I don’t know a great deal about the upcoming PC game Apotheon beyond what can be gleaned from the trailer. According to Polygon, it’s a Metroid-like 2D action platformer whose original comic book visuals were replaced during the development process by its current classical-Greek-inspired look.
While the trailer doesn’t seem to delve much into the why of what goes on in the game, it’s pretty clear that there’s a lot of combat, and that the game takes the idealized figures of ancient Greek pottery and adds a great deal of blood. Exploding clouds of blood, in fact, not even imagining that every wound must hit an artery so much as the human body itself as a film special effect, with a layer of explosive squibs directly beneath the skin.
That said, it must be acknowledged that while classical Greek art might not often be gory to our modern, horror-film-jaded eyes, it is frequently violent. (See, for example, this image of a pot depicting Achilles dragging Hector’s body behind his chariot, which probably illustrates my point better, but doesn’t look quite as nice on the page as the more generic battle scene below.)
And if the ancient Greeks valued a clean line in their visual art, they certainly didn’t shy away from detailed descriptions of the effect of violence on human anatomy in their poetry. Take, for example, the following excerpt from Book V of The Iliad, which seems to build momentum as it goes.
Then Idomeneus killed Phaestus, the son of Maeonian Borus, from fertile Tarne. The famous spearman transfixed his shoulder, as he mounted his chariot, with a thrust of the long spear, and hateful darkness took him. Idomeneus’ men stripped him of his armour.
Then Menelaus with his sharp spear slew Scamandrius, the skilful hunter, son of Strophius. He was a master of the chase, taught by Artemis herself to kill all the wild creatures of the mountain forest. Yet Artemis, Mistress of the Bow, was no help now, nor all his former skill in archery. For Menelaus, the great spearman, lanced him in the back as he fled, and drove the point between his shoulders, through the chest. Scamandrius fell face downwards with a crash.
Then Meriones killed Phereclus, son of Tecton, Harmon’s son, who was skilled in fashioning every kind of clever work, loved greatly as he was by Pallas Athene. He built for Paris those fine ships that proved a source of evil, and a bane to all the Trojans and himself, being ignorant of the gods’ intentions. Meriones chased him down, and when he caught him speared him through the right buttock, beneath the bone and into the bladder, so that he slumped to his knees with a groan, and death enveloped him.
Then Meges killed Pedaeus, a bastard son of Antenor’s, whom Lady Theano had raised with care as if he were her own, to please her husband. Meges the mighty spearman, Phyleus’ son, caught him and struck him in the neck-joint with his sharp spear, so the bronze blade severed his tongue at the root and exited between his teeth.
And Eurypylus, Euaemon’s son, killed noble Hypsenor, the son of proud Dolopion, priest of Scamander, whom the people honoured like a god. Mighty Eurypylus chased him as he fled, and striking him on the shoulder with his sword, lopped off his mighty arm, which tumbled to the ground in a shower of blood. Implacable fate, dark death, enveloped his eyes.
Beneath the bone and into the bladder! Severed the tongue at the root and exited through the teeth! A shower of blood! Not a man for polite company, that Homer.
All of which is to say that it’s easy to criticize the aesthetic trappings of violence in our art, the technicolor blood spatter as cheap thrill in Tarantino or God of War, but it’s more important to examine what violence does than what we make it look like. (And, to that end, I’ll reserve judgement on Apotheon for now.) The blood before our eyes, bleeding off the page onto our hands, is old and has been running for a long time.