“Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind” and the “Odyssey”

Critically acclaimed Japanese film director, producer, screenwriter, animator, author, and manga artist, Hayao Miyazaki is no stranger to original, vibrant and brilliantly animated masterpieces. However, like in the case of many artists, outside inspiration inevitability inhabits his sphere of creativity from time to time. These instances filled with foreign inspiration are most noticeably portrayed in his animated filmNausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984) (風の谷のナウシカ), a post-apocaplyptic tale of a young princess who becomes intwined in a struggle with Tolmekia, a kingdom that tries to utilize an ancient god to eradicate a poisonous jungle filled with giant mutant insects.


The foremost connection between Miyazaki’s film and Greek mythology is indeed the main character. It is not by pure coincidence that the main character identifies with the same name as the Phaeacian Princess Nausicaa (Ναυσικάα or Ναυσικᾶ) from Homer’s Odyssey. The bank of contemporary literature and entertainment that centralizes on Nausicaä is quite minuscule; it would be unbelievable to assume the inspiration sprouted from any other origins. In fact, Miyazaki first came across Nausicaä in Bernard Evslin’s Japanese translation of a dictionary of Greek mythology and fell in love with the character portrayed.

Even within the first few minutes of the film, Miyazaki exemplifies how Naussica’s personality and identity parallels to her counterpart’s in the the Odyssey. Similarly to the Odyssey’s Nausicaä who is the princess of the Phaeacians, Miyazaki’s Naussica is also the princess to her kingdom in the Valley of the Wind. The film opens with Nausicaä exploring the Toxic Jungle, a forest swarming with giant mutant insects and lethal fungi born from an apocalyptic war that destroyed civilization (pretty crazy, I know). Hearing explosives from the distance, Nausicaä springs into action, jumping onto her hang glider in order to find the source of the sound. She discovers Lord Yupa riding on his emu-creature steed, fleeing the wrath of an outraged ohm (a gigantic, trilobite-like creature, in case you didn’t know).  Nausicaä acts as a compass and a savior to her human companion and does the same for the vicious insect that is chasing him. In the Odyssey, Nausicaä treats Odysseus with the same hospitality and respect when he washes up on shore. Odysseus begs Nausicaa for aid after being shipwrecked:

“So Odysseus advanced upon these ringleted girls,

Naked as he was. What choice did he have?

He was a frightening sight, disfigured with brine,

And the girls flutterd off into the jutting beaches.

Only Alcinous’ daughter (Nausicaä) stayed. Athena

Put courage in her heart and stopped her trembling.

She held her ground, and Odysseus wondered

How to approach this beautiful girl. Should

He Fall at her knees, or keep his distance

And ask her with honeyed words to show him

The way to the city and give him some clothes?

He thought it over and decided it was better

To keep his distance and not take the chance

Of offending the girl by touching her knees.”

While the other servants are scared away by Odysseus’ sudden appearance, Nausicaä, instead of running away, offers Odysseus clothes and leads him to the edge of the town with her mule cart. The mutant insects in Miyazaki’s film, like Odysseus, are ugly and disfigured monsters that become scared and helpless when they “wash” up on the shore of human civilization. While everyone else is horrified of these creatures, Nausicaä is the only one who feels sympathy towards them and has the courage to lead them back home to the Toxic Jungle. Although Miyazaki’s Nausicaa isn’t riding on a modest chariot (she has a handy air glider instead), Nausicaä excels in aiding both the homecoming of Lord Yupa to the Valley of the Wind as well that of ohm back to its home in the Toxic Jungle. Again, later in the film, with her soft words and bug charm (knick knack she carries around to communicate with bugs), she soothes an outraged, frightened and injured insect found in the destroyed Pejite plane and follows the bug home all night until it returns safely to home (To watch this particular scene click, here. Sorry, no youtube video available).   In both Homer’s and Miyazaki’s version, Nausicaä is an invaluable asset and guidance to those searching for their way home.



Nausicaä leads insect home image 1


Nausicaä leads insect home image 2

Of course, Nausicaä, with her love for insects along with her strong warrior princess aura, doesn’t completely fit the description in the Odyssey. She is still her own original character of Miyazaki’s mind. Beyond partly playing the part of her Odyssey counterpart, she also embodies aspects of the Greek goddess Artemis. In the Odyssey, Odysseus describes her appearance saying:

“I implore you, Lady: Are you a goddess

Or mortal? If you are one of heaven’s divinities

I think you are most like great Zeus’ daughter Artemis.

You have her looks her stature her form.”

Artemis, being the goddess of wild animals (that includes insects; they are animals too), provides Hayao Miyazaki a perfect pathway to integrate other outside influences into his character. Specifically taking this opportunity to integrate the characteristics of the protagonist of a twelfth-century Japanese tale called The Lady who Loved Insects (虫めづる姫君), Miyazaki provides his Nausicaä with the same ability of befriending insects that the protagonist of the Japanese tale has. By doing this, Miyazaki combines disparate inspirations and takes three seemingly different characters (Nausicaä, Artemis and The Lady Who Loved Insects),  ultimately merging them into one engaging protagonist in his film. 

While Miyazaki’s Nausicaä isn’t a carbon copy of the one Homer describes, and Miyazaki took many liberties in his creation of Nausicaä, his film is another token representing how Greek mythology continues to be a source of inspiration and a vital asset to the creative minds in the entertainment industry. Because myth is so diverse and widespread, it is possible for Miyazaki to treat myth as a buffet where he can take as much or as little of what he wants. Furthermore, he can combine what he chooses and mix it with his own personal philosophies and Japanese culture, stories and even mythology. In addition, while Naussica isn’t the most prominent character through Homer’s Odyssey, the sheer fact that when “Nausicaä” is typed in Google and Miyazaki’s film appears first, whereas Homer’s Nausicaä is secondary, proves that Miyazaki’s revival of this myth ultimately credits myth’s ability and nature to last and mutate through time.

Nausea finds Odysseus. Greek Vase Painting

Nausicaa finds Odysseus. Greek Vase Painting

Nausea finds Ohm

Nausicaa finds Ohm

The Minotaur, Immortals, and the myth of Theseus

immortals 2Director Tarsem Singh merges two different myths together in his 2011 action and adventure film, Immortals. He molds the stories of these myths, the Titanomachy and Theseus, into one myth in order to better suit his film. He takes creative liberties and changes the stories, which differ greatly from Apollodorus’s versions. King Hyperion, the antagonist, is a power-hungry man who seeks the Epirus bow after losing his family to plague. The bow is loosely related to the bow of Hercules. This bow oozes power as Hyperion eventually uses it to free the Titans, who battle the Olympians in what should be known as the Titanomachy 2.0. The timeline for Immortals takes place after the Titanomachy, and the plot revolves around Theseus and his tasks. The Titanomachy, however, repeats itself as the Titans are eventually freed by the insane King Hyperion and battle the Olympians. Singh’s Immortals evokes a multitude of interests. One of these interests includes the presence of gods in the movie when no gods are mentioned in Apollodorus’s version after Theseus’s birth (Poseidon and Aigeus share Theseus as their son). Theseus’s battle with the Minotaur portrays another interest in the differences and artistic interpretation that Singh takes in the events that take place during the myth of the Minotaur. The most important piece of Singh’s piece surrounds Theseus and his relationship with Zeus and the Olympians, one curiously similar to the relationship between Moses and God in Judaism and Christianity, but quite different from Apollodorus’s version of Theseus.

In the Titanomachy according to Apollodorus, the gods fight the titans for ten years and

The "hundred-handers"

The “hundred-handers”

eventually win, shutting them up in Tartarus, guarded by the “Hundred-handers”. The Immortals’ version of the Titanomachy happened a little differently. Tartarus, a pit in the depths of The Underworld in most Greek writings, is a mountain in the Immortals. The Titans are not what you would imagine Titans to look like. They are not huge, monstrous creatures, but humanoid figures, with gray skin and emotionless, red eyes. They are trapped in a sort of cage in Tartarus, held there with stakes placed horizontally through their mouths. There are no “Hundred-handers” to guard them. It is hard to completely replicate the Titanomachy because of the details of the war and the short period of time in a movie, but at least Singh described the Gods-Titans quarrel.

