Divinity and Design — Comparing Santa Monica’s God of War to Its Ancient Inspiration: The Previous Order
Welcome back to this mini-series, where I delve into Santa Monica's epic God of War franchise with the goal of comparing the lore of the games to their ancient Greek roots. Last time, we had a look at the Olympians and their quirks, but today, we go even further back into the history of myth. Join me as we discuss The Previous Order!
Before Zeus defeated his father and established the third order of divine beings, the Titans ruled. These powerful beings, born from the earth and the sky, became the sun, the lands, the depths, the oceans, rivers, and many of the building blocks of the planet. Throughout their rule, mythical creatures, such as Nymphs, Oceanids, Hecatoncheires, and fearsome beasts like the hydra, came to be. Their reign ended, however, when the son of Cronus did his thing, though the battle was long and arduous, spanning 10 years and earning the title Titanomachy.
Santa Monica’s rendition of Titans is a race of very large, powerfully built, humanoid creatures, each with either hair, fur, or elemental adornments related to their domain. Before I go any further, I will say I kind of liked this design. Sure, they look dopey, but in them also lies a very “proto-human” look. Like comparing modern humans to Neanderthals. However, in the original Greek texts and pictures, Titans may not have differed much at all from the Olympians or us!
The “leader” of the Titans in-game is most certainly Gaia, the earth mother — she even acts as the narrator for many of the games! Funny thing though, she is not a Titan. She is of the first order, the Primordial beings that were born out of chaos, and is much older than any of her Titan children. The sky, Uranos, was her brother-husband, and they gave birth to the race. Gaia would eventually talk her son Cronus into defeating Uranos, who would then, in turn, be defeated by Zeus. Understandably, Santa Monica decided to alter the history to not make it too confusing, and her design that of a woman made of stone and vines is pretty cool.
Ok, buckle up; a rant is a-brewing. Quick recap: Cronus was the father of most of the gods and the previous “king”. He had a habit of eating his children due to his dad saying he would be usurped by his own blood, as he did to him, i.e. a son would defeat and usurp the father. Due to not appreciating having her children eaten, Cronus' sister-wife Rhea decided she had had enough and hid their youngest son, a fiery-eyed boy named Zeus, on an island. Long, and epic, story short, the warning rings true and Zeus defeats his father. In the classical texts, Cronus was banished and tasked with counting out eternity, one moment at a time. He still held his great sickle given to him by his mother Gaia and was often seen in a tattered and hooded robe. Sound familiar? Oh, and many words related to the passage of time, such as chronological and chronic? They come from his name, sometimes spelt Chronos. In God of War (2005), however, Chronos is depicted as a giant lumbering oaf, forever cursed with carrying the temple of Pandora on his back. While this can be seen as a form of eternal punishment, the general dumbing down of one of the more powerful and momentous beings rubs me the wrong way — The disrespect is real.
The depiction of Atlas is pretty good. His position in the underworld is odd, as he is supposed to be lifting up the heavens instead of the earth, but the powerful and angry Titan checks most of the boxes I associate with him. Not sure what the whole multiple-hands thing is about, though. All in all, I liked what they did with him, having Kratos platform around, and on, the Titan in his imprisonment and even releasing him in God of War II (with weirdly few consequences). The reason Atlas holding up the heavens is such a big deal in the original myth is the fact that now Zeus doesn’t need to do it! Previous rulers have had to devote some of their power to this task, but with this stroke of brilliance, the Cloud Gatherer has freed himself of a great burden! Always delegate, kids.
Typhon is an interesting choice to add to the game, as he is one of the more elusive godlike beings. Being the son of Gaia (the Earth), and Tartarus (the depths), Typhon is usually depicted as the “father of all monsters” and the greatest of these creatures himself. There is a reason some of the most deadly concepts are derived from his name, such as typhoons and typhoid. We meet Typhon in GoW II, as Kratos seeks his aid to defeat the fates. Depicted as being part of the mountain itself, Typhon seems more reminiscent of his father Tartatus than of the monstrous father of beasts. Moreover, this powerful being, that gives his name to such horrid things, doesn’t actually do much: resorting to blowing at our raging hero to keep him from his goal. Not really living up to his potential, I’d say.
Weirdly enough, Perses shows up! This is perplexing, as the Perses of Greek myth does not get much time in the limelight. Though his name can be interpreted as “destruction”, the only major role Perses seems to have in myth is as a part of the Titanical genealogy, being the father of Hecate, for example. In the game, he is given much more prominence, being wreathed in flame and magma! Hanging out in the background, the Titan casually observes as the spluttering Spartan decapitates the sun “god” Helios, later falling to the same hands himself. It’s a weird pick but I appreciate it nonetheless, well done Santa Monica!
And then there are the brothers, Epimetheus and Prometheus. Oh, what to do with them… Prometheus is considered the patron of the human race, being our creator and loving us enough to give us the fires of insight (his name means forethought after all) despite going against his beloved friend, Zeus. The punishment of Prometheus is depicted in many works of art; the chained man grimacing while being pecked at by vultures. In the game, this is more or less the same, though instead of being released to fight against the giant hordes (that's the race of the giants, not just some big things) by Herakles, he is unceremoniously dropped into a fire and dies. He is depicted as a normal human, which is fine if the developers wanted to keep him separate from the whole Titans vs gods debacle. There is one issue though: his brother, Epimetheus, is a Titan whom you fight!
Epimetheus, meaning afterthought, is often depicted as the kind-hearted but bumbling brother of Prometheus. Where his brother saw ahead and acted in wisdom, Epimetheus lived in the here and now. His depiction in-game is very puzzling, as he is most certainly one of the Titans — their look is pretty distinct — but he also has a spiky stone motif going on, which is perplexing. Prometheus’ connection with fire is pretty obvious, so I would have understood a connection of sorts... I have no idea how this came to be, but it’s an odd one. The reason for separating these two brothers, not only by origin but also by race, is a mystery. I wonder if the myriad of Titans we see in GoW III was not preplanned, and they just threw in any Titan names they could think of?
As a summary of sorts, I do like the Titans. But they also have a note of disrespect about them. Depicted as almost brutish in both actions and intelligence, these beings seem very ineffective. Where Zeus lobs thunder from above, Hades summons souls, and Poseidon conjures hippocampi, the Titans… hit things? They do not seem to have much in terms of power, even though the Titanomachy was a long-fought battle that required all of the gods, and a few defectors, to pull off.
And there you have it! The beings before the Olympians were a more wild and primeval bunch, but in them can be found much of ourselves; the continuous flow of time and the watching thereof, the never-ending labor of responsibility on our backs, and gigantic burning fists of fury. Join me next time, as we dive from the land of the immortals to the stories of the mortal heroes of legend.