Common opinions in modern scholarship regarding Ares-worship in the ancient world primarily focus on warlike attributes of the deity. In Classical Myth by Barry Powell, Apollo receives sixteen pages. Athena receives five. Ares has barely half a page, and the remainder of his entry is a repeat of the second song of Demodocus in Odyssey. Ares is little more than a personification of blood lust, the frenzy of combat, and an adulterer.
One might turn to Classical Mythology by Mark Morford, Robert Lenardon and Michael Sham. Apollo has thirty-four pages on his many mythoi. Athena has thirteen. Ares is left with Demodocus’ second song and a page describing the brutality, waste and folly of war. Mention of the Homeric Hymn to Ares and his veneration as a divine champion of righteous conflict is present, but is explained away as influence from the Roman Mars.
As such, “The Butcher” summarises Ares’ character in the mind of modern scholarship. Such a view seems rooted in epic and literary tradition, drawing on select episodes in the god’s mythic history to construct a warmongering berserker, most likely from Thrace. Ares, one of the twelve heavenly deities of Olympus, is not so simple. Where his counterpart Enyalios is the god of the war-cry that incites armies to greater feats of courage, Ares is an inspiring force that compels the warrior onward in battle and banishes fear from their souls. He is the (sometimes violent) protector of the polis and a force of justice and divine retribution, the golden-armoured defender of Olympus without any need for input from Mars.
This thesis seeks to examine the development of Ares throughout Greek mythology, from the earliest evidence of the god in the Mycenaean period to Late Antiquity, using relevant material drawn from mythoi in “snapshots” of four major points: Mycenae, Homeric epic, Classical Athens and the Hellenistic/Late Antique Homeric Hymn to Ares. Although the Mycenaean period in particular contains only limited information on the size of Ares’ cult, his role in select religious ceremonies, and locations at which he may have received worship, it remains pertinent to assessment of earlier stages of the god.
The few other research projects dealing with evidence for Ares-worship use a region-based analysis, looking to cult association and archaeological evidence. This is owing to a perceived difficulty of placing mythoi in accurate timelines, given differing stages of development throughout the ancient world. However, by narrowing literary representations of Ares to known time periods, a series of chronological observations of Ares show development of his character in either direction, as well as seeds for later growth and points where older conceptions survive. The image of the god that emerges is not the Butcher, but one who encompasses a number of differing concepts (positive and negative) within the Greek mindset and a deity more than deserving of his position as one of the Twelve Olympians.