Theseus fights the Minotaur in Immortals

Theseus fights the Minotaur in Immortals

Zeus and Theseus’s relationship in Immortals is very different than the relationship that Theseus has with Zeus in Apollodorus’s version, because there is none. The only presence of gods in Apollodorus’s version is before Theseus’s birth, when Poseidon becomes his half-father. In the rest of Apollodorus’s version of Theseus’s myth no gods are mentioned. So why has Singh so heavily involved someone to hold Theseus’s hand throughout the film? Singh uses Zeus as a father-figure and teacher to steer Theseus on a course for success. The lessons that Theseus learns from Zeus mirrors some of those from God to Moses, as a teacher and guide.
In the film, Zeus encourages Theseus by telling him “I have faith in you Theseus. Prove me right. Lead your people”. Zeus’s guidance of Theseus is similar to God’s encouragement of Moses to carry out God’s command. Although their tasks aren’t similar, Theseus tries to prevent the Titans from escaping “Mount Tartarus” while Moses labors tirelessly to gain the Jews freedom. The way in that they are guided by higher beings is eerily parallel. Both Moses and Theseus lead their respective peoples, Theseus leading the Greeks and Moses the Jews. Theseus and Moses both come from backgrounds that lead them to be out casted, Theseus as a “bastard” child in this movie and Moses as an adopted son. Both of them eventually rise to unmatched power, Moses as a prophet and Theseus an Olympian god. These two heroes stand for good against evil. God chose Moses just as Zeus chose Theseus. A major difference in these two is that Zeus doesn’t want to intervene in human affairs. It ends up being the other Olympian gods Ares, Poseidon, and Athena that help Theseus to his destiny. God in the Old Testament on the other hand, speaks and intervenes directly with Moses, telling him to lead his people out of Egypt and into Israel. The parallelism between Moses and Theseus makes Theseus a hero in Greek mythology, but in monotheism, a prophet. A central theme of both Moses’s story and the main theme in Immortals is faith. Both men have faith, but end up having it differently. Moses always had faith in God. He never doubted his faith. Theseus, on the other hand, had to be shown the supernatural in order to have faith. This is where Immortals gets corny. The journey of faith should be one that is discovered on one’s own, not delivered when an Olympian swoops down and saves you from death on multiple occasions.

Moses and God

Moses and God

Faith plays such a huge role in Immortals, yet is neglected to be mentioned in Apollodorus’s version. Theseus bests all enemies in Apollodorus simply because he is stronger and a better warrior. Singh wanted to appeal to the audience in that faith means everything and when someone lacks faith, he/she also lacks vitality. This is shown when Theseus almost dies of exhaustion when taken slave at the salt mines, only to be saved by his future lover Phaedra. He asks her why a person would rescue a complete stranger. “Only a faithless man would ask such a question” she responds. She then persuades Theseus to bury his mother the way she wanted to be buried, with her rites and faith. When he buries her he finds the Epirus bow, restoring his faith and becoming an unstoppable force. This shows that faith gives you the needs to overcome your enemies.




The Olympians watch over Earth in Immortals

The Olympians watch over Earth in Immortals

Greek mythology describes the Minotaur as the half-bull, half-man son of Pasiphe and a bull sent by Poseidon. In Immortals the Minotaur doesn’t live in the Labyrinth, as it does in Greek mythology. There is no King Minos, whose closest replacement would be Hyperion. There is, however, the wire-mask man sent by Hyperion to the Labyrinth where Theseus is burying his mother after she is killed. The wire-mask man, known as “the beast” to Hyperion and Immortals, but the Minotaur to all other interpretations, is eventually killed by Theseus The Minotaur in Immortals is a man, but with a wire-mask in the shape of a bull. It is peculiar as to why Singh made the Minotaur as a man instead of a “half-breed” because the movie was already filled with supernatural beings, gods and titans. In the opening credits of the movie, quote from Socrates appears on the screen, saying “All men’s souls are immortal. But the souls of the righteous are immortal and divine.” Animals are at a scarcity in this movie and Singh may have wanted the movie to go off of this quote by keeping the Minotaur a man, saying that his soul was neither divine nor righteous. The movie fails to really grasp the whole “Labyrinth” version. There is no string or ball of yarn that Theseus uses to maneuver the Labyrinth, instead, after killing the “Minotaur” he takes one left and one right and is home free.

Theseus battles the Minotaur

Theseus battles the Minotaur

Apollodorus’s Theseus is a fantastic myth because there is very little Olympian god involvement. The myth of Theseus is about a man who strains and fights without the help of the gods, eventually leading him to the founding and ruling of Athens. Because Immortals has so much god influence, it dampens the meaning of the Theseus myth, that a hero CAN accomplish many things without the interference/divine help of the gods. Although Immortals was still entertaining and fun to watch, it lacked mythological accuracy.

A Depression-era Odyssey

It might be a good idea to familiarize yourself with the plot of the adaptation here:


The Coen brothers’ film, O Brother, Where art Thou?, loosely adapts the plot elements of Homer’s Odyssey, but, given that the Coen brothers admitted not having read the canonical text before making their movie, we find that thematic and structural divergences are quite frequent between the two. The film opens with an invocation of the Muses—as the text does—both by displaying a still shot of Homer’s initial lines paired with a chain gang rhythmically singing to inspire their Sisyphean task, which sets the tone for the cyclical nature of the narrative that will ensue.

Compromise and Comradery are integral to the plot, implied both by the title and the poster design

The initial meanderings of Telemachus within Ithaca for the opening four books of the Odyssey are left untouched and we find ourselves immediately immersed the narrative of Ulysses (the latinized name for Odysseus) and his two companions, Pete and Delmar. We follow these men nearly without digression for the majority of the film, and the arch follows a progressive, chronological course, as opposed to Homer’s intricate weave of storytelling and parallel narratives. While we cannot entirely attribute this to intent (if we accept that the Coen brothers never read Homer’s text), it still retools the themes. Homer’s prominent use of storytelling is at some level a self-referential element, one that served to immortalize the bard by appealing to the continuity of myth as a medium. What the Coen brothers submit instead is a present, clear account of Ulysses’ wanderings, which fixes our perception of events: they can be in no way mutated by a storyteller, but are experienced visually, as they occur, and the focus hones in on the relationship between the three main characters.

In terms of plot, within the Odyssey, we first find Odysseus wallowing in self-pity on Calypso’s island, but the characters in our film have already executed their escape from their island (jail). What characters stand to lose or gain on Calypso’s island is markedly different in jail: Odysseus fears being forgotten whilst enjoying the god-like existence afforded him on Calypso’s island. Obviously, the opportunities afforded in jail are considerably less, but the risk of an escape mission is the possibility of seeing even more time in jail. The images granted us by the Coen brothers depict imprisonment as a laborious, ceaseless, anonymous life, and thus the fear of falling out of remembrance is not entirely lost. What drives Odysseus, contrastedly, is a desire to see his family as well as, at some level, immortality through memory, losing the chance of a literal immortality on Calypso’s island. Ulysses, under the pretense of buried treasure, wishes to stop his wife from getting remarried, and risks much less, and thus the goals are to some end similar, but Ulysses’ choice is much more heavily weighed towards escape.

Ulysses’ group attempts to board a moving train soon after their escape, still chained together (foreshadowing the necessity of their friendship). Ulysses lifts himself into an open car and starts to inquire whether the vagabonds aboard it have any experience in the “metal-urgic arts.” Ulysses fails to help Pete and Delmar onto the car in ignorance of their struggle to board, and here we have a parallel between the characters of Ulysses and Odysseus: a sort of selfish hubris, which manifests itself within the Odyssey in the Cyclops scene (wherein Odysseus shouts his name out of pride) and in book ten, immediately after Odysseus receives the bag of winds and insists on commandeering the ship for ten successive days and nights to see the men to Ithaca. Not only does Ulysses declare himself the leader of the group, but he convinces the two men to escape with him under the false assurance of a $1.2 million fortune. Both Odysseus and Ulysses operate selfishly, but, whereas Odysseus largely overcomes obstacles by his own agency (and is the only one to survive from his crew), we understand in O Brother that Ulysses must compromise his hubris at some level to make his way back home, collaborating with Pete and Delmar on a song recording that—unbeknownst to them—acquires them fame that ultimately inspires the pardoning of their crimes and completes their homecoming.

