Horizon Zero Dawn

I have an English degree. Specifically, I have a Bachelor’s in Literature with a minor in Creative Writing. So I was forced to study Greek mythology as a part of that degree.

Okay, so forced isn’t really the right word. Greek mythology is awesome. It’s like the ancient Greek version of the X-Men (which I also really love). There’s a reason this ancient stuff is still read and studied today — because once you get into it, it’s incredibly compelling. These are some really great cosmic stories that ask big questions about what it means to be human.

So I always think a little too hard about Greek mythology when references to it are made, which brings my college days flooding back to me. And Horizon Zero Dawn is a game that references Greek mythology in some very important places.

Now, I’m going to give some spoilers for the later portion of Horizon Zero Dawn, so if you haven’t completed the game yet, you might want to turn away now.

Horizon Zero Dawn

So, if you’ve played far enough in the game, you will have learned that self-replicating machines wiped out all life on Earth. When mankind realized there doom was impending and unstoppable, a small group of human beings decided to create an A.I. that would be released after the end of the world to terraform it and essentially reboot life on the planet. That A.I. was called GAIA.

Because humanity didn’t have enough time to create a fully realized version of GAIA, they broke down its core functions into separate programs that could be deployed by GAIA, and GAIA was sort of the overseer of all these separate subordinate functions.

So what happens if it doesn’t work? Well, there was a contingency plan. One of these subordinate functions was designed to wipe out all life on Earth in the case of a failure, so GAIA could reboot and try again. This subordinate function was called HADES.

Horizon Zero Dawn - GAIA vs HADES

Why HADES though? In Greek mythology, Hades was a god who ruled over the underworld (which is also referred to as Hades). While he was the ultimate judge over the realm, he left a lot of the more unpleasant stuff (specifically the torture) to his underlings. The HADES program, though, was designed to wipe the Earth clean to begin anew.

So, in my opinion, it should have been called the LETHE program. LETHE is a far less imposing name for the game’s ultimate “villain,” I suppose, but in Greek mythology, Lethe is a river in the underworld that purges the memories of your existence. Once you cross it, you begin anew, with no memory of what happened before. That’s basically the function of HADES in Horizon Zero Dawn.

Additionally, there was a subordinate function designed to create a school and share the knowledge of pre-fall culture with the new denizens of the Earth. That program was called APOLLO.

Okay, I can see where they were going with this, because Apollo was (I’ll quote Wikipedia here) “a god of archery, music and dance, truth and prophecy, healing and diseases, the Sun and light, poetry, and more.” So that kind of scans.

Horizon Zero Dawn

But the more appropriate name here would have been Prometheus. Prometheus was a god who stole fire from Mount Olympus and gave it to humans. It was an act that gave mankind access to a power that was once exclusive to the realm of gods. Later retellings of the myth add the arts and sciences to Prometheus’ gift to humanity. But this gift came at a great cost, for Prometheus (good ol’ Prommy!) would have his liver eaten by an eagle every single day, and then his liver would regenerate so the eagle could feast on it again the next day.

So Prometheus gave humanity the gift of fire, and of art, and of science, but that gift came at great cost to the one who gave it. That sounds like it’s pretty much exactly the intent of the APOLLO program, doesn’t it? Especially when you listen to Ted Faro’s ramble about how this knowledge is a curse for an unblemished human race. Prometheus is simply the more accurate name.

Okay, so maybe my suggestions are a little too on-the-nose. Maybe there are really good reasons why the names HADES and APOLLO were chosen over LETHE and PROMETHEUS. But the more I think about it, and the more I refresh myself on Greek mythology (mostly by reading Wikipedia, I admit), the more it seems like the current names are just completely wrong.

But maybe I’m just thinking about this way too hard… I guess it doesn’t really matter what the subordinate functions of a master terraforming A.I. are named. They could have been Doc and Marty, or Jack and Diane, or Humperdinck and Buttercup, Mario and Luigi, or Johnson and Johnson, and I wouldn’t have even noticed. But HADES and APOLLO specifically? Those just seem completely wrong to me.

Notify of
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
1 year ago

So a few problems with your interpretation. First, we aren’t ancient greeks. most people don’t even know Lethe but Hades is associated with death and the underworld. Remember myths and legends evolve so those modern views of Hades are as much a part of the mythos as the ancient Greek myths are. I don’t get why people always forget that myths change over time. Secondly, Lethe makes no more sense than Hades since if Gaia did not retain information from before the HADES reboots it would be doomed to repeat the errors from the previous revision. As for Prometheus, he brought divine knowledge to humans. The Apollo database doesn’t do that. Human knowledge isn’t divine thought it might seem so to the primitive tribes of Horizon. From everything, we can glean in the game and sequel Apollo is more like a school and that form of education from childhood to adulthood actually falls in Apollo’s domain as the protector of the young.

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x