The god of war and one of the great Olympian gods of the Greeks. He is represented as the son of Zeus and Hera.1 A later tradition, according to which Hera conceived Ares by touching a certain flower, appears to be an imitation of the legend about the birth of Hephaestus, and is related by Ovid.2
The character of Ares in Greek mythology will be best understood if we compare it with that of other divinities who are likewise in some way connected with war. Athena represents thoughtfulness and wisdom in the affairs of war, and protects men and their habitations during its ravages. Ares, on the other hand, is nothing but the personification of bold force and strength, and not so much the god of war as of its tumult, confusion, and horrors. His sister Eris calls forth war, Zeus directs its course, but Ares loves war for its own sake, and delights in the din and roar of battles, in the slaughter of men, and the destruction of towns. He is not even influenced by party-spirit, but sometimes assists the one and sometimes the other side, just as his inclination may dictate; whence Zeus calls him ἀλλοπόσαλλος (alloposallos).3
The destructive hand of this god was even believed to be active in the ravages made by plagues and epidemics.4 This savage and sanguinary character of Ares makes him hated by the other gods and his own parents.5 In the Iliad, he appears surrounded by the personifications of all the fearful phenomena and effects of war;6 but in the Odyssey his character is somewhat softened down.
It was contrary to the spirit which animated the Greeks to represent a being like Ares, with all his overwhelming physical strength, as always victorious; and when he comes in contact with higher powers, he is usually conquered. He was wounded by Diomedes, who was assisted by Athena, and in his fall he roared like nine or ten thousand other warriors together.7 When the gods began to take an active part in the war of the mortals, Athena opposed Ares, and threw him on the ground by hurling at him a mighty stone;8 and when he lay stretched on the earth, his huge body covered the space of seven plethra.
The gigantic Aloadae had likewise conquered and chained him, and had kept him a prisoner for thirteen months, until he was delivered by Hermes.9 In the contest of Typhon against Zeus, Ares was obliged, together with the other gods, to flee to Egypt, where he metamorphosed himself into a fish.10 He was also conquered by Heracles, with whom he fought on account of his son Cycnus, and obliged to return to Olympus.11 In numerous other contests, however, he was victorious.
This fierce and gigantic, but withal handsome god loved and was beloved by Aphrodite: he interfered on her behalf with Zeus,12 and lent her his war-chariot.13 When Aphrodite loved Adonis, Ares in his jealousy metamorphosed himself into a bear, and killed his rival.
According to a late tradition, Ares slew Halirrhothius, the son of Poseidon, when he was on the point of violating Alcippe, the daughter of Ares. Hereupon Poseidon accused Ares in the Areopagus, where the Olympian gods were assembled in court. Ares was acquitted, and this event was believed to have given rise to the name Areopagus (Areios pagos, "hill of Ares").14
The warlike character of the tribes of Thrace led to the belief, that the god's residence was in that country, and here and in Scythia were the principal seats of his worship.15 In Scythia he was worshiped in the form of a sword, to which not only horses and other cattle, but men also were sacrificed. Respecting the worship of an Egyptian divinity called Ares, see Herodotus (ii. 64).
He was further worshiped in Colchis, where the golden fleece was suspended on an oak-tree in a grove sacred to him.16 From thence the Dioscuri were believed to have brought to Laconia the ancient statue of Ares which was preserved in the temple of Ares Thareitas, on the road from Sparta to Therapnae.17 The island near the coast of Colchis, in which the Stymphalian birds were believed to have dwelt, and which is called the island of Ares, Aretias, Aria, or Chalceritis, was likewise sacred to him.18
In Greece itself the worship of Ares was not very general. At Athens he had a temple containing a statue made by Alcamenes;19 at Geronthrae in Laconia he had a temple with a grove, where an annual festival was celebrated, during which no woman was allowed to approach the temple.20 He was also worshiped near Tegea, and in the town,21 at Olympia,22 near Thebes,23 and at Sparta, where 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.24 At Sparta human sacrifices were offered to Ares.25 The temples of this god were usually built outside the towns, probably to suggest the idea that he was to prevent enemies from approaching them.
All the stories about Ares and his worship in the countries north of Greece seem to indicate that his worship was introduced in the latter country from Thrace; and the whole character of the god, as described by the most ancient poets of Greece, seems to have been thought little suited to be represented in works of art: in fact, we hear of no artistic representation of Ares previous to the time of Alcamenes, who appears to have created the ideal of Ares. There are few Greek monuments now extant with representations of the god; he appears principally on coins, reliefs, and gems. The Romans identified their god Mars with the Greek Ares.
On early Greek vases he is depicted as a bearded and elder warrior wearing a helmet and carrying a spear, usually in the company of other deities, such as on an amphora from Attica (ca. 540 BCE; Vatican Museum) and on the François Vase (ca. 570 BCE; Florance). Later artists portrayed Ares as a much younger and less war-like god. An example is the Ares Ludovisi (fourth century BCE) by Lysippus or Leochares where Ares is shown sitting on a rock, hands folded around a raised knee. Another famous statue is the Ares Borghese in the Louvre.
- Homer. Iliad v, 893 ff; Hesiod. Theogony, 921; Pseudo-Apollodorus. The Library i, 3.1.
- Ovid. Fasti v, 255 ff.
- Homer. Iliad v, 889.
- Sophocles. Oedipus Tyrannus, 185.
- Iliad v, 889-909.
- ibid. iv, 440, ff.; xv, 119 ff.
- ibid. v, 885 ff.
- ibid. xx, 69; xxi, 403 ff.
- ibid. v, 385, ff.
- Antoninus Liberalis, 28.
- Hesiod. Scutum Herculi, 461.
- Iliad v, 883.
- ibid. v, 363; comp. Aphrodite.
- Dictionary of Antiquities, s.v.
- Homer. Odyssey viii, 361, with the note of Eustathius; Ovid. Ars Amatoria ii, 575; Statius. Thebaid vii, 42; Herodotus. Histories iv, 59, 62.
- Pseudo-Apollodorus. The Library i, 9.16.
- Pausanias. Description of Greece iii, 19.7 ff.
- Stephanus of Byzantium, s.v. Areos nesos; Apollonius Rhodius. Argonautica ii, 1047; Pliny the Elder. Naturalis Historia vi, 12; Pomponius Mela, ii, 7.15.
- Pausanias. Description of Greece i, 8.5.
- ibid. iii, 22.5.
- ibid. viii, 44.6, 48.3.
- ibid. v, 15.4.
- Pseudo-Apollodorus. The Library iii, 4.1.
- Pausanias. Description of Greece iii, 15.5.
- Pseudo-Apollodorus. Fragments, p. 1056 (ed. Heyne).
- Aken, Dr. A.R.A. van. (1961). Elseviers Mythologische Encyclopedie. Amsterdam: Elsevier.
- Smith, William. (1870). Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology. London: Taylor, Walton, and Maberly.
This article incorporates text from Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology (1870) by William Smith, which is in the public domain.