Ares was the Greek god of war. He is one of the Twelve Olympians, and the son of Zeus and Hera. In Greek literature, he often represents the physical or violent aspect of war, in contrast to the armored Athena, whose functions as a goddess of intelligence including military strategy and generalship.
The Greeks were ambivalent toward Ares: although he embodied the physical valor necessary for success in war, he was a dangerous force, "overwhelming, insatiable in battle, destructive, and man-slaughtering." Fear (Phobos) and Terror (Deimos) were yoked to his battle chariot. In the Iliad his father Zeus tells him that he is the god most hateful to him.
An association with Ares endows places and objects with a savage, dangerous, or militarized quality. His value as a war god is even placed in doubt: during the Trojan War, Ares was on the losing side, while Athena, often depicted in Greek art as holding Nike (Victory) in her hand, favored the triumphant Greeks.
Ares plays a relatively limited role in Greek mythology as represented in literary narratives, though his numerous love affairs and abundant offspring are often alluded to. When Ares does appear in myths, he typically faces humiliation. He is well known as the lover of Aphrodite, the goddess of love who was married to Hephaestus, god of craftsmanship, but the most famous story involving the couple shows them exposed to ridicule through the wronged husband's clever device.
The counterpart of Ares among the Roman gods is Mars, who as a father of the Roman people held a more important and dignified place in ancient Roman religion for his agricultural and tutelary functions. During the Hellenization of Latin literature, the myths of Ares were reinterpreted by Roman writers under the name of Mars. Greek writers under Roman rule also recorded cult practices and beliefs pertaining to Mars under the name of Ares. Thus in the classical tradition of later Western art and literature, the mythology of the two figures becomes virtually indistinguishable.
Among the gods, Ares was recognized by his brazen armor; he brandished a spear in battle.
Ares had a quadriga drawn by four gold-bridled (Iliad v.352) fire-breathing immortal stallions.
His sacred birds were the barn owl, woodpecker, the eagle owl and, especially in the south, the vulture.
According to Argonautica, the birds of Ares 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.
Although important in poetry, Ares was rarely included in cult in ancient Greece, save at Sparta, where he was propitiated before battle, and, though involved in the founding myth of Thebes, he appeared in few myths. In Sparta, he was viewed as a masculine soldier in which his resilience, physical strength and military intelligence was unrivaled. Human sacrifices were also offered to him. Also, there was an ancient statue, representing the god in chains, to indicate that the martial spirit and victory were never to leave the city of Sparta.
At Sparta there was a statue of the god in chains, to show that the spirit of war and victory was never to leave the city; dogs (and some believe even humans) were sacrificed to him. 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 "hill 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, may be purely etiological.
Deimos and Phobos were his children by Aphrodite and were the spirits of terror and fear. The sister and companion of murderous Ares was Eris, goddess of bloodshed and violence. The presence of Ares was 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, as he had no specific dominion), and Polemos' daughter, Alala, goddess/personification of the Greek war-cry, whose name Ares used as his own war-cry. His sister Hebe also drew baths for him.
One of the many 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, and hence the ancestor of the Spartans (the dragon's teeth were sown into the ground, and sprung up as the fully armored autochthonic Spartans). From the dragon's teeth, sown as if a crop, arose a race of fighting men, the descendants 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.
The union of Ares and Aphrodite created the gods Eros, Anteros, Phobos, Deimos, Harmonia, and Adrestia. While Eros and Anteros' godly stations favored their 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 Halirrhothius, who had raped 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 afterward became famous as a court of justice.
There are accounts of a son of Ares, Cycnus of Macedonia, who was so murderous that he tried 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.
In the myth sung by the bard in the hall of Alcinous (Odyssey 8.300) the Sun-God Helios once spied Ares and Aphrodite enjoying each other secretly in the hall of Hephaestus and how he promptly reported the incident to Aphrodite's Olympian consort. Hephaestus contrived to catch the couple in the act, and so he fashioned a 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 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.
In one Bronze 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 5.385Ð391). "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 the Iliad, Homer represented Ares as having 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 (Iliad V.699). 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 and his cries made Achaeans and Trojans alike tremble. Athena then drove the spear into Ares's body, who bellowed in pain and fled to Mt. Olympus, forcing the Trojans to fall back (XXI.391). Later when Zeus allows the gods to fight in the war again, Ares tries to fight Athena to avenge himself for his previous injury, but is once again badly injured when she tosses a huge boulder on him.
In Renaissance and Neoclassical works of art, Ares' symbols are a spear and helmet, his animal is the dog, and his bird is the vulture. In literary works of these eras, Ares appears as cruel, aggressive, and blood-thirsty, reviled by both gods and humans, much as he was in the ancient Greek myths.
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.
The Temple of Ares was a building located in the northern part of the Ancient Agora of Athens. The Temple was identified as such by Pausanias but the ruins present today indicate a complex history. The foundations are of early Roman construction and date but fragments of the superstructure now located at the western end of the temple can be dated to the 5th century BCE. From the remaining fragments archaeologists are confidant that the belonged to a Doric peripteral temple of a similar size, plan and date to the Temple of Hephaestus. Marks on the remaining stones indicate that the temple may have originally stood elsewhere and was dismantled, moved and reconstructed on the Roman base - a practice common during the Roman occupation of Greece.
The temple probably came from the sanctuary of Athena Pallenis at modern Stavro, where foundations have been found but no temple remains are present.
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