Ares was a handsome, well-muscled god and his shining armour lent added glory to his appearance. That, however is the only good word one can say for him. When we try to make a list of all there is to admire in this god, we find there is nothing else at all. Perhaps because we hate war and Ares was the god of "war" - the god who loved fighting.
We are the only ones who do not love this bloodthirsty figure. Ares was never loved. How wonderfully clearly they depicted his character, those myth-makers of old; evil, pitiless and savage, yet stupid and ridiculous and by no means the here he liked to make himself out. Battles, death and blood were his only pleasures. It was of no concern to him who was fighting for a just cause and who for an unjust. It was all the same to Ares as long as fine young men were slaughtered, cities burned to ashes and whole populations wiped out. His symbols were the spear and the vulture; the spear that slays and the vulture that fees on the flesh of the slain.
Ares was helped in his unholy task by Phobos (fear) and Deimos (terror), his two sons and by Eris the goddess that bred hate and conflict. All three followed Ares' orders with zeal and fanned the flames of battle to the highest pitch of murderous destruction. As soon as fighting broke out, Ares would charge, teeth bared into the thick of battle and cut down every warrior who crossed his path.
His happiness in times of war was matched only by his sufferings when there was peace. If things remained calm for too long, he would hasten in search of the goddess Eris. "I can't bear this peace!" he would shout " Why are you sitting there gaping at me? Don't you know your job? Off with you this minute and set men at one another's throats, so that war may break out again and delight us with killing and blood and the groans of the wounded".
Whenever a battle ended with the dead strewn thick upon the ground. Ares would return to Olympos feeling highly satisfied. Strutting proudly up and down, he would boast of his feats in a thunderous voice, not realising that the other gods had no wish to hear his stories. However, he did have one admirer. This was Aphrodite, the goddess of beauty and love. For you see, then as now, there were those who were dazzled to a manly figure and suit of shine armour...
However Ares did not always return from battle so pleased with himself, for he was often beaten and worse still, made to look a complete fool.
On such occasions he would ask for his father's help, for Ares was the son of mighty Zeus and Hera. Yet he was such an unpleasant character that not even his parents loved him - and they showed it in a thousand ways.
"Almighty Zeus" Hera said "if I saw to it that Ares was dragged ingloriously from the battlefield with a gaping wound, would you be angry with me?"
"On the contrary" replied Zeus, "I would be delighted. Choose Athena to do the job. She knows how to make him dance like a cat on hot coals"
This was in the fearful days of the Trojan War and the goddess Hera wished to help the Greeks who were then in a very difficult situation. The demigod Achilles, angry with Agamemnon the leader of the Greek forces, was refusing to fight; and Ares, thirsty for blood, now took advantage of the opportunity and slaughtered the Greeks, although he had promised to help them. He had already killed countless brave warriors when he caught sight of Diomedes, the great hero of the Greek army. Snarling like a maddened beast, Ares immediately hurled a bronze javelin at him. The missile sped through the air, but suddenly, as if caught by a gust of wind, it went off course and fell wide of its mark. It was not the wind, however, but the hand of Zeus' beloved daughter Athena, which had caught the javelin and turned it aside. Warned by Hera, Athena had made all speed for the field of battle; and it was lucky that she did so to save Diomedes from certain death. Then she rushed to the hero's side and gave him the courage to strike back at Ares.
Boldly, Diomedes grasped his long spear and charged straight at the god. Athena guided the point and Diomedes struck Ares full in the ribs. The god of war let out a roar as if ten thousand warriors had been wounded at the same instant and took to his heels, scared out of his wits. He soon reached Olympos and ran at once to his father to complain;
"Serves you right" replied Zeus "Of all the gods on Olympos, you are the most hateful. You love nothing but war and blood. If you weren't my son, I'd have through you from Olympos into the depths of Tartaros where you would long forever for a ray of light in the eternal darkness. Now, go and get your wound bound up and try to act a little more sensibly."
Yet, how could the god of war act sensibly when he was born a fool?
As soon as his wound was healed, he ran furiously back onto the battlefield searching for Athena. "I will teach you she-dog" he cried on catching sight of the goddess; and with that he hurled his lance straight at her with brutal force. But Athena jumped nimbly aside and the lance sailed past. With one quick movement she snatched up a great stone, hurled it at Ares and hit him square in the throat.
"Aagh!" A strangled gasp escaped Ares' lips as he tottered and fell headlong, covering seven whole fields with his body. His admirer, Aphrodite, ran straight to his aid, but the daughter of Zeus immediately struck her across the chest with her heavy hand. So hard was the blow that the eyes of the goddess of love clouded over and she, too, fell unconscious at Ares' side. Now the pair of them lay beaten and humiliated in the dust.
"If all who help the Trojans were like you, this war would have ended long ago" Athena said in a mocking voice, leaving them stretched out upon the silent earth.
From then on, whenever Ares caught sight of Athena he hastily took himself off in the opposite direction.
But he was not always fast enough. One day, while he was quarrelling with Demetra, the goddess of agriculture, Athena suddenly appeared before him and before he had time to escape, the haughty goddess dealt him another painful lesson.
You may not know it but Ares had always hated Demetra. He would not stomach her opposition to his war-like schemes and so, one day, when he happened to see her standing alone at the gates of Olympos, he ran up to her shouting; "I know you are plotting against me, you and the goddess of peace. You and that Irene, you are never out of each other's sight - sitting there together teaching men to cultivate the land, making them love work and hate war, and hate me too. And look what's come of it; they have not built me one temple worthy of the name in the whole Greece. Not only that, but instead of dying like men on the field of battle, they now prefer to be carried off by old age, sickness and overwork. Just watch your step, you miserable creature or I will..."
But suddenly, glancing round, Ares found Athena standing right beside him! He broke off in mid-sentence and tried to walk away with what dignity he could, but the goddess of wisdom grasped him firmly by the arm.
"Come back here, my little hero" she said and with a sudden quick movement she snatched his helmet from his head and flung it far away. While it was still rolling noisily across the paving stones, Athena grabbed Ares' heavy shield and threw it in the same direction. Then she tore his fearsome lance from his hands and angrily tossed it aside "Now be off with you, bold warrior and next time stay away from those I love and are kind to gods and men"
Utterly humiliated and blushing to the roots of his hair, Ares bent to pick up his scattered weapons and hastily took himself off, not daring to look the two goddesses in the eyes.
"And behave yourself on the way!" came the mocking voice of the daughter of Zeus as the god of war fled from her sight.
Brave or Bloodthirsty? Warrior or War-seeker? Killing to save yourself and others or for pleasure? Killer or Leader? Ego or Clear Thinking? Lover or Loved? Greek mythology is the most holistic, contemporary, real way to understand our purpose... What do you think?