Table of Contents
The son of Hera and Zeus, Ares is the Greek god of war and one of the twelve Olympian gods. He’s often seen as a representation of sheer violence and brutality and was considered inferior to his sister Athena, who is the representation of tactical and militaristic strategizing and leadership in war.
Although he was successful in war, his worship by Greeks was ambivalent, and he was the least loved of the gods.
Who Is Ares?
Ares is the son of Zeus and Hera. Described by Hesiod in his Theogeny as ‘city-sacking Ares’ and ‘shield-piercing Ares’, Ares perfectly represented the bloody and more brutal side of war. He’s often depicted in the company of his sons with Aphrodite, aplty named Deimos (Terror) and Phobos (Fear), or with his sister Enyo (Discord). According to Homer, his fellow gods and even his parents were not very fond of him.
In early times in Sparta, human sacrifices were made to Ares from among those captured from war. In addition, there was also a nightly offering of dogs made in Enyalius in his honor. At Athens, he also had a temple at the foot of the Aeropagus or “Ares’ Hill”.
There is no extensive account of Ares’ life, but he has always been associated with Aphrodite from the earliest times. In fact, Aphrodite was known locally in Sparta as the goddess of war, cementing her status as his lover and mother of his children.
Ares’ Roman counterpart is Mars, God of War and the father of Romus and Remules (though his rape of the virgin Rhea), the legendary founders of Rome.
The most famous myth that involves Ares is his battle with the demigod, Hercules. Ares’ son Kyknos was notorious for stopping pilgrims on their way to Delphi to consult the oracle. This earned the ire of Apollo and to deal with this, he sent Hercules to kill Kyknos. Ares, enraged by his son’s death, engaged Hercules in a fight. Hercules was protected by Athena and wounded Ares.
Ares vs. Athena
Ares has a rather small role in Greek mythology, and this is perhaps because Athena was always considered superior to him. As such, the two always had this rivalry between them and they were in constant competition with each other.
Both were powerful deities and to some extent gods over the same field, but Ares and Athena couldn’t be more different from the other.
Athena represented the general attitude and beliefs which the ancient Greeks deemed appropriate, as an individual who was intelligent, calm, and skilled in warfare. She was a dedicated scholar and a fierce warrior. She takes decisions like a general in war, with patience and diplomacy. As such, Athena was loved and revered.
On the other hand, Ares was the embodiment of what the Greeks did not want to be, brutal, vicious and unempathetic. Ares is also intelligent, but he is driven by brutality and violence, leaving behind him death, devastation and destruction. He represents all that’s reprehensible in war. His cruelty is symbolized by his chosen throne – a seat made of human skin with knobs to represent human skulls. This is why Ares was hated and the most unloved of all the gods.
Ares in the Trojan War
Ares was always on his lover Aphrodite’s side and he fought for the Trojan prince Hector until he was pierced with a spear guided by Athena, who was on the side of the Spartans. He then went to his father Zeus to complain about her violence, but he ignored her. In the end, Athena’s Greeks defeated the Trojans.
The Unloved God
Because he was the ferocious god of war, he was universally detested. When he was wounded in battle by Diomedes and his father Zeus even called him “the most hateful of all gods”. Zeus also said that had Ares not been his son, he would surely find himself in the company of Cronus and the rest of the Titans in Tartarus.
Unlike other gods, he also never developed beyond the image of a battle-frenzy butcher who slaughtered left and right. As a consequence, there are only a few epithets about him and most are unflattering, such as “the bane of mortals”, and “the arm-bearing”.
Symbols and Symbolism of Ares
Ares is often depicted with the following symbols:
- Flaming torch
All Ares’ symbols are connected with warfare, destruction or hunting. Ares himself is a symbol of the brutal, violent and physical aspects of war.
Inasmuch as he loved warfare, he could also be seen as someone who was trying to prove himself not only to his parents but also to his fellow gods. It would not be unusual for someone who was always cast aside as inferior to want to achieve great things.
Lessons from the Story of Ares
- Brutality – Wanton brutality will not lead to love, admiration, and appreciation. This is an important story that Ares must have also learned himself when his parents and the other gods chose to keep themselves away from him and men refused to worship him. Brutality can only get you so far, but it won’t win you the respect of people.
- Sibling rivalry – jealousy, fighting, and competition among siblings can be frustrating and stressful. It is filled with physical aggression that can be damaging. The rivalry between Athena and Ares is a perfect example of negativity that goes on when siblings are pitted against each other.
Ares in Art
In Ancient Greek and Classical Art, Ares is frequently depicted with full armor and helmet and carrying a spear and a shield that it is difficult to tell him apart from other warriors. His battle with Hercules was a very popular subject in the 6th century BCE for Attic vases.
Below is a list of the editor’s top picks featuring the Ares statue.
Ares in Modern Culture
Ares appears extensively in modern culture in several video games such as God of War, Age of Mythology, Spartan: Total Warrior, and Injustice: Gods Among Us. There are also various sports clubs in Greece which are called Aris, a variation of Ares, the most famous of which is Aris Thessaloniki. The club also has Ares in its sports emblem.
Hera and Zeus, the most important gods of the Greek pantheon.
Ares had several children, most notably Phobos, Deimos, Eros and Anteros, Amazons, Harmonia and Thrax. He had more children with mortals than with gods.
Ares’ Roman equivalent is Mars.
Ares has several siblings, including many of the Olympian gods.
He stood for the negative and unpleasant aspects of war, including sheer brutality.
Ares had many consorts, of which Aphrodite is the most popular.
Ares was strong, had superior fighting skills and physicality. He caused bloodshed and destruction wherever he went.
Savage and unrelenting, Ares was the embodiment of all the terrible things about war. He remains in intriguing character in the Greek pantheon.