Vital Signs

Rockefeller Center

On a rainy July afternoon I stood on the Promenade at Rockefeller Plaza and beheld Prometheus unbound. There he was, his golden self sprawled against the wall of the erstwhile skating rink (in summer it is transformed into an outdoor cafe), holding the flame in his right hand, his gift to mankind. Above him is a most fitting inscription provided by Aeschylus: "Prometheus, teacher in every art, brought the fire that hath proved to mortals a means to mighty ends."

Suddenly, a deranged man (or prophet) walked by, muttering how Prometheus was really Lucifer in shining disguise—and mine eyes beheld a glory which quickly faded. Golden Prometheus began to look sinister, with a mocking expression upon his beautiful face, which put me in mind of the gilded figures so often seen in the degenerate, cruel, and opulent fetes associated with the ancien regime during the so-called Age of Reason. The fire in his hand was Reason—the cynical, critical, destructive sort—and he was about to bestow it upon mankind, so men could be as gods. It was the advent of a perverted Pentecost, with a fiery orb plucked and hurled from the Tree of Knowledge and Life.

Appropriately enough, Prometheus and a host of other seemingly benevolent characters adorn the walls of the buildings and structures comprising Rockefeller Center, a site familiar to most Americans and tourists at large. It is no mere coincidence that this...

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