The Mythology Behind Clash of the Titans

Editor’s Note: There’s something to be said for taking a look at a movie that’s being remade, but it’s another to go further back in time to take a look at the characters and true source material that filmmakers are taking liberties with. Can you further fictionalize fictional characters? Hell yes you can. Or at least Louis Leterrier can, and Robin Ruinsky has done the hard work of traveling back in time to share the Gods of old with us.

The Mortals

Perseus: the son of Zeus by the mortal woman Danae. Danae is imprisoned by her father Acrisius in a tower to keep her from having a child because the oracle has warned that child is going to kill him. The God Zeus impregnates her. Perseus did eventually, though unwittingly cause the death of his grandfather Acrisius, thus proving you can’t fool the Oracle. Perseus goes on a quest to take the head of Medusa which is no easy task. Look at Medusa and you’re turned into stone. Our hero however is much too clever to let that happen. See the movie and you’ll find out how he defeats her.

Andromeda: a princess and the wife to be of Perseus. He has to save her from a sea monster. This is a cautionary tale about bragging about your kids. Andromeda’s mother, Cassiopeia bragged a bit too much about her beauty which is how her daughter ended up chained to a rock to become a sea monster’s lunch. I’m guessing she was on her way to becoming a snack for the Kraken. There’s other versions of the story but I like this one. As for Cassiopeia, she became a constellation in the night sky.

Draco: an Athenian lawmaker whose name is the origin of draconian as in overkill. He made laws that would punish the most trivial crimes with death. It was said his laws were written in blood.

Solon: revised the draconian laws of Draco. He eased back on the bloodletting keeping the death penalty restricted to homicide.

Io: proves once again that becoming the lover of Zeus isn’t all that great. Zeus changes her into a heifer to keep her from being detected. She wanders the world, as a heifer, even meeting the captive Prometheus on the way. He’s not in a good way, having given man fire, displeasing Zeus in the process. Chained to Mt. Causasus, his liver is eaten every day by a giant eagle. Still, he assures Io that one day she’ll be returned to human form to give birth to the line that will produce the hero Heracles.

The Gods

Zeus: the big guy, the most powerful of all the Gods. His brothers are Hades and Poseidon. Zeus is not to be trifled. He’s the ruler of Mount Olympus, the God of the sky and thunder. He’s got the lightening bolts to prove it.  The offspring of Cronus and Rhea, Zeus has produced his share of Godly offspring including Aphrodite, Artemis, Hermes and Athena among others. Perseus is the son of a very powerful and stubborn God. And it’s best not to defy or offend Zeus.

Hades: took the underworld as his domain and named it after himself. He’s the God of the Dead and rules his domain with an iron hand. No one messes with Hades and if they do it’s at their own peril. Hades doesn’t spend much time in the light of Mt. Olympus preferring the darkness of his underworld domain. That darkness is reflected in his gloomy personality and he’s not the most popular or the God even among his fellow immortals. Naturally mortals fear him as he represents their mortality. But the Gods just find his less than chippy chappy happy personality to be a bit of a downer. Who better to portray him on film than Ralph Fiennes.

Poseidon: the brother of Zeus and Hades, he’s the God of the Sea. Son of Cronus, by some accounts he survives being eaten by his father, the fate of some of his siblings. He’s saved by his mother who gives Cronus a colt to eat. Yes, those Gods have a thing for eating people. Check out Zeus and the myth of his daughter Athena.

Hera: the wife of Zeus and something of the mommy dearest of Mt. Olympus. Jealous of Zeus giving “birth” to Athena, the jealous Goddess manages to give birth on her own to the Hephaestus. But he’s kind of homely so she tosses him off Mt. Olympus. He survives to become the blacksmith to the Gods. Hera presides over marriage arrangements, but clearly should be kept clear of the kids.

Aphrodite the Goddess of love and sexuality. Typical of the odd births of the Gods, she’s born in a rather gruesome and unusual way. Cronus cuts off the genitals of Uranus and tosses them into the sea. From the bloody foam Aphrodite is born.

Apollo: has a lot on his plate. The God of the Sun, truth, prophecy, music, poetry, medicine, the arts, he’s the twin of the Goddess of the hunt, Artemis. The son of Zeus by Leto, the Goddess Hera, the wife of Zeus, attempted to prevent his birth. Obviously she failed. The lyre is seen as a symbol of Apollo. He’s also a pretty equal opportunity lover with both male and female partners on his list of romantic conquests.

Athena: The birth of Athena shows how even the God of the Gods can’t fool around with the fates.  Zeus swallowed the pregnant Metis in an attempt to stop the birth of their child. Metis, now inside Zeus gave birth to Athena. This cause quite the headache for Zeus who had his head split open and out popped Athena in full armor wielding a thunderbolt inherited from her reluctant father. Athena is the Goddess of civilization, strength, strategy, justice, wisdom and skill.

Hermes: the messenger of the Gods and the guide through the underworld. He watches over travelers and is the inventor of fire. Fire got Prometheus into some serious trouble.

Ares: another son of Zeus and the God of War and blood-lust personified. He holds all the weapons. Yet another God not to be trifled with.

Demeter: the Goddess of the harvest. She presides over the fertility of the Earth. Displease her and go hungry.

The Ugly

Medusa: her severed head has great power and significance to the story of Perseus. To look at her directly turns a human to stone. Her lair is littered with the stone remains of all the warriors who tried to kill her. But Medusa’s story is a sad one. One of the three Gorgon sisters, she is mortal and as many mortals in mythology do she makes the mistake of offending one of the Gods. In Medusa’s case she offends Athena who then changes the beautiful mortal girl into the feared creature with snakes for hair whose glance can turn a man to stone.

Calibos: is a fictional character and not part of mythology. His role is to set off the events that send Perseus on his quests to win the right to marry Andromeda. Calibos is portrayed as the son of Thetis and starts as a spoiled young man. He kills all but one of the flying horses leaving only Pegasus. Zeus isn’t pleased and transforms the handsome young man into a shape that matches his bad behavior and cruel personality. There’s some suggestion that the character was inspired by Caliban from Shakespeare’s “The Tempest”.

Kraken: giant sea monster. By now we’ve seen the trailer of “The Clash of the Titans” enough times that we know the big line is spoken by Liam Neeson as Zeus:

“Release the Kraken!”

I hope this introduction to some of the major and minor players of The Clash of the Titans makes you want to learn more about the dysfunctional family that makes up the Gods of Olympus.

I recommend Edith Hamilton’s “Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes.”

Robin Ruinsky has been a writer since penning her autobiography in fourth grade. Along the way she's studied theater at Syracuse University, worked with Woody Allen starring most of the time on the cutting room floor. A segue into the punk rock scene followed but writing was always the main focus. She writes for various crafty, artsy magazines about people who make craftsy, artsy collectible things. But her first love is writing fiction and film criticism which some people think are the same thing.

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