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Notebook

Notebook, 1993--

ANCIENT GREEK CULTURE

Ares

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Ares was the son of Zeus and Hera. One of the twelve Olympians, he had a minor position in the worship of the Greeks, for he was the god of war, of battle, and warlike frenzy. Both Zeus and Hera disliked him, but he was much loved by Hades, god of the underworld, for it was through the offices of Ares that the population of the underworld increased. Crude and violent, he took part in battle against mortals, but not always winning. He was once wounded by the hero Diomedes before the walls [p. 34] of Troy and by Heracles. His erotic escapades with mortal women were legend, but the children that came of such affairs resembled their father, for they were thieves, and violent, and crafty. Ares fell in love with Aphrodite, but her husband Hephaestos succeeded in finally trapping them in an uncompromising position with his invisible net, and succeeded in making the intriguing couple the laughing stock of the other gods. The worship of Ares came from Thrace, and as the representative of the martial spirit and all this entails, never was a favourite of the Greeks, for their culture and intellect made them enemies of the violence advocated by Ares, a god who stood for something completely alien to the ideals of a god. [pp. 34-35]

[Kyriazis, Constantine D. Eternal Greece. Translated by Harry T. Hionides. A Chat Publication. pp. 7-11]

Ares, as the embodiment of aggression, has been one of the strongest forces working through human history. He is Olympos' 'Action Man', the god of war and strife, the restless and turbulent lover, thriving on conflict and rejoicing in the delight of battle. In Ares we see our own aggression raw and bloody, before civilization tempered or repressed it and, of course, we loathe what we see. Ares was the most hated among the gods. Homer calls him a 'butcher'; heroes rejoice in having escaped 'the fury of the ruthless god'; Athena berates him as a 'blockhead' and a 'maniac'.

Athena and Ares represent two different aspects of aggression. Athena fought to defend, to protect; she fought with strategy and clear intention. Ares is our primordial rage allowed full sway, our hot-blooded energy shooting out lustfully with no thought or restraint. 'Lord Ares, yours is the din of arms, and ever bespattered by blood you find joy in killing and in the fray of battle, O hateful one.' In the fray of battle, it is clear-headed Athena who triumphs over Ares' frenzy. When in the Iliad Diomedes, at Athena's instigation, wounds the god with his spear, he lets out a bellow as loud as nine or ten thousand men and runs to Zeus for comfort. The father of gods is unmoved: 'You turncoat, don't come to me and whine. There is no thing you enjoy so much as quarreling and fighting: which is why I hate you more than any god on Olympos.'

Whining and cowardice are the underside of Ares' strident aggression, the unheroic side of his nature which he never dares confront. And Athena's victory over him, both through Diomedes and at another stage in the Trojan War when she lays him low with a stone, is a powerful symbol of the superiority of conscious heroic striving over the ravaging impulses of [p. 170] mindless aggression. When, furious and uncontrollable over his son's death on the battlefield of Troy, he is ready to disobey Zeus' order that no god should fight in the war, it is Athena who stops him. Snatching the helmet from his head, the bronze spear from his hand and the shield from his shoulder, she literally disarms him: brute battle-rage has to be transformed by wisdom for civilization to be born and to survive.

After the upsurges of our Ares' nature resulting in the great wars of this century and the haunting possibility of complete annihilation through a nuclear holocaust, the need for a force to temper primordial aggression, the need for Athena, is more urgent than ever before. Ares tears asunder the order of culture and civilization; Athena and that ultimate symbol of rational consciousness, Apollo, bind, temper, harmonize.

In the myths of Ares' childhood, both Hera, his mother, and his tutor Priapus teach him dancing--an artful activity that guides some of the young god's feverish energy away from warfare and conflict. Ares' prodicious energy and will to power are not in themselves destructive; it is the channel into which they are directed which determines whether they propel the warmonger, the criminal and the outlaw or the hero, the builder of cities, the pioneer. In astrology, Ares corresponds to the planet Mars which represents the thrust for unrestrained self-assertion, an aggressive determination to win, a voracious ambition for power. In its positive aspect, tough, unrestrained self-assertion turns into creative assertiveness, aggression into courage, the ambition for power into the quest for achievement. Ares' spirit is the spirit behind the competitiveness of rugged individualism, the spirit that drives man to win and gives him the strength and perseverance to do so, the spirit that thrusts him into adventure and new conquests. We see it clearly at work in the business pioneer, in the athlete breaking new records, in the man who 'makes it' against all odds and survives despite all adversity.

So Ares has dominated our century both in war and in peace. Now, in the growing trend away from aggressive acquisition, fierce competitiveness and the endless struggle to surpass the Joneses, our age is revolting against him. It is to the myth of Ares' passionate relationship with Aphrodite, his lusty aggression united with love, that our exhausted century can look for a new beginning. The four children they produced symbolize the two aspects of their natures. The union between Ares' elemental aggression and Aphrodite's unbridled sexuality produced Demos [panic] and Phobos [fear]; the union of his life-giving instinctuality and her binding power of love gave birth to Eros and Harmonia.

In the 'quality-of-life' movements, in the search for alternatives to the technological world-view, in the emphasis on participation and the community, in the flood of books and workshops on self-fulfilment, we see [p. 172] the yearning for Eros and Harmony to balance the competitive, adversary, ruthlessly individualistic elements in our age of Ares.

'Life persists in the middle of destruction,' said Gandhi. 'Therefore there must be a higher law than that of destruction. Only under that law would well-ordered society be intelligible and the life worth living.' The law of aggression and destruction is the law of Ares in his darkest aspect--the law that reduces life to the jungle. The quest for a higher law is the manifestation of Ares' highest nature--a passionate instinct for life that does, indeed, persist in the middle of destruction. [p. 173]


[Stassinopoulos, Arianna and Roloff Beny. The Gods of Greece. New York: Abrams. 1983.]




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