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.
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.