between her son and her lover. Sadly, in Promethea, Anna does not have to make this choice, not least because she dies in childbirth - but also, her ‘child’ is a child of dreams, and not substance. In the Aeniad, Anna is also the sister of Dido, while the name ultimately derives from the Hebrew ‘Hannah’, which means ‘Grace’(!), or ‘favour’. The Biblical Hannah was the mother of the Old Testament Prophet Samuel - whether Anna’s ‘child’ is still ‘alive’ in some area of the Immateria is an unanswered question as yet, but we know certainly that reincarnation is possible, so, maybe… Margaret Taylor Case, Promethea’s analogue of both Winsor McCay and apparently, Grace Gebbie Drayton. The name ‘Grace’ being an analogue for Margaret fits nicely with the converse above, and the triple named illustrator of the Campbell Soup Kids is intricately linked to Mr Moore personally (by design or coincidence), in the form of his partner Ms Melinda Gebbie. MTC’s comics strip ‘Little Margie in Misty Magic-land’ is a direct homage to Winsor McCay’s seminal ‘Little Nemo is Slumberland’, and shares many features in common - even down to the naïve Little Margie (who still haunts the Prometheas!). The name ‘Margaret’ is the second most descriptive of the names behind the characters, since although the Greek root ‘Pearl’ is rather opaque, the Persian interprets this as ‘Child of Light’, from their myth that Pearls are created by moonlight maturing inside Oysters. This brings to mind all the rampant symbolism of light/moon/sun/enlightenment/wisdom inculcated in the comic, and the artwork as a whole, and in so many intricate parts, too. Margaret was also a Saint, martyred at Antioch in the 4th Century, and the patron saint of expectant Mothers. With so many names tying into Motherhood, the Tantric precautions taken by Jack Faust is there any cause for speculation here...?! Queen Margaret I of Denmark is also famed for uniting Denmark, Sweden and Norway in the 14th Century - and MTC played a crucial role in the rescuing and reconciling of the fighting Promethea entities - and maybe there’s more to come! The surname ‘Taylor’ derives from ‘Tailor’, (ironic since MTC alone wears no clothes!), while ‘Case’ probably comes from ‘Cass’, a foreshortened form of ‘Cassandra’, the mythical prophetess…

Barbara Shelley, the third character we are introduced to shares her surname with the poet and author Percy Bysshe and Mary (Wollstonecraft). The former wrote the lengthy ‘lyrical drama’ ‘Prometheus Unbound’, while Mary Shelley’s most famous work ‘Frankenstein’ is subtitled ‘The Modern Prometheus’. Percy Shelley was not alone in his fascination with Prometheus - Lord Byron wrote several poems concerning the mythical Titan, too. The forename ‘Barbara’ is derived from the Greek ‘barbaros’, meaning ‘foreign’, and indeed we discover that Barbara’s maiden name was Ramirez, from Hispanic roots. The legend of Saint Barbara is that of a young woman, killed by her father, for which deed he was struck down by a bolt of lighting. The dichotomy of a father killing his daughter, and that of Promethea’s father saving his daughter is an interesting one, while the lightning bolt is not without it’s own evocations - not least the famous scenes from Frankenstein films, wherein the lightning brings life. Barbara’s husband, who initially evokes of Promethea for her, Steve Shelley has been marvellously likened to Steve Trevor, a character from early Wonder Woman comics, generally a liaison/guide figure, but sometimes lover, who has been resurrected time and again by various comics writers down the years. Mr Shelley’s own colourful career goes through many incarnations in the comic, before he too, in reincarnated beside Barbara. Wonder Woman, too, was recreated after the Crisis on Infinite Earths, in another nice link. Saint Stephen was stoned to death, but tortuous links between the changing meaning of ‘stoned’ and Mr Shelley’s death from cancer will not be pursued. Having attempted to deal with the Prometheas in some depth, some of the wider supporting cast must be touched upon too, for completeness’ sake. Benjamin ...eyer Solomon takes his forename form the Hebrew ‘son of the south’ or ‘son of the right hand’. The Biblical Benjamin was the youngest of the Sons of Jacob, and a key figure in the reconciling of Joseph to his brothers, while Solomon (‘peace’) was the King famed for his Wisdom and Love Poetry. Sadly, Mr Solomon has flipped all these ideals and traits on their heads, choosing instead to conjure the forces of the Goetia on the orders of the ‘Temple’. The Temple of Solomon is another Biblical reference, and at various points has been taken as a direct allegory for the tree of life, and hence carries the Kabbalistic connotations laid out in Promethea, also. The magician Jack Faust has a very intriguing name, his surname evoking memories of the Goethe and Marlowe plays. Dr Johann Faustus may well have been a ‘real’ character, but Marlowe’s play clearly dresses him up in the tresses of Dr John Dee - who does himself play an interesting role in showing Sophie-Promethea the ‘truth’ about her the child’s parentage. The forename ‘Jack’ is generally associated with the fictional characters from legend and folklore - the Giant Killer, Beanstalk, Sprat, Frost, etc., but is ultimately a medieval form of ‘John’. There are several Biblical John’s, most famous are John the Baptist, who prepared the way for the coming of the Saviour, and the apostle, who is believed to have written both the Gospel according to John, and the Apocalypse of John - or ‘Revelations’. This ‘end times’ theme is another common to Promethea, but the name ‘John’ is further derived from the Hebrew meaning ‘YAHWEH is gracious’. Quite how gracious God was in giving us Jack Faust is still open to speculation, but it’s interesting that his ‘real’ name is given as ‘John Barrett’, taking his forename one step up the ladder to the original root of ‘Jack’.

