Ares 101: The Many Faces of Ares

Previously throughout the series, I have discussed Ares in the general sense, simply as a war-god as opposed to a god with a multitude of titles and divine functions. In order to move on to the next topic, constructing prayers and hymns, we need to look at some of the names, titles, and duties of Ares. Some have already been mentioned, but many bear repeating.

Ancient Cult Titles:

Theritas: this cult title comes from Sparta. This was supposedly derived from the name of Ares’ nurse Thero, though when questioned by Pausanias, the locals knew of no Thero. The writer instead concluded the proper title was “beastly”, a throwback to Ares’ brutal nature and monstrous offspring.

Hippios: this cult originated in Olympia, where Ares was worshiped alongside Athene Hippias in the hippodrome. Horsemen and charioteers often invoked Ares Hippios before races and possibly before battle.

Aphneios: this title, meaning “abundant”, was given to Ares at a temple in Tegea. After one of Ares’ mortal lovers died in childbirth, but Ares caused her to nourish the baby nonetheless. This is some of the most significant pieces of evidence of Ares’ cthonic aspects, which are further compounded by another cult title from Anatolia.

Kiddeudas: though I have not found an exact translation for this title (it does not appear on theoi.com), it was found inscribed on an altar to the god in central Asia Minor. Interestingly, this altar pointed to an agricultural cult as, among the standard weapon and armor motifs, the altar was carved with a cornucopia. It is most likely that this particular cult was devoted to ensuring and protecting the chora, or the countryside which was essential to the survival of the population centers.

Epekoos: this title from central Asia Minor meaning “he who hears”, which refers to the Ares that answers oracles.\

Polypalmeros: This is another Anatolian incarnation of the god meaning “many-handed” or “he of many devices”. He is invoked as a generally beneficent god who helps those in need.

Gynaikothoinas: this is a title of Ares from Tegea meaning “feasted by women”. It refers to the god’s intervention on behalf of the Tegean women who fought and won against Sparta’s hoplites. A festival was held every year by the women in which men were not allowed to participate.

Poetic and Dramatic Titles

Brotoloigos, Andreiphontês,Miaiphonos: these titles, bestowed upon Ares in the Iliad, are all closely related in theme; they mean “manslaughtering”, “destroyer of men”, and “bloodstained” respectively. Oft repeated by Homer, these titles are often the first known by most investigating Ares and stain their first experiences with the god. Many other titles like these can be found here, as they are too many and too similar to list out in entirety.

Alloprosallos: this Homeric epithet meaning “double-faced” is meant to be derogatory, calling Ares a liar, though I feel it speaks to Ares’ nature of nurture and destruction.

Sunarogos Themistos: from the Homeric Hymn, it calls Ares the “succoror of Themis”, or ally of Law. A vital part of Aresian theology, this title meshes well with Ares’ Orphic role as guardian of the natural laws of life and the Aeschylian avenger of those who transgress the laws of nature.

Polydakros: another of Aeschylus’ titles for Ares that translates to “bringer of much weeping: or (my favorite) “Father of tears”. The dramatist refers to Ares as “plucking the fairest flowers of a host” during battle (another agricultural reference!).

My favorite title, however, is not one I’ve found the Greek for. It comes from Aeschylus (can you tell I like the guy?) and describes Ares as the “Gold-broker of corpses”. Fun stuff, eh?

 

Hopefully perusing through these titles gives you a better of how and what for Ares is worshiped. If you want to go deeper into Ares’ cult, I suggest staying tuned in. In the next few posts, I will be covering constructing prayers and hymns,  holy days, syncretism,  and more. If you have any topics you wish to see covered, or have any suggestions or comments regarding other titles you use, let everyone know in the comments. Until then, hail Ares!

Ares’ Best Friend

When people talk of Ares, and especially of his relations with other gods, there are a few words that get thrown around: “passion”, “hatred”, “love”, and “violent”. Yet for some reason, many people skip “friend”. The rivalry with Athene and passion for Aphrodite are common themes in Aresian myth, and yet, we often forget the many myths Ares spends paling around with whom I’d call his best buddy in the divine world. I’m talking, of course, of Hermes.

