Is Kratos a God?
The powerful gods and goddesses of Mount Olympus were known for their personalities as well as their divine powers. The twelve Olympians and those closest to them had complex and intriguing myths in which they displayed very human emotions and actions.
Living among them, however, were thousands of more minor deities. Less important and powerful, many of these are known from only a handful of surviving mentions.
Among the minor gods of Greek mythology were the daimones, spirits that personified very specific ideas, conditions, or actions. One of these was Kratos, whose name meant “strength.”
While all the daimones had very specific functions, Kratos seemed to be particularly specialized. Evidence from surviving plays and art supports the idea that Kratos did not personify strength in a general way, but rather the singular strength of the king of the gods.
Kratos was what the Greeks referred to as a daimon. These minor gods served as personifications of specific aspects of society, natural phenomena, the human condition, or emotion.
The daimones were minor gods in the Greek pantheon, with very specialized roles. They had little unique characterization, but were literal personifications of the idea they represented.
These minor deities typically shared their names with the thing they stood for. Kratos was the name of a god, but it was also the Greek word for “strength.”
Kratos did not just represent the idea of strength, but he was the literal embodiment of it. The function of a word and the daimon it named were indistinguishable.
Like most daimones, Kratos belonged to the retinue of a more powerful deity. In his case, he was a member of the household of the king of all the gods of Olympus, Zeus.
According to one source, Kratos’s mother was a Titaness. When Zeus challenged the rule of the older gods he declared than any who joined him would be granted position and power under his leadership.
Kratos’s mother was the first to accept this offer. She and her children were given the privilege of joining the new king’s own household, making Kratos a member of Zeus’s immediate family.
Therefore, when someone prayed for strength they prayed for Kratos the god. The nature of daimones makes it almost impossible to distinguish the gods from the abstract ideas they represented in written works.
One format in which it is possible to distinguish between the god Kratos and the idea of kratos is in plays. The comedies and dramas that were popular in ancient Greece, particularly in Athens, make it easy to see when a character is being referenced as opposed to just an idea.
Kratos is one of the thousands of daimones that were rarely referenced in mythology. Because they had no unique personalities outside of their function, the daimones were sometimes invoked but had no individual stories about them.
The plays of ancient Greece were the exception to this norm. Minor gods and goddesses were often written in as identifiable characters to bring further symbolic meaning or just to advance the plot.
Greek theater gives us the most unique and memorable characterization of Kratos. The play Prometheus Bound by Aeschylus featured Kratos and his sister Bia, the personification of force, in its opening scene.
The two characters came together, along with the smith god Hephaestus, to bind Prometheus as punishment for disobedience to Zeus. The way in which Aeschylus presented Kratos as a character gives modern historians the best insight into how Greeks viewed the spirit of strength.
Kratos and Bia did not act of their own accord in the play. They served as representatives of Zeus and extensions of his power.
In fact, Kratos was tied to Zeus’s power that he was able to compel and even mock Hephaestus. While the lame god of smithing was not held in high esteem by the other gods, he was a more powerful god than the daimones and should have been treated respectfully by the more minor deities.
The implication was that Kratos and his sister did not represent strength and force in an abstract sense, but the strength and force of Zeus in particular. Kratos was not the god of any type of strength that could be attained by mere mortals, or even other gods, but rather symbolized an aspect of Zeus as the king of the gods.
The strength personified by Kratos was not simply physical ability, it was the strength of Zeus’s will and position.
The few identifiable images of Kratos in ancient art support this interpretation. When he is shown it is always as Zeus’s enforcer, an extension of the Olympian king’s personal authority and power.
As the king of the gods, Zeus had dominion over laws, both natural and man-made. Kratos, Zeus’s strength, enforced these laws with single-minded purpose.
This role as Zeus’s enforcer is supported by other texts that place Kratos in the Olympian king’s household. In every source that references the god of strength, he is tied to Zeus and the authority he held over the enforcement of law.
Kratos was one of the daimones, the thousands of minor gods and goddesses who personified specific ideas and attributes in Greek mythology.
The daimones were indistinguishable from the idea they represented. Kratos was named for the thing he personified, the Greek word for strength.
Like other minor gods, Kratos had little specific mythology or characterization. He was the embodiment of strength as an idea with no purpose outside of his function.
The strength embodied by Kratos is generally interpreted in a very specific sense, however. Rather than standing for the general idea of strength, the figure of Kratos was linked to the authority of Zeus as the king of the Olympian gods.
Kratos was said to have been a member of Zeus’s household. He and his sister, Bia, were among the few beings said to dwell there who were not members of the god king’s immediate family.
In art, the few identifiable images of Kratos and Bia show them in the act of enforcing Zeus’s laws. They were used to embody not the respective domains of strength and power in the general sense, but specifically as they related to the authority of Zeus and his role as king.
The most complex representation of Kratos is in a play, Aeschylus’s Prometheus Bound. Again he acts as Zeus’s enforcer, carrying so much authority that he is free to command and even insult those of higher position.
While the word kratos could mean strength of any form, the god Kratos personified the strength of Zeus and the authority the king of the gods held.