chapter  5
19 Pages

Prometheus (on the) Rebound? Freedom and the Danish Steering System

BySUSAN WRIGHT AND JAKOB WILLIAMS ØRBERG

Guy Neave and Frans van Vught, in their study of the changing relationship between government and higher education in Western Europe, liken universities to Prometheus (Neave and van Vught, 1991: ix). This was the Titan who stole fire from Zeus and gave it to humans. He also boasted that he taught humans the civilizing arts of agriculture, language, architecture, metalwork, astronomy, mathematics, divination and medicine. But it was not Prometheus as the source of knowledge that made him Neave and van Vught’s symbol for the university. Nor was it Prometheus’ reputation among the gods for being quick-witted, a clever talker, using guile, and having the gift of prophecy that reminded Neave and van Vught of academics. Rather, it was Prometheus’ subjection to Zeus, the ruling god, and his daily torture that Neave and van Vught took as an image of the emerging position of European universities. Zeus had Prometheus chained to a rock and sent an eagle to peck out his liver each day, which restored itself during the night, ready for the next day’s agony. This continued for centuries until Hercules eventually killed the eagle and broke Prometheus’ chains.