Ares as a Saviour God

September 16, 2009

When the average person thinks of Ares, they do not think of a protective divinity. They think of blood, horror, pain, death – some may think of manliness, courage and furious conviction. But they do not think of a god who can be both blood-stained and clean, who wages wars on the battlefield and in the home—and who will go to any length to safeguard his own.

The first evidence for Ares’ more benign nature is in the Homeric Hymn to Ares. The H.G. Evelyn-White translation, in the public domain, interprets part of the Greek hymn as, ‘Shield-bearer, saviour of cities … Unwearying … O defence of Olympus, father of warlike Victory, ally of Themis … Leader of righteous men … Helper of men … Rather, O blessed one, give you me boldness to abide within the harmless laws of peace.’

In the first place, the fact that Ares is addressed as bearing a shield, as opposed to sword or spear (he is called ‘mighty with the spear’ not long after – but mighty with, as opposed to spear-bearing or spear-using) suggests that he is primarily a god of defence, and then of offence. He is named father of Nike, goddess of victory—who is often portrayed in a very positive light, despite her associations with war and death—and the ally of Themis, goddess of divine law and order. Themis is the god who first instructed man in the primal laws, such as morality, justice and hospitality; and she is also a ‘positive’ goddess. Ares is also called ‘saviour of cities’, rather than, as one would assume, sacker of cities. Thus he and Athene’s domains overlap—she is the goddess of wisdom and strategy, and he is the god of fierce, hand-to-hand combat; but only as a means to an ultimately defensive end.

Several Classic sources (namely Suidas, Seneca, Pausanias and Apollodorus) make direct reference to the Areopagas (the Hill or Rock of Ares), the place where Ares was tried after the murder of Poseidon’s son, Halirrhothios. Halirrhothios had previously ‘deflowered Alkippe daughter of Ares’ (Pausanias, Guide to Greece) and so, in furious revenge, ‘[Ares] killed the ravisher.’ Poseidon called for justice over his son’s death, and Ares was formally tried at a law court held at Areopagas by his fellow gods. He was, however, acquitted of the charge. The gods wouldn’t have been fooled by tears or rages or sweet lies – thus they must have found in Ares’ favour simply because he had done nothing “wrong” in their eyes. One could argue that he undoubtedly behaved in a very rash manner, and this is true; he did not leave it to the other gods to decide Halirrhothios’ fate, but rather he took it in his own hands and ended the matter as quickly and as harshly as the situation demanded.

He, then, could be aptly called a god of action; and passionate, blood-pounding action in particular. That action could be lifting a shield in defence, or a spear or (in this modern day) a gun in attack or defence. The action could be defending your city, or it could be taking vengeance for your daughter’s rape. That is what Ares is; that is who Ares is.

People might forget that, and choose instead to call him simply the god of bloodlust and/or war, but he is Olympian – his influence stretches as far as that of any of his fellow theoi. He is not a god who needs to be liked; he does not preen and smile, and he does not respond to empty promises and flattering lies. He challenges: with his weapons, his myths, his bloodied smiles and his fierce words. Get up and fight for what you believe, and do it in his name, for that is the worship he desires; not the slaughter of innocents, and not the rape or torture of a child: for he does not stain his spear with innocent blood.

He strikes with fury, but measured fury; he lashes out and draws blood in his followers, but enough only to make them appreciate their human bodies more. He is not cruel, or spiteful, or constantly warmongering. He just is.


One comment

  1. Wonderful, tranlating this one :)

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