Myths, Monsters, and Meaning: The Truth Behind the Myth
The truth behind the myth approach is one of the guiding lights behind A Total War Saga: TROY’s development – but what does it mean?
We sat down with Creative Assembly Sofia game director Maya Georgieva once more to talk about the truth behind the myth as well as gods, monsters, and everything in between.
Why the truth behind the myth?
Maya gets right to explaining the team’s thought process:
“The historical series of Total War games have a treasure trove of themes and materials to draw from – maybe more than we can actually cover, although not for lack of trying! One such period ripe for Total War representation is that of the Late Bronze Age, especially the mysterious and dynamic time of the Bronze Age Collapse – it has been on our list for a long time. However, there are objective challenges to representing such long-gone eras in an engaging and entertaining way while also checking the boxes of what’s necessary for the game to play without lagging behind recent developments.”
To make a quality addition to the Total War series, the team needed to learn much more than simply what geography and archaeological artefacts can tell us about the Bronze Age – they needed names of nations, places, people, their characters, relationships, and their conflicts. Maya emphasises: “These are the things that give soul and human face to history. We need recognisable personalities that create emotional attachment and, last but not least, we need a story to tell.”
Thanks to contemporary historians, significant numbers of literary sources, and extensive research, there is plenty of reference material for later historical eras – but not so much for the Bronze Age. However, as Maya says: “It all exists in the myths and legends of the ancient Greeks with one significant caveat – myths are far removed from reality.”
She continues: “Instead of forfeiting an attempt to expand the series into this exciting age, we decided to draw from that source – very carefully and concisely, by separating the impossible from the still less probable but feasible, until we could filter out a core that could be at the heart of a great new Total War game. We’re guided and reassured in this by the success of pioneers such as Heinrich Schliemann, who believed that there was substance behind those old tales and went on to prove this by excavating the sites of Troy and Mycenae, opening up the way for science to further explore this period of history.”
Looking at the Iliad
Homer’s Iliad is an epic tale that focuses on human conflicts and affairs – but it also features a lot of fantastical and supernatural elements. Although the ancient Greeks and Romans obviously believed in its historicity, for centuries it was considered little more than a work of fiction well outside the scope of science.
That ultimately changed when Heinrich Schliemann – more adventurer than scientist – actually discovered and excavated the sites of Troy on the hill of Hissarlik in Turkey, and then went on to also find Mycenae and Tiryns in mainland Greece. He firmly believed in the historicity of the Iliad, and although his methods attracted a lot of professional criticism, it is undoubtedly his discoveries that opened up a wider avenue for exploration of the Greek Bronze Age in light of the myths and legends for that time.
Today we have a lot of matching and cross-referenceable sources that lend credibility to different parts of the Iliad’s story. The ruins of Troy VI and VII clearly denote a period when the great fortification was destroyed by an earthquake, and there are signs of war and siege (lots of arrowheads, evidence of fires, and rooms in buildings having been compartmentalised in order to accommodate more people).
The Hittite texts – a body of sources ranging from letters between the rulers of the Hittite empire and other heads of states, legal documents, hymns, rituals, and more – have been shown to contain references to Ahhiyawa (now identified with the Achaeans – the Greeks in Homer’s epic), Wilusa (connected to Ilios/Ilion – one of the names of the city of Troy, given after the grandfather of Priam, Ilios), Taruisa (more directly referencing Troia or the surrounding region the Troad).
Maya explains: “We have the names of some rulers of Wilusa Piyama-Radu and Alaksandu – linguistically connected to Priam and Alexander (the birth name of Paris). We even have some small details like the god Apaliunas (a Hittite version of an early form of Apollo), who stands to guarantee a treaty between the rulers of Hattusa and Wilusa – and, as we know from the Iliad, Apollo is the most prominent god in Troy.
In Linear B – the syllable script adapted from the Minoan Linear A for writing in Mycenean Greek – there are names such as E-ko-to (Hector) and A-ki-re-u (Achilles) that tell us that those were given to people contemporary of the legendary events.
Even more broadly speaking, the legendary journeys of the heroes described in the works of the Epic Cycle – which besides the Iliad and the Odyssey includes the now lost Cypria, Aethiopis, Nostoi (Returns) and others – tell the tales of long sea voyages and battles on the shores and islands of the Mediterranean, which we know from history was when the infamous Sea People were causing peril in the region.
