The mythology of ancient Greece has provided the influence behind many different types of artists – poets, sculptures, painters, authors and actors – and has fascinated people for centuries. In fact, the ancient Greeks gave us the name to which we refer to these fantastic stories of gods, heroes, men and animals. Out of Greek mythology, the Olympian gods are the most well known.
One of these Olympians is the god Ares. The son of the king of the gods, Zeus and the goddess Hera, Ares was the god of war, who was later identified with the Roman god Mars (although it should be noted that Mars, although the god of war, had nothing of his Greek counterpart’s trickery or fickleness).
Ares most famous myth concerns his affair with Aphrodite, the goddess of physical love (in Greek mythology her son, Eros, is the god of love). Ares and Aphrodite had been having an affair which produced three children, although Aphrodite was married to the lame smith-god Hephaestus. Hephaestus was told of his wife’s adultery, he crafted a silver net that he fixed under his wife’s bed.
Ares visited Aphrodite the next morning and both were soon caught up in the trap that Hephaestus had sprung. Upon coming home, the smith-god invited all the gods to view and laugh at his wife and her lover. After this, he let the pair go, Ares is forced to pay a monetary fine and finally Aphrodite and Hephaestus divorced.
The god Ares plays a significant role in Aeschylus’ Oresteia.The first words of the Oresteia are “the gods” and Ares eminence is clearly shown as after Zeus, he is the first god to be mentioned. The chorus emerges singing of the Trojan expedition and of how the force of men screamed “Ares!” lustily at its departure. The context of Ares’ first appearance merits scrutiny, for the language Aeschylus uses here suggests much about the nature of this important god which the poet, in his usual fashion, clarifies and develops in the rest of the trilogy (Higgins, p.23). It has been suggested that the “war god is invoked with, it might be said, a doubled self-confidence; the force is, after all, a thousand ships strong and guided by royalty human and divine” (Higgins, p.25).
Within the Oresteia, Aeschylus calls the madness of Ares, which overpowers the war-lovers and makes them the victims of their own passion, a daemon invincible in battle, invincible in war.We also see his duality; one side as the god of war, but we see him also as a source of grief, “not only for combatants on both sides in the strife, not only for the kin of fallen soldiers, but for the city as an entity which sorrows for lost citizens while its families grieve individually” (Higgins, p.30). The woe of Ares is contagious, striking those in battle, but also afflicting the polis itself with pain and, what is more important, with the hostility and contentiousness bred from this sort of war-plague.
Historically speaking, the worship of Ares was not as widespread as his brothers and sisters and his parents. A temple to Ares was constructed at Athens where a Mycenaean chamber tomb was found during excavations in 1951. The north foundation of the temple was rebuilt during the reign of Augustus.
Ares is an interesting deity in the Greek pantheon. Although his worship was not as strong as Zeus’, Hera or Athena for example, he was, nonetheless, an important reflection of Greek culture.
Higgins, W. E. (1978) Double-Dealing Ares in the Oresteia, Classical Philology, The University of Chicago Press.