Ares

In Greek mythology, Ares ("battle strife"), is the god of war and before battle people worshipped him. Mars, the god of war that they inherited from the Etruscans, with Hellenic Ares, but maintained a different, less ambiguous relation with him. Among the Hellenes, Ares was always mistrusted: his birthplace and true home was placed afar off, among the barbarous and warlike Thracians (Iliad xiii.301; Odyssey viii.361; Ovid). Although important in poetry, Ares was only rarely the recipient of cult worship, save at Sparta and in the founding myth of Thebes, and he appeared in few myths.

The temple to Ares in the agora of Athens that Pausanias saw in the 2nd century CE had been moved and rededicated there during the time of Augustus; in essence it was a Roman temple to Mars. Among the so-called "Homeric hymns", a "Hymn to Ares" has been transmitted in the manuscripts, although modern scholarship has detected that it was written in Late Antiquity.

Even so, apart from sacrifices to him made by commanders of armies in the field, Ares was venerated most often in conjunction with other gods; for example, he shared a temple with Aphrodite at Thebes. Besides Aphrodite, the adjective areios, areia is applied to other gods in their warlike aspect. In the Iliad "Ares" is as often embodied in a battle formula connoting rough strife as he is personified as a bronze-armoured god: he is repeatedly contrasted with Athena, to his disadvantage. To Athena is reserved the one glorious aspect of war, Nike, "victory". At Athens, the Areios pagus near the Acropolis, is equally the "Hill of Ares" and simply the "Battle Hill".

For Mars, Enyalios was sometimes used as an epithet: see Ares Enyalius. Interestingly, the Mycenean Greek Linear B tablets list a god Enyalios, while ares seems already to be a common noun meaning "war." By classical times, however, Enyalios had been demoted to the status of hero (as in the Iliad) and Ares the name for the god. Enyalios survives as a cult-title in only a few settings, most notably in the oath of the ephebes at Athens.

In one archaic mytheme, related by the ancient earth-goddess Dione to her daughter Aphrodite, two chthonic giants, the brothers Otus and Ephialtes, threw Ares into chains and put him in a bronze urn, where he had to endure 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 (Illiad, v. 385­91). "In this one suspects a festival of licence which is unleashed in the thirteenth month.

There are accounts of a son of Ares, Cycnus (Kyknos) of Macedonia, who was so murderous that he attempted to build a temple with the skulls and the bones of travellers. Heracles slaughtered this abominable monstrosity, engendering the wrath of Ares, whom the hero wounded (Apollodorus 2.114).

Ares gave Hippolyte the girdle that Heracles took.

In an episode sung in the hall of Alcinous, king of the Phaeacians (Odyssey viii.302ff), Ares lay in bed with Aphrodite, wife of Hephaestus, and Helios the Sun spied the love-making couple, alerting Hephaestus, who was angered. Hephaestus rigged the bed with invisibly fine net of chain with the power to hold anything in place, including gods, and caught Ares and Aphrodite on the next occasion. He brought the other gods to witness the adultery - the goddesses stayed away out of modesty - thinking to humiliate Ares and Aphrodite, but the gods all laughed. Poseidon agreed to refund to cuckolded Hephaestus the bride-price of Aphrodite. Once the couple were loosed, Ares sped away to his homeland, Thrace. (In a much later interpolated detail, Ares put a youth Alectryon by his door to guard them, but Alectryon fell asleep. Ares turned Alectryon into a rooster, which never forgets to announce the arrival of the sun in the morning.)

In the Trojan War, Ares had no fixed allegiances nor respect for Themis, the right ordering of things: he promised Athena and Hera that he would fight on the side of the Achaeans, 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. Hera, Ares's mother, saw his interference and asked Zeus, his father, for permission to drive Ares away from the battlefield. Hera encouraged Diomedes to attack Ares, so he threw a spear at Ares. Athena then drove the spear into Ares's body, who bellowed in pain and fled to Mt. Olympus, forcing the Trojans to fall back.

The single major role of Ares sited in mainland Greece itself was in the founding myth of Thebes: Ares was the progenitor of the water-dragon slain by Cadmus. From the dragon's teeth sown as if a crop, arose a race of fighting men, the descendents of Ares. 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.

In post-Renaissance emblem books, Ares's symbols are a spear and a helmet, his animal the dog and his bird the vulture. In myth and poetry Ares appears as cruel, aggressive, and blood-thirsty. He is notorious with both gods and humans.

Ares in Neopaganism

Many modern Neopagans maintain a somewhat traditional view of Ares. Far from the glory that the Romans attributed to him however, most modern Neopagan sects, particularly Hellenistic sects in the United States, discourage worship of Ares altogether. Many sects even forbid Ares worship. Ares is often seen as a cruel, malevolent god who relishes in mortal suffering and feeds on strife. Many modern neopagans believe that ancient civilizations believed much the same, but worshipped Ares out of necessity rather than out of devotion. It is believed that Ares inspires feelings of malevolence and invincibility, sometimes coupled with delusions of grandeur, fueling acts of cruelty and strife. Acts of senseless violence, particularly absent of recognizable motive, are sometimes attributed to the influence of Ares.

Some neopagans today do worship Ares, though sects that worship him are considered out of the mainstream and even called cults by Neopagan standards. It is commonly believed that Ares can grant his followers boons of unnatural strength and physical stamina, but that he always exacts a price on the spirit. Though worship of Ares is exceedingly rare, it can exist in many forms. The most common form of worship is in the form of animal sacrifices, particularly the sacrifice of goats which has been documented by police authorities. Most neopagans actively discouraged animal sacrifice, and most consider it cruel and inhumane. There are also laws against animal sacrifice in the United States and Canada.


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