It’s fun to think of the Odyssey when you switch the point of view from the main character to the inhabitants of the places they visited that suffered the brunt of their “adventures”.
Euhemerism and authenticity
One of the key pillars of Total War games is authenticity – the ambition of creating the game’s sandbox in a manner that feels natural and true to its source while also accommodating all the eventualities that didn’t necessarily occur in history.
Maya acknowledges this, saying: “It is an important challenge – to capture the spirit of the source while also providing the necessary gameplay freedom that allows for anything to happen. So it was quite a relief when I realised our grounded approach to myths is not alien to the classical Greeks’ understanding of their legendary past – to the contrary, it is actually very fitting with their own mindset.”
She volunteers a scene from Plato’s Phaedrus that illustrates this:
Phaedrus: But tell me, Socrates, in the name of Zeus, do you really believe that legend is true?
Socrates: Actually, it would not be out of place for me to reject it, as our intellectuals do. I could then tell a clever story: I could claim that a gust of the North Wind blew her over the rocks where she was playing; and once she was killed that way people said she had been carried off by Boreas [god of the North Wind]…
This rational approach to myths is also embedded in the philosophy of the Greek mythographer Euhemerus. His approach – euhemerism – is derived from the notion that myths are exaggerated accounts of historical characters and events.
“Of course,” Maya notes, “Euhemerism is a bit extreme – it tries to explain all myths in a rational way. But it does present an interesting challenge for us while developing Troy – to try and uncover that “clever story”, in the words of Socrates, that is the possible kernel of truth from which the myths and legends sprouted. It does require an interesting mix of cynical scepticism – to ruthlessly analyse and deconstruct myths – but also sympathy towards them, so as to retain their characteristics instead of discarding them completely.”
Myths and meanings
Maya gave some examples of this euhemeristic approach to myths the team used while researching Troy:
- The myth of the god of metallurgy Hephaestus tells us he’s the son of Hera (and sometimes Zeus, but not always – which is already curious), and he was thrown to the Earth on the island of Lemnos after his birth – hence his deformity. Hera was queen of the gods, and the goddess of marriage, the sky, and the stars of heaven. Can this account relate to an astronomical event? Did the starry sky “give birth” to a meteorite that gave us metallurgy? Recent research also links the description of his physical appearance with the symptoms of arsenic poisoning associated with Bronze Age metallurgy.
- We know from myths that Zeus, lord of the thunderbolt, fought Typhoeus, the monstrous giant born from the earth and as tall as the sky, until he finally contained him under Mount Etna, the Sicilian volcano. And here’s how this same scenario played out in Chile in 2012:
- The myth of Bellerophon tells the story of the hero who tamed the winged horse Pegasus, travelled to Lycia on the Anatolian shores, and vanquished the monstrous Chimera – a winged, fire-breathing creature with the heads of a snake, a lion, and a goat. It’s an unusual mix and is often interpreted symbolically, but interestingly a bas relief of a Hittite sphynx found at Karkemish might explain it all too well – it checks all the boxes of this unusual creature’s description. So can we imagine the “clever story” of a Greek warlord who led a force to Lycia and found a colony expelling the local Hittite forces while also “taming” the local natural phenomenon of “eternal fires” – natural gas outlets that might very well have been interpreted as the fiery breath of the Chimera?
- The myth of Theseus is an interesting example, too, as it almost turns upside down when subjected to the grounded approach. Theseus was supposedly magically conceived by a princess of Troezen, the god Poseidon, and the king of Athens Aegeus, who was worried about not having a male heir and sought the help of an oracle. When the hero came of age and discovered his royal origin he travelled to Athens by land, completing six heroic labours and defeating various bandits and monsters until he could claim his position as next in line for the throne (much to the chagrin of the king’s nephews). He then went on to capture the Marathon Bull and vanquish the Minotaur on Crete, among other things. It’s an odd story if you start asking questions, for example:
- Why didn’t the king marry the princess immediately?
- Why did the hero take the long route by land instead of jumping straight on a ship to Athens?
- Why did no one at court recognise him?
