Ares

Ares

What is Ares the Greek god of?

AresAres (Gr. Αρης; Lat. Ares) is the god of war and warriors in Greek mythology; he is the only legitimate son of Zeus and Hera. He is one of the twelve Olympians gods. The animals dedicated to him were the dog and the vulture.
Ares is the warrior god par excellence and it is normal to see him represented wearing his bronze armor, his head covered with the sparkling helmet, his hair undulating, he wields a spear or sword, and his arm is protected by a shield. Usually, he fights on foot, breaking tanks, knocking down walls; but he is also seen riding on a chariot harnessed with two or four magnificent horses. Physically, the names given to him indicate great vigour, size and colossal speed. He entered the battle carried away by a real war madness, his eyes wide open, showing an enormous hysteria, greedy for blood and blood, insatiable in his fury, indifferent to justice and recognizing only the law of war.

 

 

The Mars chariot pulled by wolves
The Mars chariot pulled by wolves,1673 © Palace of Versailles

Around him, popular belief saw a whole procession of allegorical deities: Enyo (goddess of war), Eris (Discord), Deimos and Phobos (fear), and the Keres (deities of murder and violent death).
He usually lived in Thrace, country of the warring populations.
He filled Olympus with the sound of his incessant quarrels, an enemy in particular of Heracles and Athena; the goddess with persistent eyes was undoubtedly his most bitter enemy, she called him a “dog fly” and did not hesitate to fight against him. He made himself detestable in the eyes of all Immortals; Zeus and Hera themselves declare him bluntly in the Iliad.
Hera, his mother, is not tender” Zeus Father, are you not outraged by Ares’ abuse? How many brave Achaeans has he not destroyed?

This is what Zeus takes up again when he addresses his son: “I hate you more than any of the gods who live on Olympus because you only dream of discord, war, and fighting”.

Among the Romans, he was identified by Mars, son of Juno and Jupiter. A curious tradition that Juno begat Mars without the help of Jupiter, but thanks to a magic flower with fertile virtues, which Flora had given him.

Ares’ symbols

He is often depicted with his helmet, armor, shield, and sword, notably on the statue of the Villa Museum near Tivoli. The animals dedicated to Ares are the vulture and the dog.

Ares had a quadriga pulled by four immortal horses of fire breath, linked to the wagon with a gold harness. Among all the gods, he distinguished himself by his bronze and shiny armor and usually wielded a spear battle. Its sacred birds were the cat-hound, woodpecker, eagle owl and, especially in southern Greece, the vulture. According to the Argonauts, the birds of Ares, moved like a herd and falling feathers sharp as darts defended its temple built by Amazons on an island near the Black Sea coast. Often, Ares is represented by a stone with red color, red as blood, the symbol of the fierce acts that are done in war.

 

Facts and myths about Ares

The legends in which Ares appears are not very frequent and both in his fights and in his loves he is not always to his advantage.

The battles of Ares

Ares against Athena
Ares against Athena by J.L. David – Louvre Museum

Ares is undoubtedly a formidable warrior, but his ardor and uncontrolled impetuosity do not protect him from injury or defeat.

During the Trojan War, Ares fought on the side of the Trojans, although he had promised his mother and Athena to assist the Greeks; but he played an inglorious role. Assisted by Athena, Diomedes seriously wounded him, which Ares complained to Zeus. Later, he tried again to join the battle, despite Zeus’ ban, but Athena prevented him from doing so.

During the dispute, Ares attacked the goddess and threw her javelin at her, but Athena managed to divert the jet with her magic shield covered with the Egidian; Athena was not wounded, but on the contrary, she stunned Ares with a stone blow. As Aphrodite tried to get him to safety, Athena punched her down and went to Zeus to complain too.

This was not the only time Ares was defeated. When Heracles, on the way to Delphi, on the shore of the Gulf of Pelian, was challenged by Cycnus, the son of Ares, the god himself became involved in the battle. But the hero, assisted by Athena, killed the robber Cycnus and wounded Ares in the thigh.
In another circumstance, before Pylos, Heracles wounded Ares in the thigh and even stripped him of his weapons.

