1902 Encyclopedia > Ares

Greek god of war

ARES [MARS], in Greek Mythology, the god of war, not, however, of war in its wide sense, including campaigns, the disposition and command of forces, but in its more primitive meaning of a fierce encounter between bodies of men. Neither the causes nor the ultimate effects of war were ascribed to him. He was simply a personification of the wild impetuous spirit with which battles were fought,

Ares. From brass coin of the Ares. From brass coin of the
Maniertmi. Brit. Mus. Bruttii. Brit. Mus.

and as such he was conceived as the model of a hero, splendidly armed with cuirass, helmet, shield, and spear, swift, of great size (ireXwpios), raging (pui.vop.evos), mur-derous (BporoXotyos), unsatiable of war (aYos iroXtpjoio). Enyo, the furious war goddess, Eris (Strife), Deimos and Phobos (Dread and Alarm), were usually by his side. Even his mother Hera denounces him (Iliad, v. 761) as senseless, and knowing no bounds. It was doubtless only as an illustration of the habitual strife between Hera and Zeus that Ares was accounted their son. When wounded by Diomedes assisted by Athena (Iliad, v. 853, ff.), he fell with a noise like that of nine or ten thousand men in battle; and again (Iliad, xxi. 400, ff.), when Athena wounded him with a stone, he fell, and covered with his fall seven acres of ground. On this latter expres-sion it is to be observed, that, while it conveys a picture of broad-strewn carnage consistent with the usual character of Ares, it suggests also, from the measurement given, thoughts of the destruction of cultivated land in war, the more so when taken in connection with the story of Otus and Ephialtes, which reads in the Iliad (v. 385) like a reminiscence from an earlier time, when war was the dread of the husbandman. These two giants, sons of Aloeus, the planter, born very small, but grown by being fed on grain to immense size, and occupied, as their names imply, with husbandry (Otus = w6iu>, and Ephialtes = tmaXXopxii.), had seized Ares and confined him in a large brazen jar for thirteen months, so that for one year there was entire peace over the fields. If, as is not improbable, the first conception of a war god originated in connection with invasion from non-Hellenic tribes, it would be natural to regard him perhaps more as a ruthless destroyer of fields than of human life, and equally natural that this view of his character should die out when war became, so to speak, a trade, as it had become by the time of the Iliad. Even then he was still recognised as a god whose home was among the warlike Thracians (Iliad, xiii. 298; Odyssey, viii. 361). This, it is true, may have been nothing more than another instance of the Greek tendency to assign a northern or Hyperborean home to deities in whose character something analogous to the stormy elements of nature was found. On the other hand, it appears that the Thracians and Scythians in historical times (Herodotus, i. 59) wor-shipped chiefly a war god, and that certain Thracian settlements, formed in Greece in prehistoric times, left behind them traces of the worship of a god whom the Greeks called Ares. At Thebes, for instance, had been such a settlement, and there, above all the rest of Greece, were afterwards found the oldest traditions of the worship of Ares, and that not altogether in the character of a war god. The fountain of Ares guarded by a dragon, and the legend of the Spartse, who sprang from a field sown with dragon's teeth, seem rather to symbolise some destructive influence in nature, such as that of the sun in summer scorching the fields. That influence of this kind was ascribed to the Thracian god follows from the identifi-cation of him with the Sabine and Eoman Mars, to the latter of whom the Arval brethren in Rome made annual sacrifice of a red dog to avert the calamity of the ripe grain taking fire. Apollo is the god who in Greek mythology, as we know it, discharged such functions. But it is argued that in this matter he may have superseded Ares, who on assuming the Thracian character of war god may have gradually resigned his original office. In one of the Homeric hymns Ares is described as a sun god who makes courage and valour stream into the hearts of men, and again, iEetes, king of Colchis, though a son of Helios, was yet the guardian of the grove of Ares, where was the golden fleece. Meleager, whose valour was displayed against the Calydonian boar, a pest to the fields of J<]tolia, was a son of Ares and the fostering nymph Althaea. GSnomaus was a son of Ares and a daughter of the river god Asopus. The dog, which had originally referred to the dog star, remained his symbol, but could only be accounted for by the constant presence of that animal on battle-fields. From the destruction of crops by summer heat to similar destruction by war-like invasion seems a natural step. The next step was to take the point of view of the invader, and to magnify the exploits of war. By the time of Homer this had been done effectually, though traces of an older form of belief remain both in the Iliad and Odyssey. Besides those already mentioned, there is the remarkable incident in the Odyssey (viii. 266, ff.) where Hephaestos, informed by Helios of the infidelity of his wife Aphrodite with Ares, captures them together in a net, and there holds them for the ridicule of the gods. In what appears to be a very early development of her char-acter, Aphrodite was a war goddess, and was styled Areia. But it is scarcely possible that a phase of character shared also, for example, by Athena, could have suggested such a relation between Ares and Aphrodite, though Hesiod's state-ment (Theogony, 934) that Deimos and Phobos were their offspring points in that direction. Again, though Ares and Aphrodite were worshipped together at Thebes, it is not known that they were worshipped there as deities of war. Harmonia, the wife of Cadmus, the founder of that town, was regarded as their daughter. Possibly the connection originated in some other approximation between Ares and Aphrodite in an earlier form of their worship. Women were excluded from the festivals of Ares except at Tegea, in Arcadia, where he was called yvvaiKoQoivas. But that exception appears to have been based only on an instance in which that town was successfully defended by its women. While honoured here and there with festivals and sacrifice, as at Sparta, where young dogs, and apparently once men, were offered to him under his title of Enyalios and Theritas, there were yet wanting in his case those local beliefs and traditions which gave vitality to the worship of a god. Next to Thebes, already mentioned, it was at Athens that this vitality obtained most, through the legend attaching to the Areopagus ("Apcios 7rayos). The nymph Agraulos had born him a daughter Alcippe, whom Halirrhotius, a son of Neptune, had seized with violence, and for this was slain by Ares, who was tried by a council of the gods sitting on the Areopagus and acquitted. At the foot of the Areopagus was a temple of Ares, with a statue of the god from the hands of Alcamenes. To judge now of the fluctuation in the conception of Ares from works of art, it is found that previous to the 5th century B.C., he was figured bearded, grim, and heavily armed. From that time, apparently under the influence of Athenian sculptors, who had to render his form in some harmony with their local war goddess Athena, he was conceived as the ideal of a youthful warrior, and for a time associated with Aphrodite and Eros, as in the group of the villa Borghese at Borne, where Eros plays with his weapons, and in many other groups of Ares and Aphrodite in marble and on engraved gems of Roman times. But before this grouping had recommended itself to the Romans, with their legend of Mars and Rhea Silvia, the Greek Ares had again become under Macedonian influence a bearded, armed, and power-ful god. The Romans, however, though they readily adopted the Greek Mars and Venus, yet retained the former deity in his native character as a god representing the influence of the sun on cultivated fields, resembling the Mamers of the Mamertines in Sicily, with a wolf as his symbol

(Conze, Heroen und Goiter Gestalten, p. 22, Vienna, 1874; Preller, Griechische Mythologie, i. pp. 251-259; Welcker, Griechische Gotteriehre, i. pp. 413-424).
(A. S. M.)

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