Both stories also present a prophecy, given by Teiresias in the Odyssey and an old man on the railroad in O Brother. What plays out differently between the two is the faith placed in that prophecy: both seers set out a long and arduous course for our heroes, but Odysseus undertakes to perform the tasks ordained to him, whereas Ulysses—often outright critical of superstition and religion—believes to an even greater degree in his own agency. Ulysses attempts to qualify anything that could be chalked-up to superstition or divine intervention as a scientifically plausible reality, until he is faced with imminent death that is, a scene which recalls a prominent narrative device the Coen brothers employ: deus ex machina, or “god from the machine.” Perforated within the film are brief moments of inexplicable luck: when Pete throws a torch that—by extremely fortunate circumstances—leads to one instance of escape from the police, and the flood scene when the boys stand in front of the noose set out for them by the “devil,” saved only by Ulysses’ sincere appeal to God. This last event is a quintessential example of deus ex machina, where the characters are only saved by a Divine flood; but Ulysses, ever the pragmatist, attempts to attribute the flood to a government hydroelectric power initiative. In favor of Odysseus’ greater level of faith, the gods are present at many stages of Odysseus’ tale, from giving instructions to preventing the prospect of bloodshed in the last scene of the text (the confrontation between Odysseus and the people of Ithaca). While not as prevalent in O Brother as the Odyssey, Divine intervention serves to monitor the narrative and compensate for the failed tactics of Ulysses, despite his hesitation in accepting that help. These respective final scenes also expose the lack of development in our main characters: Odysseus attempts to enforce the rage-begets-rage system until Athena intervenes, and Ulysses still applies a scientific lens to that which is ostensibly Heaven-sent.


Generally, though the two stories differ on specifics, the overarching narrative follows a similar structure as it pertains to achieving the desired homecomings. We see within the Odyssey that Odysseus and his crew often come close to reaching their destination, or at least find themselves in a good spot, only to have that progress thwarted by a crew member’s ignorance (the bag of winds and Hyperion’s livestock). In O Brother, the boys experience car problems, get rich through the machinations of a bank-robber, have run-ins with the law, and, particular to Ulysses, find that the homecoming itself is wrought with difficulties: Ulysses must contend with a suitor and distinguish himself to both his children and his wife (which he achieves with the performance of the Soggy Bottom Boys’ famous song). The ups and downs of the main characters parallel those of Odysseus, often bringing the characters a small victory followed by some hiccup that reverses their progress at every turn. The Coen brothers expose this narrative device with the George Nelson character, who feels the thrill of quick cash and the lows experienced by the emptiness of his profession. His depiction also calls to mind the Cyclops scene in which Odysseus insists that the Cyclops know his name: George Nelson declares his name ad nauseam, but we see the price of his pride in his capture near the end.

The Siren scene, an obvious choice for the Coen Brother 

Works Cited:

Joel and Ethan Coen, O Brother, Where art Thou?, 2000

Divine Presence in the Iliad and Troy

Here’s the trailer of Troy to start us off.

Whether you watched it for the Brad Pitt’s great biceps, Eric Bana’s dark, stare-into-your-soul eyes, or Orlando Bloom’s everything, Wolfgang Petersen’s Troy has something for everyone…except those who were looking for an accurate screen rendition of Homer’s Iliad. Troy is guilty of many book-to-movie crimes: a cast that’s racially different than the characters, an implausible time frame that functions to keep the actors young and the action exciting (Troy is captured in three days), and (how could we forget?) a plot that utterly diverges in major ways from the book’s. [WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD, BUT THE MOVIE HAS BEEN OUT FOR LONGER THAN THE SIEGE OF TROY LASTED]. Characters die at different moments and different ways: Hector kills Menelaus when he tries to slaughter Paris, Hector kills Ajax, Briseis (who is a major character here) kills Agamemnon, and Achilles only dies after the Troy falls. Paris and Helen, along with Andromache, Andromache’s baby, Briseis, Aeneas, and a bunch of other random people, escape Troy as it burns. Pretty much a different story, but hey that’s myth for you, so many versions. The director happened to cut out a set of very important characters, in fact the characters that would have been the most important to the Greeks who originally told the tale: the gods.

                                                       Greek Gods from the British Museum

In the Iliad, the gods interfere with the war so much that there doesn’t even seem to be the illusion of free will. The gods have numerous ways to influence the proceedings. In some instances, they are direct and walk upon the battlefield themselves. Ares especially is prone to engaging with his enemies in his own form. Even when the mortal characters don’t see them, it is pretty clear what’s going on. The gods often possess or take the form of characters. In one especially memorable case, Hera possesses Xanthus, one of Achilles’ horses, in order to prophesy his death. Gods also give strength and healing to heroes more often than I could count. But they also bring death: Apollo rains arrows of plague down on the Greeks when Agamemnon refuses to give the slave girl Chriseis back to her father, a priest. They can also get pretty personal. In Book 3, Aphrodite essentially forces Helen into sleeping with Paris. Unlike the movie version, by this point, Helen isn’t really that into Paris since he’s what the Greeks would call a coward. When Helen tells Aphrodite, “It would be treason to share his bed [and] the Trojan woman would hold me at fault” (3.438-440), Aphrodite responds with “Don’t vex me, b**** [who knew sweet lil’ Aphrodite had such a potty mouth]…I can make you repulsive to both sides…and then where would you be?” (3.442-445), which is a wee bit threatening when you think about it real hard. All in all, the gods push their way into most of the Iliad, causing all types of trouble.

                                                   Don’t cross me.

Meanwhile, in Troy, they are startlingly absent…at least as characters. Instead, their power and even existence is questioned. Towards the beginning, you can see a conspicuous lack of divine influence. A young boy questions Achilles about the validity behind the stories, saying “They say your mother is an immortal goddess. They say you can’t be killed” (an indication of the existence of the Styx) to which Achilles sasses “I wouldn’t be bothering with the shield, then, would I?” Achilles removes certainty about his divine past, causing us to question the existence of the Greek gods in the movie. When we meet Thetis, she seems a little quirky in ways that could be indications of her divinity (she’s up to her knees in the ocean gathering shells), but there are no explicit statements. Paris never references Aphrodite or his famed golden apple judgment in his motives to win Helen. Although the characters often pray to the gods or assume the gods will help them, there is no way to know if they exist at all.


In fact, the young male characters that you are supposed to most sympathize with and admire—Achilles and Hector—are all skeptical, not of the gods’ existence (Achilles even claims at one point that he has seen the gods), but of the gods’ power. The older generation of Troy represents the more religious (and less intelligent, it seems) past. There are several moments in the film where Priam, the old king of Troy, has to make a strategic choice. Much to Hector’s exasperation, he always picks with the confidence that the gods are on the Trojan side and can do something to help. When he chooses not to send Helen back to the Greece citing Apollo as a supporter, Hector sasses “And how many battalions does the sun god command?” By modern audiences, Hector seems much more rational, which is backed up by the fact that he continues to be right.

                                                           judging you

Unfortunately for Priam, he doesn’t learn from his mistakes. He continues to listen to his priests rather than his sons. Paris, in an effort to fill dead Hector’s shoes, advises Priam to burn the horse. The priests tell him that it is a gift for the gods and that they should bring it to Poseidon’s temple inside the city. Priam chooses the side of the priests and we are know how that ends.

                                goddammit, Priam

Achilles, the hero of the movie, insults the gods more than anybody else, with no consequences. Much to Troy’s consternation, Apollo doesn’t even strike down Achilles when he decapitates Apollo’s statue and loots his temple. Achilles gets into multiple arguments with Briseis, who is a Trojan priestess of Apollo, even claiming that being human is better than being a god.

Interestingly, Homer also seems to be critical of any ideas about the gods being all-powerful or even invincible to mortals. Ares gets stabbed by the Greek Diomedes in Book 5 and whines to an unsympathetic Zeus who tells him that he is “the most loathsome god on Olympus” (5.949), which is a way harsh thing to tell your son. The disputes on Olympus almost make the Trojan War seem tame. Much of the Iliad takes place while Zeus is trying to maintain his status while honoring an agreement with Thetis who helped him when the other gods revolted against him before. His situation is precarious. Poseidon is furious with Zeus, questioning his role as a supreme ruler since, by Poseidon’s reckoning, the sons of Cronos “divided up the universe into equal shares” (15.191). The other gods defy him, either by openly helping the side he’s trying to hurt or by tricking him (as Hera does when she uses Aphrodite’s lust belt and Hypnos’ power of sleep to put him out of action for a while). Despite the fear of his power, the gods can’t seem to bring themselves to stay out of human affairs, which prompts the question: Is Troy‘s Achilles right? Are the Homer’s gods bored with eternity and find that playing with human lives make their own more thrilling through our mortality?

