God of War; Is Kratos a ‘Real’ God?

Hello everyone and welcome back to another post on Historia Gaming. I am taking a break from Assassins Creed Odyssey for a while to talk about another game which involves Classical themes; God of War. Today I will be discussing whether or not the main character in the God of War franchise is in fact based on a ‘real’ mythological God. So without further ado lets get started!

If you have ever played ‘God of War’, you will know that the main character is a rather grumpy but exceptionally muscular, kind of scary looking guy called Kratos. Kratos is also referred to as the ‘Ghost of Sparta’ and as the name of the game suggests, he also becomes the new ‘God of War.’ But does the name Kratos and the character have any real basis in Greek myth? Or have Sony used an amalgamation of various Greek myths to create this new, exciting and slightly terrifying mythological character?

In Greek mythology, Kratos -or Cratos – is the divine personification of strength and he is the son of the Titan Pallas and Styx (yes the river is also a deity- it is myth so please suspend belief!) So Kratos is essentially, like his siblings Nike (victory), Bia (force) and Zelus (zeal) a personification of a trait. According to the ancient Greek writer Hesiod, Kratos and his siblings live with Zeus as their mother Styx, requested to join Zeus’s new regime after he threw down the Titans. To be kind to Styx, Zeus gave her children exalted positions by his side. When Hesiod discusses Kratos however he is more of an abstract deity with no real personification, this comes later.

The binding of Prometheus by John Flaxman, first published in Richard Porson’s translation of Aeschylus’ ‘Prometheus Bound’. Kratos and Bia are on either side of Prometheus holding him down whilst Hephaestus chains him to the rock. Image taken from Wikipedia

Kratos finally comes into his own as a character in the tragedy ‘Prometheus Bound’ where he and his sister Bia take Prometheus to a secluded spot where he will be chained to a rock as punishment for creating humanity and giving them fire. Kratos is characterised as a thug and a bully throughout this opening scene as he manipulates and threatens Hephaestus into chaining Prometheus to the rock. He mocks Hephaestus for his objections and states that to rule by fear is the best way to rule, praising oppression and condemning pity as a waste of time. He then forces Hephaestus to cause as much pain as possible to Prometheus, having him nail his hands to a rock and drive a steel wedge through his chest. He then tells Hephaestus that he must tie Prometheus’ legs to ensure he can’t move. Once Prometheus is bound, Hephaestus, Bia and Kratos leave the stage with Kratos having the last word, mocking Prometheus and telling him he will never escape his chains. This personification of Kratos indicates that as a deity he represents merciless, brutal strength in favour of oppression and fear.

Prometheus Being Chained by Dirck van Baburen. In Aeschylus’ Prometheus Bound, Kratos (not shown in this painting) orders Hephaestus to chain Prometheus. Image taken from Wikipedia

So, when looking at God of War, yes Kratos is technically based on an actual Greek deity, however the developers said that they stumbled upon this purely by accident and after they had already ‘fleshed out’ the character of Kratos for the games! The games therefore tend to steer away from the ancient mythological history of Kratos and instead have created an ‘antihero’ figure with multiple facets of mythological persona.

One huge difference between the mythological Kratos and the game franchise Kratos is that in the games, Kratos is very anti god and exceptionally anti Zeus. In the games he actually kills most of the Greek gods including Ares, Poseidon, Persephone, Gaia and Zeus. He also frees Prometheus rather than order him to be chained, all of which obviously doesn’t happen in mythology and is indicative of the game developers altering the character of Kratos to suit the needs of their plot line. Similarly the developers lean heavily Greek heroes such as Achilles, Theseus and Hercules to create Kratos’ background, made explicit in the epithet ‘The Ghost of Sparta’ which is based on the story of Hercules. Kratos is named the ‘Ghost of Sparta’ after being tricked into a frenzy of bloodlust by Ares which results in Kratos killing his wife and daughter. As the temple burns around Kratos in the game, he is turned white by the ashes, cursed to wear the mark of his terrible deed, earning him the name ‘Ghost of Sparta’. This is directly comparable to Hercules where he is sent into a mad frenzy by Hera and as a result he kills his wife Megara and their children. Thus, Kratos in the ‘God of War’ franchise is probably more likely based on a Herculean model seeking redemption for his crimes, rather than based on his own mythological history.

However that being said, in the game he is often brutal, merciless and acts in questionable ways throughout, often killing innocent people and allowing his rage to get the better of him. His strength in the game is legendary and perhaps does reference the god after which he was named. Overall as a character he is very interesting and it is great to see Classics being used in such innovative ways, even if it does annoy me that he kills so many of the Greek gods!

Next week I will be discussing more things ‘God of War’ related and exploring the way the games have linked Norse and Greek mythology together. Until next time and happy history!

Bibliography

Chmielewski, Sylwia (2016), “C://Hercules in Computer Games/A Heroic Evolution”, in Dominas, Konrad; Wesołowska, Elżbieta; Trocha, Bogdan (eds.), Antiquity in Popular Literature and Culture, Cambridge, England: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, pp. 177–192, 

Lowe, Dunstan (2009), “Playing with Antiquity: “Videogame Receptions of the Classical World”, in Lowe, Dunstan; Shahabudin, Kim (eds.), Classics For All: Reworking Antiquity in Mass Culture, Cambridge, England: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, pp. 64–90

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