Tuesday, December 06, 2011

The Daughters of Ares

Yesterday morning I read a blogpost over yonder at Firefly Willows about Mars. It's kind of a reflection on what Play might mean to him, and that aspect of his character, and all I could think about was how much I kind of gloss over Ares in my head.* What do I really know about the character of Ares, or his personality? How do I think he plays? Off the top of my head, I would say hard. A god of war seems like he would definitely play hard, and for keeps, too, but I couldn't think of any myths to back up my impressions.

Ludovisi Ares from Wiki Commons
So I did some brief research, which led me to a fascinating discovery. Ares has daughters!

It was while I was writing Helen that I wondered about how many sons the gods had in their affairs. It seemed like everyone had sons, and the reason that Helen was so sought after was in part because she was a rarity. I'm not sure I know anyone who can name another demi-god daughter of Zeus off the top of their heads, and according to Theoi, he only has two: Helen and Herophile (of Libya).**

In contrast, Ares is named as the father of the entirety of the Amazons, and several of their most important leaders in particular (Penthesileia, Hippolyta, and Antiope!) as well as a Queen (Thrassa) of another tribe, and an Athenian girl (Aklippe), who doesn't seem to be of much consequence at all, except for her rape and Ares' murder of the man who did it. Ares fathered and re-fathered an entire people of women!

So what does this tell us about Ares? Maybe it meant he wasn't quite as virile as Zeus, who never once shot a blank, and his only failing was producing two girls out of the 50 named demi-god children (Ares has 30). But maybe it also says something else -- maybe it says Ares wasn't ashamed of the girls he fathered. Certainly it's a rare thing to hear about a god killing a man for raping his daughter. Helen is raped at least twice, and Zeus doesn't so much as grumble. He used her outright to start a war that would result in the deaths of most everyone she ever knew or cared about, in fact. Maybe it says that Ares believed in his daughters, no matter how great or how lowly. Perhaps the god of war had a soft spot for women -- and not only for the pleasure he could take from them, but for their overlooked strengths.

But what else would you expect from the father of the Amazons?

*I can't really see how Mars and Ares could be considered as two separate entities, personally, but I know there are differences, where Mars has his own Roman myths alongside those the Greeks gave to Ares. Not unlike Hercules and Heracles.

** there is also Keroessa, but she's possibly a nymph, not a mortal, so I don't think that counts.


  1. There is something to be said about the God of War fathering women, that is mothers, who are the symbols of life/creation. Then again, he managed to seduce Aphrodite so maybe there is a soft side to him after all.

    Then again, all women want bad boys and in turn bad boys always learn their lesson by having daughters.


    The, "I know what your thinking young man, but if you get anywhere near second base in this date with MY daughter, your nuts will get quickly and swiftly acquainted with my sword" syndrome.



  2. Ares always seems to be a negative figure in Greek myth, especially in Homer, but also elsewhere -- personifying the unthinking violence and savagery of war, rather than its civically useful & heroic aspects (represented by Athena). So, not to be pessimistic, but maybe that's why he's associated with (irrational, disruptive, emotional) women, rather than the (at least sometimes beneficial) heroic men. Certainly that makes sense for the Amazons, who exemplify everything antisocial about war (not that *I* would say there's anything about war that's *not* antisocial, but the Greeks obviously thought differently!)

    Mars has always seemed very different to me -- probably partly because of the very different Roman attitude to war (different from Homeric Greek, anyway, more similar to Classical Greek) as beneficial to the state and exemplified by discipline and control, but also because of his origins as a god of vegetation, which admittedly was pretty swamped by the historical period, but still makes him *feel* different to me than savage Ares.

  3. Ralfast: I had not thought of that death/life cycle aspect! Interesting.

    AvenSarah: I always forget about the anti-social associations with women-- but I kind of feel like, just because the Greeks believed it to be true, does not mean it was the intent of the divine elements? Coming from the more... theological? perspective of "Who is the god behind the myths?" as in, that which spawned the entire concept OF the god, rather than, "who is the god IN the myths?" I wonder if Ares, in founding the Amazons, was sending a different message that was wrongly interpreted. (Much like people have interpreted Jesus' teachings to mean that women cannot do certain things, should be submissive to men, etc, when if you look at the Gospels, he did a LOT of work THROUGH women -- and I personally find that the women are often challenging Jesus, too, and coming out victorious when they do. And now I'm thinking about the Greeks/Romans in contrast with the Old and New Testaments, too, from your comment on twitter about Ares being only Ares to the Greeks because Mars did not exist to them, and Mars with an overlay of Ares to the Romans, and how that reflects on the differences between Judaism and Christianity, and their respective and singular God.)

