Ares and the Art of War

There has been some recent discussion of Ares and war (specifically the attractive image in representations of Ares and the brutal reality of war) , and I wanted to expand my thoughts here on my blog, as Ares is a god that I have some fond regard and a high dose of respect for. And as one born under the sign of Scorpio, I do feel that there is some justly needed acknowledgement towards a god who likely significantly impacts my being in this life.

It is easy, very easy in fact, to forget (especially with how beautiful Ares is often portrayed and how isolated most of us are from the reality of war) that there is something quite horrific about the extremities of his power. Even though the evidence of this is quite blatant before us in how the ancient Hellenes spoke of Ares in myth and in their poetics. The hymns and poetic verses in plays (such as Aeschylus’ Seven Against Thebes) makes an attempt to convey just how awful the god is. And I don’t think that saying it is awful should be taken to be meant as a dispersion against the god, that the god himself is undesirable and horrible, but rather that what he is capable of is fearful and strikes us with a sense of awe even as it inspires terror. He is awful in the way that staring into the magnetic eyes of a leopard, unsure of whether he is going to decide to eat you or not, is awful as you are paralyzed by an equal amount of fear and yet held in wonder at the same time.

That there is an apparent contradiction going on with his (not unremarked) attractiveness doesn’t not surprise me. As I have indicated above, many of the deadliest things in nature are beautiful and attractive. This goes for the gods as well, as we may note that Apollon (whose name translates as “destroyer”) is considered one of the most beautiful of the gods, and the huntress Artemis is likewise possessing greaty beauty that is often the subject of desire in myth). Even the domain of Aphrodite-the goddess of the golden apple, who I feel is quite appropriately depicted by the Spartans as an armored goddess, has a very aggressive attribute for which Zeus admonishes her in the Iliad that she should keep herself toward the more delicate affairs..yet there is a kind of inherant aggressiveness even in marriage ceremonies in which kidnappings were reinacted, and the power of Eros, the son of Aphrodite and Ares, was quite possibly as feared as much as his father because he could rouse the passions of men into following into the line of war. It is all to easy to soften this deities, but it would, I feel, a misrepresentation of how the gods, and nature (which the gods do not exist outside of) is. Felines, wolves, birds of prey, snakes…tyrannosauruas rex (hey I know it is extinct but consider how many children love the T-rex and how popular it is of the dinosaurs! So it seemed amiss to not include it) are examples of predators held in great esteem. But because we are attracted to them, we can sometimes act foolishly in presumption that the gods are harmless, which is a severe error, especially among these specific gods I have described above. I have heard of it happening in relation to wild animals happening quite frequently. Especially in one case where a tourist got mauled to death when visiting the Alaska State Zoo because they passed beyond the safety zone to take a close up picture of a Polar Bear.  This is just one example of how dismissive and ignorant people can be towards nature, and how much they can be towards the gods as well.

Therefore, Ares’ contradiction, rather than being repellant, tells us something about the nature of things and just how far things can go if we don’t possess some sense of moderation for Ares will go with the war to its length and the ruin that it causes, not because he is a despisable god but rather that he is a warrior who does what he does best. It is up to us, the humans who are fighting, to possess some decorum and settle conflicts in ways that don’t amount to such considerable blood shed. Sadly our modern weaponry makes it all too easy to create horrors upon each other that we may perceive as the enemy. Especially that we are able to do widescale damage, often in a very impersonal manner. In this manner, Ares is beautiful the way a blade is beautiful to me, and the way that predators in general are often beautiful, because the summation of the parts of its purpose makes it beautiful together. Ares demands reponsibility for ourselves so it seems to me, just as owning a sword/gun requires responisbility. The weapon is present and makes no bones about what it does, but we are responsible.

Therefore, taking a page from the gunowners association, I shall say ” Ares doesn’t kill people, people warring with Ares kills people.”

The domain of Ares does serve purpose when we approach this with moderation. It is a teaching tool for advancement as conflicts and their resolutions allow us to grow but as a species and spiritually. As Ares is a very caring protective deity, particularly where his children are concerned, we can see the benefice of his domain and what implications it has for us. We can exercise these benefits if we moderate how they impact us. We can build up a defensive force, and should do so because weakness encourages predators to prey. Likewise people should be endowed with a reasonable understanding of self defense in some fashion. By removing ourselves from a state of helplessness we can move forward as we have some control in our lives and environment. Conflict, on various levels, makes us stronger. We have to destroy and remake ourselves over and over again in order to grow. And this is the most personal battles, one in which there is no hiding behind some barriers but rather face to face and hand to hand (which is quite reminiscent of the sparring contest between Ares and Apollon in boxing). War brings increase and advancement. We know this in life when we see the baby booms that accompany war, and the technology advancements. However we are responsible in how we impliment the power of Ares, as I stated above. It is a great teacher too, so that from our trials we grow. The Civil War in the U.S. for instance was of such travesity and burtality that our country seems to have a written memo say “umm lets not go there again”. When it coms to battles there is a tendency for people to become aware, and therefore desire to seek alternative ways of resolving conflict. This is not say that it negates the conflict, or makes it disappear (because the absence of conflict is not reality…not within ourselves and certainly not between each other), but rather it gives us the tools to deal more reasonably with conflict before it gets out of control and to benefit from it. The hope is always that conflict, rather than leading to considerably bloodshed, may lead instead into a series of very intense negotiations or a sense of competitive rivalry..both of which is preferably in my estimation. We can use conflict and battle in order to hone ourselves, in a manner in which I would say that chess hones one’s foresight and strategy…minus the killing, it goes without saying. Therefore there is much benefit from Ares domain, but one which we must treat with caution and moderation even as we admire the lethal beauty of the god himself.

I am now inspired to find a copy of the Art of War, and read this book. I was talking about it just this weekend how I wanted to read it when the subject of philosophy came up in the house. Though coming from China rather than Hellas, I do think it may have something significant to say that may help me develope a further understanding of Ares. Hail Ares, the strong!

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3 thoughts on “Ares and the Art of War

  1. I have read a free eBook version from Project Gutenberg (http://www.gutenberg.org/) and I can testify that it does indeed constitute a very interesting read 🙂
    The translation I had was quite old though, and I’d like to get my hands on a more recent translation. Nevertheless, I think everyone should read it, and this free version is very suitable for that 😉

  2. What is interesting about the Art of War is that it is more about being deceptive and less about doing actual battle. Which of course makes sense. Fight smarter, not harder, right? After all, Zeus often chide Ares for being a Liar… I wonder why? 😉

    • Makes sense to me! I am all for fighting smarter and admire acts of deception and cunning in battle that result in avoidance of blood shed..or less than it may have been. It certainly makes sense how Odysseus would have been admired for such cunning that he possessed to be a favorite of Athena 😉 When it comes to strategy being a bit of a liar is helpful I guess lol.

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