Ares: Ancient Greek God of War

The Greek gods and goddesses are some of the most famous in all of ancient mythology. Of those, however, a small group stands out. Known as the Olympian gods, these twelve (or thirteen, depending on who you ask) gods feature prominently in Greek myths and stories.

One of those gods is Ares, god of war and courage.

Who is Ares?

Ares is one of the twelve Olympian gods of ancient Greece. Born to Zeus and Hera (or possibly just Hera via a special herb), few of any other Greek gods and goddesses can match his virility and passion. He has fathered many children with human women, but is forever bound to his true love, Aphrodite, the goddess of sex and beauty.

Ares is the Greek god of war and courage, but his sister Athena shares a similar title as the Goddess of war and wisdom. They are two sides of the same coin.

Ares is the chaos and destruction of war, found in the middle of the rage and pain of fighting. But Athena is strategic and calm; she is the general, guiding the battle and waging the tide against her brother’s chaos and destruction.

The Greek god Ares is the most feared and hated of all, yet only possesses men of courage. Humans cannot see him, but they recognize the god of war in the storm clouds that hovers over their enemies on the battlefield.

He can be controlled by none but Zeus and although the gods live in balance on Mount Olympus, Ares is forever known for his tempestuous nature.

What does Ares look like? 

In ancient Greek mythology and art, Ares is always adorned by a golden helmet and bronze armor, his powerful fists emphasized in his stance.

Depending on the artist, Ares is either a bearded, mature warrior or a nude and beardless youth who carries a helm and spear as his symbols.

He is often depicted driving a four-horse chariot, accompanied by dogs or vultures. Sometimes, his sons by Aphrodite, Deimos (fear) and Phobos (terror) are also shown beside him.

Greek Myths Including Ares God of War and Other Olympian Gods

Ancient Greek mythology is peppered with stories about Ares and his relationship to the other Olympian gods. A few stand out as compared to the rest:

Ares and Aphrodite

Hephaestus, the Greek god of fire, is the patron of blacksmiths; born hunched, his mother Hera cast him from Olympus in disgust, crippling him in the process. Although Dionysus eventually returned Hephaestus to Mount Olympus to be wed, he was ill-suited to his bride, the beautiful Aphrodite.

Although a few stories of the Aphrodite Ares marriage exist, the most common is that Zeus betrothed the two at Hephaestus’ request, and despite Aphrodite’s distaste, after the god captured and tied up Hera, his mother, in such a way that none could free her but himself.

But a blacksmith god of fire, was not enough to temper the lust of Ares, God of War. He and Aphrodite continued their affair in secret, enjoying clandestine meetings to conceal their affair from the other gods.

But there was one whose eye they could not escape – Helios’. The sun god saw Ares and Aphrodite from his place in the sky and immediately ran to tell Hephaestus of their betrayal.  

Hephaestus’ plan

Hephaestus, consumed by rage at the thought of Aphrodite lying with Ares, hatched a plan to catch the two lovers red-handed. Using his talents as a blacksmith, Hephaestus weaved a net of fine gossamer strands, so thin they were invisible to the naked eye – even the eyes of the war god. He adorned Aphrodite’s bedchamber with the net and retreated to Earth to wait.

Soon Aphrodite and Ares entered her chamber, talking and giggling together as they embraced, shedding their clothing. Soon they tumbled into her bed, only for the net to close around them, pinning them naked to the mattress for all the other gods to see.

And see they did! Although the goddesses stayed away out of respect for Aphrodite, the gods ran to see the beautiful goddesses naked form, and laugh at the trapped Ares. Hephaestus swore to not release the adulterous couple until Zeus returned all the gifts Hephaestus had bestowed upon Aphrodite on their wedding day. But Poseidon, the Greek god of water and the sea, begged him to release them sooner, promising he should have all he desired if he did so.

Eventually Hephaestus released the pair, and Ares immediately fled to Thrace, the region along the northern coast of the Aegean Sea,  in embarrassment, while Aphrodite traveled to her temple at Paphos to be attended by the reverential Greek citizens as she licked her wounds.

Ares and Adonis

The story of Hephaestus was not the only of Aphrodite and Ares’ relationship; there are many more tales of their dalliances, both with each other and mortals that took their fancy.

One of the most well known is that of Adonis – Aphrodite’s lover. Although she raised him from a babe, when he reached maturity, Aphrodite realized the true depths of her love for him, and left Mount Olympus to be by his side.

As the days stretched and Aphrodite continued by Adonis’ side, hunting by day and falling into the sheets with him at night, Ares’s jealousy grew until it was insurmountable.

In the end, in a fit of rage, when Aphrodite was otherwise engaged, Ares sent a savage wild boar to gore Adonis. From her throne, Aphrodite heard her lovers cry and ran to Earth to be by his side as he died.

Ares and Heracles

One of the most famous tales in Greek mythology of Ares, God of War is the time when he encountered Heracles (better known today as Hercules), and man and god fought for dominance.

The story goes that Heracles and his family found themselves in exile and, like many refugees, set out for Delphi. Along the way, they hear stories of the terrifying and bloodthirsty son of Ares named Cycnus, who was waylaying refugees on their way to the oracle.