Ares in chains

Zeus separating Ares and Athena
Zeus separating Ares and Athena. 540-510 © British Museum

Sometimes it even seems a little stupid; one day, he was chained and locked in a bronze pot for thirteen months by the giants Otus and Ephialtes.
According to another legend, the pretext for this kidnapping is the murder of Adonis, Aphrodite’s lover, killed in the hunt by Ares, jealous of his rival.
Ares would have perished if Hermes had not been informed of his misfortune by Eriboea, the Giants’ nurse, who took compassion on this fallen god.
Once freed, Ares fled to Naxos to hide his shame.

Mission accomplished

On another occasion, he succeeded in the mission entrusted to him by Zeus by liberating Thanatos retained by Sisyphus, king of Corinth who did not want not to die.

Murder of Halirrhothius

Mars and Vulcan
Mars winner of Ignorance by Antoon CLAEISSENS (1605) – Groeninge Museum

For having raped his daughter Alcippe, whom he had had from Aglaurus, daughter of Cecrops, he killed Halirrhothius, Poseidon’s son, with his own hand. For this murder, he was judged by the gods gathered in an assembly near the Acropolis. During the judgment, the votes were equally divided and it was Zeus’ (or Athena’s) vote that tipped the balance in his favor. He was acquitted but had to submit to a long servitude during seven years. Tradition Ares named this hill Areopagus in memory of this judgment and that a court was set up there to judge the murders.
However, Aeschylus gives a different version: according to him, it was the Amazons who established a sanctuary on this hill for their protector and father at the same time and named it Areopagus (the hill of Ares).

The Amazons

Ares is the tutelary god of the Amazons; he had entrusted their queen, Hippolyta, with her belt, symbol of power. Heracles came to get it later on during his ninth work. Ares participated in their wars and led them in their campaigns against the Phrygians, Lycians, Athenians, and other Anatolian kingdoms. In return, they founded many temples in his honor.

Loves of Ares

If his legends were not to his glory, he did not lack love conquests even if some were not always to his advantage. Like all the gods of Olympus, Ares officially courted Persephone but Demeter refused this union and gave him back his engagement gifts.

Ares and Aphrodite

The relationship between the two deities is complex

Mars and Venus surprised by Vulcan by Marteen Van HEEMSKERK (1536) – Kunsthistorisches Museum

It is true that he only lived in good understanding with Aphrodite. It should be noted that according to Hesiod they form a legitimate couple and are the parents Deimos, Phobos and Harmonia, Cadmus’ wife. Some poets also give them as parents of Eros, Anteros, Himeros (the Desire) and Paphos (the Passion)
If in the Iliad the love of Ares and Aphrodite is only sketched, it becomes a devouring passion in the Odyssey.
Ares came to visit Aphrodite at night lest Helios, the Sun that sees everything, report the facts to Hephaestus, Aphrodite’s lawful husband.
Ares posted a young ephebe named Alectryon in front of the door who had to warn him so that he could escape from the room before sunrise.
Unfortunately one morning the latter fell asleep and forgot the instructions; the two lovers were surprised by Hephaestus, warned by Helios, the husband flouted them in a magic net that only he was able to maneuver and exposed them thus to the ridicule of the Immortals. Hermes admitted that he would take Ares’ place, which made the laughs double. Hephaestus asked Zeus to return all his wedding gifts to him. The gods agreed to impose a punishment on Ares and only Poseidon did not laugh because he was bitterly negotiating with Hephaestus for the release of the unfortunate lovers.
Poseidon had to promise to pay if Ares refused to do so and Hephaestus would eventually release them. Aphrodite, ashamed, took refuge in Cyprus, her native island.
Ares left for Thrace not without having transformed poor Alectryon into a rooster and the second lover for eternity to warn of the arrival of the Sun.

Both lovers were equally jealous.
Ares could not bear it when Adonis courted Aphrodite; he turned into a boar and killed the handsome Adonis.
Likewise, Aphrodite took revenge on Eos for the deceit of her lover who had shared her bed.

March and Venus
March and Venus by BOTTICELLI ©National Gallery, London – Adventures of Ares.

Other loves

But this did not prevent Ares from having many other adventures with women who sometimes gave birth to violent children who engaged in acts of cruelty against their fellow men.

