The ancient Greek god of war, Ares, remains one of the most famous of the old Olympian gods. With an impressive title like ‘god of war,’ Ares definitely had the benefit of the brute, devilish appeal of strength and power to ensure his longevity. The violent character of Ares (or Romanized Mars) has found a home in television, cinema, novels and video games, where people enjoy observing the god of war raise all sorts of chaos and bloodshed. Yet, the ironic reality of Ares is that despite his modern depiction as the ultimate tough-guy, the Ares of Greek myth was a bit of a pushover compared to the other Olympian gods.
The god of war should be given his due before his modern image is besmirched—here are some of Ares’ undeniable victories from myth. For one, Ares was the one who subdued Sisyphos, a man who had previously overwhelmed a god of death named Thanatos. Another of his exploits occurred after Ares’ agent/offspring—the serpent Dracon—was slaughtered by Cadmus of Thebes. In response, Ares turned Cadmus, as well as his wife, into serpents. In another story, Ares’ lover, Aphrodite, had an affair with a man named Adonis. In a jealous rage, Ares turned into a boar and murdered the unfortunate mortal—which, I suppose, is a victory of sorts for Ares. One more memorable achievement of Ares was his revenge killing of Hallirhothios, a son of the ocean god, Poseidon. Hallirhothios had raped one of Ares’ daughters, and when the god of war heard about this crime, he personally hunted down and slaughtered the rapist. Poseidon put Ares on trial for murder, but the god of war was acquitted.
Now that the achievements of Ares have been discussed, let’s look at some of the god of war’s numerous failures and embarrassments. As mentioned earlier, Ares and Aphrodite were lovers, but there was a problem—in common mythology, Aphrodite was married to the smith god, Hephaestus. In one story, Hephaestus snared his unfaithful wife and the god of war in a golden net and allowed all of the gods of Olympus to ridicule the pair.
That embarrassment was for love, but Ares had multiple defeats in his area of expertise—war and battle. Ares was one of multiple gods to be injured by Heracles (or Hercules), the son of Zeus. Yet, because so many other gods were harmed by Heracles (including Hera and Hades), it is not fair to give this point too much credence. During the Trojan War, however, Ares was constantly defeated by the military prowess of Athena, and was even knocked off his feet in a one-on-one duel with her. Yet, the most humiliating story has to be Ares’ fight against the two virtually indestructible giants, Otus and Ephialtes—known as the Aloadai. When Ares faced the giants, he was simply scooped up and stuffed into a bronze jar. The goddess Artemis succeeded where Ares had failed by successfully tricking the giants into killing each other. Even after the death of the Aloadai, Ares remained imprisoned. Hermes finally saved the pitiful god of war after he had spent around 13 months trapped in his bronze jar prison.
Written by C. Keith Hansley.
- The Iliad by Homer, translated by E. V. Rieu and revised by Peter Jones. New York: Penguin Classics, 2014.