From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Ares (Ancient Greek is a major deity and a member of the Twelve Olympians, a son of Zeus and Hera, in Greek mythology. Though often referred to as the Olympian god of warfare, he is more accurately the god of bloodlust, or slaughter personified.
Identity and character
He is an important Olympian god in the epic tradition represented by the Iliad. The reading of his character remains ambiguous, in a late 6th-century funerary inscription from Attica: "Stay and mourn at the tomb of dead Kroisos/ Whom raging Ares destroyed one day, fighting in the foremost ranks"
Among the Hellenes, Ares was always distrusted.<ref>"You are the most hateful to me of the gods who hold Olympus," Zeus tells him in the Iliad (5.890); "forever strife is dear to you and wars and slaughter".</ref> Although Ares' half-sister Athena was also considered a war deity, her stance was that of strategic warfare, whereas Ares's tended to be one of unpredictable violence. Athena and Ares were enemies. His birthplace and true home was placed far off, among the barbarous and warlike Thracians, to whom he withdrew after his affair with Aphrodite was revealed.
"Ares" remained an adjective and epithet in Classical times, which could be applied to the war-like aspects of other gods: Zeus Areios, Athena Areia, even Aphrodite Areia.
In Mycenaean times, inscriptions attest to Enyalios, a name that survived into Classical times as an epithet of Ares. Vultures and dogs, both of which prey upon carrion in the battlefield, were sacred to him.
Ares had a quadriga – a chariot drawn by four gold-bridled (Iliad v.352) fire-emitting immortal stallions. Among the gods, Ares was recognized by his bronze armor; he brandished a spear in battle. His keen and sacred birds were the woodpecker, the eagle owl and, especially in the south, the vulture. According to Argonautica (ii.382ff and 1031ff; Hyginus, Fabulae 30) the birds of Ares (Ornithes Areioi) were a flock of feather-dart-dropping birds that guarded the Amazons' shrine of the god on a coastal island in the Black Sea. In Sparta, the chthonic night-time sacrifice of a dog to Enyalios became assimilated to the cult of Ares. Sacrifice might be made to Ares on the eve of battle to enlist his support.
In the Iliad (v.890ff) Ares rode into battle and when he was wounded he went back to Olympus where Zeus healed him, but with angry words. Then Ares went straight back to battle with a shield in hand. Though involved in the founding myth of Thebes, he only appeared in a few short chapters within the myths.
Ares in cult
Although important in poetry, Ares was rarely included in cult in ancient Greece, save at Sparta, where he was propitiated before battle, and where youths each sacrificed a puppy to Enyalios before engaging in the all-out ritual fighting at the Phoebaeum. Just east of Sparta there was an archaic statue of the god in chains, to show that the spirit of war and victory was never to leave the city. The temple to Ares in the agora of Athens that Pausanias saw in the second century AD had only been moved and rededicated there during the time of Augustus; in essence it was a Roman temple to Mars. The Areopagus, the "mount of Ares" where Paul of Tarsus preached, is sited at some distance from the Acropolis; from archaic times it was a site of trials. Its connection with Ares, perhaps based on a false etymology, is purely etiological myth. A second temple has also been located at the archaeological site of Metropolis in Western Turkey.
Deimos, "terror", and Phobos "fear", were his companions in war. The sister and companion of the violent Ares was Eris, the goddess of discord or Enyo, the goddess of war, bloodshed, and violence. He was also attended by the minor war-god Enyalius, his son by Enyo, whose name ("warlike", the same meaning as the name Enyo) also served as a title for Ares himself. Ares was also accompanied by Nike, the deathless spirit of victory.
The presence of Ares was also accompanied by Kydoimos, the demon of the din of battle, as well as the Makhai (battles), the "Hysminai" (manslaughters), Polemos (a minor spirit of war: probably an epithet of Ares, since it had no specific dominion), and Polemos's daughter, Alala, the goddess or personification of the Greek war-cry, whose name Ares used as his own war-cry. Ares's sister Hebe also supposedly drew baths for him.
Founding of Thebes
One of the roles of Ares that was sited in mainland Greece itself was in the founding myth of Thebes: Ares was the progenitor of the water-dragon slain by Cadmus, for the dragon's teeth were sown into the ground as if a crop and sprung up as the fully armored autochthonic Spartoi. To propitiate Ares, Cadmus took as a bride Harmonia, daughter of Ares' union with Aphrodite, thus harmonizing all strife and founding the city of Thebes.
Consorts and children
There are accounts of a son of Ares, Cycnus (Κύκνος) of Macedonia, who was so murderous that he tried to build a temple with the skulls and the bones of travelers. Heracles slaughtered this abominable monstrosity, engendering the wrath of Ares, whom Heracles wounded.
