Today I want to start with a new series of blog posts called “Gods with a Bad Rep”. In these GWABR posts I’ll be addressing deities and the misunderstandings that may exist about them, which I’ll then proceed to clear up. Sometimes the rep may not be bad as such, but simply overly simplified and wrong. Like the title of this post suggest, I’ll start with one of the deities who receives most negativity in the modern world, Lord Arēs, often considered nothing but a brute, blood-thirsty warmonger.
Arēs is a God of War, there’s no way around that. The ancient described him as insatiate of blood, one who delights in battle, the screams and moans of the fallen, limbs getting cut off, the sound of arrows hitting their target, one who stirs up the din of battle, and who supports whoever is stronger at any given point in battle, and switching sides as one or the other gains an advantage. For this reason even the ancients didn’t like him very much, and Homēros even has his father Zeus tell him so by saying:
ἔχθιστος δέ μοί ἐσσι θεῶν οἳ Ὄλυμπον ἔχουσιν:
αἰεὶ γάρ τοι ἔρις τε φίλη πόλεμοί τε μάχαι τε.
Most hateful to me art thou of all gods that hold Olympus, for ever is strife dear to thee and wars and fightings.
- Homēros, Ilias, Book V, 890–891.
However, Arēs is still a God, one of the Twelve Olympians, and as such mortals owe him respect and worship like all other deities. The Olympians are fundamental to the Divine Order that governs the Kosmos, and Arēs too is indispensible and absolutely essential for the Kosmos. Human wars are simply a continuation of the struggle of life, the competition between different organisms for recourses, for survival, for reproduction. Arēs has been present ever since the first living organism to ever come into being – whether on Earth or elsewhere – as the driving force behind evolution, the constant adaptation of individuals and species throughout the countless generations of life. And even before that, throughout the Kosmos opposing forces battle each other constantly and yet keep themselves balanced. Like a star whose matter wishes to expand into the seemingly empty void of space, yet being pulled back in by that same matter’s own gravitational field, thus keeping balance between the two. And similarly also human wars hold the promise of peace, for constant warfare would only devastate, and all involved parties would find themselves extinct, if not from war itself, then from their environment being devastated beyond repair. So however terrible war might be, it will bring peace in the end, one way or another.
Furthermore, his family may give more clues to the benevolent part of his nature. Zeus and Hēra are his parents, the divine royal couple who as King and Queen are patrons of Civilisation, Government, and the State. Part of this domain is the defense of State, and the acquiring of the resources necessary to sustain the State. Whence it is no more then natural that the God of War would be the son of this royal couple, as he will be the defender and soldier of the State. Arēs’ temples were often located just outside the city walls, so that he would help protect the city walls – as well as prevent the city from infighting and civil war – and keep enemy armies far away. Several ancient cults of Arēs featured festivals were a statue of the God was bound with chains, and brought into the city by Hermēs, to stand by Dikē (Justice), to protect the city and make sure the might of Arēs wouldn’t leave and abandon the city – a different line of reasoning then the earlier mentioned temples-outside-the-city-walls-argument – and that he would surely accompany Dikē to enforce justice upon lawbreakers.
Besides his parents, he also has many lovers and children. The most important of his lovers is Aphroditē, we all know the story about how Hephaistos trapped them in the marital bed of Hephaistos and Aphroditē, exposing their adulterous affair. Aphroditē is a Goddess of Love, which goes to show that War and Love are not mutually exclusive – many would even argue that Love is War also. Some might even bring up the stereotype of women loving “bad boys”. Harmonia (Harmony) is also a relative of Arēs, his daughter by Alkippē. Again we see a close relationship between War and Harmony, like with War and Love, Justice, and Peace. I’d also like to mention the myth of Harmonia’s rape by Halirrhothios, a son of Poseidon’s. When Arēs learned of this crime he immediately went after the perpetrator like any loving father would, and he slayed him on the spot in retribution for his daughter’s violation. Upon this Poseidon charged him with murder, and upon the Areiopagos in Athens he was tried before the Gods, but ultimately all charges were dismissed as he was within his rights to avenge his daughter’s violation. This again shows a connection between Arēs and Justice, and he might be considered a protector of women and an avenger of rape because of this.
His connection to women is further underscored if we look at his cult in Tegea. Before the Tegeans were finally subdued by the Spartans, they were able to resist their expansion. Pausanias mentions one battle (Book VIII, §48.4) which speaks of a particular battle between the Spartans and the Tegeans were the women ultimately decided to stand by their men in battle, and fight together. The Tegeans thus gained a mighty victory over the Spartans, and in gratitude they installed a cult of Arēs surnamed Γυναικοθοίνας (Gynaikothoinas; Feasted By Women), an cult exclusively for women. Also near Tegea, at Mt. Kresios, Arēs was surnamed Ἀφνειός (Aphneios; Abundant), again showing his connection to things related to peacetime (Pausanias, Book VIII, §44.7).
And here I have come to the end of my discussion of Arēs, may my writings have convinced you that Lord Arēs is not just a warmonger, but also a God of Justice, Peace, Love, and Harmony, and may those who formerly felt uneasy with honouring him be convinced now that he is very much worthy of the worship and praise of mortal beings. If you want to learn more about him, you can check out this blog: Aspis fo Ares, which is dedicated to the worship of Arēs and maintained by an ex-military devotee of his.
Χαῖρε Ἄρης Ἄναξ!