The Assassin’s Creed franchise always mixed fiction with real events and mythology.
The games explore an alternative history in a world that is very much alive and rooted in reality. From ancient Egypt to medieval Italy, you get to explore the past in an interactive and fun way.
You can walk around ancient cities or sing sea shanties with pirates.
In the case of Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey you’re transferred to ancient Greece, where gods, historical figures, and mythology come to life.
The very title alludes to Homer’s epic poem. Written more than 2000+ years ago, it’s still a part of the modern literary canon and tells the story of polytropos Odysseus and his long journey home.
In the game, Odyssey is used in an allegorical way. You assume the role of Alexios or Kassandra, two siblings, who travel all over Greece; from Athens and Sparta to Ithaca and Kefalonia.
You will meet famous philosophers and leaders. You will fight wars that marked the fate of the western world. And you’ll encounter deities and monsters you thought were just myths…
Even though many elements of the story are fictional, there’s a historical backdrop that facilitates a powerful plotline.
So, before we dive into the hidden myths and legends, let’s trace the real history of Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey.
The Historical Context of Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey
We’re in the aftermath of the Persian wars, many years after King Leonidas and his 300 Spartans took a stand at Thermopylae.
But, true to the nature of the ancient Greeks, the power struggle continues between the city-states of the nation.
Specifically, the two major poles, Sparta and Athens, are fighting the infamous Peloponnesian war, a brutal clash of two powerful armies and diametrically opposed worldviews.
And you are in the middle of all of this!
Pythia, an oracle and High Priestess of Delphi, commanded your father to throw you and your sister in Kaiadas, up in the mountain of Taygetos.
(As I’m writing this, I’m 30 minutes away from this pit, which I’ve visited many times! It has a very narrow opening but it’s quite spacious at the bottom. Allegedly, Spartans would throw their weak offsprings in there but historians claim it was used mostly as punishment for their enemies)
You assume the role of a misthios, a mercenary, that chooses to fight for the Delian League (Athens) or the Peloponnesian League (Sparta).
You quickly realize that the insidious undercurrent that has corrupted Greece is a religious Cult. Even though we always assume Greece as the origin of logic, science, and philosophy, in reality, there was a lot of religious zeal in that world.
Mythology in the Real World
As you’re walking near the Parthenon or on the island of Naxos, you’ll hear talks about deities, myths, and Gods. People kneeling down and calling the name of their patron God or buying items for their offerings.
Concepts like fate and hubris were very tangible and carefully considered throughout the daily lives of the Greeks.
The same way a Christian Catholic will go to church and devote time for prayer, a Greek would pray to Athena or Zeus and make offerings. They interacted with their Gods the same way we do in modern religions.
(In fact, a lot of our rituals have their roots in the Eleusinian Mysteries or the workings of Dionysian cults!)
At the same time, they didn’t blindly accept the metaphysical. Many ancient Greeks believed in the allegorical nature of their myths. Philosophers like Socrates or Aristotle often instigated discourse between rationalism and faith.
The myths and legends behind Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey was cleverly placed within the context of the real ancient Greek religion, the “dodekatheism”, without resorting to syncretism.
Gods walk amongst the mortals, they’re very much alive in the minds of their Greeks but they remain only part of their culture.
(Spoilers: You’ll try many times to find the mythical creature Minotaur. But they’re hoaxes, an urban legend! Except…)
Mythological Creatures in Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey
When you progress further in your quests and side challenges, you will have to face a few of the most infamous greek mythological creatures.
Essentially, one-eyed giants, they’re the sons of Uranus and Gaea, the primordial beings who ruled the war before the Titans and the Olympians.
They’re intelligent and possess enormous strength. Even though Cronus imprisoned them, Zeus set them free. As a favour, they crafted the light bolts he used to defeat his father during Titanomachy.
During the Homeric era, the cyclops were reduced to simple-minded giants. Odysseus, during his journey back home, escaped from the cave of Polyphemus by blinding him.
The mythology of cyclops exists in many different cultures, including Norse mythology.
She is one of the three Gorgons that appeared in early Greek literature and the only one that’s mortal.
Instead of hair, she has snakes and the ability to turn people into stone just by looking at them.
Perseus manages to cut off her head and subsequently use it as a weapon against his foes.
The symbolism of Medusa in classical antiquity is akin to protective talismans, with her image driving away from the evil. They called it Gorgoneion.
In modern times, she embodies our reaction to fear, often freezing us, causing inaction or, pre Freud, “castration”.
One of the most famous and detailed myths from ancient Greece is the Minotaur and the cluster of stories and legends that surround the creature.
Half-man, half-bull he resides in Crete, within the labyrinth Daedalus created.
He’s a product of divine wrath, a curse from Poseidon to the King of Crete, Minos.
Minos, instead of sacrificing a beautiful white bull to the Gods, kept it alive. Poseidon made his wife fall in love with the bull as punishment.
Later on, when Minos’ son was killed, in order to avenge his death, he demanded Athens to send seven men and seven women every 9 years in the Labyrinth.
Theseus, with the help of Ariadne and her thread, managed to find his way in and out of the Labyrinth and killed the Minotaur.
The Sphinx represents a guardian. The creature appears in both Greek and Egyptian mythology, in female and male form respectively.
