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Blood, Lust, and Protection: An Alternate View of Ares, God of the Greek Pantheon

Blood, Lust, and Protection: An Alternate View of Ares, God of the Greek Pantheon

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Ares is one of the most popular gods of the Greek pantheon. He is also one of the earliest documented deities, known from the texts much older than the Iliad. This deity is primarily known as a bloody god of war who was thought to help soldiers on the battlefield.

Thousands of helmets unearthed in the lands which were dominated by the ancient Greeks once belonged to men who followed his cult. However, it seems that Ares was called upon not only for war, but also to aid individuals with their personal battles. Moreover, he was believed to be a father to the famous fighting-women the Amazons, and his daughter Hippolyta was the Amazon queen.

Amazon wearing trousers and carrying a shield with an attached patterned cloth and a quiver. Attic white-ground black-figured alabastron. (c. 470 BC)

Amazon wearing trousers and carrying a shield with an attached patterned cloth and a quiver. Attic white-ground black-figured alabastron. (c. 470 BC) ( Marie-Lan Nguyen/CC BY 2.5 )

A Hero in Homeric Tales

Ares is usually presented as an impressive man in full armor and a helmet. He often carries a shield and a spear. However, there are also examples of artwork where he appears on a chariot which is pulled by fire-breathing horses.

Ares must have been a very important deity when Homer (or writers known as Homer) created the famous Iliad, Odyssey, and other texts. Although he may not appear to be the best candidate to be a popular deity at first, his quick temper and aggressive personality were once viewed with admiration and not just fear. Average people were scared of Ares, but it was a feeling connected with deep respect as well. He was the one his followers looked to for support during the scariest battles. The army which was cared for by Ares could be an unbreakable machine and was thought to always come out of their battles victorious.

“Ludovisi Ares”. Pentelic marble, Roman copy after a Greek original from c. 320 BC. Some restorations in Cararra marble by Gianlorenzo Bernini, 1622.

“Ludovisi Ares”. Pentelic marble, Roman copy after a Greek original from c. 320 BC. Some restorations in Cararra marble by Gianlorenzo Bernini, 1622. ( Public Domain )

Ares appeared in writings by Hesiod as a contrast to Athena. According to him, Ares was brutal and inspired the soldiers to bloody acts. At the same time, Athena was apparently responsible for strategy. However, before judging Ares as the worst deity of ancient Greece, it is necessary to remember the love affair between the god of war with the goddess of love – Aphrodite. Sometimes this relationship is described as similar to the concept of yin and yang. Ares is often depicted with his children with Aphrodite - Phobos (Fear) and Deimos (Terror), and with his sister Eris (Strife).

The Homeric Hymn 8 to Ares, dated to the period between the 7th and 4th centuries BC, says:

"Ares, exceeding in strength, chariot-rider, golden-helmed, doughty in heart, shield-bearer, Saviour of cities, harnessed in bronze, strong of arm, unwearying, mighty with the spear, O defence of Olympus, father of warlike Victory, ally of Themis, stern governor of the rebellious, leader of righteous men, sceptred King of manliness, who whirl your fiery sphere among the planets in their sevenfold courses through the aether wherein your blazing steeds ever bear you above the third firmament of heaven; hear me, helper of men, giver of dauntless youth! Shed down a kindly ray from above upon my life, and strength of war, that I may be able to drive away bitter cowardice from my head and crush down the deceitful impulses of my soul. Restrain also the keen fury of my heart which provokes me to tread the ways of blood-curdling strife. Rather, O blessed one, give you me boldness to abide within the harmless laws of peace, avoiding strife and hatred and the violent fiends of death."

Ares. Copy of the Severian period after a Greek bronze original by Alkamenes dated 420 BC. From the sacred area in Largo Argentina, 1925.

Ares. Copy of the Severian period after a Greek bronze original by Alkamenes dated 420 BC. From the sacred area in Largo Argentina, 1925. ( Public Domain )

Ares was one of Hera and Zeus’ sons and his power was well known. He may have also been an icon of an attractive man in ancient Greece - he had a few children with different lovers. His main attributes were courage and strength in war, but his handsomeness bought him even more popularity. For example, Aphrodite was married to Hephaestus when she got a crush on Ares.

Theirs was a mad romance and it caused Ares to be banished from Mount Olympus and punished like a naughty child by his powerful parents. Apart from having a weakness for women, Ares was also seen as a protector for badly treated women. For instance, he murdered Halirrhothios, a son of Poseidon, who raped his daughter Alkippe. From this story, there are some suggestions that women may have asked him to punish men who treated them badly.

Aphrodite and Ares.

Aphrodite and Ares. ( Public Domain )

Ares is presented as a very radical personality and an individual that got things done. He was admired by the famous Spartan warriors. One of the most popular myths about Ares tells of his fight with Hercules. It had to be a very inspiring tale for the warriors, whose restrictive way of living made them an extremely dangerous army.

He also appeared in Homer’s Iliad. In this, he supports the Trojans. In some moments, he fights arm in arm with Hektor, but the plot shows the competition of the Trojans in a more positive light, so Ares is called ''the hateful', ''the curse of men'' or ''the man killer.” Homer depicted him as a weak god, who was beaten by Athena. According to the ancient writer, the goddess supported the Acheans and she knocked him out with a large rock. When he got wounded during the fight with Diomedes, who was supported by Athena, his scream of pain was said to be louder than 10,000 men.

‘The Combat of Ares and Athena’ (1771) by Jacque-Louis David.

The Combat of Ares and Athena’ (1771) by Jacque-Louis David. ( Public Domain )

Ares in Today’s World

Nowadays, Ares is one of the most popular ancient deities. He appears in many movies, books, and works of art related to ancient history. During the Renaissance, he was also a very popular motif in artwork. His symbols became the spear and helmet and he was often depicted with a dog. With time, he was dethroned by the Roman god Mars, who became the iconic deity of Neoclassical works.

More recently, Ares was honored by NASA who named a ship after him. Moreover, he is a patron of the multi-sport club in Greece called Aris Thessaloniki.

A modern representation of Ares.

A modern representation of Ares. ( CC BY NC ND 2.0 )

Top Image: Head of the god Ares on a sculpture from the temple of Ares in Athens. ( CC BY NC SA 2.0 ) Battle of Salamis (1868) by Wilhelm von Kaulbach . ( Public Domain )

By Natalia Klimczak

References:

Z. Kubiak, Mitologia Greków i Rzymian, 1997.

Ares, available at:
http://greekgodsandgoddesses.net/gods/ares/

Hymn 8 to Ares, available at:
http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0138%3Ahymn%3D8

Comments

You mentioned that Ares dethroned Mars, I wonder if the Romans had a war god before they encountered the Greeks. It is well known that the Romans adopted gods from others and I wonder if this was one of them, in which case, he wasn’t dethroned, though his name became less well known to the people.

A Night in Shining Armor, A Silver Tounged Devil, His pain was that of 10,000 men…

Not many like that around anymore... 

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