   Homer, what are the answers?

Troy uses this physical absence, but philosophical presence, of the gods to examine the role of superstition and belief. While Hector and Achilles seem to be portrayed as correct in their skepticism, they also have lives of suffering, which could indicate some more subtle forms of divine retribution. So it’s really just up for interpretation, just like religion is. While I love Troy and its philosophical meanderings that intersperse bloody war scenes, I do think that they could have inserted these questions into a movie that actually fit the original storyline. I mean, how hard can it be to follow or simplify a plot that somebody’s already written? Someday, I’d like a movie that actually has the characters it’s supposed to follow and the deaths they’re supposed to have.


Petersen, Wolfgang. Troy. Warner Bros., 2004. DVD.

Lombardo, Stanley. The Essential Homer: Selections from the Iliad and the Odyssey. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., 2000.


EDIT: Divine Presence in Other Movie Adaptions

Troy‘s lack of physical gods is especially interesting when juxtaposed with other modern adaptions of ancient myths. In many of them, the gods are featured as major actors, like in the Iliad, as the gods are seen as one of the most characteristic parts of these stories. However, most modern adaptions play with the role of the gods. Disney’s Hercules changes Heracles’ traditional myth as well as the personalities of several of the gods (while there is no one correct interpretation, there are no ancient interpretations that I know of that place Hera as the loving mother of Heracles). Tarsem Singh’s Immortals dramatically increase the gods’ role in the reworked story of Theseus. The traditional myth is mostly devoid of their influence. However, both of these movies do emphasize the free will of the human characters, a stark contrast from Homer’s Iliad, as well as the importance of human heroes to gods. Both Heracles and Theseus, in their respective movies, are needed in the gods’ fight to defeat the Titans. Homer almost depicts humans as the playthings of the gods. Most of the modern interpretations (including and especially Troy show humans as their own entities and important ones at that).

Odysseus: Hero or Nah?

The Odyssey, the epic poem created by Homer. Arguably one of the pinnacles of Greek myth. Also arguably one of the most tedious reading assignments in high school. The epic tale of our hero Odysseus and the trials he faced on his return home after the Trojan War. While the version of the Odyssey we know today was written down by Homer sometime in the 7th or 8th century, historians believe that the stories of the Odyssey began being told orally long before writing down of such stories took place. The Odyssey has its roots in the tradition of oral storytelling, leading us today to believe there are countless versions of the Odyssey that didn’t get written down, leaving them lost forever in history. The concept of what these lost stories could have held comes alive in the book The Lost Books of the Odyssey by Zachary Mason.

Mason calls upon images and stories we all recognize from the Odyssey, the cyclops, the sirens, Odysseus’s slaying of the suitors and faithful Penelope, and warps them. Playing with our expectations of these stories, Mason creates amazing new worlds with the tiniest twist in the common plots we know, even creating completely new stories to entice readers to imagine, what if? Christopher Logue also “reinterprets” ancient myths, his one work Patrocleia is particularly interesting, and you can check out a comparision of it to the original here.

Fragment of the Odyssey

Fragment of the Odyssey

Mason sets up the books as if he has translated lost fragments, re-discovered pieces of other version of the Odyssey. They range from completley new tales to the stories we aready know from the perspectives of other characters. There are 44 of these “fragments” but I will be focusing on 2 of these fragments and how they compare to the story we know.

Fragment 18, titled The Illiad of Odysseus, starts off with Odysseus’s point of view, a view we are unable to achieve in the Odyssey. We begin with Odysseus recounting his childhood training briefly, revealing that he was not one born for battle, nor did he want to partake in it. With his real desire to be a Bard, his father condemned this dream and told him he was a man born to live the stories, not sing them. Continuing on he recounts of when Agamemnon came to recruit him for the war, and the fear Odysseus felt. He fakes illness and his superiors interpret his false seizure as a sign that he is a favorite of a god, which Odysseus goes along with, saying Athena talks to him on occasion.  Arriving at Troy he hated the war and the barbaric way the soldiers acted, but he stays because leaving would mean being disowned by his father, losing his rite to rule his land. After talking of his thoughts on battle and of Achilles, the story finally has a definitive difference in the plot from the Odyssey. I say definitive because until this point who is to say none of this is true?

Odysseus is known for his cunning wit, along with his ability to concoct stories and plans within seconds. The Odyssey is Odysseus telling every one of his heroics and thoughts. As mentioned before, Odysseus would not leave the war because he had too much pride. He would have rather “died than come down in the world”. Odysseus’s pride is the center of many choices he makes throughout the Odyssey, to say that it would also be the reason he would lie and pretend that he’s a great, head-strong warrior isn’t a far leap.

Going back to the story, in the fragment Odysseus sneaks into Troy, but this time not to talk to Helen, but to bribe one of her maids to kill her and bring him back her scalp, in hopes that the death of Helen would persuade Menelaus and Agamemnon to end the war. The Greeks begin to feud against each other, one half wanting to go home and the other wanting to stay and finish the war. During this argument the Trojans launch a full-out attack, in this moment of oppertunity Odysseus runs away from the battle, gathers a disguise and slips away. After slipping away Odysseus becomes a Bard, what he’s always wanted to do with his life, and starts spinning tales of his own bravery and cunning in the war, making himself into an ageless hero. After ten years Odysseus decides to return home, creating the tales of what had happened to him that prevented him from returning for 10 years.

Regular Bard? Or Odysseus in disguise?

Regular Bard? Or Odysseus in disguise?

This new perspective of taking the journey along with Odysseus opens up a new world of interpretations of his character. When reading the Odyssey what do you really know about Odysseus and his adventures that you don’t hear from him? Or from Bards recounting stories from the war? Odysseus is known for his ability to lie and plan on the spot, so what could stop him from creating these stories? This idea completely destroys the figure of Odysseus that is created in the Odyssey. He goes from this brave warrior, whose misfortunes prevent him from returning home to his beloved wife and land. Instead we have a scared, common man whose only self-proclaimed abilities are his finesse with the bow and rhetorical skills. A man who decided to watch his allies die and escape the war, living in hiding and falsifying stories of himself until he decided he “was done”, and wanted to return home to live a simple, normal life.  This telling makes him more of a prideful, common man than a brave hero, loved by gods.

Pour innocent cyclops getting attacked

Pour innocent cyclops getting attacked

In fragment 26, Blindness, Mason further pushes the true character of Odysseus. This story is told through the perspective of Polyphemus, as he recounts his encounter with Odysseus and how it affected him. Through the eyes of the Polyphemus, he comes home one day to find his home full of intruders, taking his things and eating his food. He attempts to scare them away, but being as he is unbearable strong he accidently kills one of the crew members. Ashamed of this mistake he listens to the captain, Odysseus, and takes the wine he offers him. The wine putting him to sleep, Polyphemus wakes up blinded, and in rage flails trying to strike at Odysseus and his crew. In his new blindness Polyphemus spent a lot of time thinking about “Nobody”, the name Odysseus gave, and creating stories about him and his crew. It ends with him telling the stories to the farmers who no longer fear him as he is blind, and he speaks tales of this traveler, finding misfortune after misfortune trying to get home.

This ending with Polyphemus as a storyteller telling the stories of the trials of this hero can be interpreted that the cyclops is Homer. From his small interaction he creates his character as a cowardly warrior who has a brilliant mind, and builds these trials he suffers through, but never dies since death would be too easy of an escape. This fragment is also another way to think about Odysseus and his story telling. Even if he had faced trials on his way home, how accurate were his stories? As the only survivor Odysseus could say whatever he wanted. Why would anyone tell the story about how they invaded a peaceful creature’s home, stole their food, and blinded them when they could say they sleighed the mighty beast that attacked and killed his men? Another article that you can read here also plays with the idea that Odysseus is not such a cunning hero and is self-absorbed and reliant on the gods.

Both of these re-written pieces of the Odyssey open up interpretation to the whole book. Was Odysseus a brave hero in the Trojan War who fought for 10 years after to return home to his wife and son? Or was he just some scared man who lied so much throughout the years that the stories of his “heroics” caught on.

