Written by Katherine Kennedy, Contributing Writer, Classical Wisdom
In the immortal words from the musical Grease, ‘I got chills, they’re multiplying, and I’m losing control…’ and if you’ve ever experienced that sensation, then you’ve met the god of terror.
That skittering chill, which runs the length of your spine, and the gut-wrenching sense of dread which fills you; those sensations are what the ancients believed to be the influence of ‘Deimos’.
But who is this god? How and why did his influence cause humans to lose their minds? To understand this, we must look at Deimos’ parentage and who his siblings were…
Deimos was the twin brother of Phobos, both born to Ares and Aphrodite, and grandson to the Olympian god Zeus, and the goddesses Dione and Hera. Deimos’ name translates into English as ‘dread’. Thus, together with his twin, they are ‘dread’ and ‘fear’, making them harbingers of terror.
These terrifying twins had two counterparts; Eris the goddess of strife, and their aunt, the goddess Enyo, the deity of war and bloodshed. Together, the four would accompany Ares as attendants on the battlefield, striking at the combatants to increase the thrill of battle and blood to be spilled.
Ancient and Classical Influence
Deimos is described as riding along in Ares’ chariot with his brother, as the gods of war took their place on the ancient battlefields in mythology. Deimos is also repeatedly mentioned in the Iliad, where he is described as:
“So he [Ares] spoke, and ordered Deimos (Fear) and Phobos (Terror) to harness his horses, and himself got into his shining armour.” – Homer, Iliad 15. 119 ff
“Also Kytherea (Cytherea) [Aphrodite] bare to Ares the shield-piercer Phobos (Panic) and Deimos (Fear), terrible gods who drive in disorder the close ranks of men in numbing war, with the help of Ares, sacker of towns.” – Hesiod, Theogony 933 ff (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic C8th or C7th B.C.)
Deimos’ notoriety held throughout civilization and history and the Romans adopted the gods, known as Formido or Metus.
You can also see Deimos’s presence at the monument to Leonidas, at Sparta and Thermopylae, where the king holds onto his shield with its depiction of the god. The god of terror is portrayed with wide eyes and a great bearded-mouth seeking to devour all; an image that would strike fear into the hearts of all mortal men.
Although the ancient gods are distant memories for many of us, Deimos’ influence can still be seen in our world today. He is included as a half-brother to Rick Riordan’s Clarisse La Rue in the popular Percy Jackson series.
The god is also seen in the animated movie Wonder Woman, where he commits suicide after refusing to reveal the location of his father, Ares, to Wonder Woman.
We also see Deimos in the popular TV series Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, and Xena: Warrior Princess, where he is ultimately slain by Xena. There are many pop-culture uses of his name for characters that exemplify the god’s characteristics.
Finally, Deimos is the name of one of the twin moons that orbit the planet Mars, named by Asaph Hall, after the god and his twin.
Deimos, although a lesser-known god, certainly has had a lasting impact on our world. His influence can be felt by those courting an adrenalin rush, or for others as a sense of foreboding before a disaster.
It’s interesting to remember that wherever Deimos is, his twin brother will be too. The god Phobos uses his skills to strike fear in all, and together they wield great power to coerce men to act irrationally.
At this time, of a global pandemic, we see the twin’s work; stockpiling of goods, anger and rage, fear and aggression towards others. We must be ever vigilant against these tendencies, and remember that it could well be these gods toying with our minds for their own amusement and vanity.