1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Ares

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ARES, in ancient Greek mythology, the god of war, or rather of battle, son of Zeus and Hera. (For the Roman god, identified with Ares, see Mars.) As contrasted with Athena, who added to her other attributes that of being the goddess of well-conducted military operations, he personifies brute strength and the wild rage of conflict. His delight is in war and bloodshed; he loves fighting for fighting’s sake, and takes the side of the one or the other combatant indifferently, regardless of the justice of the cause. His quarrelsomeness was regarded as inherited from his mother, and it may have been only as an illustration of the perpetual strife between Zeus and Hera that Ares was accounted their son. According to a later tradition, he was the son of Hera (Juno) alone, who became pregnant by touching a certain flower (Ovid, Fasti, v. 255). All the gods, even Zeus, hate him, but his bitterest enemy is Athena, who fells him to the ground with a huge stone. Splendidly armed, he goes to battle, sometimes on foot, sometimes in the war chariot made ready by his sons Deimos and Phobos (Panic and Fear) by whom he is usually accompanied. In his train also are found Enyo, the goddess of war who delights in bloodshed and the destruction of cities; his sister, Eris, goddess of fighting and strife; and the Keres, goddesses of death, whose function it is especially to roam the battle-field, carrying off the dead to Hades. In later accounts (and even in the Odyssey) Ares’ character is somewhat toned down; thus, in the “Homeric” hymn to Ares he is addressed as the assistant of Themis (Justice), the enemy of tyrants, and leader of the just. It is to be noted, however, that in this little poem he is to some extent confounded with the planet named after him (Ares, or Mars).

The primitive character of Ares has been much discussed. He is a god of storms; a god of light or a solar god; a chthonian god, one of the deities of the subterranean world, who could bring prosperity as well as ruin upon men, although in time his destructive qualities obscured the others. In this last aspect he was one of the chief gods of the Thracians, amongst whom his home was placed even in the time of Homer. In Scythia an old iron sword served as the symbol of the god, to which yearly sacrifices of cattle and horses were made, and in earlier times (as apparently also at Sparta) human victims, selected from prisoners of war, were offered. Thus Ares developed into the god of war, in which character he made his way into Greece. This theory may have been nothing more than an 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. But it appears that the Thracians and Scythians in historical times (Herodotus i. 59) worshipped 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. The story of his imprisonment for thirteen months by the Aloïdae (Iliad, v. 385) points to the conquest of this chthonian destroyer of the fields by the arts of peace, especially agriculture, of which the grain-fed sons of Aloeus (the thresher) are the personification.

In Homer Ares is the lover of Aphrodite, the wife of Hephaestus, who catches them together in a net and holds them up to the ridicule of the gods. In what appears to be a very early development of her character, Aphrodite also was a war goddess, known under the name of Areia; and in Thebes, the most important seat of the worship of Ares, she is his wife, and bears him Eros and Anteros, Deimos and Phobos, and Harmonia, wife of Cadmus, the founder of the city (Hesiod, Theog. 933). In the legend of Cadmus and his family Ares plays a prominent part. His worship was not so widely spread over Greece as that of other gods, although he was honoured here and there with festivals and sacrifices. Thus, at Sparta, under the name of Theritas, he was offered young dogs and even human beings. The Dioscuri were said to have brought his image from Colchis to Laconia, where it was set up in an old sanctuary on the road from Sparta to Therapnae. At Athens, he had a temple at the foot of the Areopagus, with a statue by Alcamenes. It was here, according to the legend, that he was tried and acquitted by a council of the gods for the murder of Halirrhothius, who had violated Alcippe, the daughter of Ares by Agraulos. The figure of Ares appears in various stories of ancient mythology. Thus, he engages in combat with Heracles on two occasions to avenge the death of his son Cycnus; once Zeus separates the combatants by a flash of lightning, but in the second encounter he is severely wounded by his adversary, who has the active support of Athena; maddened by jealousy, he changes himself into the boar which slew Adonis, the favourite of Aphrodite; and stirs up the war between the Lapithae and Centaurs. His attributes were the spear and the burning torch, symbolical of the devastation caused by war (in ancient times the hurling of a torch was the signal for the commencement of hostilities). The animals sacred to him were the dog and the vulture.

The worship of Ares being less general throughout Greece than that of the gods of peace, the number of statues of him is small; those of Ares-Mars, among the Romans, are more frequent. Previous to the 5th century B.C. he was represented as full-bearded, grim-featured and in full armour. From that time, apparently under the influence of Athenian sculptors, he was conceived as the ideal of a youthful warrior, and was for a time associated with Aphrodite and Eros. He then appears as a vigorous youth, beardless, with curly hair, broad head and stalwart shoulders, with helmet and chlamys. In the Villa Ludovisi statue (after the style of Lysippus) he appears seated, in an attitude of thought; his arms are laid aside, and Eros peeps out at his feet. In the Borghese Ares (also taken for Achilles) he is standing, his only armour being the helmet on his head. He also appears in many other groups, with 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 powerful god.

Authorities.—H. D. Müller, Ares (1848), H. W. Stoll, Über die ursprüngliche Bedeutung des A. und der Athene (1881); F. A. Voigt, “Beiträge zur Mythologie des Ares und Athena” in Leipziger Studien, iv. 1881; W. H. Roscher, Studien zur vergleichenden Mythologie, i., 1873; C. Tümpel, Ares und Aphrodite (1880); articles in Pauly-Wissowa’s Realencyclopädie, Roscher’s Lexikon der Mythologie, and Daremberg and Saglio’s Dictionnaire des Antiquités (s.v. Mars); Preller, Griechische Mythologie.