Hero? Or storyteller?

Hero? Or storyteller?

The Incredible Hercules

The Twelve Labors

The Twelve Labors

Just as in ancient times, Hercules is still known in popular culture for being an outright badass. Hercules lives on today in many forms (including television, movies, etc.), but these are simply retellings of the myths we have already come to now. The media in which we see Hercules grow beyond his ancient boundaries is comic books.


Hercules battling his nemesis Typhon

Hercules first appeared in the Marvel universe in Journey into Mystery #1 in 1952. The character of Hercules was created by writer and editor Stan Lee along with artist and co-plotter Jack Kirby. The character teamed up  with the Avengers on several occasions, appearing in each of the three titles. In 2008, Hercules debuted in his own series titled The Incredible Hercules. In the comics, Hercules is the son of Zeus, king of the gods of Olympus, and Alcmena, a mortal woman who lived about three thousand years ago. During this time, Zeus foresaw the evils that would plague planet Earth, and deemed it necessary to create a son powerful enough to aid mankind in their times of need.This is very similar to many of the more current superheroes (such as Iron Man and Captain America) who were also created in the aim of helping mankind. This is a little different from the classic myth in the sense that in the comic books Hercules innate purpose is to help mankind. Hercules was born after Zeus seduced Alcmena by appearing as her husband Amphitryon just as is said in the myth. Being the son of Zeus, Hercules was born with the potential for extraordinary strength, which he first displayed before he was even one year old by strangling two serpents which attacked him. As an adult, Hercules is best known for his celebrated Twelve Labors, which were performed in part to prove his worthiness for immortality to Zeus.


Comic depiction of the Twelve Labors



In Hercules’ Marvel biography, one of these Labors, the cleansing of the Aegean Stables, was actually performed by the Eternal called the Forgotten One, which isn’t mentioned in Apollydorus’ telling of the myth. In the course of these labors, Hercules provoked the wrath of three immortals who remain his enemies to this day. Whereas this is true in the myth, it is emphasized in the comics as to create Hercules token arch-enemies.  By slaughtering the man-eating Stymphalian Birds, he enraged the war god Ares, to whom they were sacred. In temporarily capturing Cerberus, the three-headed hound that serves as guardian to the Olympian underworld (not to be confused with the shape-shifting giant of the same name in the Marvel universe), Hercules offended Pluto, the lord of that realm. By killing the Nemean Lion, the Hydra, and other creatures spawned by the inconceivably grotesque and powerful monster Typhoeus, Hercules gained the bitter enmity of Typhon, the immortal humanoid offspring of Typhoeus and a Titaness. The demise of Hercules in his mortal form is directly from the myth for it was the centaur Nessus who caused Hercules’ mortal demise. Nessus kidnapped Hercules’s wife Deianeira, whereupon Hercules shot him with an arrow. The dying centaur told Deianeira how to make a love charm from his allegedly enchanted blood, aware that it was now tainted with the lethal poison of the Hydra, in which Hercules had dipped his arrows. Some time after Nessus’s death, Deianeira, distraught over her husband’s latest infidelity, rubbed the supposed love charm into Hercules’ shirt. When Hercules’ donned the shirt, the poison quickly worked and caused Hercules great pain eventually leading to his death. Zeus, now believing Hercules to be worthy, made him immortal and brought him to Olympus.


First appearance of “The Incredible Hercules”


Whereas this is the end of Hercules in the classical sense, in the Marvel universe, he is having more adventures wrought with violence and glory. Hercules has changed since the time of his death, and this is seen in his new appearance and arsenal. Hercules was famed in ancient Greece for his mastery of the bow and arrow, but today, because of his bitter memories of Nessus’s treachery and Deianeira’s suicide, he is never seen wielding them. Before he came to live on Olympus, Hercules’s favorite weapon was his large wooden club, but now his weapon of choice is his Golden Mace, which is not actually made of gold but was forged by the god Hephaestus from enchanted adamantine, a substance widely used in the Marvel universe. In his debut appearances, Hercules was a bitter rival of Thor (another God/Superhero), and the two battled constantly to see who would be the “God Protector” of the human race. Hercules also battles the enemies he made in the process of his Twelve Labors often, even teaming up with Thor to defeat Pluto. In the comics, Olympus is often referenced, and the enitre pantheon of Greek gods and heroes are invovled in several events.

The reason I chose this use of Greek Myhtology in today’s world is because I believe it is the most true to the original. Also it is rather interesting to see the heroes of old mingle with the heroes of today. I find comics to the home of modern myth, and I think that the evolution of heroes like Hercules and Thor are perfect examples of that. Thanks for the read and go so the new Avengers film, it’s pretty dope.


See the Traditional Greek Voyage. LIVE!: Argonautika, an epic play

In her play, Argonautika, Mary Zimmerman adapts the Greek myth of Jason and the Argonauts and gives the story a fresh coat of paint. Inspired mostly by Apollonius of Rhode’s epic poem, Argonautica, written in the third century BCE, Zimmerman created and directed this new age play which manages to stay true to its original roots. Through her assimilation of Greek myth and modern theater, Zimmerman’s play highlights many of the themes present in Greek myth, like the voyage, prophecy, and mortal/god relationships, while she also creates intriguing design elements to captivate her audience and take them on a truly captivating voyage.

In the Washington Post’s review of the show from its opening in 2008, Marks slyly comments on Zimmerman’s interpretation of the classic myth by saying “her approach to the classics is what you might call a respectful irreverence… [and it] is thoroughly on display in this work.” Most importantly, he brings up how Zimmerman went about creating the text. “Her mode of storytelling” he comments, “evolved in the rehearsal room, [and] mixes the language of epic soliloquy with the vernacular of our time.” This choice of adaptation in the text is present throughout, and while random outbursts of modern slang can be distracting at times and feel a bit kitschy, it does well at using comedy to interest the audience.

The play, like most Greek myths, contains many characters, ranging from the more influential like Jason and Athena, to the smaller but still important ones, like Pelias’ Son and Uncle. However, no matter their size, each character has their own moment in the spotlight. Young, athletic, and kindhearted, Jason is the leader of the voyage. Similar to Apollonius’ myth, Jason is sent out by his aging uncle King Pelias to retrieve the Golden Fleece and is promised the throne upon his successful return. This is just the beginning of the traditional Greek theme of voyage being seen. The stage transforms to reveal a mast in the middle of the stage representing the base of the ship. Zimmerman’s design choice here easily takes the overall tale of Apollonius’ myth and brings it to the stage. The assemblage of his crew for this voyage then occurs as the “greatest demigods and warriors from across the land” join Jason. Instead of having a section of text similar to the myth in which each of these great heroes are described which drones on and on, Zimmerman writes a scene entitled “Roll Call” which introduces each of the men on the ship. This innovation does wonders for the audience for it quickly provides them with the knowledge of who they will be seeing onstage, while also making it short and precise. In the first performance of the play, they perform with drums and sit around to make their music, while later productions chose to rap over instrumentals popular songs or do a cheerleader-like routine. Either choice in performance gives the modern audience a chance to grab hold of the many characters they are given and be involved in the voyage with them from the start.

Athena, who has pledged to protect Jason on the voyage, is ever apparent next to his side during Apollonius’ myth. She is there to provide him with reasoning and good judgement. The same is true for Zimmerman’s play. This relationship between gods and mortals is important to the storyline and portrays itself in an interesting way in the play adaptation. Zimmerman designs the set with a balcony over the stage so Athena can keep watch over the entire fleet during the voyage whenever she is not present beside Jason. Hera, another goddess important in Apollonius’ myth, often appears on this platform as well. She is  present most often to keep watch over Hercules, the play’s comedic relief. Portrayed as the not-so-smart brute, Herc is constantly shouting his name in celebration of his strength, challenging the other sailors to competitions, and dealing with the wrath of Hera as she watches on from above. This choice to keep the goddesses physically above the mortals and eve involved in the unraveling of their tale is a great choice by Zimmerman. It gives the audience a relatively good idea of how important and omnipresent the gods were to Greek living both in myths and the lives of the people. The gods and goddesses were constantly in connection with the characters of myth, and Zimmerman creates a way to keep that constantly seen for the audience.