Hermes is a constant player in Aresian myth. He is the god who helps Ares escape the Aloadai giants, where he had been trapped for a year in a brazen jar. It is into Hermes’ hands that Ares delivers the criminal Sisyphos, who then escorts the petulant king to Haides. It is Hermes who retrieves Ares to his trial upon the Aeropagus, and it is Hermes who delivers Ares into the hands of Dike in his cult in Anatolia.

It should be of no surprise Ares and Hermes show up together in myth and cult. Ares and Hermes are both potent male figures with an erotic bent; Ares is the sexy bad boy where Hermes is the virile youth (ever see a herm?). Both are gods associated with the chora, with Ares as its general guardian and Hermes the guardian of travelers. Speaking of travelers, both are gods of banditry. Ares is alluded to having sat with Hermes at Olympian feasts by Homer. The pairing of Hermes and Ares is a central part of Aeschylean theology, especially in the cult at Syedra in Anatolia (and most likely Biannos on Crete as well). Both were associated with dogs (a trait that is shared with Hekate as well), with Hermes as their god and with Ares as accepting them in sacrifice.

It’s really a wonder we don’t see these gods paired more often in modern Hellenismos. However, they do figure prominently into my personal cult (gotta guide all those dead hippies out of the way :P), especially in the Aresia festivals. So a toast to Hermes:

Hail Hermes, companion of Ares

You who guides both Man and Beast

A toast to you, dear Hermes

Hold fast our friend and hold us in esteem

That we may be blessed as Ares

With kind words from you, swift messenger

PBP – A is for Amazons

Time for the second installment of Pete’s Pagan Blog Project. We’re still on A, so I thought I’d cover the Amazons.

The Amazons are the warrior daughters/lovers (myths sometimes conflict on this matter) of Ares. Among the most famous mythic races in history, the Amazons represent what was a unique motif in Greek history, and they continue to capture the imagination of the West.

The Amazons were some of the most war-like people in ancient history (assuming they are actually a historical race). They were said to live near the south end of the Caucasus and would only see men once or twice a year, and only then to fight or… procreate (almost went into alliteration, but this is a family blog 😉 ). Aeschylus places them on the borders of Scythia and Sarmatia, near Thrace, but says they later emigrated to the Pontic region of Asia Minor. Their chief gods were Ares and Artemis, and they founded many famous cults and temples, according to their myths. The Amazons were said to have founded the cult of Artemis at Ephesos, which was watched over by a sacred guard called the Areistai, or Aresian Guard. Another famous, though currently undiscovered, altar was erected to Ares on the island of Lesbos, purportedly of what may be a meteorite.

One of the coolest myths of the Amazons concerns their campaign against Theseus and the Athenians. The Amazons had invaded the city of Athena, and so vicious was their assault that the whole of the city left alive had barricaded itself within the citadel on the Akropolis. Settling in for a siege, the Amazons, according to Aeschylus, created a new citadel dedicated to Ares and sacrificed to him there. The nature of this sacrifice is unknown, but with their origins near Thrace and due to the popularity in the region, it may have been a human sacrifice, methinks. Athens wasn’t the only place or people to feel the mighty sting of the Amazons. The Amazons with their father supported Priam against the Greeks in the Trojan war, and they campaigned against the Phrygians, Lycians, and others in northen Greece and Anatolia. Some report they even went so far as to attack Egypt and even conquer Libya.

Among their most famous Queens were Hippolyta (which means something akin to ‘unbridled mare’) and her sister  Penthesileia. Hippolyta was the most famous of the pair and was said to be Ares daughter by Otrera. She was given a golden belt by her father, a symbol of her strength and prowess for battle. This belt was stolen by Heracles as one of his Labors. Another gift Ares bestowed upon his daughter was a flock of birds which bore iron feathers that could be shot by arrows, and these presented hazard to Jason and the Argonauts when they traveled to Ares’ grove to recover the golden fleece.  Penthesileia accidentally killed her sister Hippolyta, and came to Troy as a suppliant. Priam helped her perform the rites, and sealed the relationship between the Trojans and Amazons. She would later lead a contingent of women in the war, and was slain by Achilles himself. When Achilles beheld her beauty, he stopped fighting to let her body be recovered. However, Ares turned the place into a slaughterhouse, and the Myrmidons, sons of Zeus, were almost wiped out if Zeus himself had not intervened. It was at this point in the Iliad where Achilles actually begins to feel remorse, and knows his doom really will be coming; from this point on he seems more sullen and brooding.

