Throughout history wars have impacted the world with its many guises. The desire for power, to rule, to dominate were and are the driving forces that impelled war. Even in our own time, battles rage from the most publicised events to ones that don’t make the media headlines. From the days of the cave man, roaming from place to place, looking for food and shelter conflicts ensued. Not much has changed though the names for them vary according to the period and to ‘soften’ the real meaning: combats, warfare, confrontations, crusades, campaigns. In Ancient Greece, they honoured a god who personified war, yet he also was attributed with civil order and manly courage.
Ares, God of War, was both admired and hated by the gods. Like the other gods in the Pantheon he had two sides to his personality, his warmongering behaviour and his ‘love’ for Aphrodite. More like lust than love. They were caught in a very compromising situation, one that many artists have painted. More about that later.
The gods were suspicious of Ares’ motives as he was shown to change sides and his fickle nature made him unreliable. Evidence of his behaviour was exposed during the Trojan War in Homer’s poem The Iliad. He led the Trojans out onto the battlefield inciting them with battle-lust. It was a blind charge, one filled with bloodlust and saw the early deaths of two Trojans. Athene, who was leading the Akhaians (Greeks), pulled him aside and told him to stay out of it and to let the two warring nations fight it out. Athene wounded Ares, or perhaps it was Diomedes, depending on the source. Here’s a small part of the scene, where Ares’ duality is exposed:
[Athena declared:] ‘Violent Ares, that thing of fury, evil-wrought, that double-faced liar who even now protested to Hera and me, promising that he would fight against the Trojans and stand by the Argives (another name for the Greeks). Now, all promises forgotten, he stands by the Trojans.’ Homer, Iliad Book 5. 699
Ares and Aphrodite had an affair, even though the goddess was married to Hephaistos, god of fire and the forge. He found out, constructed net that could not be broken or ripped apart and trapped them while they were in bed. The adulterers had to face the wrath of Hephaistos and the Olympian Gods he summoned. He also demanded the return of wedding gifts from Zeus and in turn Ares pay a penalty for his adulterous behaviour. The gods laughed on seeing the lovers and poor Hephaistos looked like a fool, he then let them go.
Myths also say when Ares wears his armour, war happens and when he takes it off, peace reigns. He was worshipped in Athens, Laconia, Tegea, Olympia, Thebes and Sparta. The Spartans also sacrificed humans to Ares. The temples were built outside of the town; the idea was to prevent enemies from approaching.
Ares is perhaps the easiest of gods to understand, he fought with gusto and romanced just as passionately. Though he did have a healthy ego.
For more information go to: Ares Myths