Who is Ares in Greek Mythology?
Ares is the son of ZEUS and HERA, was the Greek god of war. Ares was later identified with the Roman war god MARS. Although Ares had no wife of his own, he had three children by APHRODITE, the goddess of love. The twins, Phobos, “panic”, and Dermos, “fear”, always accompanied Ares on the battlefield.
In Greek mythology, Ares is depicted as an instigator of violence, a fierce and passionate lover and an evil friend. The Roman god Mars, however, has nothing of Ares’ fickleness.
Many deities and spirits can be found throughout the Greek pantheon, which has some association with war. But there is only one that is considered ‘the god of war’. No, I’m not referring to Kratos — no today’s article will be on Ares, the god of war.
For anyone who’s already familiar with Ares, you know that he was one of the twelve Olympic deities, the son of Zeus and Hera. So, the unbridled rage violent behaviour and constant need for bloodshed isn’t a huge surprise, considering that his parents aren’t exactly known for their calm and forgiving nature.
To the ancient Greeks, Ares embodied war. He represented its necessity and unpredictability, but much like war itself, Ares divided the Greek people.
He only had a handful of cults and temples with most been located in Sparta. The Spartans saw Ares as the perfect example of what a soldier should be—physically robust, resilient and well versed in combat. All things that we can associate back to the god of war.
Not all Greeks agreed, and it’s quite fitting that his most extensive worship took place in Sparta, with their most significant opposition being the Athenians and Athena. If the role Ares plays in Greek mythology is relatively small. Most of this comes down to Athena being seen as superior—if you haven’t already guessed, Athena and Ares were bitter rivals, who found themselves in constant competition; most of this comes down to the attitudes beliefs of the ancient Greek people.
Ares represented what many Greeks strive not to be, whereas Athena was seen as much more well-rounded. She was calm, intelligent and highly skilled in warfare. Athena represented the best of both aspects, the scholar and the warrior, whereas, Ares would have been seen as not much more than a soldier.
So, we can see that Athena was favoured than Ares in the Greek people’s eyes, but she was also a favourite of Zeus. With most of his father’s praise and attention being directed towards his sister, we can see that Ares is affected by this.
We do see this directly addressed in book 5 of Homer’s Iliad (The Iliad is an ancient Greek epic poem in dactylic hexameter, traditionally attributed to Homer), where Ares accuses his father of sure in favour towards Athena, claiming that it’s because she was physically born from Zeus. And this might be true, but it might also be because Athena did more than just wage war.
The few appearances that Ares does make, I’m sure many of you have guessed, feature around war and conflict, with the most famous being the Trojan War, which he was unfortunately on the wrong side of. With Athena once again emerging the victor.
Ares’ Children and Lovers
It was often said that Ares rode a chariot into the battlefield with his children, so the apple would didn’t fall far from the tree. These children included Phobos, meaning panic and Deimos, meaning fear and Enyo, who’s often associated with discord, but who also appeared in numerous forms depending on the story, ranging from his mother or sister to even one of his numerous lovers.
Together Enyo and Ares had one son named Enyalios, who was said to replace his father as the god of war—and no, Kratos didn’t kill him either.
There are some accounts of Ares or at least what we can consider the God of War, existing during the time of the Mycenaean Greek people. At which times, he was referred to as Enyalios. So, the name has existed for some time and generally has connotations of war.
Ares also fathered the goddess Harmonia, who will be discussed later on, and Adrestia, the goddess of equilibrium.
The female warrior tribe known as the Amazons were also said to be direct descendants of Ares, who the most famous example being Hippolyta, who became Queen when Ares gave her a magical girdle that signified strength and authority. The Amazons’ sacred shrines were also said to be guarded by the birds of Ares, which was said to have arrow-like feathers and were quite similar to the Stymphalian Birds slain by Heracles in his 12 labours.
The only story that features Ares’ birds was Jason and his Argonauts when they came across the birds during their quest for the golden fleece. When the birds rained down their feathers, Jason and his men raised their shields to block the endless volleys—eventually using Spears to poke the birds out of the sky and drive the flock away.
In the stories where Eros (Greek god of love) is considered the son of Aphrodite, it’s speculated that his father was Ares, which isn’t too unreasonable. If we consider the fact that Aphrodite was a goddess associated with love, and Ares himself for someone driven by intense emotion and passion, having children who are solely associated with feelings as powerful as love does make some sense.
Stories Ares Appeared in, in Greek Mythology
The Affair of Aphrodite
There are a few stories that Ares does make an appearance in, so let’s start with the one that I find most amusing, the affair with Aphrodite.
For Zeus to convince Hephaestus to set his mother free, he was offered marriage to Aphrodite, but as great as that may have been for Hephaestus, the goddess was left a miserable. So, when she noticed Ares’s attention, it wasn’t long before the two started their affair, which I’m sure we all guess was destined to end in disaster.