The Amazons meant something special to the Greeks. In a time when women were little more than baby-makers, the Amazons represented breaking all the rules. They lived on their own, dressed and worked as men, and even supposedly cut of their own breasts in order to be better fighters. Wholly dedicated to war, they exemplified some of the best and most terrible qualities of both Ares and Artemis. Their legacy lives today in popular culture, euphemism, and the feminist movement. So hail to the daughters of Ares, the powerful and beautiful Amazons!

Ares, God of Manliness

So I was poking around Facebook groups the last few days, and I started to get annoyed (go figure). One incident got my attention and incensed me like no other. It was some guy complaining about how some in the group hurt his feelings. Maybe it’s the dangerous amount of testosterone I hide in my beard, but I wanted to tear this guy a new rectum. Why? Because he was breaking what many would call “man code”, an institution so old, women first started the earth’s rotation with a collective eye-roll (and they just altered it reading that just now ;).

All joking aside, what is the man code and why does it matter? Every boy is brought up with models, scenarios, and rules, both spoken and unspoken, about what it means to be a man. This code can sometimes change, but some parts do not, being biological. Ares, as the god of manliness, exemplifies the qualities of manliness that the ancient Greeks ascribed to, as do many people today. Let’s explore some of those qualities, and how they reflect (or do not reflect) some of the same values we hold today.

Number one: A man is responsible for his words and actions.

This sort of thing should be obvious, and is rather understated in the myths of Ares. However, one myth does really call this virtue to the fore: that of the rape of Alkippe. Alkippe was Ares’ daughter, and she was raped (a dubious term for the ancients, so from the context of the myth, we’ll assume it means what it does today) by Poseidon’s son Halirrhothios. Ares caught him in the act, and like any dad could be expected to do, Ares killed him on the spot. Now, killing folks is what Ares does, and as a mortal, no one would have given a damn for Halirrhothios, except he was the son of another god. Well, once Poseidon found out, he demanded retribution. Now, Ares could have blown Poseidon off, but instead went to face the music in Athens (where the offence occurred). In a tribunal of the gods, Ares was acquitted on account of defense of another, and everyone went their merry way (except Poseidon). This is one reason given for the hill being named the Aeropagus, and the Athenians held their most serious trials there for centuries after.

This is not the only bit of wisdom we can draw on. In Plato’s etymologies of the names of the gods, he pondered that Ares is so named for his “hard and unbending nature”. Ares makes decisions that are often of a most permanent nature (death and all that), and thus must live with a decision he makes regardless of the outcome. Unfortunately, modern man has a very hard time with this concept. Politicians of all stripes are notorious flip-floppers. A major problem exists in urban populations, and despite the lamentations of Bill Cosby, it’s not just blacks that abandon their baby-mommas. Public apologies are all the rage today, and the media rarely reports consistency of character (unless it’s bad), and so many young men are given mixed messages in this department. Speaking of mixed messages, this brings us to number two on our list.

Number two: Men are fighters.

It’s pretty easy to see where Ares fits into this one. Almost all of Ares’ mythology is devoted to his war stories. From the Iliad to Aeschylus to modern myths by Sannion, Ares is a fighter. Much of a man’s inclination towards fighting is entirely involuntary, and comes to him though the wonderfully chaotic chemical testosterone.

Despite all the manly and awesome qualities testosterone provides (like aggression, sex drive in men and women, beards, etc.), average testosterone levels around the world are dropping. This is one reason many men these days just don’t seem so manly anymore. Between spending time indoors, dieting too much, becoming obese, and modern sleep patterns, testosterone doesn’t have the opportunity to be made, because all of those ingredients interfere with its production.

Fighting today is on odd thing to quantify today. Fewer and fewer boys have ever gotten in a fist fight. Unfortunately (in my opinion), this decrease in physical confrontation leads to a real lack of resolution in peer groups. You often hear of a “bullying epidemic” in the news today. Truth is, bullying has stayed pretty steady over the centuries. The strong pick on the weak until they are no longer weak. Now, however, the culture of non-confrontation (the use-your-words method) means the weak get picked on until a point they either commit suicide or homicide. Coping skills are at an all-time low, and you can see this today in politics, business, and domestic life.

Fighting should not be allowed to run willy-nilly, though. Much of the poets’ disdain for Ares stemmed from his “stab first, ask questions later” attitude. It is important then that Ares was coupled with a passionate yet gentler female influence; hence, Ares is paired with Aphrodite.

