Boeotian Theoi: Ares

CULT IN BOIOTIA (CENTRAL GREECE)

I) THEBES Chief City of Boiotia

Pausanias, Description of Greece 9. 10. 5 :
“The fountain [of Ismene, near Thebes in Boiotia] which they say is sacred to Ares, and they add that a Drakon was posted by Ares as a sentry over the spring.”

While I can agree with the sentiment that to deny War, or at least downplay it as one of Ares’ domains is to essentially revere a deity completely different from the one recognised throughout ancient Hellas, I’m also none too fond of this apparent trend of recognising the spear and denying the helm and shield. Both the “KGA [Kinder Gentler Ares]” and the “short-tempered … foul-mouthed … ultimate redneck” are both false images of the God.

While masculinity is certainly within Ares’ realm, as well as a protector, to characterise Him as merely a “protector of women” —in His mythos, unusually for a Hellenic God, He laid with no woman, mortal or immortal, by rape or abduction, and indeed, slew Halirrhothios for the attempted rape of Ares’ daughter Alkippe— he also rushed to the aid of His own son, Kyknos, when Kyknos was losing in battle with Herakles. He is a protector of those who need Him most; he’s not the father who would throw a boy into a cruel world unprepared and himself unprepared to give the boy any more aid than a gruff order to “man up”.

Also, He is the father of the Amazones (with the Nymphe Harmonia), and several named Amazones were in His especial favour — and unless you’ve been watching Steeve Reeves films, Amazones are clearly in no need of protection from mortal men. He is a patron of those who are independent, and who will not be owned or dominated by another.

He arrested the man Sisyphos, who dared to imprison Thanatos, preventing the death of mortal man. He purveys over not just civil order, but natural order.

While Ares’ patronage is, first and foremost, to warriors and soldiers, to concentrate on this and hypermasculinity is to somehow deny so many dazzling facets of the God that have little to do with that. It’s like how Apollon is a patron of music, but that’s hardly all Apollon is about.



In the town of Tanagra, the city’s naiad, Tanagra, was beloved of Ares. Corrina wrote of a boxing match between Ares and Hermes for the affections of Tanagra, with Ares as victor.

In Thebes, he was a lover of Erinys Telphousia (often understood as a guise of Demeter), and She bore Him the Ismenian Dragon, whose teeth were sowed by Kadmos and from them grew —full-formed and armoured— the Spartoi. Kadmos then earned Ares’ wrath, but was in Athene’s favour. Athene, as a war deity, has always struck me as a deity more interested in warfare and strategy, while Ares contrasts this as a lower-ranking officer, or at least one of very basic strategies that may win many battles, but could ultimately lose the war because of poor planning. The offspring of a bond between Ares and one of the Erinyes (“Furies”, to the Romans; “Dark Ones” and keepers of the gates to the Underworld’s Dungeons of the Damned) was a monster that Kadmos had to slay in order to reach the spring and found the city of Thebes — there’s that “short-tempered” warrior for you, a half-literate Freeper standing in the way of progress, and illustrating the folly of mixing war and retribution. And, in direct relation to the founding of Thebes, it’s clear that the fruits of Ares had to be destroyed for the city to even begin to happen by Athene’s will, which then can symbolically suggest that while Ares’ role as a war-god is important, what He does best is by no means a permanent solution, which is what Athene is there to offer.

Ancient Hellenes had mixed feelings toward Ares; He was necessary to protecting a town from attack and His favour necessary for winning any war, but His constant battle companions are Phobos and Deimos (Fear and Terror) — Ares has just as much a place in the events of the 11 September 2001 attacks in the United $tates and the repugnant “Patriot Act” as he does in any just battle. Even as Aphrodite’s lover, He and the Goddess were caught in a literal trap net set by Hephaistos, exposing Ares and all his machismo to humiliation. And where Athene is clearly a learned general in the mythos, Ares is best described in the mythos as a soldier, one who takes orders — one who thinks the way He’s been trained to; and sure, the gods are not literally as They are in the mythos, but the mythos offers, at the very least, a grain of truth about Their natures.

I admit, I’m not especially fond of Ares, but where people who will gladly sing praises for their own rose-tinted versions of a swaggering warrior full of braggadocio who is somehow immune to being bested, much less shamed by “weaker” (which they claim is the true nature of “effeminate”) men, I give what is due to a warrior-god who is a doting father to His favourite son, and to the Amazones, and who reminds man of civil and natural order, but a deity who keeps company of some of the most dreadful daimones, and whose mythos can often serve as a warning against unbridled lust and against unbridled ego.