Another important portion of the myth which Zimmerman focuses on in her play is the role of prophecy. Idmon, the blind prophet present on the Argo, provides Jason and his men with a fearful vision. While it differs a bit from the Apollonius story, the character of Idmon is seized from behind by Athena who holds him in her clutches while he foresees that the crews’ travels will be successful, and the fleece will be returned home one day. At the end of his vision, however, he begins weeping uncontrollably after having witnessed his own death which will take place far from home. This is one of Zimmerman’s most intriguing adaptations from the Greek myth. Athena is the only one to hear of Idmon’s fate, and even after seeing this vision, Idmon bravely chooses to join the other men on the ship even though his future is grim. This is just one of the many uses of prophecy that Zimmerman extrapolates from Apollonius. It is interesting to see how this traditional Greek theme is applied to be tangible for modern audiences. Zimmerman includes many lines which speak to the Argonauts allowing the stars to guide their fate and trusting in the gods to provide for them. This is by far one of the most important parts of Jason’s voyage. By believing in the prophecy that he will make it back, Jason and his men brave the trials they face head on with the confidence that they will ultimately be successful. This theme carries over from the myth and into Zimmerman’s play as well.

Just like the original writers of Greek myth, Mary Zimmerman is a storyteller who assembles many of the different tales of Jason and the Argonauts and then manipulates them into her own tale. Through the medium of theater, Argonautika remains true to the myth it is derived from, and it also provides audiences of today an examination of the Greek voyage with a modern twist.


Zimmerman delivering a speech on her writing process of Argonautika.


Trailer of Aurgonatika with the Shakespeare Theatre Company.



O’Neill and Aeschylus – Mourning Becomes Electra

If scandalous family histories full of murder, black mail, and maybe even some incest, interest you, than you should check this out!

Aeschylus’ trilogy The Oresteia has a history as an infamous Greek tragedy, inextricably tied to the human condition and therefore always tied to the present.

Eugene O’Neill has taken Aeschylus’ work and transformed it to bring a contemporary audience entertainment and so much more. Myth stands as an everlasting art form and O’Neill has done an amazing job of adapting it to become an emotional, thought provoking set of plays that will leave you saying “…what?!?!?!”.

From the 2009 Off-Broadway Production Directed by Scott Elliot


In O’Neill’s adaptation Mourning Becomes Electra, the story begins in April of 1865, right after the American Civil war in a New England mansion. Our host of characters include Brigadier-General and City Judge Ezra Mannon, Christine Mannon, Ezra’s wife, Lavinia Mannon, their daughter, Oren Mannon, their son First Lieutenant of Infantry, and Captain Adam Brandt.

The tale that ensues is one full of betrayal, secrets, blackmail, some understood incest, and lots of death. Who doesn’t love to just sit and watch a family tear itself apart right? Well, although the Mannons back stab each other every step of the way through the plays, their love is undeniable and I would like to argue that it is this familial love that becomes their undoing; ever heard of too much of a good thing? Well the Mannons take it to a whole different level.

In the first part of the trilogy Homecoming, we meet Christine and Lavinia. Christine is a mother who is no longer in love with her husband and has been having an affair with her own husbands illegitimate cousin. Livinia is the depressive, compulsive, obsessive (so many -sives!), daughter who confirms her mother’s affair the night before her father gets back, even though the affair has been happening for over a year- a detective she is not. Ezra Mannon, her beloved father and the only person who she gives attention to, makes it back right on time to begin the string of deaths. Killed by Christine because she just wants to move on with Brandt, Ezra doesn’t get a whole lot of stage time. Oh, did I mention that Brandt is seeking revenge? He was kicked out of the family. Brandt was born to a servant lady in the mansion and his dad was disinherited by his father, this  left Ezra’s father the only heir and Ezra the only heir of his generation. (is your head swimming yet?) Anyway, aside from the revenge plot, Ezra, before dying of poison, is able to let Lavinia know that her mother is the guilty one and Lavinia is left distraught.

Mourning Becomes Electra (1947) Poster

Mourning Becomes Electra (1947) Poster


In the second play, the plot thickens with the timely arrival of Orin- the concussed, confused, charismatic son who is the ultimate mommy’s boy. However, his view of his precious mommy is tarnished when he is finally convinced of the truth behind his father’s untimely death and turns on his mom and her precious Captain Brandt. The play ends with one murder and one suicide! Pretty great stuff folks! SPOILER! Only the son and the daughter remain!

The last play we sees the return of the siblings from a year long vacation, however, the demons that they tried to escape by going on their cruise…(what happens in cruises I wonder)… come back to haunt them, forcing one of them to suicide and the other to live a life of eternal loneliness, only to be saved by their eventual death. This person must suffer the punishment of three generations of hatred, death, and ironically enough, love. The obsessions each of the characters develop as a product of these acts and emotions are the keys to driving the car-o-crazy they’re all on.

I highly encourage reading these three plays. O’Neill loved stage directions so all you have to do is read to get a full picture of what this would have looked like, or skip the italicized parts and let your imagination do the coloring.

As far as sticking to the original myth by Aeschylus, it keeps the bones of the original myth, but gives it a whole new musculature and skin, like any good myth, it gets a brand new face with it’s new retelling!

Lavinia and Christine in The Florida Grand Opera


If we take a look at the characters, The Oresteia, in my opinion, has a very clear agenda to represent women as evil when they acquire power, making the point that they shouldn’t ever have it, that they should always be submissive to men. In the modern trilogy that O’Neill has written, this theme I believe, is almost forgotten. O’Neill creates a focus more on the dynamic family that the myth is about and about how each of their relationships works to discover a different part of their very interesting family. If we look at the trilogy understanding the difficult situation O’Neill had with his parents, we begin to see how he’s challenging notions of hatred towards one’s parents and what happens if we were their killers.

This brings us to the overall plot line, which is very much the same, until the final play. Though there are tropes that stay constant, like that of the Furies which take the form of ghosts only Orin can see in the O’Neill, the end play resolves the family conflict from within, unlike Aeschylus’ trilogy. The sole survivor of all of this death is charged to live their life in eternal solitude, in a house haunted by the memories of the past, unable to separate from the realities of the atrocious family history. The notion of justice is one that O’Neill plays with and is a recurring theme for all of the characters, just like in the Aeschylus. O’Neill goes a bit further by exploring the consequences off self made justice and what happens when it turns into guilt. Multiple characters struggle with justice, and two are driven to death, while the last to a lonely existence without any love.

Rosalind Russell in the movie adaptation of Mourning Becomes Electra (1947)


But right about now you might be wondering “What does all of this mean? Families, murders, ghosts, furies etc.”. Well, it means that both playwrights have done an excellent job at doing what they are so well known for, writing good theater. Both sets of plays, though based on the exact same story, manage to create universes of intricacies within their words, pulling from the human experience to challenge difficult ideas and make you question your own standing in your own life. The plays, all six, still resonate within our current society full of liberals, republicans, all of the isms, and most importantly, our families. They pose questions that we are too afraid to ask and offer some semblance of a solution, yet leave you with so many more questions.

Well, now that my inspirational soapbox-y moment is out of the way, here are some cool links I think will help to give you a more dynamic idea of what I can only express in words.

I wanted for you to get the full scope of how this one story has been transformed over time, so I have an actor’s clip from the Off-Broadway show in 2009, another clip from the opera version of the play, and the 1947 movie adaption. (Yes, I realize it’s in black in white, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a good movie!).

Enjoy the clips and the movie and thanks for reading!

“Every villain is a hero in his own mind.”
Tom Hiddleston

Franaculous Najurrum


O’Neill, Eugene. “Mourning Becomes Electra A Trilogy.” Mourning Becomes Electra. New York: Modern Library, 1959. 683-867. Print.







