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God of War

Photo: Museo nazionale romano di palazzo Altemps, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons


Ares, God of War


Roman Name: Mars

God of: War and fighting. Particularly valued by war-like societies like the Spartans, and later, the Romans.

Parents: Zeus and Hera.

Children: Ares had no wife but did father children with several of his lovers. Most notably, with Aphrodite, amongst others he fathered the Erotes, the gods of love, including Eros. They were also parents to Phobos, the god of terror. He was also said to be father to the Amazons, a tribe of fierce warrior-women and even terrifying dragons.

Symbols: His black sword, spear and armour, but also dogs, vultures, and birds that could shoot out their feathers like arrows.

Location of Story: Areopagus

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When Delphi had climbed to the top of the Areopagus, the huge boulder of a hill that stood between the Agora and the Acropolis, she had quite the view across the city. She could see the flow of people making their way up the stairs to the Parthenon, and hear the cries of the market sellers from below.

She stopped to listen, but mostly to get her breath back.

The shouting was getting louder. There was suddenly an edge of panic to it. Delphi looked up. The sky was turning red.

In horror, she saw the temples on the Acropolis suddenly burst into flame. Legions of soldiers were swarming up the hill like giant, red ants. The shouts became screams, or maybe a chant, that pulsed like a heartbeat as the city turned to smoke around her.

Delphi would have panicked then, if she had not seen the man in the black armour and helmet, kneeling behind a boulder and giggling. She looked around, found a suitable rock, and threw it at his head.

It clanged off his helmet and the red sky, the smoke, the soldiers, the burning temples and the screams all vanished.

“Ow!” The man turned to her angrily. “What do you think you’re doing?”

“What do you think you’re doing?!” Delphi replied, furiously.

They stared at each other for a moment. A bird sang in the cloudless blue sky.

“Don’t you know who I am?” The man stood up. He was tall, imposing, his dark armour shining with a sinister gleam and his helmet barely covered his thin, cruel eyes. He was Ares, the war god, fury and suffering in human form, and all who knew him, feared him.

“Yeah, I do,” said Delphi. “You’re a coward.”

The reply came more from his nose than anywhere else. “No, I’m not!”

“You are! Nobody needs war. It’s always so stupid. I bet human beings could get by without war just fine.” She started to leave but the war-god let out a mighty shout.

“No!” Delphi stopped in her tracks. “You may not like it, but humans will always need me. There’s never been a time without war, no problem that did not end at the point of a blade and blood on the earth.” The voice was desperate, almost pleading.

Delphi narrowed her eyes at him and felt a stab of doubt.

“You will always come back to me,” Ares insisted.

Delphi thought about it. “Nah. Loser.”

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An unpopular god

Ares was the son of Zeus and Hera, but from the first, they had little love for him. He was always quick to get angry, keen to fight and yet cowardly, whining about the battles he would start. Neither the gods nor the Greeks had any great love for Ares and there are few stories told about him. Later, he would come to be worshipped and loved by much more war-like societies, particularly by the fearsome Spartans, and then, by the name of Mars, by the Romans. In this form, he was a giant in shining armour, a symbol of almighty power – but the first Greeks never saw him in this way.

Lover of Aphrodite

There was one who loved him however – the goddess of love herself, Aphrodite. Although she was married to Ares’ brother Hephaestus, they had an ongoing affair and parented many terrifying children – including Phobos, god of terror. It’s an interesting piece of Greek logic that it takes War and Love to come together to make Terror.

God of war

Ares tends to arrive whenever there is a mighty battle. During the Trojan War, he of course fought on the side of Aphrodite’s favoured Trojans, but he is described as murderous, bloodstained – and a coward. Although his mighty war cry is as loud as ten thousand soldiers, when he was injured by Athena, his cries turned to wailing and he fled the battlefield. Ares was the god of destruction and suffering on the battlefield – when soldiers wanted to pray for victory in battle, they would instead turn to the much more tactically inspired Athena.

An embarrassing moment

One story about Ares is when two giant children named Otus and Ephialtes challenged the gods. These brothers were so powerful that even Zeus’ thunderbolts could not touch them. Ares ran out to take them on – but was quickly wrapped in chains and stuffed inside a bronze jar! He spent the next thirteen months trapped inside – it was only when Hermes came to rescue him did he manage to escape. It was Artemis who defeated the brothers – she turned herself into a white doe and skipped between them when they were hunting. They both threw their spears at the creature at the same time – she vanished and the spears hit each other. Artemis was praised on her return to Olympus, while Ares was left to grumble about his humiliation!

The Amazons

As well as his terrifying children with Aphrodite, and his fearsome dragon offspring, Ares was also said to be the father of a fierce tribe of warrior women called the Amazons. These were the original Amazons and have nothing to do with the rainforest in Brazil or shopping online! Interestingly, historians think the Amazons really existed and lived in an area called Scythia, which is now northern Turkey on the coast of the Black Sea.

The Greeks were fascinated by the Amazons. In fact, they are one of the most commonly depicted stories, alongside the labours of Heracles, to be found on Greek pottery and sculpture. They are always shown to be fierce warriors, and the Greeks both feared their foreign and barbaric ways, and were fascinated and attracted to them – so different were they to Greek women.

Hippolyta, Antiope and Penthesilea

Many of the stories focus on specific Amazon women. One of Heracles’ labours was to recover the war-belt from the Queen of the Amazons, Hippolyta. When she was defeated, another Amazon woman, Antiope, was taken by Theseus to Athens, leading the Amazons to attack the city and very nearly destroy it.

Amazons also feature in the Trojan War. When the Amazon princess Penthesilea accidentally killed her sister, she sought to seek a glorious death in battle to pay for her crime. However, she was too fierce and skilled a fighter for anyone to take her life. When the Trojans sought her aid during the war, she came freely – knowing she could face the only man who was stronger than her – Achilles. They fought briefly, and Achilles was too quick even for her. However, after he had killed her, it was said that, very unusually for this cold-hearted solider, Achilles wept over her body, and some say, even fell in love with her.

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