But maybe, if we accept all the details, another story connects the dots better: the Athenian king did travel to the oracle and shared his story while staying at Troezen, and the princess probably was pregnant – but surely not from Poseidon. The boy did grow into a wily and powerful local warlord, who meticulously eliminated all competing bandits in the Athenian hinterland – six of them – until he became a power significant enough to question the rule of the capital. In the end, the king had to submit to the circumstances, and to save face the usurper was recognised as the true heir by a magical story – one that we all know and love even to this day. That scenario is significantly darker, but also rings much truer. And that’s the charm of grounded myths – uncovering the harsher realities behind the whimsical tales we’ve become accustomed to accepting without question.
More than monsters
It would be impossible to talk about myth without also talking about monsters – and Maya agrees.
“Strictly speaking, the Iliad does not feature a lot of fantastical characters and monsters – it focuses on larger-than-life heroes and meddlesome gods instead. Still, we cannot seriously endeavour into the realm of Greek myth and legend without acknowledging some fan favourites. And, more importantly, by doing so we complement the variety of possible army rosters and battle gameplay with some important options that would otherwise be missing or very scarce in a purely Bronze Age setting. So the inclusion of “mythical” units in Troy is justified by reasons of authenticity and even more so – by gameplay necessity.”
However, Maya also notes that their inclusion happens with two main caveats:
- “Monsters” in Troy are purely optional content – players who want to can gain access to these units in the designated spots on the map, but they exist outside the main factions’ rosters and can easily be avoided completely by the more-historically inclined
- All “mythic” units are subject to the team’s euhemeristic truth behind the myth approach to not twist the overall tone and direction of the game
Below Maya explains some of the mythical units that can be encountered in A Total War Saga: TROY as well as how they lend themselves to the game’s euhemeristic approach.
In Greek mythology, the Minotaur was a monstrous man-eating beast on the island of Crete. This iconic monster was first created when Poseidon presented King Minos with a sacrificial bull which he refused to slaughter, forcing the Greek god to repay this act of sacrilege by cursing the king’s wife to bear a child that was half bull, half man. According to the myth, Athenian youths were sent as tribute to Minos to be eaten by the monster in its lair – a maze called the Labyrinth, built by Daedalus to house the Minotaur. Ultimately the monster was slain by Theseus roughly one generation prior to the Trojan War in the Greek mythological timeline.
Scientists speculate that the basis for the Labyrinth may be the complex architecture of the Minoan palace in Knossos discovered by Arthur Evans. The name “labyrinth” may be related to the sacred double-headed axe of the Minoans – the “labrys”.
In TROY we’ve created a backstory for our Minotaur that reconciles the timelines and the fact that Homeric Crete was dominated by the Mycenaeans and not the Minoans for at least two centuries after the fall of the latter. We think of our Minotaur as a rebel or bandit king who invokes the symbols of the past to make his claim for power – he uses the bull mask and the double axe as means to connect to the Minoan heritage and incite followers.
In the game, the Minotaur can be found and recruited in specific locations – including, of course, Crete. Thanks to his size and martial skill, the Minotaur is a daunting opponent to face on the battlefields of the ancient Mediterranean.
According to Homer, Polyphemus is a monstrous giant that features in the Odyssey – the story that follows the Iliad and describes the adventurous return of Odysseus to Ithaca. He lives on an island later identified as Sicily by the Greeks, and dwells in a cave along with his herd of sheep. All “Kyklopes” (“orb-eyed”) are considered savage and uncivilised man-eating giants.
Interestingly, we found that fossils of what are known as “dwarf elephants” have been found on Sicily and other islands in the Mediterranean, indicating these creatures lived there as late as 11,000 BCE. The size of these species and the shape of their skulls, where the nasal cavity looks strikingly similar to one big eye socket in the centre of the skull, is considered to be the origin of the myth of the Cyclopes – an ancient race of one-eyed giants from an earlier epoch.
We gave that cyclopean skull to our Polyphemus as a helmet as well as a savage look with lots of body paint and scarification to go with his sheepskin clothes and blunt weapon.
In TROY, Polyphemus can be found and recruited on specific islands, implying that he is a “son of Poseidon” – perhaps a raider or pirate who moves between secret island hideouts.
The hulking Cyclops is a good match in combat with the Minotaur – and they are bitter rivals.
The legend of Achilles implies the existence of Centaurs – a mythical tribe of wild half-men, half-horses located in the vicinity of Mount Pelion (named after Peleus, the father of Achilles).