    And what did Ares think of himself, for that matter? Did he believe himself and his godhead to be about the anti-social and the berserker madness? Did he believe himself to BE berserker? I need to do more reading and research myself, because as I said, I don't have a lot in my head. But he seems to be a passionate person (which I guess goes along with the anti-social interpretation, too). His lust for Aphrodite, his leap to the defense of his Athenian daughter. I suppose the Greeks would consider that uncontrolled Passion to be a fault, too, and one women are guilty of. But it seems odd to me that any aspect of Ares, as a WAR god, and brutal too, would be associated with the feminine. I guess that is the contradiction of Athena, though, as well, being a woman and so wise and so capable of strategy (she kind of reads as just as petulant as everyone else in Homer, all the same), which were very male associations. I wish I knew why they gender-swapped the war gods!

  4. Reading through the comments, it IS strange that this gender-role reversal happened... I'm trying to puzzle out why, especially considering how Greeks viewed women as property. PLUS philosophers like Plato, "It is only males who are created directly by the gods and are given souls" and how he said women could only hope to someday be reincarnated as men; "obviously it is only men who are complete human beings" etc. Aristotle's views on women being inferior because they're actually incomplete males. He compares women to tame animals, and also to slaves.

    That whole tangent is to say, how incredibly strange that the god of war would be afforded so many daughters. And Athena, a woman, is goddess of wisdom.

    The only other thing I want to add is regarding Zeus' treatment of his daughters. You know how I'm all neck deep in Persephone readings right now, she being Zeus' daughter by Demeter (so WEIRD about the full-blooded sister love; after Hera I guess he figured why not? :P). Some versions of the myth have Zeus as the one who plotted Persephone's abduction, because his brother needed a wife. And it's clear that even if he didn't plot it, he did nothing to rescue his unwilling daughter until earth's population was on the brink of death from Demeter withholding growth. And Persephone wasn't even a demi-goddess, but a full-blooded goddess! Basically Zeus showed the world that a girl's feelings were worth nothing whatsoever.

    To make this horribly long (ha!) I wonder if Athena being born from Zeus' head instead of from a woman affected how he viewed her. I can't imagine him plotting to have Athena abducted by Hades!

  5. Yeah, Zeus is always jerking his daughters around -- actually, Zeus is always jerking EVERYONE around. He marries Aphrodite off to Hephaestus without any consideration for her desires, too. I find it very interesting that there is no shortage of GODDESS daughters for Zeus or Ares, either, but among the humans, the boys outnumber the girls ridiculously.

    Maybe Athena is allowed to be wise because she's a virgin?

  6. Amalia: I think you've put your finger on the problem I have -- what I meant by my comment on twitter about being pedantic -- which is that I'm unable to look at the gods as characters driving the stories; I am only able to see the stories (and cultures) as creating the characters of the gods. It's a product of my training, I'm afraid; and of years of trying to drive that point home to my students when I teach myth. I totally see what you're saying, and the way you're thinking -- and I'm able to do that with other things, I'm a lover of fantasy writing, and I totally respect the imaginative process of thinking through the stories the way you are. But I can't divorce myself from the *Classical* stuff enough to do it myself! (It doesn't help that as a non-religious person, I tend to have a very pragmatic & even cynical attitude to religion/myth in general -- sorry!)

    But I'm glad *you* can do it -- and I think you've got some interesting thoughts here about Ares/Mars, that you may want to explore at some point, because he could be an interesting character. In the meantime, you'll have to forgive me if I treat these issues as questions of myth, & relate them to Greek culture -- as you said on Twitter, I'll give you my perspective, and you can take it into account or not, and then go on to make the stories that need to be told!

  7. All that said, I'll just add a couple of comments: the goddess daughters for both Zeus & Ares are in part because the abstract nouns (like "Harmony") are feminine in Greek, so their personifications are female. And Athena definitely is an exception to almost everything about women in Greece; her masculine affiliations ("no" mother) and virginity are part of it, for sure. And I suspect that a lot of her connection with war starts from her origins as a patron goddess of the city, and particularly the citadel of Athens; then her protective role was extended to make her a martial protectress of the city; and then the unique characteristics of Athens as a culture may have contributed to her connection with wisdom & control. But it is certainly very interesting that she's the deity most closely connected to all of the major heroes. And finally, I don't find the connection of war (the disruptive kind) with the feminine (the negative type) surprising in the Greek world; from the Iliad onward, war is inextricably entangled with the feminine. Women (and goddesses) CAUSE war; they embody and produce strife. Femininity for the Greeks is so very different from the modern (post Victorian?) conception of femininity. It's weakness, but weakness in the sense of lack of control, not in the sense of ineffectiveness. It's irrationality, but not in the sense of stupidity, but in the sense of emotionalism & deceit & cunning.

