In Greek Mythology, Ares was a god of war. However, unlike other gods, Ares was neither popular among other gods nor mortals. That was because of his destructive behavior, which often resulted in war. Ares is closely associated with Athena, his half-sister and the goddess of war. But, unlike Ares, Athena was known for her knowledge and war strategies.
Ares was the son of Zeus and Hera. Their other children were two daughters Eileithyia and Hebe. Some mortals did not consider Ares a god, despite his lineage. Instead, they considered him to be from Thrace, who were a war-loving people.
Ares’ children were from different partners. The most famous of his children were those who were brave and unfortunate, to go up against Hercules during his 12 labors. His daughter, Hippolyta, also known as the Amazon Queen, had her girdle taken by Hercules. His son, Eurytion lost his cattle to Hercules. Diomedes was most unfortunate as he was fed to his cannibalistic fire-breathing horses before they were taken away.
Abduction by Aloadae Giants
Hera was preoccupied and Zeus did not love Ares. As a result, young Ares lived under his own guidance in Mount Olympus. He was just learning about his power, and due to lack of guidance he was mischievous and stirred up violence and battles.
Fed up with the mischief, the Aloadae giants abducted him. The two giants, Otus and Ephialtes, kept Ares locked in a bronze jar for thirteen months (one lunar year). According to some legends, Ares’ history would have ended after the abduction had the giants’ step-mother not intervened. The stepmother informed Hermes what had happened to Ares.
Unfortunately, knowing what had happened to Ares was not enough to convince the other gods to rescue Ares. It was only after the giants sent threats that they acted. The giants demanded the hands of Artemis (for Ortus) and Hera (for Ephialtes) otherwise they would storm Mount Olympus. The gods came up with a plan to kill the Aloadae giants and free Ares.
Ares and Priapus
After the abduction and imprisonment of Ares, Hera decided Mount Olympus was not the best place for the young Ares. He sent him to earth to live with Priapus. Interestingly, Hera cursed Priapus when in the womb which resulted in the lesser known deity’s banishment to earth.
Priapus shaped the young god’s character and skillset. He was also warlike god but he never received the attention given to Athena and Ares.
Priapus first taught young Ares how to dance. It was only after the war god mastered dancing that his teacher agreed to train him in fighting. Eventually, Ares mastered warfare and engaged in several battles whose outcome earned him a place back at Mount Olympus.
Battle with Hercules
The battle with Hercules is the most popular legend involving Ares. The battle was sparked by Ares’ son Kyknos. Kyknos would ambush pilgrims on their way to see the oracle at Delphi. His transgressions angered Apollo who sought the help of Hercules. Hercules killed Kyknos.
An angered Ares engaged Hercules in a fight. But, Hercules had help from Athena and was even able to injure Ares.
The Affair with Aphrodite
Another of Zeus children who did not gain his favor was Hephaestus due to his ugliness. In revenge, Hephaestus built a golden throne for his mother that would not let her get up until she met all his demands. One of the demands was Aphrodite’s hand in marriage. Ares, who was already in love with Aphrodite, was displeased.
Aphrodite and Ares continued their relationship in secret. But, not for long as the relationship was discovered by Helios who saw the two in an intimate embrace. Hephaestus concocted a revenge plan. He made an invisible trap that he could put into action at his pleasure.
The two unsuspecting lovers were caught in the act. Then, he invited the gods and goddesses to his home to witness the indiscretion. The lovers remained in that shameful state for two days before Hephaestus freed them.
Even though the two lovers never married, there was a significant level of commitment between them. Their relationship resulted in several children including Harmonia (the goddess of harmony), Phobos (the god of fear), Adrestia (the goddess of revolt), and Deimos (the god of terror).
Ares and Aphrodite were not only the parents of gods and goddesses associated with war, fear, and terror. They bore Erotes, the winged gods of love named Eros, Anteros, Pothos, and Himeros.
The Trojan War
In many legends of the Trojan War, including the Iliad by Homer, Ares supported the Trojans. By doing that, he defied Zeus and sided with his lover, Aphrodite. The god of war fought fiercely and fearlessly in the battle of the Trojans against the Achaeans. His warfare skills could have brought the Trojans victory, but, unfortunately, the Achaeans had too many gods on their side.
Ares fought for the honor of Aphrodite. He even gave her his war chariot to help her escape the battlefield so that her wounds would be treated.
Ares faced off against Athena in the battlefield but the goddess was victorious. When he threw a spear at Athena, the helm of death, which she was wearing, deflected the spear. In retaliation, Athena hurled a boulder at Ares, which hit him so hard that his scream was audible amid the chaos of the battlefield. In the Iliad, Homer describes the scream as “the shouts of 10,000 men”.
Ares had to retreat back to Mount Olympus. Zeus ignored his complaints but had Paieon tend to the wound.
Among the many places named after Ares is Aeropagus (Ares’ Hill). The hill once hosted a murder trial involving Ares.
Legend has it that Poseidon’s son, Halirrhothius once came across Ares’ daughter, Alcippe. Halirrhothius deeply desired Aclippe. Unfortunately, Alcippe was not interested. The god, not accustomed to rejection, raped her or attempted to rape her. Ares’, angered by the cowardly act, stopped the attack by brutally killing Halirrhothius.
Poseidon got wind of what had happened to his son and demanded a trial. The trial was held at a hill in Mount Olympus, which was later to be called Aeropagus. The gods and goddesses who were invited to pass judgment found Ares not guilty. However, Ares was required to set up a sporting event in honor of Halirrhothius.
Ares’ Representation in Art
Greek classical art depicts Ares as a warrior dressed in full armor and carrying a shield in one arm and a spear in the other arm. Other works of art portray him as a young beardless warrior, with no clothes but a helm, carrying a spear and a shield. Others show him riding a chariot pulled by fire-breathing horses