Mythology is ever-present in our culture. Myths that have been told for thousands of years re-emerge and take the shape of new stories, relevant to our modern lives.
From books and movies inspired by mythology, we are fascinated by the depth and insights of these legends.
But, one art form that has truly encapsulated the essence of these mythological stories is video games.
Mythology in video games can actually be experienced by the player. Instead of simply hearing or seeing what ancient Athens looked like or how strong the Minotaur was, you get to walk the streets of that glorious city and fight the fierce monster.
Beyond a few hours of entertainment, video games based on mythology can be an alternative way to bring forgotten myths and legend to the forefront.
One of the first franchises to achieve that is the “God of War”; a series of games that blends history and mythology into a legendary saga of redemption and revenge, spanning 7 games.
In this blog post, we’re going to analyze the myths and legends behind “God of War”, the franchise’s titular instalment that set the tone for the rest of the series.
WARNING: Spoilers Ahead.
Is the “God of War (2005)” game accurate?
Before we step into the shoes of Kratos and fight Gods, monsters, and mortals let’s talk about historical and mythological accuracy.
It’s no secret that games and films aren’t always true to the source. “God of War” isnt different.
But, in my opinion, this is a good thing.
See, even the original texts aren’t always consistent! Remember that mythology was, in its original form, an oral tradition. People would simply tell stories, passing them down from generation to generation, based on old folklore tales and internalized archetypes.
Once writing became more widely used, poets and artists began documenting mythological stories. They could only write down the version they were familiar with. Depending on time and place, each version was vastly different from the next one.
So, we ended with a wide array of different stories that contradict each other but also fill in the gaps.
For example, if you read Hesiod’s Theogony and compare it with Homer’s conception of the 12 Olympians, you’ll find that there are a lot of inconsistencies when it comes to the Gods.
And if we consider how storytellers would change up their stories every time they’d recount them, you can understand that, when it comes to mythology, we’re dealing with a living and breathing organism!
The God of War franchise – all video games based on mythology – is staying true to that. If anything, it’s simply adding another thread, an alternative mythopoeic universe, to the large tree of Greek and Norse Mythology.
Kratos: The Ghost of Sparta
The title character of the game appears to be a powerful, Spartan warrior. His menacing appearance and brutal, raw power are in line with the legends surrounding the city-state.
Spartans were infamous for their military prowess and intense training. They valued disciplined and domination, placing their young in “Agoge”; a rigorous program that lasted more than 20 years.
They were a warrior culture, seeking to perfect their physical strength and mental toughness so they were always prepared for the harshness of the battlefield.
From the events of the Illiad to the Thermopylae and the Peloponnesian war, stories and myths about the superiority of the Spartan phalanx are heard to this day.
It’s well documented that the warriors would go into a frenzied state during battle, akin to Norse berserkers.
(Mythological fact: They’d wear red colors so they could hide wounds and blood)
The phrase “Either with this or on this” was a farewell wish mothers would give to soldiers. It means that they should return victorious, holding their shields or on top of them, dead and celebrated by the city.
Indeed, during flashbacks, we see a relentless Kratos killing everyone who stood in the way of victory. He was trained to be that way. But more importantly, the God of War had chosen him as an acolyte…
Who is the God of War?
The title of the game might suggest that you’re playing as the God of War. There is some truth to that, but we’ll get there in a moment.
In reality, the Greek God of War is Ares. The son of Zeus and Hera, he represents the spirit of battle. He is the personification of bloodlust and the brutal aspects of war.
Even though his Roman equivalent, Mars, was widely celebrated as the father of the Roman people, in Greece he wasn’t as popular. Hated by Gods and Mortals alike, only warriors and mercenaries worshipped the sword-bearing deity.
Spartans considered him a model warrior. They had raised a statue of a chained Ares, signifying that the spirit of battle was ever-present in the city.
This highlights the cultural differences between Athens and Sparta. The sister of Ares, Athena, was the other side of the same coin; she personifies leadership and strategy instead of mindless violence.
(Mythological fact: Ares had two sons, Phobos and Deimos, fear and terror. They’d accompany their father in battle, spreading these emotions to his enemies)
In the God of War game, he is accurately depicted as merciless and unforgiving.
Kratos is on the brink of death after losing a battle to a barbarian king. He promises to serve Ares in return for the power and might to defeat his foes.
The God of War agrees and gives him the Blades of Chaos. Equipped with these powerful weapons, Kratos manages to extend the bloodshed.
During one of his raids, Ares hides the (anti)hero’s family in a village, hoping that once he had no ties, he’d become the ultimate instrument of war.
Our main character, blinded by rage, kills them. When he realizes what he had done, swears vengeance against Ares.
Mythological creatures, Gods, and Relics in the God of War Game
Tormented by nightmarish visions, Kratos asks to serve the Olympian Gods, hoping that he’ll find peace and redemption.
After 10 years under their command, he has grown tired. Athena, promises him that if he manages to kill her brother – who has left the city of Athens in ruins – the Gods will forgive him.
The first step is to find…
In Greek Mythology, after Prometheus stole the fire from the Gods, Zeus wanted to punish him.
He presented Pandora, a mortal woman, to his brother Epimetheus. She was also given a box to guard but she ended up opening it,
It contained sickness, death, misery. All the evils of the world.
Pandora’s box is an allegory about gifts that turn out to be a curse after all. A blessing in disguise.