The Titans, Cronos, and the Succession Myth in Age of Mythology

The modern adaptation I’ll be using is the videogame Age of Mythology, a strategy game (that stole a fair chunk of my childhood) in which you try to destroy your opponents as one of four civilizations inspired by a combination of history and mythology: Norse, Egyptians, Greeks (worshipping the Olympian gods), and Atlanteans (worshipping the Titans). The strategy portion of the game requires you to manage resources, build buildings, and control armies to beat your enemies. The myth portion comes from the fact that it incorporates mythology into the game-play in different ways: you choose which gods from your culture’s pantheon to worship, and depending on your choices get access to different “god powers” (such as striking down an enemy unit with one of Zeus’ lightning bolts), mythical upgrades (like stronger weapons from Ares), mythical heroes (like Ajax and Odysseus) and specific “myth units” (like centaurs). So basically if you’ve ever wanted to see who would win in absurd mythical face-offs like Heracles vs. Polyphemus, the Hydra vs. a Norse frost giant, or Scylla vs. the Kraken, then this is the game for you. The way these mechanics are implemented plays with and disregards myth in interesting ways: for example, myth units are summoned with a resource called “favor” from your temples, so that here the monsters of myth are seen as being gifts to human civilization from the gods (and consequently fighting alongside human soldiers) instead of the strange product of divine/monstrous mating and a subsequent threat to human civilization. However, rather than discussing broad connections like this, I’m going to focus on the story the game presents through two different campaigns (made up of a series of missions, each of which advances the plot when you win) about an attempt to free the Titans and overthrow the Olympians.

Greek Army

A Greek army (including siege towers, hoplites, a few minotaurs, and some hydras) attacks enemy fortifications.

In the first campaign you play as Arkantos, an Atlantean (here they worship Olympian gods rather than Titans) admiral who goes from fighting alongside the Greeks in the Trojan War to discovering a conspiracy to free the Titans. This enemy force is trying to uncover entrances to the Underworld so that they can find the adamantine gates of Tartaros, which they then try to break through with a giant battering ram. For some reason these gates are scattered all over the world, leading Arkantos (and various friends he makes along the way, including Ajax and Chiron) on a journey through Greece, Egypt, and Scandinavia, trying to fight their way through each region’s mythology. This adventure ends in Atlantis, as it turns out that one of the gates to Tartaros is implausibly buried right under the city. Moreover, you discover that the driving force behind this pro-Titan conspiracy is actually Poseidon, your former patron-god, forcing you to use Zeus’ help to finally defeat these enemy forces (including a living statue of Poseidon serving as that god’s avatar) to keep the Titans locked beneath the earth. Unsurprisingly, this ends with the cataclysmic destruction of the island of Atlantis, which is left uninhabited and devastated by storms.

The living statue of Poseidon stands in front of the gate to Tartarus.

The living statue of Poseidon stands in front of the gate to Tartarus.

The second campaign picks up ten years later with the Atlantean survivors, one of whom is Arkantos’ son Kastor, struggling to survive outside of their former homeland. Cronos sends a shape-shifting servant to impersonate the Atlantean ruler, and so manages to lead them to long-abandoned temples built to honor the Titans. Feeling abandoned by the Olympian gods, the Atlanteans begin worshipping the Titans, and so find themselves at war with the Greeks. Still being manipulated by Cronos’ servant, the Atlantean army (led by Kastor) ends up on Mount Olympus, where their destruction of the Olympians’ temples begins releasing the Titans (for some reason), starting with Prometheus. Aided by Arkantos’ old friends and Arkantos himself (who was rewarded for his actions in the former campaign with apotheosis), Kastor manages to defeat Prometheus and end his destruction of the Greek countryside.

Kronos steps out of Tartarus and into a cozy looking pit of lava.

Cronos steps out of Tartarus and into a cozy looking pit of lava.


He then follows Cronos’ servant to the old island of Atlantis, where the gate to Tartarus is finally opened and Cronos escapes. However, Kastors manages to stop him by summoning Gaia to fight him, re-imprisoning Cronos in Tartarus and leaving the Olympians safe from the threat of the Titans.



Ridiculous as the story is (though probably more fun and definitely more memorable for its absurdity), it still has a number of interesting parallels with real Greek myths. In part this comes through specific references in certain missions: for example, as mentioned earlier you help the Greeks win the Trojan War, later you end up freeing Odysseus from Circe’s island (first having to navigate after having been turned into a boar), and in the second campaign you can find Polyphemus’ cave during one of the missions (complete with an angry Polyphemus to fight and sheep you can steal for food). While these twists on well-known myths are somewhat interesting, I’m more interested in exploring the game’s depiction of the Titans. In making the Titans the villains, trying to get out of Tartarus to take power back from Zeus, the game follows a framework popular in modern adaptations of Greek myth (other examples include the Percy Jackson series and the Hercules Disney movie). However, interestingly I didn’t find this model in the actual myths themselves, as the real Titans were both simpler and more complicated than the newer counterparts they’ve inspired.

Cronos as portrayed in the game, straighforwardly demonic and evil.

Cronos as portrayed in the game, straighforwardly demonic and evil.

For starters, despite being depicted as evil in the game, they seem to have held a paradoxical role as both evil schemers and beneficent rulers of a utopian Golden Age. Though one might expect to find these dual roles split among multiple sources, with different authors interpreting them differently (or inheriting separate traditions), this ambiguity exists even within Hesiod’s work. In the Theogony Cronos is introduced as Gaia and Ouranos’ “most terrible child… an arch-deceiver” (135), certainly giving a pretty loaded, almost Satanic, introduction. This impression is bolstered later when Gaia asks her children to plot against Ouranos, as Cronos agrees not out of love for his mother or a desire for justice, but because his “mind worked in strange ways” (136). This tendency towards amoral scheming continues as he famously tries to devour all of his children to avoid the prophesied succession cycle, which certainly doesn’t cast him in a particularly good light since eating babies seems kind of evil.


Zeus and Cronos settle their differences with a staring contest.

That said he also doesn’t really seem to be any worse than Zeus, who does pretty much identical things to stay in power but is never described by Hesiod with the same morally-loaded descriptions. Both rose against their fathers for what seem like fairly good reasons, despite the power-grabbing aspect. Furthermore, though Cronos’ appetite for babies may not do much to endear him to the audience, it’s notable that Zeus’ first act as king was to marry Metis for the sole purpose of devouring her. Given these similarities, it’s somewhat unclear exactly why Zeus should be seen as the hero and Cronos the villain, besides an arbitrary preference for maintaining the Olympian status quo.

However, Hesiod’s picture of the Titans gets even more complicated when recognizing the fact that they also seem to have had a role as venerable rulers of a better age, allowing people to live in utopian bliss entirely different from the hardships endured under the Olympians. In the Works and Days, Hesiod describes a Golden Age of carefree people who “lived when Cronos was king of the sky” (164). This association between Cronos and a blissful existence is further cemented by Hesiod’s claim that Heroes living on the Isles of the Blest do so under Cronos’ rule, “For the Father of gods and men has released him/ And he still has among them the honor he deserves” (166). These connections appear to promote an underlying message that human life is better under Cronos than under Zeus, certainly a strange claim to make given Hesiod’s praise for Zeus throughout his work. Furthermore, the sentence about the Isles of the Blest even implies that Zeus and Cronos have reconciled to some extent, and further makes the claim that Cronos deserves a certain level of honor and worship. This stands in stark contrast to the game’s depiction of him, in which he is a monster who should be avoided at all costs, forever at war with Zeus. An even more extreme view of Hesiod’s positive interpretation of Cronos is put forward by Diodorous, a Sicilian writing around six centuries after Hesiod and trying to fit myths into a rationalistic history of the universe. In his account, Cronos “made all the people he ruled change from a primitive to a civilized lifestyle… He introduced to all the notions of justice and genuineness of spirit… All those who were subject to his leadership lived a blessed life and enjoyed every pleasure without hindrance” (97). This picture is completed with his account of an alternative myth to the violent succession cycle, as “some say that… Zeus received the kingship not be overcoming his father with force, but by lawfully and justly being deemed worthy of this honor” (99).

greek city

A prosperous Greek city with a temple to Poseidon.

The one thing that seems perfectly consistent between the game’s Titans and the real myths is their evocation of the fragility of Zeus’ reign. Though the mythical Titans may not have been an ongoing threat to Zeus in the way the game makes them, Zeus still had plenty to worry about. The game’s use of Poseidon is a nice nod to the scene we read in the Iliad in which he and Zeus very nearly end up at war, demonstrating the dissension Zeus faced among the other gods. Furthermore, despite not having to worry about older generations, Zeus constantly had to fear a potential new generation even more powerful than himself. The Homeric Hymns demonstrate this in their depiction of an angry Hera, in which she decides to get back at Zeus for birthing Athena without her by calling on “Gaia, and wide Ouranos above, and you gods called Titans” to “give me a child apart from Zeus… stronger than he, as much as far-seeing Zeus is mightier than Cronos” (184). While the invocation of the Titans is interesting, her plan here is to produce a new threat to Zeus rather than to try to free old enemies too weak to actually beat him. Though the Titans’ role as threats to Zeus even after their defeat might be an essentially modern invention, they effectively evoke the surprising fragility of Zeus’ continued rule that formed a central element to many myths.


