Ares and Dionysos, a Brief Comparison


I couldn’t really put this post off very much longer. The similarities and connections run deep. There were also some very interesting links between the two gods that surprised me. Here’s some of the things I’ve found out.

Ares is actually a forebear of Dionysos.

Dionysos’ parentage is most commonly attributed to Zeus and Semele. Semele is the daughter of Kadmos, king of Thebes, who slayed Ares’ drakon at the sacred spring. As you may know, Kadmos served Ares for a period of a ‘great year’ (8, I believe), after which he made peace with the god by marrying Ares’ own divine daughter, Harmonia. I find it logical then to find that Dionysos is in fact Ares’ great grandson, which will show later in much of Dionysos’ behavior.

Ares and Dionysos are both “outsiders”.

Like Ares, Dionysos is often depicted in residing outside of mainland Greece for great lengths of time, or even originating outside of Greece. Both are identified with Thrace, where Herodotus says the locals worshiped none but the pair and Artemis. The Thracians, of course, were considered a barbaric and war-like people known for their penchant for human sacrifice. It is interesting to note that many myths to Dionysos’ wrath involve dismemberment, which is the manner the Tracians used to sacrifice men to Ares.

Both are warriors, associated with rage

You should all be fairly familiar with Ares as a war-god, his exploits in the Trojan war and Titanomachy. It seems that this war-like onus follows his great-grandson. From Athens to India, Dionysos is constantly surrounded by war and conflict. Much of the violence perpetrated by the gods occurs in a righteous rage. Dionysos and Ares both seem to take easy offence, and meet that offence with violence, either directly or indirectly.

Agricultural associations

Dionysos is a god of the vine. Everyone knows this. Fewer people know about Ares’ associations with agriculture, which are particularly strong in Asia Minor and Latium. A really cool notion I stumbled upon is this interesting bit of linguistic nuance: a word often used for exceptional soldiers is ὄζος, which means in the figurative “scion”. However, it’s more literal meaning refers to an off-shoot, more specifically the agricultural type. It has associations with grafting, which plays a major part in vine maintenance for wine making. It’s kind of interesting to find that Dionysos is both a literal and spiritual ὄζος of Ares.

This isn’t everything, of course. I could certainly go into more detail, but that’s kind of beyond the scope of this post. Needless to say, there will be a lot more that goes into the next article, but that requires a bigger research budget (which I can meet once fall semester starts and I get book money). I am especially interested in the actual cultus of both gods in comparison, as well as exploring the idea of the pair as more than just siblings.

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4 comments on “Ares and Dionysos, a Brief Comparison

  1. The relationship between gods is often more complex than most give credit to on cursory look. I spent quite a bit of time writing, not about the almost cliche representation of an offsetting of Dionysos and Apollon, but rather I had enough material about their similarities that I was able to fill up a chapter quite easily, and have extra stuff to refer to in other chapters. For my second book on Artemis, which sadly has been at a standstill for a year since the death of my external harddrive, I was finding almost as much relevant material there too. I am certain that you will find this equally true between Ares and other Hellenic gods and that it will be a neverending source of fascination for you as it is for me. The mythical familial relationships and the intersection of their divine domains is something that one can literally spend years investigating 🙂

  2. Great piece! And of course, they have much else besides. For instance, both of them had special rites which could only be performed by women and actively punished the crime of rape.

    • pthelms says:

      Yeah, I only did a brief comparison because honestly, it’s too much to put into one post. Considering I usually do about a day of research for each post… Wasn’t gonna write a book (but more will make it into my book, promise!).

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