The ‘Five Swell Guys’ deserve their own brief mention. The five consist firstly of Bob, the ‘leader’, whose full name ‘Robert’ comes from the Scandinavian ‘bright flame’. Again, the fire/light theme of Promethea manifests itself, while real bearers of this name include Robert E Lee, the Commander of the Confederate Army during the American Civil War. Roger is the ‘muscle’ of the outfit, another dual-sex figure - having undergone a sex change at some point; s/he takes her name from the French meaning ‘famous spear’. Coincidentally, one of the most famous spears is Longinus (or Longinus’ spear), that which pierced Jesus’ side as he hung from the cross. Could this parallel be relevant in future issues…? Stan is the ‘mechanic’, while the entomological root of both ‘Stanley’ and ‘Stanhope’ is a stone clearing, or stone from which a better view can be gained. Since mechanics is the platform from which the impossible can be made possible, there is a tenuous link there… Marv is the ‘genius’, and indeed his full name ‘Marvel Hamilton’ indicates this. ‘Marvel’ really speaks for itself, although it probably ultimately comes from the same roots as the welsh ‘Merlin’, the wizard in the stories of King Arthur. Hamilton is, coincidentally or otherwise, also the surname of the genius Professor who often aids Superman in his fight for Justice. Finally, the Swell Guys are ‘aided’ by their sometimes ‘Psychic’ Kenneth. Kenneth is probably derived from the Scottish for ‘Handsome’, but ultimately comes from the Gaelic meaning ‘born of fire’! With yet more ties to children and the fire symbolism of Promethea herself, is it in any way feasible that these ‘Children of the Light/Fire’ are linked...? And if so, are they about to become crucial fulcrums, or could they even be early Promethea reincarnations…?!

The final words on Promethea must go to Stacia, and the wonderful wordplay of Mr Moore and Mr J H Williams III. The semantic word games of issue 12 are superbly executed and illustrated, while Stacia’s malapropisms in the first four issues are extremely telling. In retrospect, ‘Prostitutia’ may merely be a reference to Trish Bangs’ profession, Sophie-Promethea’s selling of her own body in exchange for knowledge to Jack Faust, her ‘mother’s dual-nature, or something yet to come. ‘Prosthetica’ is a very descriptive term about Sophie’s new body, while ‘Prolapsia’ could refer both to the displacing of Sophie’s organs when she becomes Promethea, or yet to a misplaced womb… ‘Prosciuttia’ could imply that Stacia knew more than she thought when she merged Promethea with Prosciutto, which is Italian Ham. We later discover that Sophie’s father - Juan Philippe Estrada - was almost certainly Italian. ‘Pro-Lifea’ as an extension of ‘Pro-life’ can mean both in favour of preserving life (in situ Stacia’s, from the Wolf), but also anti-abortion…! ‘Propanea’ is a befuddled ‘Propane’, or (aircraft) fuel, a reference to Promethea flying, while ‘Propellea’, from ‘propel’ is merely to urge and encourage - something, which Sophie finds herself doing a lot of!