I provided a links to my post and a brief discussion as to the connections between mine and the other one in the comments of that post.  For the sake of convenience, I’m also linking those posts here, so that you can more easily access those discussions.




Diodorous of Sicily, Hesiod, and Homeric Hymns from Anthology of Classical Myth, ed. Trzaaskoma, Smith, Brunet (Hackett 2004).

The Essential Homer, trns. Stanley Lombardo (Hackett 2000).

Age of Mythology, developed by Ensemble Studios, published by Microsoft Game Studios, 2002.

Comic Books, Superheroes, and the Greek gods

Superheroes aren’t just made. Well, I mean in comics they are. Actually, not even. Even in comics they have backstories, reasons as to why they become heroes. Anyway, my point is that superheroes don’t just happen. Their creators have to have some kind of inspiration, some base to work off of or some already existing idea that they can put their own spin on. They change their heroes enough so that it’s not noticeable, but if you really think about it the parallels become obvious. Captain America could be regarded as a super patriotic Heracles. As Heracles had his shield that embodied events of the Olympics, Captain America has a shield that embodies the country he fights for. Heracles is the only human that became god, and had to go through many demeaning tasks and suffer a great deal of pain before becoming a god. The same goes for Captain America, in a more modernized sense. Before becoming a superhero, he was a weakling that was often made fun of. He was shorter than the average male, a lot weaker than average, he got picked on and beat up by bullies, he was generally embarrassed and demeaned as Heracles was. And then when he was injected with the formula that gave him superhuman capabilities, he was put through an immense amount of pain. While it was for a split second, it still stands that he suffered pain during his final ascension, just as Heracles did.


Superheroes Iron Man (Tony Stark) and Ant-Man (Hank Pym) seem to embody Daedalus. They were mad scientists of a sort, inventors that gave birth to creations of both wonder and horror. Whereas Daedalus gave Icarus wings, Tony Stark created his iron suit that allowed him to fly. Whereas Daedalus gave birth to the monstrosity known as the Minotaur, Hank Pym gave birth to the ultra powerful AI known as Ultron. Ultron was a machine that thought like a human, a humanoid monstrosity much like the Minotaur. If that’s not enough, they also created the Vision, a superhero that’s both flesh and machine. (Ultron is depicted on the left, the Vision is on the right)



Marvel mainly focuses on Greek heroes and less ultra powerful figures in mythology to model their heroes after. There isn’t any hero that really embodies Zeus or Hades or any of the gods. DC, however, seems to have a mentality that’s exactly the opposite of Marvel. Almost all of DC’s heroes are modeled after Greek gods. I mean, seriously. The Justice League is pretty much the pantheon. The Greek gods live on the top of Mount Olympus, separated from all of the humans. The Justice League lives in the Watchtower. In space. Completely isolated from humans. Zeus is the leader of the gods, Superman is the leader of the league. Apollo is the god of light, the Green Lantern is the hero of light. For god sakes, part of his oath is “Beware my power, green lantern’s light!” Those are only similarities on the surface too. Delving into the details, there’s a lot more unseen commonalities.

Superman is the obvious parallel to Zeus. While he does have a bit of Achilles in him (only one weakness; kryptonite), he mainly resembles the king of gods. In many ways too, not just in the fact that they both rule their council. Zeus’ position is not totally cemented. There’s the constant fear of being usurped by a new ruler or being overthrown by the other gods. Superman isn’t an all peaceful leader that’s never contested. A lot of his decisions are often questioned, and there’s a lot of tension between him and the heroes. Especially Hades. I mean, Batman. Yes, Batman is a parallel of Hades. Batman is consistently surrounded by death; his parents died, his friends die often, most of the villains he fights are homicidal maniacs that go on killing sprees rather than trying to dominate the world…his world is pretty grim. On top of that, he’s almost constantly secluded in his Batcave which is conveniently located underground. Hades is the king of the underworld. He’s always surrounded by death, he lives underground, and he’s almost always by himself. (Batcave on the left, Underworld on the right)



What most solidifies Batman and Superman as their godly counterparts, though, is their rivalry. While Superman is the main leader of the league, Batman is often gone to for council. Whenever there’s even a hint of doubt, the other heroes decide to consult Batman. Even when there isn’t doubt, sometimes they’ll go to him for a better opinion or solution than whatever Superman has offered. However, they don’t go to Batman for his council because of his personality or character. They simply go to him because they respect him; as much as Superman, if not more. Most heroes don’t necessarily like Batman. Even through their tension, though, they still cooperate to complete tasks and get things done. If this isn’t a reflection of the relationship that Zeus and Hades share, then I don’t know what is. Hades and Zeus often have a fair bit of conflict, being complete opposites after all. While the other gods don’t necessarily hate Hades, they don’t really enjoy him either, yet they still respect him. And no matter their differences, Hades and Zeus still work together.

Besides these few examples, there are many many more heroes that embody the gods. There’s the Flash, who embodies Hermes. His ability is being ultra fast and he even wears something on his suit akin to the feathers on the winged sandals. There’s Aquaman, who’s very clearly a reference to Poseidon. Both rule over the sea, both wield tridents, and both are more benevolent towards their leader than their brother (well in Aquaman’s case, colleague). There’s even a hero named Artemis! She has exceptional skill with the bow and arrow and is even nicknamed the huntress. Perhaps the most interesting of all the parallels, though, would be Wonder Woman.

Wonder Woman, or Princess Diana, is the princess of the Amazons. She boasts super strength, she can fly, and she is extremely intelligent. Many view her akin to Hera in reference to the justice league, as she seems to be the strongest female and holds the most sway over Superman’s opinions and decisions. Things get weird with Wonder Woman though, and here’s how. All the other heroes have pretty unique/original origin stories. Superman is an alien, Batman is an orphan with a vengeance (and a large amount of money), the Flash inhaled some super crazy water vapors. Wonder woman, however, was simply born. Why does this make her special? Well, because her mother is Hippolyta. Yes, the one and only Hippolyta. Wonder Woman is directly related and intertwined with Greek mythology, whereas all the other superheroes only have perceived links to the Greek gods. But Wonder Woman is directly intertwined with Greek mythology. Born from Hippolyta as Warrior Princess Diana of Themyscira, she was released to the realm of humans by Hera as champion of the Amazons. This was a cause of an argument between Persephone and Ares regarding the Amazons. Ares disliked their existence as a whole, and a deal was made that pretty much incites that if Wonder Woman is to ever fall in battle, the Amazons will be destroyed. This sets Ares as one of her permanent enemies, often creating monsters and obstacles to challenge and attempt to kill her. However, she has the other gods of the pantheon on her side, Hera and Athena often offer her counsel, Hephaestus fashioned her lasso out of Gaea’s girdle, and even made her enchanted bracelets out of Zeus’ destroyed aegis.  The things that makes Wonder Woman so interesting, though, is the fact that she’s not really an adaptation of any myth, but rather an attempted continuation. The writers at DC wanted to take the existence and legacy of the Amazons and write a continuation of it, and they did so by create Wonder Woman. Most, if not all, of Wonder Woman’s story arcs are heavily intertwined with her mythological origin, constantly involving Hera, Hippolyta, Ares, and a number of other gods in human and DC affairs. Wonder Woman’s existence allows Ares to be a continual enemy of the entire Justice League, and even provides for interaction between the other heroes and the gods. Zeus has encountered the Justice League a number of times, and many of the heroes have fought Ares. There’s even a Justice League story arc that pits the gods against their superhero counterparts; Zeus against Superman, Hermes against the Flash, Apollo against the Green Lantern, Hades against Batman, and Poseidon against Aquaman. The heroes all had perceived links to the gods, but Wonder Woman’s existence banishes those links by introducing the actual gods into the comics, allowing for an interesting marriage of comic book culture and today’s interpretation of the Greek Gods. 2211405-picture_51271527-queen_hippolyta


Above: Wonder Woman vs. Ares and Queen Hippolyta






Anthology of Classical Myth Edited and Translated by Stephen M. Tzraskoma, R. Scott Smith, and Stephen Brunet