(Mythological fact: Pandora tried to close it but only one thing was left behind; hope. Nietzsche said “Pandora brought the box of ills and opened it. Therefore he gives Man hope,—in reality it is the worst of all evils, because it prolongs the torments of Man.”)
In the God of War game, Pandora’s Box gives you the power to kill a god.
Naturally, Kratos began his journey to find it. The only problem is that it’s located on the back of…
Cronus was a powerful Titan that overthrew his father, the primordial deity Uranus, and ruled during the Golden Age.
He’s depicted holding a sickle, being the patron of the Harvest.
(Mythological fact: We celebrate Christmas in December because we’re following the Roman Calendar, specifically the festival of Saturnalia in celebration of Saturn, the Roman equivalent of Cronus)
The powerful Titan suffered the same fate and was defeated by his son, Zeus, during the Titanomachy.
In the God of War game, Zeus is punishing him by making him carry the temple of Pandora across the desert. Kratos, after climbing for three days, manages to enter the Temple where he faces many dangers…
Mythological Monsters in the God of War game
1. Lernaean Hydra
According to myths and legends, Hydra was a giant serpent-like water creature, with multiple heads and the ability to regenerate two of them for every one chopped off. It is said that the blood, breath, and scent of the Hydra were deadly as well.
The monster appears in the 12 Labors of Hercules but there are many references to a similar beast in Sumerian and Babylonian mythologies.
It’s the first boss battle of the game, with Kratos slaying the Hydra.
During the game, you’ll encounter a lot of Minotaurs. Half-human, half-bull they make for fierce enemies.
The Minotaur was the offspring of the wife of Minos and a sacred, white bull.
The monster appears in the myth of Theseus.
Every year, 9 Athenians would be fed to the Minotaur that was locked away in a labyrinth designed by Daedalus. When Theseus enters the Labyrinth, he kills it and manages to find his way out, following Ariadne’s thread.
Among the Army of Ares, Kratos has to face the race of Gorgons and their Queen, Medusa.
But in Greek mythology, the Gorgons were three sisters; Stheno, Euryale, and Medusa. The latter, the most famous one, was killed by Perseus in the famous myth.
She has the ability to kill people just by looking at them. Perseus, looking at her only through the reflection of his shield, manages to sever her head.
Alternatively called the Hound of Hades, Cerberus was the guardian of the Underworld.
Cerberus is depicted as a giant 3-headed dog, with a serpent-like tail, and many snakes emerging out of its body. Hercules captured the hellish hound during one of his 12 Labors.
Kratos will face multiple Cerberi, the Guardians of Pandora’s Temple.
One-eyed giants, with immense power, they were used by Ares during the siege of Athens. Now, they guard parts of Pandora’s Temple.
We encounter them in two different versions:
- The Three Cyclopes, Brontes, Steropes, and Arges, sons of Gaia and Uranus. They forged Zeus’ light bolts. They appear in Hesiod’s Theogony.
- The Homeric Cyclopes are uncivilized, simple-minded creatures. Polyphemus appears in Odyssey as a savage, one-eyed, man-eating giant.
Kratos will fight an amalgamation of both versions!
Is Kratos from the God of War video game real?
Kratos manages to defeat every enemy and overcome every challenge Ares throws at him. He finds Pandora’s Box and he’s ready to leave the temple when the God of War kills him.
The next stage of the game finds the Ghost of Sparta in the pits of the underworld, trying to climb his way out of hell.
And it’s no surprise given his name.
See, in Greek mythology, Kratos was the personification of strength. Alongside his siblings Nike, Bia, and Zelus he dwelled with Zeus maintaining and expanding his authority.
We first encounter Kratos in Theogony but he’s most famous for his appearance in the tragedy Prometheus Bound:
Zeus commands Kratos and Bia (Strength and Force) to chain Prometheus, as a punishment for his sins.
As I’ve mentioned, the four siblings represent the authoritative regime of the all-mighty Olympian. Yet, this time Nike and Zelus (Victory and Zeal) are absent, highlighting the oppressive side of the tyrannical Zeus; excessive violence.
Kratos ends up commanding the kind-hearted Hephestus to use excessive force when chaining Prometheus, to inflict the most amount of, unnecessary, pain.
This is in line with the worldview of Kratos in the game. And it’s also his downfall, the primordial hubris against the natural laws of the world.
(Mythological fact: The developers of the game claim that they weren’t aware that the name had a mythological origin. It was a “happy mistake”.)
Eventually, Kratos manages to escape the underworld and retrieve Pandora’s Box from Ares, gaining the powers of a God.
Indeed, Ares can’t do anything against the vengeful immortal and he falls by his sword.
Kratos becomes the new God of War.
This apotheosis signifies divine mobility. The ability to become an Olympian.
Motivated by the sheer willpower only the hardships of a mortal offer, he’s metaphorically climbing Mount Olympus, ready to claim a seat at the table.
Our protagonist is a Herculian anti-hero. A pawn of the Gods, an instrument of war, used to fulfil the capriciousness of a twisted, divine game.
His journey begins from a place of strength and brutality.
But ends with justice.
P.S – Kratos is a product of his environment. He represents the dark path many warriors walk. Do you think the story arc redeems him?
George K has been immersed into the world of myths and dreams for a very long time now, attempting to find the numerous symbolisms and meanings attached to them. He is a prolific writer along with being an independent researcher. Contributing his knowledge and learnings to several magazines and blogs, he has the unique ability to simplify and explain even the most intricate subjects.