Zeus and His Dysfunctional Family

11 Ares

Ares and two other gods (the Dioscuri) leap down from above and attack a group of giants. Ares, in a plumed helm and carrying a shield, stabs a spear into the giant below.
Ares fights in the Gigantomachy, red-figure pelike, 5th century BCE (National Archaeological Museum, Athens)


The following content is adapted from Mythology Unbound and is licensed under a CC BY-NC-SA license.

Ares was the son of Zeus and Hera. He was one of the twelve Olympians, but as a war god was feared. He was the least popular among the Greeks and among his fellow gods due to his combative nature. The only one who seemed to like him was Aphrodite. The two were portrayed as having a long-standing affair, and they had four children together. He also had many children with mortal women from Thrace. He was the father of several of the Argonauts and of the Amazon queen, Penthesileia (see chapter 23).

Ares was primarily worshipped outside of Greece, particularly in Thrace and Scythia. In myth he was associated with the Amazons and the Colchians. The belt that Heracles steals from the Amazon queen, Hippolyte, during his ninth labour, was given to her by Ares (see chapter 17). The grove which held the Golden Fleece, the object of the quest of Jason and the Argonauts (see chapter 18), was sacred to Ares.

Ares in Action

God of War

The following content is adapted from Mythology Unbound and is licensed under a CC BY-NC-SA license.

Despite being a war god, in Greek myths, Ares was often bested by the other gods. Athena wounds him in combat during the Trojan War and Heracles manages to take him down four times while fighting at Pylus. The giants Otus and Ephialtes trap him in a pot and he is stuck there for over a year until Hermes rescues him.

One might wonder why Ares’ associations with war would hurt his reputation while Athena, a war goddess, was so popular. However, the Greeks viewed Ares’ bloodthirstiness as antithetical to their tactical style of warfare, exemplified by Athena (see passage from the Iliad, below).

However, Ares’ Roman counterpart, Mars, was a favourite of the Romans. They traced their lineage to him, as the father of Romulus and Remus by the Vestal Virgin, Rhea Silvia. Mars was the protector of the Romans and their patron god.

For further discussion of Mars and the foundation of Rome, see the following sections and chapter 32.


Homer, Iliad, Book 5 (trans. A. S. Kline, adapted by L. Zhang and P. Rogak)

Greek epic poem, 8th century BCE

In this passage from Homer’s Iliad, Ares returns to Olympus after being wounded in a fight with Diomedes, and Zeus expresses his contempt for Ares.


[846-909] Like the dark column that whirls from the cloud when a tornado forms in heated air, so brazen Ares seemed to Diomedes, as he sped through the sky to high heaven. Swiftly he reached the gods’ home on steep Olympus, and sat down at Zeus’ side, in anguish. Ares showed Zeus the divine ichor flowing from the wound, and spoke in a sad voice, “Father Zeus, does it not stir your indignation to see all this violence? We gods always suffer cruelly at each other’s hands when we show mortals favour. We are all at odds with you because you cursed the world with that mad daughter of yours who is ever bent on lawlessness. The rest of us Olympians obey you and bow to you, but you say and do nothing to stop her antics, you condone them rather, simply because this girl who wreaks havoc is yours. Now she spurs on foolhardy Diomedes to vent his anger on us immortals. First in a close encounter he wounded Aphrodite on the wrist then he ran at me like a very demon. Quick on my feet, I sprang away, or I would have suffered there for ages among the grisly dead, or been crippled by his spear-blows.”

Zeus, the Cloud-gatherer, turned on him angrily, “Don’t come here to whine, you backslider. Strife, conflict, and war are all you care for, so much so that I loathe you more than all the other Olympians. You share your mother Hera’s intolerable, headstrong spirit; she too will scarcely obey my word. I suspect she prompted this and caused your wound. Yet as my offspring I’ll not let you suffer, since it was to me she bore you, though if any other god had fathered so violent a son, you’d have been ranked below the sons of Uranus, long ago.’

So saying, he ordered Paean to heal him, by spreading soothing ointment on the wound, for Ares was no mortal. He healed the fierce god as swiftly as fig-juice thickens milk that curdles when stirred. Then Hebe bathed him, and dressed him in fine clothes, and he sat down again by Zeus’ side, in all his former glory.


Taken from: https://www.poetryintranslation.com/PITBR/Greek/Iliad5.php#anchor_Toc239244910

Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright 2009 All Rights Reserved


Homeric Hymn 8, “To Ares” (trans. H. G. Evelyn-White, adapted by P. Rogak)

Greek hymn, 7th century BCE

This very early, 7th century BCE hymn to Ares follows the typical pattern of a religious invocation. Ares is addressed by all his various names and epithets and asked to bring a specific propitiation upon the reciter. Contrary to what we might expect, Ares is not being asked to bring the suppliant bravery in war, but rather he is invoked as a means to prevent war and conflict. The hymn asks for Aries to grant the reciter, “boldness to abide within the harmless laws of peace, avoiding conflict and hatred.”