Number three: Most of a man’s emotions shouldn’t be public.

Now, it’s a truth that Ares was an extremely passionate character, and that said passion would get him in trouble. In addition, there are a few stories of Ares being quite the softy (saving a baby, yay!), especially when it came to his lovers and children. But there’s a difference you will see in Ares versus many other gods: most folks don’t get to see this. Unlike his own dad, Ares isn’t in the habit of making his affairs public. Other than his rage, Ares doesn’t go around putting his emotional baggage in others’ laps (and I’m sure that’s one reason he distracts himself with his wife).

Part of taking control, whether as a man or a woman, means putting aside emotion in order to do what needs done. People, as much as they might enjoy fighting, usually have a natural distaste for killing, however necessary. Sometimes, the only answer to a solution requires one to disregard that feeling. Man needs to eat, and despite raising the family pig for a year or two, he needs to kill the animal in order to prevent his family from starving. Do you hate your job? A lot of people do, but it needs done. Does this mean you can’t have those feelings, or can’t ever express them? No. What it means though is that you find the appropriate time and place (usually never public) to express that.

The best parable to emphasize this point also relates to Ares as a god of courage, which is seen by the ancients as a manly quality. Courage, as described by Aristotle, is not an absence of fear, but rather the acceptance and refusal to shrink back from fear. The courageous man is therefore afraid, but denies the power of fear despite his holding onto it.

Number four: A man is responsible for, and to, others.

This is a theme that has been running through the last three, especially in relation to Ares. Ares stands behind his children, his lovers, and his order, despite how others feel about him. Though Zeus calls him the most hated god on Olympos, Ares still supports his father (unless he’s supporting his mom). He and his sister Athene may fight, but when they need to, they fight together. He and his buddy Hermes work in tandem bringing criminals to bear. He may not be well-liked, but Ares gets his job done, and never stops even if he fails. His responsibility is to bring war to mankind, and thus mankind shall never find peace. Ares knows what is best for man, even if what’s best for him isn’t good for him or others.

 

We as a society can learn a lot from Ares. From him, we learn it’s okay to fight, but that there’s a time and place. We learn about responsibility in an irresponsible world. We can learn about tough choices, and about never backing down from the challenge. We can learn to deal with our own issues. Most of all, we can learn to make ourselves, and our sons, into good men. Hail Ares!

Ares Doesn’t Love You

It’s okay though, he doesn’t love me, either. 99% sure on that one. “Well aren’t you just a Negative Nancy?” you may say. Perhaps I am. But why is it so important to us that the gods love us measly little mortals?

People want to be wanted and need to be needed. Cheap Trick were really on to something when they wrote that song. It’s just who we are as social creatures. It only follows that we wish the most powerful being known to us–the Gods– love us. After all, we (well, most of us, you silly atheists) love them. Some of us love them a bit too much, perhaps. But hey, our love of them has spawned some of the most beautiful, awe-inspiring monuments, literature, and even acts on this planet. Granted, it also spawned some lovely, f**ked up stuff, too, but we’ll skip over that for the sake of moving along nicely.

Now, my answer, personally, is that with rare exceptions, the gods couldn’t even be bothered to give a damn. It’s not even that they may harbor any real ill-will towards us (except maybe Ares and Zeus, but more on that later), but running an entire cosmos is busy work, and who really has time to bother with such petty trifles as human love, happiness, or money? But what about their responsibility for human affairs you say? Honestly, after the whole of human history of Athene teaching men to build, or Zeus judging righteousness, that has got to get old.

Remember the flood myth? You know, where Zeus decided everyone was a douche and told humanity to kindly go f**k itself? It’s a really common myth across various cultures. Oh, and remember how Prometheus (who is such a dreadful, self-righteous prat in “Prometheus Bound btw) got punished for helping out humanity in the first place, and then the gods punish man by creating women? If the mythographers and poets are to be even the least bit believed, then it’s pretty clear to me that the gods hold a grudge.

That’s not to say we can’t entertain the gods from time to time. Ares loves war. He is literally called Insatiate of Battle and the Bringer of Tears by Homer and Aeschylus  respectively. And Aeschylus liked Ares!  It really wouldn’t surprise me if Ares sits around Olympus until he gets bored and then goes off to whisper some bloodthirsty nothings in some poor mortal’s ear, who then promptly goes out and kills someone, simply for the amusement of a god. As I’ve said before, and been called as blasphemer for, no less–Ares is a dick sometimes.

