Saturday, 10 December 2022

Hades II

The sequel has been announced! Hades II, a follow-up to the smash hit Hades (2020), by video game studio Supergiant.

In the original you played the role of Zagreus, son of Hades, struggling to escape the Underworld. Hades II gives the central role to Melinoë (Judy Alice Lee), who, like Zagreus, is mentioned in ancient Orphic traditions but is a relatively obscure figure. Melinoë has Hecate (Amelia Tyler) as a mentor, and her goal is apparently to defeat the Titan Kronos.

Or rather, Chronos. The spelling ‘Chronos’ is confirmed on the Supergiant website. The distinction is significant. But how significant?

At one point in the trailer, released 9 December 2022, we see Hades himself (Logan Cunningham) in shackles, and he says,

[Chronos] is no mere Titan. He is Time itself — and Time cannot be stopped.
Hades, Hades II (forthcoming)

In ancient mythology Kronos is the name of the chaos-entity that is the father of Zeus, Hades, and Poseidon. ‘Chronos’, ancient Greek χρόνος, is a common word which means ‘time’.

Kronos the titan and Chronos the personification of Time are separate figures in the mythology but it looks like they’ve combined them in the game.
/u/pb1115, Reddit, 10 Dec. 2022

To be precise, there isn’t exactly a personification of Time in Greek mythology. Not a standard one, anyway. ‘Chronos’ as a personification does appear in some Orphic sources, dating to the late Hellenistic period and later —

And to Chronos, ageless and immortal-minded, Aither
was born. Also great and monstrous Chasm, this side and that side,
who has neither boundary above, nor bottom, nor seat.
Hieros logos (ca. 2nd cent. BCE?), Orphica fr. 111 ed. Bernabé

This (or a similar passage) is paraphrased by later interpreters:

This is what Orpheus stated. He said that at the beginning Aither was revealed to Time [Chronos], having been created by God, and there was Chaos on this side of Aither and on that, while dark Night [Nyx] held everything and covered what was under Aither, signifying that Night came first.
John Malalas, Chronographia 4.7 ed. Thurn (tr. Jeffreys et al.)

But we can’t properly separate Kronos and Chronos. A similar kind of wordplay appears in a Orphic treatise dating to the late 400s BCE, preserved in the fragmentary Derveni papyrus, which treats ‘Kronos’ as interchangeable with another similarly-sounding Greek word, krou- ‘collide’.

So (Orpheus) says that Kronos was born of Earth to the Sun, since it is because of the Sun that the elements collide (kroúesthai) against each other. ...

The next line: ‘Sky son of Night, he who ruled first of all’: the mind that Collides (kroúonta) elements against each other, [Orpheus] names ‘Kronos’. And [the poet] says that he committed a great crime against Sky, for [Sky] had his kingship taken from him. It is because of this activity that he calls him ‘Kronos’; and he follows the same practice for the other principles too.
Derveni papyrus, col. 14 lines 2–10

Wordplay of this kind was a vogue throughout antiquity. One early interpreter of Homer, Theagenes of Rhegion (6th cent. BCE), explained a battle between the gods in the Homeric Iliad by giving an allegorical interpretation of each match-up. Some of them involve wordplays (schol. Il. 20.67):

  • Apollo vs. Poseidon = 'partial fire' (i.e. the sun) vs. 'all wetness' (i.e. the Mediterranean sea)
  • Athena vs. Ares = ‘thoughtfulness’ vs. ‘thoughtlessness’
  • Hera vs. Artemis = ‘mist around the earth’ (perígeios aér) vs. ‘the moon’
  • Hermes vs. Leto = ‘reason, rationality’ vs. ‘forgetfulness’ (léthe)

and so on.

In Theagenes, the wordplay comes in the fact that Héra and aér are anagrams of each other in ancient Greek (Ἥρα ~ ἀήρ; Greek dosn’t have a separate letter for /h/); and Letó and léthe ‘forgetfulness’ are also very close (Λητώ ~ λήθη). In the Orphic Derveni theogony, the wordplay is on Kronos ~ krou- ‘collide’.

In that context, we absolutely shouldn’t be surprised when both ancient and modern interpreters see Kronos as related to chrónos ‘time’. It’s still possible that Kronos and Chronos were treated as separate entities, but the sources we have don’t fully support that.

One more thing. When Hades says,

[Chronos] is no mere Titan.

that is a bit of a distortion. It’s not just that Kronos wasn’t a ‘mere’ Titan. Kronos was the Titan.

Modern perception of the Titans tends to think of them as all the members of generation of divinities before the Olympians: not just Kronos, but Okeanos (the ocean), Hyperion (the sun), Mnemosyne (‘memory’), Iapetos, Phoibe, and so on. Wikipedia even has a standardised sidebar listing ‘The Twelve Titans’, as if that’s an established canon.

It isn’t. Plenty of members of this ‘canonical’ twelve never got imprisoned in Tartaros. They’re still bouncing around free in Homer and Hesiod. Hyperion is still acting as the sun, and Phoibe as the moon; Dione is wandering around on Mt Olympos in Iliad book 5; Mnemosyne regularly gets invoked by poets; Hekate gets to keep her divine prerogatives.

Hesiod makes all the divinities in this generation ‘Titans’ (Theogony 205–206). But usually, it’s the trio of Kronos, Iapetos, and Okeanos that are grouped together as the ones who are opposed to the Olympians in the Titanomachy.

... the nethermost extremes
of earth and sea, where Iapetos and Kronos
sit and never enjoy the rays of Hyperion the Sun,
nor the winds, and deep Tartaros is around them.
Iliad 8.478-481

So it is a bit of a solecism for Hades to say that Kronos (or Chronos) ‘is no mere Titan’.

Like I said. Kronos is the Titan.


  1. Chronus and Kronus: Given time even the most powerful can fall. Related somehow to the stories of a glorious bronze age in the distant past? Related somehow to that feeling when watching a Greek tragedy, 'oh how the mighty have fallen'? Related to the core difference between mortal humans and immortal human-like gods, that of relative permanence and impermanence? Perhaps. I don't know.

  2. Definitely the most exciting announcement at the Game Awards for me.

    Couple questions. You say Hyperion is the sun. I recently read the Keats' poem, which seems to support this as a lasting interpretation. What is the difference between him and Helios, then?

    You also mention "Orphic traditions." I am vaguely aware of the term but don't really understand what they are. Could you elaborate, or maybe you already have an article that addresses this somewhere?

    1. The divinities associated with the sun were never constant: in Homer it's both Hyperion and Helios, in later authors it's usually either Helios or Apollo. Apollo fluctuated in and out of style, the others were usually available for most purposes.

      'Orphic' means a group of mystery-style cults, which while focused on a sacred site were more about membership of the cult. 'Orphic' cults are ones that drew on poetry attributed to Orpheus, but also gave a prominent status to Persephone and related figures. Quite a lot of fragments of Orphic poetry survive. They're not state cults, like the Athenian cult of Athena or the Delian cult of Apollo; as a result they're also less visible in the surviving evidence, so what we have is very piecemeal and strewn across many centuries. Zagreus and Melinoë are both examples of figures who appear in Orphic contexts; also Nyx/Night, Hekate, and of course Orpheus himself.