Kratos: The ‘Cruel’ Greek God of Strength and Power
Greek mythology is full of gods and goddesses, heroes, and deities who play roles in countless stories of love, courage, and redemption. From Zeus to Heracles, the Greek heroes and gods are iconic worldwide. Many of the gods were personifications of human characteristics and emotions or physical places such as the sky or the sea or the underworld. While many of these gods such as Zeus, Ares or Poseidon are well known, there are plenty of gods that aren’t as well-known but are just as interesting. One such god is Kratos, who is the personified spirit of strength, might, power, and sovereign rule.
The Stories Of How Kratos Became Kratos
While it is commonly agreed that Kratos is the god of strength and power, there are conflicting stories regarding pretty much everything else about him. The first story, according to many myths, is that Kratos was the son of the titan Pallas and the oceanid Styx. This would make Kratos a relative of the Olympian gods. These gods were the third and fourth generation of immortal beings who were worshipped as the principal gods of the Greek pantheon. According to this myth, Kratos had three siblings: Nike (Victory), Bia (Force and Violence) and Zelus (Zeal, Aspiration and Emulation).
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Hesiod (750-650 BC), a Greek poet, refers to Kratos and his siblings as “wonderful children” and recounts how they earned their reputation and status. According to him, the four children’s dwelling place was Zeus himself. The story goes that Zeus was preparing for the Titanomachy. This was a ten-year series of battles fought between the Titans and the Olympians. In doing so, he tried to assemble as many allies as possible by promising whoever fought with him a divine office and appropriate rights.
Styx decided to accept Zeus’ offer following the advice of her father and brought her four children with her. Zeus kept his promise and declared that Styx’s four children would live with him forevermore. Thus, Kratos and his siblings have no dwelling place but with Zeus himself; they are aspects of his personality.
According to this myth, Kratos and his siblings were the winged enforcers of Zeus. They were an extension of his will and helped him to enforce it. They were also guardians of his throne and were an ever-present feature alongside it. Their home was, naturally, in Zeus’ palace on the top of Mount Olympus.
There is also another less popular myth that Kratos was the son of Zeus. Rather than being a peer of Zeus, however, he is a demigod, the son of Zeus and an unnamed mortal woman. Although this version of events is far less common, it is told multiple times in different myths and stories and so it is worth mentioning. The first version of events, however, is the more accepted mythology surrounding Kratos and his siblings.
Kratos and Bia at the feet of Prometheus, holding him down as Hephaestus binds his arms in a drawing by George Romney from circa 1798–1799. (George Romney / Public domain)
Kratos Helped to Capture Prometheus For Stealing Fire!
Regardless of his origin, Kratos does not show up in many of the Greek myths. This is largely because he was not seen as a god with major domain, but rather the servant of another god who was called in conjunction with one of his siblings. There is one myth, however, in which Kratos appears prominently alongside his sister Bia. The two are featured in the opening of Aeschylus’ (525/524 - 456/455 BC) Prometheus Bound. Aeschylus was one of the earliest Greek playwrights whose work focused mainly on tragedies.
Prometheus Bound follows the story of the titan Prometheus who is bound to a rock and tortured as punishment from the Olympian Zeus for providing fire to humans. It is Kratos who forces Hephaestus, the god of fire, to help him chain Prometheus up at the beginning of the story. Hephaestus was reluctant to do so but followed the orders of Kratos, perhaps showing just how strong Kratos was given he could force an Olympian god to do something he didn’t want to. Hephaestus was ordered to create the chains used to bind Prometheus by Kratos and his sister Bia.
Was Kratos strong but also cruel? (Trusted Reviews / CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)
What Does this Myth Tell Us about Kratos?
While Kratos’ role in Prometheus Bound is short, it is also his most important appearance in Greek myth. The myth helps to show Kratos’ brutality. He inflicted unnecessary wounds without mercy for his enemies throughout his time in the story. It is open to interpretation, however, as to whether Kratos’ actions were excessive or necessary to ensure that those who transgress were punished fittingly. What is not open to interpretation is that Kratos sees Zeus as having the right to do whatever he wants and is willing to go to any lengths to help him enforce his will.
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Kratos does appear occasionally in other myths too, but not in the way the other gods appeared. He is usually called upon by other gods in times of need, usually for a battle where he fights alongside his siblings Bia and Nike, and sometimes with Dike, a god of justice. Although Kratos wasn’t always called to the battlefield, this was usually the case given his association with extreme violence.
Kratos seemed to exist more as an idea than as a character, however, given how common it is to see his name pop up but not his character. There is also evidence that Kratos and his sister Bia featured in the lost work Ixion by the Greek playwright Euripides (480-406 BC).
Today, Kratos is more famous than he has been since Greek antiquity given he features as the main character in the popular video-game series God of War. Although the character is not meant to be a direct representation of the original god, he represents many of the characteristics of the Greek god of strength, might, and power.
Top image: A closeup of Kratos the Greek god of strength, might and power as depicted in the popular video-game series God of War. Source: Matteo Pedrini / CC BY-SA 2.0
By Mark Brophy
Greek Gods and Goddesses. 2017. Kratos. Available at: https://greekgodsandgoddesses.net/gods/kratos/
Greek Mythology. n.d. Kratos. Available at: https://www.greekmythology.com/Other_Gods/Kratos/kratos.html
Theoi. n.d. Kratos. Available at: https://www.theoi.com/Daimon/Kratos.html
Quartermain, C. 2019. Kratos in Greek Mythology. Available at: https://www.greeklegendsandmyths.com/kratos.html