Does this lack of love for humanity mean we shouldn’t pay the gods their due honors? Hell no. They are gods, and should receive their due whether they like us or not. I can dislike  my president or governor  (I actually love my governor, he’s awesome) or whatever, but I still pay taxes, because that’s how it works. They are in charge, and that is the pecking order. The gods are at the very top of the cosmic pecking order. Don’t sweat it if you don’t feel Olympic glory raining down on you and filling your butt with sunshine. It’s probably nothing personal. And hey, you’re alive right? That should at least mean none of the gods dislikes you 😉

Ares, the God of D&D?

With the semester having ended, I get to spend time with one of my favorite creative pass-times: Dungeons and Dragons. As I was sitting around crafting a new adventures for my players, I had a very sudden revelation–Ares has to be responsible for creating D&D.

Now, of course this should all sound very silly. I mean, a war-god, arguably the Olympian equivalent of a high school all-star jock, creating the nerdiest of games ever? Well, yes, actually. Ironically, it was a line from Aeschylus’ Seven Against Thebes that drew me to this conclusion:

Ares, with his dice, determines the outcome of battle.

For those of you who never played the game, it’s important to know a few facts. First, D&D evolved from table-top war-gaming in the 1970s, in order to bring more of a fun, role-playing element to currently available games. Secondly, the most important mechanic of D&D is rolling dice to determine the outcome of certain actions, most notably combat. Add in the fact that Ares is one of the most prolific progenitors of dragons, and bam! A perfect storm of chance, war, and dragons, and a multi-million dollar franchise. The illustration below was in fact  prepared for the D&D v.3.5 Deities and Demigods supplement, which you can see here on page 107 (oh, and before you get your knickers in a twist, read the first paragraph on page 99).

Ares D&D

Amphiareos

So I’m re-reading Aeschylus’ Seven Against Thebes, and I’ve found myself quite interested in one character in particular: Amphiareos. He is an ally of Polynices, brother of the chief protagonist, Eteocles. He is also King of Argos.

His name means something akin to “doubly Ares”, or “twice cursed” (both “Ares” and “curse” take their root from AR-A/E, “to harm”). He is a successful warlord and renown oracle/seer. His character intrigues me because of his seership and the possible source for this power. Wikipedia (dubious, ,I know) has it attributed to Zeus or Apollon, both of whom championed Amphiareos. My hypothesis, however, is that Amphiareos   is actually an oracle of Ares.

This can be a contentious claim. Both Zeus and Apollon are oracular deities, and it would make sense that any oracular ability would stem from them. However, given that Ares is also an oracular deity, specifically one which concerns himself with the affairs of war, national security, and justice (especially from the perspective of Aeschylus), it can logically follow that this power can stem from Ares.

More specifically, it is the words and demeanor of Amphiareos (not to mention the etymology of his name) that leads me to this hypothesis. Railing against Tydeus, whom Amphiareos accuses of goading him to war, he declares,

“Murderer, maker of unrest in the city, principal teacher of evils to the Argives, summoner of vengeance’s Curse, servant of Slaughter, [575] counselor to Adrastus in these evil plans.”

I think, given Aeschylus’ penchant for Ares in this play, as well as the allusion to Ares as the curse both early in the play (Line 70, meant to foreshadow) and later on the shield of Polynices, it is possible in my mind that he is also addressing Ares. Many of the elements integral Ares’ epithets are present, i.e. Murderer, Summoner of vengeance’s Curse (Ares is often paired, at least in Aeschylus’ plays, with the Erinyes), and Maker of Unrest (Ares as a god of civil strife).

Amphiarios’ death was pretty epic, too. Chased away on his chariot, Zeus struck the ground before him and he was all swallowed up. The most interesting thing, in my mind, is that this is the exact opposite of the birth of the Spartoi of Thebes, who sprang up from the earth and founded the dynasties of Thebes with Cadmus. I can’t help but feel that this, though it is contained in Apollodoros’ account, is almost more Aresian than Zeus-related.

Anyway, those are just some of my musings on the subject. I’m sure I could be reading too much into things and of course showing my bias, but it’s fun to think about nonetheless. Hail Ares!