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Thoughts on Ares

August 27, 2009

He is the essence of masculinity. He is not human, and thus he is not truly a man—and yet he is. He is masculinity; he is humanity. He is the thrumming of manliness, of heat, of passion. He does not pity women, nor look down upon them. Instead he, wildest of the Olympian gods, curls his rough arms around Aphrodite’s soft skin and worships women as she, too, worships men.

It is easy—though foolish—to see Ares as a god of one thing alone: as the god of war. But he is much more than just that. He is an Olympian god, and his influence stretches to death and life, to passion and apathy and to hate and love. His realm overlaps with Aphrodite’s in more ways than the casual observer would notice. She rides in his chariot and he dances with her cooing doves. She has her moments of hard, relentless fury, and he has his moments of silent softness. They kiss and embrace on beds made from human bones, and neither complains, for it is not in their nature to complain.

He is not a cultured god. He is wild and rough and, perhaps, he is slightly insane. He does not accept solid boundaries; his domain is the blurring of pleasure and pain, the yielding of flesh to death and orgasm. He gives hot-cold smiles to those who draw his gaze, and he does it without the need for drama or excessive theatrics. This is not just the face that he wears – this is him. This is who he is.

He does not need to hide behind layers of illusion. He is courage and strength, physical and otherwise. He is blatant and fierce. He is the god of drunken men brawling in the streets, and he is the god of brave soldiers who fight for what they believe in. He is not a god who flinches from horror, and yet he is not, despite what some might think, a god who actively seeks out such horrors. He does not inflict them upon those who are undeserving – he is not a bully, and he is not a brute. He is a god.

He laughs at death—valiant and cowardly alike—not because he is a sharp-beaked scavenger hopping closer to peck out the eyes of the dead, but because it is only in death, and the briefest seconds before it, that those who fight truly belong to him. The shades of soldiers stand above their corpses and wring their hands, and it is he who speaks with them and gives them the courage to forget their tears and turn triumphant faces towards the sky as Hermes Pompaios approaches to guide them to the Underworld.

He is still worshipped – perhaps not consciously, but each spear or gun or broken bottle that is raised is raised for him. Each scream of wordless rage is screamed for him. The fighters might be unaware of who they serve, but they do serve him. They spill blood in his honour and he smiles upon them for their worship; and he smiles even more widely when they are wounded and die. The bravest of soldiers may eventually leave the Underworld and join his palace of blood and bone; he does not let them rot in Hades for eternity, for those that die in battle belong—truly—to him.

Courage and cowardliness fall equally under his sway. His influence is not a hazy grey or shimmering gold – he is dark red, hostile and bleeding and almost-black. He is the colour—and, thus, he is the god—who does not sit back and wait for attention, if he wants it. He demands it with slaps and bites and screams, and he does not take no for an answer. He is the nature of mortality, a god of death but not the god of death. He does not create the transition between life and death: he merely carries it with him. The scent of rot and charred flesh drifts around his skin like a vile, ever-lingering perfume. He does not mind, though: such smells affect most other gods, including hard-hearted Athena, but they do not bother him.

His half-sister Athena is Strategy—remote and distant and cold—and he, her balance, is Passion. He does not stand back and play games of chess. He throws himself into the battlefield – he fights amongst his men. He becomes real blood and bone for them: he is the barring of teeth in not-quite smiles, he is the flash of thunder that rumbles through the sky, and he is the blood. He is always the blood.

He does not condemn nor condone humanity. It is alien to him, and yet he knows and understands it better than he will ever understand himself. He is the nature of the beast within humans: he is wild and primal, a savage amongst savages. He does not hold up his hands and whimper apologies for who he is; he does not lie and say that his lust is beyond his control. He takes responsibility for his own actions, and he respects those who do likewise. Heroes—who so often blame their shortcomings on their gods—do not draw his smiles; it is the common man, the truly human man, that he laughs for and fights beside.

He is a guardian of the boundaries that he himself crushes. He supports his men and women in both life and death, and he never fails to urge them onwards. He is courage and conviction, and he is blood – both the spilling of it and the creation of it. He has a hand in rebirth, and yet he is not a khthonic god. He is earthly, but he does not sink into—and beneath—the earth. That is not his domain. He is the rush of passion and the end of it, and he is the swirl and spill of blood in veins. What happens beyond that is not his concern.

He is not malicious. He does not strike, strike and strike again. If he is wronged, he repays the wrong in kind and moves on. He does not simmer in fury and plot and plan – that is Athena’s domain, not his. He does not hold grudges: he did not rage at Hephaistos for snaring him and Aphrodite in the golden net. He merely sat back and accepted the fury and hate that pounded against his skin – it poured through him like a vessel, and then thrummed away into the veins of his ever-there children and attendants. It is they who hold grudges, who sulk in mutinous silence, and who make human hearts ache and bleed at their very presence; that is them, not him. He does not care for hearts, only for blood—and that is an apt way to describe him, not as a god of war, or bloodlust, or frenzy, or manliness, or courage (for he is all of these things and many more besides), but as a god of blood.

He favours not those who compare themselves to him, but those who do not. He charges into battle—both at its head and in its midst—to fight alongside those who spill for him: who scream and bleed and live and die. Those are his true followers, the men and women who, more often than not, never once say his names whilst they live. But they believe, regardless: they believe that flesh bleeds when it is cut, and that is all they need to know.

He is not gentle, and he is not meek. He is not the wolf in sheep’s clothing: he is the hunter that chases the wolf, delighting in its life and its death and its streaming, red blood. He sits in his throne of bone alongside the likes of Apollon and Dionysos, and he smiles to them: a hungry smile that makes even them—even them—shiver and pull back from him. He is born to bleed, and they are born to never bleed. They fear him, and they hate him, and they love him, and that is all he needs.

He is not soft: he is hard and furious. He is always ready for sex and war – he cares only for the breaking of bones, the tearing of flesh and the streaming of blood over skin. He does not disguise who he is with clever half-truths. He holds his head high and smiles. He lives and he dies as both a man and a god, and that is all that he knows, that is all that matters to him. He is Ares: fierce, unrelenting, bleeding. That is all.

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