In the myths, Peleus was exiled in his mother’s homeland, at the foot of Mount Pelion in Thessaly, where he incurred the enmity of his royal host and was left alone to fend off a group of Centaurs unarmed. Luckily the Centaur elder Chiron helped the young hero and befriended him. Later, Chiron taught Peleus how to capture the goddess Thetis, and from their bond Achilles was born. Chiron took young Achilles and became his mentor.
In TROY, we interpret Centaurs as tribes of masterful riders who visibly appear “one with their horses” and are quite wild-looking and culturally distinct from the proto-Greek tribes that dominate the region. They can be found in the vicinity of Pelion, in the mountains of Arcadia, and on the Anatolian coast towards Rhodes.
In myths, the neighbouring tribe of the Lapiths has been credited with the invention of the horse bit and bridle, so it’s not a huge stretch to imagine the whole myth is centred around the taming and mastery of horses.
Needless to say, the Centaurs make up for the lack of other true cavalry in the game, although chariots and special light units also fulfil this role in battle.
Accounts of Giants come more from the Odyssey, where on some islands the sailors encounter tribes either of or related to Gigantes – the giants of Greek mythology. The Roman historian Pausanias takes that description to mean that, for Homer, the Giants were a race of mortal men rather than mythological creatures.
In TROY, Giants can be recruited in a few locations spread evenly on the map. Similar to Centaurs, Giants fulfil a functional role in battle in an era missing true siege machinery as they are very good at assaulting gates during sieges.
The possibilities of the truth behind the myth
In addition to allowing the measured inclusion of monsters (of a sort), TROY team’s truth behind the myth approach is also worked into the way some of the game’s essential mechanics function. Maya explains:
“The grounded myth approach provides us with a framework for implementing religion and belief as part of our Divine Will system, where religious cults affect the gameplay in meaningful ways – not unlike the gods of the Iliad who meddled in human affairs. It also gives us the opportunity to explore and flesh out the opposing factions in the poem – the Trojans and Lycians – in the light of historical research into Luwians, Phrygians, and the Hittite influence on the western coast of Anatolia. For example, we represent the tension between the brothers Paris and Hector as more practical political rivalry for the inheritance of the throne of Troy. We also explore some more grounded interpretations of the legends in Epic Missions – the unique mission chains that each of the faction leaders must follow in order to achieve “Homeric victory”.”
However, Maya points out that – perhaps most of all – the truth behind the myth approach “enables us to make this game in this time period by giving us the tools to bridge the gaps in the historical record. It also helps supply an interesting framework for interpreting myths and legends, as well as identifying the truths hidden behind them. And, in the end, it provides variety and choice for those who like more or less mythology and fantastical elements in their Bronze Age.”
Onwards to Troy!
Want more behind-the-scenes peeks at the development of A Total War Saga: TROY? Take a look at our previous dev diaries on Achilles, Achaeans, and Aesthetics: The Art of TROY here or Bartering, Bronze, and Battles: TROY and the Bronze Age here.
Also make sure to keep an eye on our social media channels for all the latest TROY updates!
探寻神话背后的真相便是《A Total War Saga: TROY》开发工作的指导方向之一。不过，何谓探寻神话背后的真相呢？
我们再次与Creative Assembly Sofia的游戏总监Maya Georgieva一同探讨了神话背后的真相，以及众神、怪兽等涉及到的一切事物。
“《Total War》系列游戏中的历史作品从来不缺乏可发掘的题材与素材——而我们真正能覆盖到的或许只是其中一部分，当然了，并不是因为我们没尽力！其中一个适合《Total War》发挥的题材便是青铜时代晚期，特别是神秘而动荡的青铜时代崩溃期——对此我们早有计划。不过，要想以一种引人入胜又充满乐趣的方式来表现如此久远的时代，同时还要考虑如何满足各种条件、让游戏内容不落后于当今技术的发展，从客观上来说的确是一大挑战。”
在下方，Maya阐释了一些你会在《A Total War Saga: TROY》中遇到的神话部队，以及他们将如何与游戏所采用的欧赫迈罗斯主义研究方式保持一致。
想要了解更多有关《A Total War Saga: TROY》的幕后故事吗？可以在此查看我们先前的开发日志：Achilles, Achaeans, and Aesthetics: The Art of TROY或Bartering, Bronze, and Battles: TROY and the Bronze。