The Gods of Greek and Roman Mythology - Ares (Mars)
Role in the Mythos: God of War
- Patron of Soldiers and Armies in Battle
- Inciter of Bloodlust, Battle Lust, and Courage in Battle
- Parents: Zeus and Hera
- Lover: Aphrodite
- Famous Children: Eros, Harmonia
- Hated by the other gods (especially Zeus and Hera) because he is so brutal
- Murderous, bloodstained, violent, malevolent to all mortals
- Associated with discord, strife, terror, trembling, panic
- Cowardly, impulsive, easily outraged, often humiliated
Note: Although Mars, like Ares, is the god of war, his characteristics differ in significant ways from the Greeks’ god. Mars is hot-tempered, brutal, and invincible, but he is also magnificent, glorious, and courageous, an inspiration to soldiers to rush into battle and die in glory to protect Rome. Unlike Ares, Mars is loved by men and gods alike. The contrasting characteristics of Ares and Mars indicate that the Greeks and Romans held different attitudes toward war.
Myths to Know:
Affair with Aphrodite
When Ares is walking back from battle in his armor, he sees Eros (Cupid) and begins mocking his small weapon. Eros replies, “This one is heavy: try it and see,” and strikes Ares with an arrow. Ares is then bound to Aphrodite in love. However, he loses her hand in marriage to Hephaestus when he fails to bring the smith back to Olympus to free Hera from the golden throne. After Aphrodite marries Hephaestus, she and Ares have to hide their adulterous affair from him, but they are not as crafty as they think. Hephaestus knows of the affair and lays a trap for the two lovers. He captures them in a golden net as they step naked from their adulterous bed. Then he calls in all the other gods to witness their shame and laugh at them both—a punishment that is fitting for two vain, proud gods.
When Mars falls in love with the virginal goddess Minerva, he goes to Anna Perenna for help. Anna Perenna is the aged Goddess of Time and the New Year. Anna falls in love with the handsome Mars and disguises herself as Minerva to win his affections. In some versions of the story, she tricks Mars into marrying her; in others she uses the disguise only to gain access to his bedchamber. Romans celebrated Anna Perenna’s trickery of Mars on the Ides of March with a rowdy festival that celebrated the new moon and the new year.
Rhea Silvia and the Birth of Rome
Rhea Silvia is the daughter of a king and a descendent of Aeneas. When Amulius, the king’s younger brother, seizes the throne, he forces Rhea to become a Vestal Virgin. Vestal Virgins are priestesses of the hearth who worship the goddess Vesta. Their task is to keep a sacred fire burning for eternity, which requires that they remain chaste. After Rhea Silvia becomes pregnant, she claims that Mars had raped her. She gives birth to twins, Romulus and Remus. When Amulius commands that the twin babies be executed, the servant sent to fetch them takes pity on the infants and sends them down the Tiber River instead of killing them. A she-wolf suckles them, and a shepherd named Faustulus rescues and raises them. Romulus and Remus go on to found the city of Rome. This origin story served to create a historical tie between Romans and Mars.