    Speaking of feminity, though, the baby's crying & I have to go! SOrry for going on at such length!

  8. That makes TOTAL sense, about Athena. The city projecting its own strengths onto their patroness makes it all fit perfectly into place. I had never considered it that way.

    But when I read the Iliad, ALL of the gods seem incredibly emotional and deceitful (sadly, not all that cunning). I wonder if in part that is just the difference in style of writing, between then and now, but Homer gives us a picture of the gods as VERY childish. I definitely see what you're saying about the goddesses starting wars, too -- but Hesiod (I think?) implies that Zeus engineered the entire Trojan war himself from the start, and even if he didn't, there are plenty of points along the way where a man could have chosen to act differently and put a stop to it. Maybe that's just my modern sensibilities, but for the Greeks to place all that responsibility on the feminine seems to make the male that much weaker.

    And please! Never apologize!! This kind of discussion is EXACTLY what I hope for this blog, every time I post about mythology and history! It's a dream come true :)

  9. I totally agree that the blaming of women for war, & the general misogyny / fear of women in Greek myth and culture *totally* makes the men seem weaker -- terrified by the strangeness of something slightly different than themselves! I don't think that's how the Greek (men!) saw it, of course! But it's one of the main failings of their society, in my (ever so humble ;) opinion.

    I also agree that none of the gods are particularly admirable in the Iliad; Zeus is better than most, but even he is petty and selfish, and easily manipulated by Hera. But there are several levels of "blame" going on -- some literary (for want of a better word) and some mythological; and they're not consistent. There's no denying that the goddesses' jealousy in the Judgment of Paris is one of the causes of the war; nor that Helen's faithlessness is another cause (as she herself says in the scene on the wall); and then there's Briseis, cause of another level of strife. It's true that *blaming* those kidnapped, bartered, enslaved women for the lusts and arguments of the men is completely unfair and ludicrous, but that's irrelevant to the logic of the story -- and the mythical structures. And of course there are positive female characters in the poem, too, and in the Odyssey -- though there, again, Penelope for instance is the cause (if not *to blame*) of violence and combat. In other words, I'm not saying that war is exclusively feminine, or even mainly feminine -- but just that it is by no means exclusively masculine, in the Greek conception. And that can be seen all over the mythic and heroic patterns, in which women are the cause of conflict as often (or more often?) than they are the helpers (or the weakeners/seducers, which role they also often play).

    And now I go to bed. Thanks for the opportunity to think/talk/type about this stuff! :)

  10. Great topic Amalia. I love the idea of reimagining mythological characters, especially those that are less known. It's something I do in my own writing.

    I didn't know much about Ares. He seems to come up perfunctorily in many stories, when "war" is looming; and I didn't know about his daughters. My research has been focused more on Poseidon and his son Atlas, and the Pleiades (Atlas' daughters). The Pleiades are another feminine symbol of virtue, and there's the story of Zeus turning them into doves, then placing them in the heavens, so no man (Orion particularly) could rape them. I thought it was another curiosity - Zeus' sentimentality in this instance, both toward the girls, and Atlas, who couldn't protect his daughters since he was stuck holding up the world. But again, the portrayal of women is passive/weak, in need of protection.

  11. AvenSarah: It seems like the women serve as MacGuffins more often than not. Prizes to be won or to be chased after. The more we talk about it, the more it reminds me of that kind of device!

    Andy: I've never seen Atlas as a son of Poseidon -- I'd love to know where you read it! I always thought he was a titan, but I've never really done much research into it.

    Zeus is so strange. He's hot and cold and up and down. The fact that he chooses to protect the daughters of OTHER gods and men, and not his own just kind of leaves me scratching my head. But then, I'm partial to Helen. :)

  12. One of the challenging issues with Greek mythology is there are so many different, and at times, conflicting stories about the gods.

    I use as my source material Plato's story of Atlantis, which was founded by Poseidon who married a mortal Cleito. They had five sets of twin sons, and the first was Atlas and Gadir. Poseidon named Atlantis (and the Atlantic Ocean) after Atlas. There isn't much about Poseidon's sons in Plato's account; you may be familiar with the curious fact that records of his Atlantis story (in Dialogues of Timaeus and Critias) end abruptly. Plato seems to have died before finishing the tale.

    Anyway, could be a totally different 'Atlas' from the titan holding up the world, and marrying the nymph Pleione with whom he had seven daughters - the Pleiades. I'm weaving both accounts into my novel. And, I'm reimagining Cleito, who doesn't get drawn out at all in Plato's story (another example of sexism in Greek mythology!)


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