On their journey they soon encountered the angry Cycnus and Heracles and his nephew, Iolaus, immediately began to battle him. Incensed, Ares came down from Olympus to fight alongside his son and protect him, and the two were able to drive Heracles and Iolaus away.

But Athena was Heracles’ protector and was unhappy at his loss. Using her powers of wisdom, she convinced him to return to the battle and take on Cycnus once again. Between his nephew and Heracles himself, Cycnus soon laid dead on the ground and the refugees of Delphi were saved.

The Battle of God and mortal

But Ares was watching and roared in pain at the loss of his beloved son. Returning to the fray himself, he began to fight Heracles in an almost unheard-of battle between god and mortal. Yet, Ares found himself unable to harm the man, for his sister Athena had granted Heracles protection, and with it, the ability to harm a god. Incredibly, Heracles was able to hold his own against Ares, a hitherto unheard-of feat, and even managed to wound the god, which should not have been possible for a mortal man. (Of course, Heracles later discovers he is not quite mortal after all… but that is a tale for another time.)

Tired of their fighting, Zeus eventually hurled a thunderbolt between the two, sending sparks flying and putting an end to their fight.

Shocked and with pride a little damaged, Ares limped back to Mount Olympus.

Ares at the Trojan War

The Trojan War is one of the biggest stories in Greek mythology and one that almost all the gods played some part in. 

A lot of information on the Trojan War can be found in the Iliad, the second part of Odysseus’ tale, but there are only certain parts of the battle that Ares deigned to involve himself in.

Before the war

Long before The Trojan War ever happened, it had been prophesied. A great war of Greeks and Trojans, with the gods divided.

Initially, it seems, Ares was on the side of the Greeks. After hearing the prophecy that Troy would never fall if Troilus, the young Trojan Prince, lived to 20, Ares embodied the spirit of the hero Achilles and imbibed him with the desire to kill young Troilus.

After the fighting began now known as the Trojan War, Ares swapped sides because, although we don’t know what happened, we know Ares urged on the Trojan troops, in conflict with his sister Athena.

Although the Gods soon grew tired of the fight and withdrew from the battle to rest and watch nearby, Ares soon returned at Apollo’s request.

The god of war reentered the fray as Acamas, a Prince of Lycia. He sought out the nobles of Troy and urged them not to abandon the hero Aeneas, who was fighting on the front lines of the war. Using his godly power and propensity for chaos, Ares stirred the Trojans to fight harder. He succeeded in turning the battle in their favor as, imbibed with Ares’s spirit, the Trojans undertook greater exploits to secure their position.

The tide turns against Ares

All of this infuriated Ares’ sister and mother – Athena and Hera, who had supported the Greeks thus far. Athena then went to the Greek hero and one of the key leaders in the Trojan War, Diomedes, and instructed him to meet her brother on the battlefield.

But unbeknownst to Ares, Athena traveled alongside the mortal, wearing Hades’ cap of invisibility. When Ares tried to kill Diomedes by flinging his spear that never misses, he was understandably shocked when it failed to reach its target. Athena deflects the spear, and whispering in Diomedes’ ear, encourages him to take it and stab the war god.

With Athena’s help (for no mortal can harm a god), Diomedes thrust the spear into Ares’ belly, wounding him. His reactionary scream caused all on the battlefield to freeze in terror, as Ares turned tail and fled to heaven to bitterly complain to his father, Zeus.

But Zeus dismissed his son, pleased that Athena and Hera had forced the tempestuous war god off the battlefield.

Ares and His Daughter Alcippe 

Ares, like many Greek gods, had a lot of children and like any father he sought to protect his offspring as much as possible. So, when the son of Poseidon, Halirrhothius, raped Ares’ daughter Alcippe, a furious Ares took revenge by killing his child’s murderer.

However, the other gods didn’t like this so much (even amongst gods murder isn’t cool), so they put Ares on trial on a hill near Athens. He was acquitted for his crime (surprise!) but the Athenians named this hill after him and then built a courthouse nearby which they used to try criminal cases, just another example of how Greek mythology and Greek life are intertwined.

The Greek Ares and the Roman God Mars 

Ancient Greek civilization sprung up during the 8th century BC and flourished all the way until the rise of the Roman empire, which took place in the final century BC. During the final stages of this era, known as the Hellenistic Period, Greek culture, language, and religion was widespread throughout mainland Greece and Italy but also in Mesopotamia, Egypt, and parts of western Asia

However, after the Romans conquered these lands, they began associating their gods with Greek gods as a means of combining their two cultures. This made sense, given how important religion was during this time. 

Therefore, many Greek gods, such as the Greek god Hermes who became Mercury,  took on Roman names and, in essence, became Roman gods and goddesses

In the case of Areas, he was known as the Roman god Mars. Also a god of war, he held a special role in the Roman pantheon. Today, the month of March, the fifth planet from the sun, and, in many Romance languages such as Spanish and French, Tuesday, is named after Mars, aka the Greek god Ares.

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