So, Mother’s day was celebrated here in the States a couple of weeks ago, and shortly thereafter, Neos Alexandria announced its Call for Submissions for a devotional to Ares’ mother Hera. This project is being led by my friend Lykeia, and you can check out the announcement here. With all the to-do about Moms, and especially Hera, I wrote the following about Ares and his heavenly mother.
Ares is many things; he is a soldier, a general, a father, and a lover. But did you know Ares is also a momma’s boy? It’s true! Just as his sister Athene can be seen as the quintessential daddy’s girl, Ares acts much the same for his heavenly mother Hera.
So what exactly qualifies Ares as a momma’s boy? We should take a look at the relationship between Ares and Hera . Much of this relationship is defined my Hera’s relationship to Ares’ father, Zeus, and Ares’ role as one of the few “legitimate” children of the couple. In particular, the relationship is one of Ares attempting to restore Hera’s honor in the face of Zeus’ infidelity, and acting as he does best as the agent of righteous fury and retribution on Zeus’ lovers.
Let’s examine the most famous example of this behavior. First there is poor Leto, mother to the divine twins Apollon and Artemis (both of whom are tied in various war-cults and rituals to Ares). Hera, in her fury against Leto and the illegitimate children she carried, dispatched Ares to ensure she had no safe haven in which to bear these children. Besides the issue of family integrity, Callimachus suggests Hera wants no woman, divine or mortal, to bear to Zeus “a son dearer even than Ares” (an interesting counterpoint to the enmity between Zeus and Ares in the Iliad). After all, if the trend in myth were to continue, Ares would be next in line for the proverbial, or even literal, throne.
In addition, there is the case of Hera’s binding by her son Hephaestos. Now, while Hera probably had this one coming; she threw her own son, begotten of none, from Olympos in disgust. That’s not very nice. However, Ares is always ready to jump in for mom, and this was no exception. Ares waged war on Hephaestos to try to return him to Olympos and free their mother, but was turned away by Hephaestos’ superior weapons. The outcome of all this would eventually lead to Hephaestos marrying Aphrodite, and thus the famous love affair with Ares.
So what can we take from these myths? Superficially, we can obviously say Ares loves his mother and attempts to support her even when she is in the wrong. Also, you can’t stop fate, and Ares can be kind of a dick (I mean, harassing a pregnant lady, really?). If we look a little deeper, however, we see how Ares reinforces his position and role as a defender of law, honor, and righteousness, as well as an agent of divine wrath and punishment. Especially if you consider that, up until this point in the mythological timeline, he is not yet an adulterer. I would postulate that before this point (and maybe even after), you could consider Ares a defender of monogamy and the bindings of marriage. Of course, there was never any literary or cultic evidence of this, and is only my speculation.
The relationship between Hera and Ares, of course, help to reinforce Ares’ relationship with Aphrodite and his children. He is a fiercely devoted husband and father, and answers any threat or slight to either with extreme prejudice. Perhaps Ares can serve as a model of family loyalty and honor in a time when the family is decreasing in importance and stature. After all, blood is thicker than water, and who knows more about blood than Ares the Bloody?