Westworld: The Significance of ‘Delos’ in Greek mythology

The Greek island of Delos has a fascinating history. Here’s what the Westworld park owners’ name symbolizes…

Warning: contains spoilers for Westworld season two.

When Michael Crichton chose Delos as the name of the resort in his 1973 sci-fi film Westworld, he chose wisely. The Greek isle of Delos has more stories than a barfly on his ninth pint, and they’re all excellent.

One tells that Delos was created when the goddess Asteria attempted to escape the attentions of wizardly rapist Zeus by turning herself into a quail, diving into the sea and transforming into an island. An island! Good luck getting your end away with that, Zeus.

Another says that the island was created by Poseidon thrusting his trident into the sea, but is entirely free of quails, so you decide which is better.

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Sticking with the King of the Gods, Zeus once impregnated Titan goddess Leto, which, understandably though-you’d-think-she’d-have-been-used-to-it-by-now, angered Zeus’ wife Hera. To get her own back on Leto, Hera commanded her gran Gaia to deny the Titan any land on which to give birth.

When Leto prayed to him for help, Zeus more or less shrugged and said his hands were tied, but did ask his brother Poseidon to direct the waves of Leto’s boat towards the island of Delos. Delos was unanchored according to myth, so it didn’t technically count as ‘land’ thereby circumventing Hera’s curse.

On Delos, Leto gave birth to twins Artemis (goddess of the hunt, the moon and chastity) and Apollo (god of music, truth, the sun, healing and, I don’t know, picnics). Some say that Artemis, born first, assisted at her twin brother’s tricky transverse delivery, thereby rendering anything your baby has ever achieved as disappointing in comparison.

Quails and curses and infant midwives are big fun, obviously, but what does all this have to do with Westworld?

Delos was a holy sanctuary even before it was thought of as the birthplace of Apollo, who was one of the real blockbuster Greek gods. After his and Artemis’ birth, Delos became a PanHellenic site of religious pilgrimage. That meant keeping the place as pure as possible. Gwyneth Paltrow-pure.

How to make a healing sanctuary even purer? Get rid of the foul stench of death. It’s said the island’s graves were all disinterred and the bodies moved offshore, purging the land completely of corpses. Belt and braces, it was also decreed that nobody was henceforth allowed to die on the island or give birth there. (Which, looking into it, may actually have been more the ancient Greek equivalent of a tax fiddle than anything else.)

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Anyone up-to-date with the second season of Westworld will know that ‘an island where nobody dies’ is hardly an apt description of the place. There are more corpses in season two than there are people looking panicked at iPads. The idea of death being outlawed though, has clear relevance to the Delos name.

In season two episode The Riddle Of The Sphinx, we learned that billionaire park investor James Delos, played by Peter Mullan, had died of an unspecified disease. His memories had been downloaded and experimentally uploaded to a host body designed in his exact image in an attempt to make him immortal. The experiments began well but all failed as the host brain gradually lost function.

Delos then—the word translates from the Greek as ‘unconcealed’ or ‘apparent’—is both an island that once prohibited death and the name of a company and a man, trying to reverse it.