This is basically a rendition of Leopardi's "The Wager of Prometheus." Actually, it borders on plagiarism.
A contest was held near the summit of Mt. Olympus where a handful of deities were to be judged according to their contributions to existence. Each one was to bring with them a simple artifact representing their greatest achievement. The prize itself was to be a goose made of gold. Three of the competitors were chosen to receive the award. The first was Bacchus for his creation of wine. The second was Minerva for her invention of music. Finally, there was Vulcan who was chosen for crafting the armor of the warrior Aeneas. Given that there were three of them, the golden goose was divided into three separate pieces. However, none of the winners of the contest were able to accept the award. Bacchus was far too hungover to arrive on time in order to receive his share of the prize, while Minerva and Vulcan, for different reasons, declined the award the moment it was presented to them. Minerva, upon laying eyes on the goose, immediately complained that she would have trouble finding a suitable place to put the golden ornament, seeing as how her once spacious living room was already littered with useless items. As for Vulcan, who was the most pragmatic of all the gods, he admitted he could find no real use for the goose.
Despite the fact that none of the deities officially received the award, the contest, which was the result of boredom, was declared over by the judges. No one disputed the verdict of the contest - no one except for the titan Prometheus. He had brought with him a clay figure, proclaiming his creation of the humanity to be the most praiseworthy achievement in the universe. The judges laughed at his request, but he was so stubborn that they ultimately gave him permission to contend for the prize, mostly for their own amusement. Like the others, Prometheus was not interested in the golden goose. The truth of the matter was that everyone considered his invention of humanity to be a mere joke, a botched experiment, and it was his goal to prove to them that this was not the case. Needless to say, Prometheus was upset by the results of the contest. He complained daily about its outcome, declaring that the judges were too simpleminded to appreciate the glory and complexity of humanity.
A few days had passed when he was approached by Momus who happened to notice him sulking on the top of a mountain. He asked the poor titan why he had grown so despondent. Prometheus explained to him his disappointment regarding the contest. Momus, who was not the compassionate type, admitted his own contempt for humanity and openly stated how he himself agreed with the final decision on the part of the judges. Prometheus, always eager to prove himself to others, protested that even the cynical Momus would change his mind if he were to witness the titan’s handiwork firsthand. Momus, although certain that it would be a waste of his time, agreed to the proposal.
Without delay, the two descended in human form to the lower realm of mortals. Prometheus took him to see the ancient civilizations at their highest peak. The first place they visited was Ancient India where he introduced Momus to the sublime teachings of the Buddha. From there they travelled westward to Mesopotamia where he was shown the glory of Sumer as well as the reign of King Hammurabi of Babylon. They then journeyed to the Nile Valley where Prometheus was certain that the sardonic Momus would marvel at the organic arrangement of Egyptian society, not to mention the great pyramids of Giza.
They spent the whole day traveling the entire circumference of the Earth’s surface, wandering from civilization to civilization. During this time Prometheus seemed to have overlooked Momus’ disinterested demeanor. Once evening approached the two found a solitary hill and rested there. Prometheus, sure that Momus experienced a change of heart, turned to him and awaited a positive response from his companion. But to his dismay, nothing Momus had been shown impressed him.
“It seems to me,” said Momus, “that the vast majority of the people who inhabit these so-called “great” civilizations live in a constant state of drudgery. It appears their entire lives are solely devoted to toilsome labor, the results of which are mostly consumed by a small minority of apathetic individuals situated at the very top. Whatever remains is reluctantly thrown back to the working populace so that they have enough food and shelter to carry on throughout the following day. No one, of course, thinks to question this state of affairs due to the myriad distractions made possible by religion. I’ve also noticed how you’ve shown me things as they are during times of peace. Do you think I’m an idiot? Do you think I’m unaware of the fact that these uneventful periods of human history were preceded by wars motivated by simple greed and petty pride? What for? A few crude buildings and some simple mathematics? If I were to calculate the overall worth of these animals based on what I’ve seen, I’d say they’re comparable to a colony of mindless ants.”