  • Aerope: Daughter of Cepheus from Arcadia; she died giving birth to a son, Aeropus, but her body was still able to breastfeed the baby.
  • Aglaure: Daughter of Cecrops, she had a daughter Alcippe who was raped by Halirrhothius, son of Poseidon. Ares killed him immediately and he was judged for this murder by the assembly of the gods on the hill of Ares (Areopagus) in Athens.
  • Althaea: She would have conceived Meleager according to Ovid but in general Meleager is considered to be the son of Althaea and Oeneus.
  • Anchiroe: Daughter of the river god Nilus, she would have had a son named Sithon with Ares but there are also other relatives.
  • Astyoche: Daughter of Actor she had two twin sons Ascalaphus, king of Orchomenus in Boeotia and Ialmenos. The two brothers participated in the Argonauts’ expedition. Then they engaged in the war against Troy where Ascalaphus was killed by Deiphobus.
  • Atalanta: She would have had a son named Parthenopaeus with Ares but we also find Meleager or Hippomenes.
  • Caldene: Daughter of Pisidus.
  • Calliope: She was Mygdon’s mother and maybe Edonus and Biston.
  • Callirrhoe: Daughter of Achelous.
  • Chryse: Daughter of Almus, she gave birth to Phlegyas.
  • Cyrene: She was the mother of Diomedes who fed her mares with human flesh and was killed by Heracles.
  • Demonice : Daughter of Agenor and Epicaste, she became the mother of Evenos, Molos, Pylos, and Thestios.
  • Dotis: Mother of Phlegyas.
  • Enyo: Goddess of the Bloody War who is considered to be Enyalios’ mother.
  • Eos: Aphrodite, furious to find Ares in Eos’ bed, condemned her to continuous love with young mortals.
  • Harmonia: Native of Asia Minor who made him the father of the first of the Amazons
  • Harpina: Daughter of Asopos and the nymph Metope gave her an Oenomaus thread.
  • Otrera: Queen of the Amazons; Ares became the father of the queens of the Amazons: Hippolyta, Antiope, Melanippe and Penthesilea according to the various authors. However, Otrera is also considered to be a daughter of Ares.
  • Persephone: He courted her unsuccessfully.
  • Phylonome: Daughter of Nictymus, she had two sons, Parrhasius and Lycastus. Their mother brought them to Mount Erymanthus to avoid her father’s wrath, he children were welcomed by shepherds and later they would rule Arcadia.
  • Protogeneia: Daughter of Calydon and Aeolia, she became Oxylus’ mother.
  • Pyrene or Pelopia: Mother of Cycnus who attacked the travelers. He was killed by Heracles in single combat in which Ares himself was wounded.
  • Sterope: Pleiad who was the mother of Oenomaus who was the king of Pisa in Elide.
  • Tanagra: Ares competed with Hermes to court Tanagra, a nymph from the Argos region, but after a real pugilate (fight), it was Hermes who won.
  • Tereine: Daughter of the river god Strymon, she gave birth to Thrassa, who was the mother of Polyphonte, a subsequent of Artemis.
  • Theogone: Mother of Timolos
  • Triteia: Daughter of Triton who conceived Melanippus who founded the city of Tritaia in honor of her mother.

We do not know the names of some of his concubines with whom he had nine sons and a dragon:

March and Rea
March and Rea Silvia by RUBENS – Liechtenstein Museum, Vienna
  • Alcon of Thrace.
  • Chalyps, eponym of the Chalybes.
  • Cheimarrhoos, possible father of Triptolemus.
  • Dragon of Thebes who watched over the spring and was killed by Cadmus.
  • Dryas, brother of Tereus.
  • Hyperbius, known to be the first to kill an animal.
  • Libyan Lycus.
  • Nisus, Eurynome’s father and Bellerophon’s grandfather.
  • Portheus or Porthaon, father of Oeneus, himself husband of Althea.
  • Tereus was the husband of Procne.

Among the Romans, Mars was more appreciated because he is the father of Remus and Romulus, founder of the Roman nation. Seduced by the beauty of the young vestal Rhea Silvia, whom he saw one day when she was going to a fountain located in a sacred wood dedicated to him, he seduced her makes twins, Romulus and Remus, during his sleep. After the twins were born and exposed, he sent a wolf to breastfeed them.