Ares also had a romance with the goddess Aphrodite. Their union created the minor gods Eros, Anteros, Phobos, Deimos, Harmonia, and Adrestia. While Eros and Anteros' godly stations favored their godly mother, Adrestia by far preferred to emulate her father, often accompanying him to war.
Ares, upon one occasion, incurred the anger of Poseidon by slaying his son Halirrhothios, who had insulted Alcippe, another daughter of the war-god. For this deed, Poseidon summoned Ares to appear before the tribunal of the Olympic gods, which was held upon a hill in Athens. Ares was acquitted, and this event is supposed to have given rise to the name Areopagus (or Hill of Ares), which afterwards became so famous as a court of justice.
In the tale sung by the bard in the hall of Alcinous, the Sun-God Helios once spied Ares and Aphrodite enjoying each other secretly in the hall of Hephaestus, and he promptly reported the incident to Aphrodite's Olympian consort. Hephaestus contrived to catch the couple in the act, and so he fashioned a finely-knitted and nearly invisible net with which to snare the illicit lovers. At the appropriate time, this net was sprung, and trapped Ares and Aphrodite locked in very private embrace. But Hephaestus was not yet satisfied with his revenge — he invited the Olympian gods and goddesses to view the unfortunate pair. For the sake of modesty, the goddesses demurred, but the male gods went to witness the sight. Some commented on the beauty of Aphrodite, others remarked that they would eagerly trade places with Ares, but all who were present mocked the two. Once the couple were loosed, Ares, embarrassed, sped away to his homeland, Thrace.
In a much later interpolated detail, Ares put the youth Alectryon by his door to warn them of Helios' arrival, as Helios would tell Hephaestus of Aphrodite's infidelity if the two were discovered, but Alectryon fell asleep. Helios discovered the two and alerted Hephaestus. Ares was furious and turned Alectryon into a rooster, which now never forgets to announce the arrival of the sun in the morning.
Ares and the giants
In one obscure archaic myth related in the Iliad by the goddess Dione to her daughter Aphrodite, two chthonic giants, the Aloadae, named Otus and Ephialtes, threw Ares into chains and put him in a bronze urn, where he remained for thirteen months, a lunar year. "And that would have been the end of Ares and his appetite for war, if the beautiful Eriboea, the young giants' stepmother, had not told Hermes what they had done," she related (Iliad 5.385–391). "In this one suspects a festival of licence which is unleashed in the thirteenth month." Ares remained screaming and howling in the urn until Hermes rescued him and Artemis tricked the Aloadae into slaying each other. In Nonnus' Dionysiaca Ares also killed Ekhidnades, the giant son of Echidna and a great enemy of the gods; it is not clear whether the nameless Ekhidnades ("of Echidna's lineage") was entirely Nonnus' invention or not. Zeus helped him heal after.
In the Iliad, Homer represented Ares as having no fixed allegiances nor respect for Orcan, the right ordering of things: he promised Athena and Hera that he would fight on the side of the Achaeans (Iliad V.830–834, XXI.410–414), but Aphrodite was able to persuade Ares to side with the Trojans. During the war, Diomedes fought with Hector and saw Ares fighting on the Trojans' side. Diomedes called for his soldiers to fall back slowly (V.590–605). Hera, Ares's mother, saw his interference and asked Zeus, his father, for permission to drive Ares away from the battlefield, which Zeus granted (V.711–769). Hera and Athena encouraged Diomedes to attack Ares (V.780–834). Diomedes thrust with his spear at Ares, with Athena driving it home, and Ares' cries made Achaeans and Trojans alike tremble (V.855–864). Ares fled to Mt. Olympus, forcing the Trojans to fall back.
When Hera during a conversation with Zeus mentioned that Ares' son Ascalaphus was killed, Ares wanted to again join the fight on the side of the Achaeans disregarding Zeus' order that no Olympic god should enter the battle, but Athena stopped him (XV.110–128). Later, when Zeus allowed the gods to fight in the war again (XX.20–29), Ares was the first to act, attacking Athena to avenge himself for his previous injury, but Athena managed to overpower him striking Ares with a boulder (XXI.391–408).
In Renaissance and Neoclassical works of art, Ares' symbols are a spear and helmet, his animal is a dog, and his bird is the vulture. In literary works of these eras, Ares is replaced by the Roman Mars, an emblem of manly valor rather than the cruel and blood-thirsty god of Greek myth.
As god of war in the most generally familiar classical mythology, Ares figures in war-themed video games and in popular fictions. Ares is also the name of NASA's transport ship replacing the Space Shuttle, an extension of NASA's uses of Saturn for manned rockets, Mercury for a satellite program, and the Apollo program, rather than as any reflection of the intrinsic nature of the war god.