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9 thoughts on “Boeotian Theoi: Ares

  1. There is nothing here with which I do not agree.  I suggest you go back and reread what I said.  When I said redneck, you obviously imagined the worst possible excuse for humanity which really would be a horrible thing to call Ares.  The redneck I was thinking of is more analogous to the proverbial “good ol’ boy”.  One who is confident in himself, isn’t afraid to work hard or get dirty.  A politically correct term would be blue collar.  These type of people tend to be the backbone of any military or good country.  They are your farmers, your construction workers,etc.  They work hard and play harder.  Ares fits well within these type of people.  He is who they strive to be, without realizing it in a lot of cases.

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    • I did read your comment, and half of it are things that have nothing to do with being a “redneck”, a long-established pejorative connoting uneducated and bigoted white rural people.

      I can see a blue-collar comparison, and I can see that in Hephaistos, as well — the differences being Hephaistos’ mythos regularly display a drive to overcome contrasted with Ares desire to conquer.

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      • {chuckles] you don’t know many rednecks then as I’ve described many of the ones I know pretty well…ones who proudly proclaim that they are rednecks and very few of which are bigoted despite being rural and without a college education.

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        • I’ve known plenty, but none who would self-apply “redneck”.  I imagine the people you know might be of the same mentality that drives deeply urban-spirited people to self-identify with the term “pagan”, in spite of millennia of rural connotations.  Not that there’s anything wrong with neologisms or reclaiming words, at least so long as one realises that this can make communication difficult with the rest of the English-speaking world, and therefore is willing to constantly educate others as to how one has re-purposed the word in question.  I mean, the term “redneck” literally has its origins in the poor rural Southern U$, and used to describe those most likely to scapegoat Blacks for the post-Civil War Southern political and economic hardships.  Even in the 21st Century, it’s the less-educated amongst the rural poor (and I’m not even talking a uni education; after all, no two state elementary or high schools are alike in quality, and most pale in comparison to the quality of education at even Catholic schools) in the South who are to believe that the Civil War was only marginally about slavery with the “real issue” being “states’ rights” (even though the only “states right” the Confederacy sought reason to go to war over was slavery — which kind of proves it was about slavery… huh… fancy that), which while pretty casual, still carries with it notes of racism and bigotry — while there were certainly whites held as slaves, the cheaper and more plentiful humans on the market clearly were not.  I’m thus extremely hesitant to say that even a comparative “few” who self-identify as “redneck” are unbigoted, as bigotry is a well-documeted institution of the rural South and and other poorly-funded educational systems (especially rural ones) throughout the U$.  Sure, maybe only a handful are all “white power” and active “fag-bashers” and the like, but that’s not the end-all/be-all of what a bigot looks like.  Bigotry is merely the complete intolerance of any creed, belief, opinion, and/or lifestyle that differs from one’s own; active violence against and regular active hate-speech not required, just a deeply held belief that one’s own kind is inherently better and all others are not only inferior, but unwelcome.  The definition of “one’s own kind” is up to the bigot in question, and may be narrowly or broadly defined, but that’s really all there is to it.

          It’s really quite impossible at this point to shake those negative connotations from “redneck”, at this point.  Maybe in a few generations it will seem more benign, but in the here and now, I’m definitely given pause to see some-one use that term to describe a deity.

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          • The people I know are not from the south so maybe that is the difference I do not know.  My dad who was raised in Missouri and DOES have some racial bigotry had never talked about rednecks only hillbillies “like on the show Beverly Hillbillies only without the money”.  YMMV.  I just call people like that racists and not all of them are poor, uneducated,etc.  While the majority of the rednecks that I know are Christian none of them have ever hassled me or mine for my beliefs.  So just like ancient Greece, that occurs or is believed in one area does not necessarily apply to another.  By I will say that even of those who are bigoted, poor, uneducated, etc., they can only wish to be like Ares who I have found to be a wonderful if not occasionally a little rough around the edges.  

            I’m sorry you my modern classification of Ares as the “Ultimate Redneck” bothers you, but that is how I have experienced him based on my experience with rednecks.  We will just have to agree to disagree on it.

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            • I’m from Ohio, and have lived in Michigan over half my life, so it’s certainly not a difference of connotation between North and South.

              I can definitely agree to disagree, at least as much as I tend to do so with most other Anglophonic Hellenes who self-identify with the term “pagan”, even in spite of being well-knowledged of its etymological background as a pejorative ranging in nuance from a Christian version of “muggle” or “mundane” to a classist derision of “ignorant hill-people”.

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          • random coment- to me, as foreign, when reading in english, redneck sounds always as something pejorative, bad, ugly and viciously ignorant. For people outside the USA, at least in non-anglophone countries, redneck is a word that dicitonaries will define as pejorative, associated with ignorancy and prejudice. Is something, well, that fits in cowboy comics.  (just to ilustrate how the word sound out of the context) 

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            • In my experiences, that’s true outside the U$, in general, though according to Wikipedia, there is a small degree of “redneck pride” in Canada, though I don’t know any of the Canadians who self-identify with the term to know if they fit the dictionary definition or not.

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