When Hephaestus was away, Aphrodite and Ares were seen by the Titan Helios, who then told Hephaestus of what he had seen. Hephaestus then did what most people seem to do in that situation; he decided to catch them together. And so, he created an invisible golden net that was designed to trap them.
The next time Aphrodite in Aries enjoyed each other’s company, the booby trap was triggered, and the two were entangled in a very compromising position. Hephaestus then decided to drag them outside and invite all of the gods and goddesses of Olympus to witness them in this position.
The two were then thoroughly mocked and ashamed, but some gods did state that they would happily trade places of Ares as a testament to the beauty of Aphrodite. With Aphrodite and Ares now totally embarrassed, they had no choice but to return to their respective cities. But Hephaestus wasn’t quite finished.
Together, Ares and Aphrodite had a daughter known as Harmonia. When Hephaestus heard that she was marrying Cadmus (Cadmus was the founder and first king of Thebes in Greek mythology), he decided to attend the wedding. As a wedding gift, he would offer her money and necklace that he had crafted himself. This ornament will then be known as the necklace of Harmonia and was said to bring bad luck in disaster, cursing anyone in its possession.
Interaction Between Ares and the Two Giants
Another story involving Ares details his interaction with the see Giants, Ephialtes and Otis, who often referred to as the ALOADAE.
One day, the two brothers came across the God of War and decided they would kidnap him and place him in a giant bronze jar, where he would remain for an entire lunar year. They would only let Ares go if the goddess Artemis agreed to marry one of them. Artemis eventually made an appearance and dedicated to their word, Ares was set free, but then the two brothers began to argue as to who would marry her.
While this was happening, Artemis transformed herself into a deer and hopped between the two, eager not to let Artemis escape. The two brothers threw their Spears, accidentally impaling each other—because Giants are dumb.
The Trojan War
For the most part, Ares is described by Homer has been reasonably neutral during the Trojan War. Still, he eventually joined the Trojans’ side after being convinced by Aphrodite despite the initial promise he made to Hera and Athena to join the side of the Achaeans.
When Diomedes initially saw Ares on the battlefield, he pulled his men back out of fear, but Athena would later order him and his men to launch a full-scale attack on Ares.
Now face the face with Ares, Diomedes launched his spear, and with the guidance of Athena, he impaled the god of war, who let out a scream so loud and terrified they call those on both sides to tremble in fear.
Ares now heavily wounded had no choice but to flee and so did the Trojan forces, knowing that they could not win this battle without the god of war. When Ares had heard the news that the Trojans had slain his son Ascalaphus of Orchomenus (Ascalaphus or Askalaphus was the son of Ares and Astyoche), he was eager to swap sides and join Achaeans. At this point, Zeus had forbidden any of the Olympians from joining the war, and when Ares attempted to enter the battle, he was stopped by Athena.
When Zeus once again allowed the gods to join the war, the first thing Ares did was attack Athena, seeking revenge for the previous injury he had sustained. But Athena would once again best Ares, by hurling an enormous boulder at him—yet another example of Athena emerging victorious over her brother.
Similarities Between Ares and Mars
I often see people asking us to cover the Roman counterparts to these Greek deities, as it seems to be some confusion as to the similarities and differences.
For the most part, the Roman counterparts are quite similar. They do feature in some different stories and have slightly different behaviour. Still, I think the real differences can be seen in how they were perceived by the people of ancient Greece and Rome, and in some cases, it gets quite interesting.
There is an exciting contrast between Ares and his Roman counterpart, Mars. We’ve established that Ares was seen as a necessary evil, but he was by no means a popular god nor was he widely worshipped by the ancient Greeks, because they instead favoured Athena. Mars, however, was portrayed in a completely different way to the Romans.
Mars was seen as a protector, in the same way that Athena was. Similar to how in the Greek pantheon, Athena was only second to Zeus. Mars was only second to Jupiter.
Where the Greeks saw Ares as destructive, the Romans saw Mars as a peacekeeper. The Romans highly value their military, so naturally, it makes sense that Mars was considered a highly respected deity.
I think most of this boils down to the difference in ideas between the two. The Greeks were quite abstract thinkers, who placed a heavy emphasis on philosophy, cosmology and metaphysics. —Some deities like Ares would have been seen as an unfortunate necessity.
The Romans, however, believed in the physical and practical implementation of an idea. They highly valued manliness, the toughness of physicality, and war was seen as a way to keep the peace, which is why Mars is such an integral figure to their set of beliefs and mythology.
I think it is quite interesting that the Roman counterpart of Ares is more similar to Athena than Ares himself. And the role that Mars plays in the Roman pantheon is quite identical to that of Athena in the Greek pantheon.