Ares, exceeding in strength, chariot-rider, golden-helmed, brave of heart, shield-bearer, saviour of cities, harnessed in bronze, strong of arm, unwearying, mighty with the spear, O defence of Olympus, father of warlike Victory, ally of Themis, stern governor of the rebellious, leader of righteous men, sceptered king of manliness, who whirls your fiery sphere among the planets in their sevenfold courses through the aether, in which your blazing steeds forever carry you above the third level of heaven; hear me, helper of men, giver of fearless youth! Shed down a kindly ray from above upon my life, and strength of war, that I may be able to drive away bitter cowardice from my head and crush down the deceitful impulses of my soul. Restrain also the keen fury of my heart which provokes me to tread the ways of blood-curdling conflict. Rather, O blessed one, give me boldness to abide within the harmless laws of peace, avoiding conflict and hatred and the violent fiends of death.


Taken from: https://www.theoi.com/Text/HomericHymns3.html#8


Art and Symbolism

Ares is down on one knee, holding a spear and shield. He wears a plumed helm and armoured breastplate, but is otherwise nude.
Ares, tracing from black-figure krater, ca. 570 BCE (accessed via Theoi.com/the National Archaeological Museum of Florence)

In Greek art, Ares was commonly represented as a fully-armed warrior, wearing a hoplite armour composed of helmet, cuirass, greaves, and a large shield.


Ares walking, his head turned back over his shoulder to look at Pandora (out of frame). He is wearing Greek hoplite armour and a plumed helm, and carrying a circular shield and a spear.
Ares, tracing from red-figure krater, ca. 5th century BCE (accessed via Theoi.com/the Ashmolean Museum)

As the god of war was feared, his representations on most mediums seem to have been fairly rare until the Hellenistic Period (323-31 BCE). In vase paintings and reliefs, Ares is usually depicted as a member of the assembly of the gods in collective scenes. He rarely appears alone, unlike Athena who is often portrayed solo.


Zeus is throned. A small Athena, fully armed and armoured, leaps from his head. Other gods stand watching, including Ares bearing a large shield and wearing a plumed helm.
Birth of Athena, black-figure amphora, ca. 560 BCE (Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven)


One of the few myths about Ares that is found in art is the killing of his son, Kyknos, at the hands of Heracles. This scene usually depicts the two combatants flanked by their protectors: Athena on the side of Heracles, and Ares on the side of Kyknos, pitting Athena and Ares conceptually and visually against one another.

Herakles, wearing a lion skin, thrusts a spear at Kyknos, who has fallen to his knees. To the left stands Athena, and to the right is Ares. Ares wields a spear and wears a plumed helm, and a sword is sheathed at his waist.
Athena (left) and Ares (right) attending a fight between Heracles and Kyknos, black-figure amphora, ca. 500 BCE (British Museum, London)


Ares seated with one foot resting on his helm. He is nude save a draped cloth, and is holding a sword. At his feet are a cupid, and Ares' shield.
Ludovisi Ares, Roman copy of Greek statue from ca. 320 BCE (Museo nazionale romano di palazzo Altemps, Rome)


The Roman god Mars, much like his Greek counterpart, was usually depicted as an armed warrior. He could be portrayed either as a naked youth surrounded by his weapons, or as a more mature, bearded man in full armour.


Mars standing in the nude. He is wearing a helmet, and on his right ankle is an ankle bracelet.
Mars Borghese, Roman replica (ca. 1st century CE) of a Greek bronze statue from the 5th century BCE (Louvre Museum, Paris)


The first iteration of Mars was generally used in depictions of scenes inspired by Greek myth, such as his relationship with Aphrodite/Venus.  The second one was employed when referring to Mars as the ancestral god of the city of Rome.


On the left stands Mars in a plumed helm and armour. To the right stands the shepherd Faustulus by a tree. Between them is a reconstructed image of the children Romulus and Remus being nursed by the wolf Lupa.
Mars, Faustulus, Romulus, and Remus, Roman relief from the Ara Pacis, ca. 9 BCE (Museo dell’Ara Pacis, Rome). Note that much of this relief is reconstruction, and very little of the original relief is preserved.


During the Imperial Period (27 BC to 284 BCE), some emperors were also portrayed in the guise of Mars to underline their military prowess and to tie them to Rome’s origins.


A robed woman stands with her arms around the nude figure of Hadrian. Hadrian is posed like Mars, with a sword at his side and a helm.
Emperor Hadrian and an imperial woman (possibly Lucilla) as Mars and Venus, Roman statues, ca. 170 CE (Louvre Museum, Paris)

Media Attributions and Footnotes

Media Attributions



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