God of War III - The academic analysis
God of War III is one of 2010’s most anticipated games. But is the Greek mythology accurate? Francesco Rocchi, studying for a PhD in Hellenistic history at University of Edinburgh, gives his opinion
I spent my youth browsing encyclopaedias and ancient Greek dictionaries rather than playing computer games; always thinking of history, and book-learning, as real fun. It’s from this academic standpoint that I approach God of War III, a game that is less a history lesson and more a clobbering over the head with Greek myth, and therefore something of a shock to my delicate classical sensibilities.
The makers of this game, being aware that classicists, alas, represent a minority in the videogames market, have used Greek mythology in a fairly diluted and vague way. Their primary goal was evidently to create a great game, and an ancient Greek would hardly recognise his own world in the scenery of God of War.
Kratos, the game’s muscle-bound protagonist, does not resemble a true Spartan. The warriors did not embrace the heroic lone figure, fighting for himself. Spartans valued group strength, where the individual was no more than a particle. They ate, slept, lived and died together. In this sense (and may the Olympian gods forgive me), 300 is slightly more faithful to the historical truth.
Curiously, they also loved long and beautiful hair and, to the amazement of other Greeks, would comb it carefully before the deadliest battles. It’s an anachronism then (or a hint at the ageless tragedy of male pattern baldness) that Kratos is dramatically bald.
Kratos probably fits better into the mould of Homeric hero rather than Spartan warrior. Like Kratos, Homer’s protagonists knew very well what wrath was – The Iliad, for example, is a whole poem born out of Achilles’ anger – but they reacted quite differently to their anger compared with Kratos’ ceaseless stream of bloodletting. When Ajax found Athena had deluded him and made him look ridiculous, his reaction was not to kill the goddess, but himself. The Greeks loved his story: they saw in Ajax a great fighter with a gigantic ego, but also an irremediably melancholic man. Heroes had to be double-sided: great and cursed, violent but also sad and always responsible for their downfall.
Kratos is instead an atypical renegade whose inner torments over past atrocities he has committed were unknown to ancient heroes. They knew that war would bring bereavement, but nonetheless celebrated it. They did not blame the gods, as Kratos does, because they considered it perfectly natural. ‘Do I have to sacrifice my daughter if I want to bring war to Troy? Well, OK,’ said Agamemnon on his way to raze the city. When his wife Clytemnestra stabbed him later, it was all in a day’s work.
As for the deities, Greek gods were not blasphemous tyrants as in GoW. They were just like humans, but stronger and immortal. The humans who challenged them were easily defeated and harshly punished. Marsyas, who pretended to play the flute better than Apollo, was flayed alive. And that was right, because he tried to exceed his human condition. Arrogance was his major crime.
In conclusion, a warning: high-school students trying to conciliate their studies while devoting time to their PS3 should not try and impress their history teacher with knowledge gained by playing GoW. The results might be embarrassing. That’s not to say the game isn’t interesting, it’s just not what we would refer to as ‘reliable secondary source material’.
God of War III (Sony) PS3 out Fri 19 Mar.