Prometheus thought about this piece of mockery for a moment. He found Momus’ words unsettling because he knew deep down that they contained a great deal of truth. Nevertheless, he was determined not to give up so easily. He responded with the following:
“I’m willing to concede that the lives of the people who live there are far from great, especially when compared to the lives of immortals. However, what I’ve shown you is merely the beginnings of civilization. It would be shortsighted to judge something as dynamic and complex as humanity simply by observing its early stages which, although crude in appearance to someone such as yourself, are the seeds of something greater to come. Time is needed for such things to reach their full potential; only then can one make a genuine assessment of my handiwork.”
“We’ll see if that’s the case,” said Momus. “However, you know me well enough to know that I’m unlikely to change my mind. I suspect that the pathetic nature of human beings is immutable, and it will take a great deal of evidence to convince me otherwise. Let’s go see if things are just as you say.”
Without wasting time, the two used a machine built by Chronos himself to travel to the present.
For reasons pertaining to the precarious nature of time travel, both Prometheus and Momus were instantly thrown into the middle of a busy street in the center of New York City. Aware that they had been placed in a dangerous situation, they quickly made their way across several lanes of oncoming traffic. Upon safely arriving at the end of the street, Prometheus turned around to see an occupant of one of the vehicles throw him a hand gesture which he knew, judging from the hateful look on the man’s face, was unfriendly.
A moment later a newspaper being carried by a strong gust of wind came rolling towards Prometheus, landing next to his feet. He reached down and picked it up, unfolding its worn pages. The titan’s initial impression upon reading the newspaper’s headlines was that he had come across a work of fiction, something akin to a tragedy written by Aeschylus or Sophocles. The first story he read was about a horrible accident in which hundreds were killed while traveling aboard a flying vehicle. Near the bottom of the page was another story, seemingly unrelated to the first, regarding a deranged mother who, not unlike Medea, murdered her two children. There were no signs of passion or poetic expression behind the words he read. It suddenly occurred to Prometheus that the way everything was written suggested that the stories were, in fact, summaries concerning actual events.
“Nothin good ever happens,” said a homeless man who was watching Prometheus this entire time. “Makes ya wish you’d never been born.”
The titan’s heart sank. He let go of the newspaper.
It was while standing there on the sidewalk that Prometheus realized he had forgotten all about his companion. He looked around until he discovered Momus amidst a small crowd of people standing near the front entrance of one of the many buildings occupying the area. As he approached the gathering of onlookers, Prometheus caught a glimpse of a corpse being transported into the back of a vehicle by a pair of men dressed in white. He immediately forced his way through the crowd and approached a nearby police officer who was writing something down on a small note pad.
“Excuse me. What’s the meaning of this?” asked Prometheus.
“There’s no meaning behind what happened,” said the police officer. “Someone, a former employee here, committed suicide.”
“What do you mean? Why?”
“Well,” began the officer with an obvious tone of regret, “all we know is that his wife and children left him shortly after he was laid off.”
“Laid off?” asked Prometheus who was unfamiliar with the term.
“Yeah, business plummeted since the economy took a turn for the worse. It’s a shame the little guy is always the first to be shown the door once these things happen.”
“So, he basically killed himself because he lost his job,” said Momus nonchalantly.
“That’s what he said in the note he left. Unfortunately, it’s not that uncommon.”
“I don’t understand,” Prometheus interjected. “I’m inclined to believe there’s more to life than mere gold. If someone were to kill themselves, surely it would be for a noble cause.”
“The stuff you’re talking about is the kind of thing parents tell their children,” said the police officer while putting away the note pad he was carrying with him. “I don’t know where you two are from, but in this world money is damn near everything. Speaking of which, where are you two from? You look like a couple of foreigners.”
Momus turned to face Prometheus, but the titan had vanished. He had left out of embarrassment, knowing full well that there was no chance he would convince Momus of humanity’s greatness. It turned out that it was not Momus who experienced a change of heart; rather, it was Prometheus himself who now viewed humanity from a new perspective. The things he had witnessed were so miserable that even the titan found his own creation contemptible.
The defeated Prometheus fled to his mountain where he was overwhelmed with great sadness regarding his failure as a craftsman. But at some point darkness arrived, bringing with it an idea or piece of wisdom which gradually entered his mind. It occurred to Prometheus that it should be of no concern to him that humanity was worthless. The truth, as he now saw it, was that the entire cosmos was worthy of contempt. Strange to relate, he found this notion comforting, so much so that his despair was cured.