In Greek Mythology she has the head of a woman, the body of a lion, the tail of a snake, and the wings of an eagle.
She is cthonic and malevolent in nature, wanting to torture those who encounter her by asking them riddles.
The most famous one is this:
“What goes on four feet in the morning, two feet at noon and three feet in the evening?”
Oedipus managed to find the answer and she devoured herself.
The Sphinx is a guardian, both literally and symbolically. Her death signifies passing from the Old Gods and Myths to the era of the Olympians.
Mythological Figures and Settings in Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey
The Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey background is very loyal to Greek Mythology. Beyond the mythological creatures, you’ll get to visit many historical places. The Agora of Athens, the statue of Zeus in Olympia, the lost island of Ithaka, etc.
And you’ll also meet a lot of important figures that shaped the fate of the ancient empire. From philosophers and military leaders to kings and famous historians. Aristophanes, Aristotle, Pythagoras, Sophokles, Plato, Phidias, etc.
You get to talk with them, hear their story and their vision.
If you’re familiar with the rich history of Greece, you’ll recognize all of them and their contributions!
But it’s important to highlight some of the mythological figures that surround you throughout the game.
The most Powerful of the 12 Olympian Gods. He represents the archetypes of the father figure. You fear and respect him at the same time.
He rules the sky and all living creatures.
(If you want an in-depth analysis of the archetypes of Zeus and his relationship with Gods in other religions, check out this post)
Kassandra is one of the two characters you can choose to play as. The name is inspired by the Trojan Priestess of Apollo.
The myth goes that God gifted her with the power to see the future. But when she rejected him, Apollo cursed her to utter true prophecies but never to be believed.
Thanatos (or θάνατος) means “death” in Greek. But it’s essentially a lesser deity, a personification of death. He is the God of assassins.
Thanatos is the son of Nyx (Night) and Erebos (Darkness). His sibling, as established in the Iliad, is Hypnos (Sleep).
While he isn’t considered part of the mighty Olympians, he is referenced many times in ancient texts. Many chthonic deities surround him, including Geras (Old Age) and Moros (Doom).
Some people suggest that, given he was the Guide of the Dead, Thanatos is merely an aspect of the Olympian God Hermes.
4. Hermes Trismegistus
Perhaps the most influential mythological figure in Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey is Hermes. He appears in the central plotline, as you’re trying to find his staff, the Caduceus.
Within the lore of the game, Hermes Trismegistus and Hermes are conflated. In reality, the former was a syncretism of the Messenger of the Gods and the Egyptian God Thoth, with many people recognizing their similarities.
He was the writer of “Corpus Hermeticum”, an esoteric collection of texts that laid the foundation of Hermetic philosophy.
The game places hints and parallelisms throughout its course. The Staff gives the holder immortality, the same way the hermetic principles would lead alchemists in medieval times to the creation of the philosopher’s stone.
The Kybalion, theosophists, and many modern interpretations of ancient religions borrow from the hermetic systems, 2000+ years later!
The Caduceus was indeed the symbol of Hermes. It’s not uncommon to be used as a symbol of health but that’s a mistake given the Rod of Asclepius looks similar.
The lines between mythology and history are blurry the further we go into the past.
In the ancient world, before classical antiquity, there are mentions of a God similar to Hermes. Historians speculating the existence of cults devoted to him.
And you can find many mentions of deities with similar abilities and contributions throughout the world.
The Expansion Pack: The Fate of Atlantis
Even though you get to interact with ancient Greek mythology in the main game, it’s the Atlantis expansion pack that truly goes deep.
It’s surprising how well the developers managed to incorporate the religious philosophy of ancient Greeks in the game, providing a fairly accurate depiction of the dialectical discourse that was happening.
Atlantis was an ancient, powerful city that antagonized ancient Athens. It was mentioned by Plato, representing his ideal Republic. It was submerged in the Atlantic ocean when they enraged the Gods.
Μost historians agree that it’s a fictional city, there are indications that real-life events might have influenced Plato. In any case, the story of Atlantis continues to inspire writers to write elaborate fiction and mythohistorical tales. For example, in Tolkien’s legendarium, the Island of Numenor had a similar fate with Atlantis.
Within the game, you’ll get to walk the Elysium Fields and wander the catacombs of Hades’s realm, fight mythological monsters and meet with Greek Gods beyond the 12 Olympians, like Hecate.
There have been many attempts to create games and movies based on ancient Greek mythology.
Ιn my opinion, Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey accomplished something extraordinary; portraying the religious aspect of mythology.
We seldom acknowledged the influence of mythology in modern religions. Or perhaps we don’t want to.
Many theological and philosophical narratives we’ve adopted today stem from the rich culture of, essentially pagan, religions.
Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey placed these myths and legends within the context of a living, breathing religion. It recognized we aren’t that different from our ancestors.
For them, mythology wasn’t simply a collection of fictional tales but it represented their faith.
And at the same time, they never shied away from scepticism and criticism, qualities that modern interpretations of theological narratives often lack
P.S – What’s your opinion of the game? Do you think it’s doing a good job of representing Greek Mythology?
Writer. Seeking to discover my private mythology through dreams.