Ares’ filiation

Ares was born thanks to a fertility flower given to Hera by Flora. He was the son of Hera and Zeus (Juno and Jupiter among the Romans). Most ancient writers agree that Ares is the son of Hera and Zeus. However, some of them specify that he was born of Hera alone. Let me explain. Jealous that Zeus gave birth to Athena, Hera wanted to conceive a child alone. A goddess pointed to a flower that, by its sole contact, produced this effect. Thanks to this flower, she would be the only relative of Ares.

Cult of Ares

Mars and Renowned by Anne-Louis GIRODET – Château de Compiegne

Ares’ cycle was poor. He was never very popular in Greece. All the legends on Ares seem to indicate that his cult was introduced from Thrace. Its temples were rare (Pausanias does not mention any), and not very frequented.

His favorite residence is Thrace: the Thracians, for the Greeks, were a warrior and fighting people. It is also revered in Colchis: the Golden Fleece is located in its sacred woods and the plain surrounding it bears its name. The Amazons also built a temple for him nearby. According to Herodotus, Ares is one of the favorite gods of the Scythians, who builted statues and sanctuaries to him.

In Greece, there are a few places of worship. A fountain is dedicated to him in Thebes, in memory of the legend of Cadmus, who had sown there the teeth of a dragon, son of Ares, who gave birth to the Spartans. Later, Cadmus made peace with Ares by marrying Harmonia, daughter of the god and Aphrodite, before founding Thebes. The metaphor is transparent: the end of wars brings order and harmony and allows the foundation of the city.

It is especially in Sparta that he is worshipped. The ephebes sacrifice him a dog at Therapne, in Laconia. In Geronthrai, located north of Helos, still in Laconia, it is celebrated in festivals excluding women. In Sparta itself, a sanctuary is dedicated to him under the name of Ares Theritas, “the savage”, sometimes attached to Thero, his nurse.

In Attica, it has a sanctuary in Acharnes. A stele, currently preserved at the French School of Athens, probably reproduces the statue of the cult. In the 1st century, the sanctuary was transferred to the Agora of Athens and a new statue was erected, of which the Ares Borghese was probably a copy.

In Tegea, Arcadia, women celebrate it in celebrations reserved for them and commemorate their valor against the Spartans. Near Trezena, a sanctuary is dedicated to him in memory of the Amazons, his daughters. In Athens, he is venerated in association with Aphrodite. Finally, it has temples in Argos and Salamis.

Its place in the ancient Greek religion is far from equal to that of Mars among the Romans.

Ares in arts

Ares did not inspire Greek artists, probably because of the suspicion in which the Greeks held the god of war. On old painted vases, such as the François vase, it is represented in hoplite wearing full armor, a helmet, a shield, and a spear. As a result, it is difficult to identify him among the other soldiers. Sometimes it is represented on his chariot pulled by horses blowing fire through his nostrils. One of the favorite subjects is the struggle of Ares and Heracles.

The guy changed later, a little bit with the sculptor Alcamene, much more with Scopas whose Ares Ludovisi is perhaps inspired: he is a handsome young dreamer, almost entirely naked, sitting near a shield, eros at his feet.

March and Venus
United Mars and Venus by VERONESE – Metropolitan Museum of Art
Mars and Venus
Mars and Venus surprised Vulcan by Alexandre C. GUILLEMOT (1827) – Indianapolis Museum of arts
Mars and Venus
Mars, Venus and the Three Graces by J.L. DAVID – Museum of the B-A of Belgium

 

Among the statues, the Ares Ludovisi is undoubtedly the most remarkable. The attitude is reminiscent of the frieze of the Parthenon: the god sits with his hands crossed on one knee; one of them holds a sword in her sheath; the left foot rests on the helmet on the ground; the look, very expressive, carries off. It seems very likely that it is a copy of a colossal Ares executed by Scopas and which later appeared in a temple of Mars in Rome;

Mars Statues
Ancient Statues of Ares / Mars

Representations of the god are becoming more numerous in Greco-Roman art: it is associated in particular with Aphrodite / Venus.
In modern performances, he is also very often accompanied by Aphrodite / Venus, especially the scene where the two lovers are trapped by Hephaestus / Vulcan.

 

Ares
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