Among the numerous Divinities who constitute the second generation of Olympian gods, Ares or Mars, the first-born son of Zeus and Hera, possessed the undisputed primogeniture, even though he did not in actual importance rank with such gods as Apollo, Mercury, or Vulcan. As the first-born son, Ares must relate to some principle of truth or faith, rather than to good or charity; and as it is truth that fights against evil and falsity, it is not surprising to find in Ares the great god of war. It is the same in all other mythological systems: the first-born of the supreme god is always the war-god. Thus in Babylonia and Assyria, the fighting divinity was Merodach, first-born son of Ea; and similarly Thor, the first-born of Odin, among the Northmen.
The names of Ares and Mars are admittedly of an unknown origin. Ares has been compared with the Greek words arren, male, areta, valour, aristos, best, and the Latin arma, weapons, the primitive notion of "goodness," according to the evolutionists, having been that of manly prowess in the arts of war. The name Mars, also is supposed to be related to mas, masculine, but all this is mere guesswork. We, therefore, venture to suggest that "Mars" is but a "memmated" or strengthened form of "Ares," and that the latter, like so many other names of Greek Divinities, is of Semitic origin, derived from the Hebrew Ari, a Lion, the fitting symbol of all those qualities which are represented by Ares: strength, courage, and fierce love of battle.
As the first state of faith with man may turn either to genuine faith, fighting for the authority and purity of Divine Truth, or to faith-alone, fighting for self-exaltation and the love of dominion, so also Ares is represented by the ancient poets and artists in two very different aspects. In his more noble form he is described in one of the Homeric hymns as a "sun-god, who makes courage and valor to stream into the hearts of men;" as "the god of the golden helmet, shield-bearing, clad in armor of bronze, strong and untiring;" and in this character also the sculptors have represented him as the model of a classic hero, youthful, vigorous, naked, and beardless, sometimes splendidly armed with shield and spear, cuirass, and a helmet crested with a winged lion, or with a lance in one hand and winged Victory in the other; or, unarmed, with Victory in the one hand and a branch of olives in the other,—the noble picture of a true warrior who
That in other statues he appears fierce and terrible does not militate against his good character, for the Divine Truth always so appears to those who are in falsity and evil. Even in a just war, no mercy must be shown to the enemy, "for the end is victory, and thus the common good, and in this end there is the mercy of salvation for many." (S. D. 4346.)
In the supreme sense, therefore, Ares or Mars is simply the ancient name for Divine Truth, militant and victorious, even as the Lord Himself in this aspect is called a "Hero," a man of War," and "a Hero of War," because by His Divine Truth He conquered the hells and forever protects His Church.
On the other hand the War-god is often represented as the personification of wild rage and blood-thirstiness, the love of fighting for the mere sake of fighting and slaying. As such he bears the appellations "impetuous," "blood-stained," "man-slaying," "town-destroying," a gigantic monster "roaring as loud as nine or ten thousand men," and covering with his body seven hundred feet of the ground. In the Iliad he sides with the Trojans, and is frequently worsted by the calm strategy of Minerva ; in this story he seems to represent the spirit of faith-alone, the cruel faith of the Old and vastated Church, of which Troy is the type in the struggle with the New Church among the Hellenes. As the genius of fury and destruction he is now seen accompanied by evil demons such as Deimos, Terror, Phobos, Pear, Eris, Strife, and Bellonia, the furious goddess of battle, whose altar was the only one on which human sacrifices were offered.
Whether in his good or evil aspect, Ares is always associated with Aphrodite, who sometimes figures as his legitimate partner, sometimes as his paramour. This conjunction of Courage and Beauty was a favorite theme among the classical artists, and inspired some of the noblest productions of ancient art, as, for instance, the Venus de Milo. In its proper and original meaning this represents the important truth that the prize of conjugial love can be won only by manful combat against evil and falsity, and therefore we read that of this union were born two lovely children, Harmonia and Cupid, Order and Heavenly Love. But in later days this beautiful myth was perverted into a scandalous tale, reflecting the corrupt state of Greek morals in the time when Faith alone was united with adulterous love.
Among the Greeks in general, except with the Spartans, Ares was held in small honor, though the Areopagus, or Hill of Ares, in Athens, was anciently named after him. Courts of justice were held here in the open air. But by the Romans he was called "Marspiter," "father Mars," and was worshipped as, next to Jupiter himself, the chief protector of the Roman state, (in whose honor they named the first month of their new year, Martius.) This was but natural, since he was regarded as the father of Romulus and Remus, the twin founders of the city. This myth, also, is evidently representative, and fitly describes the essential elements which made up the national character of the Roman people. In its best aspect this character was begotten of Mars,—the love of fighting for what was then regarded as Divine truth, viz., law and order in the State; and it was conceived by Rhea Sylvia, the vestal, that is, the love of stern virtue, self-sacrifice, and sublime patriotism. Such was the character of representative Romans of the olden days, from Lucretia and Brutus, the Horatii and Pabii, Cincinnatus, Manlius and Virginius, down to the Gracci and the younger Brutus. Afterwards these celestial characteristics, being perverted, produced the infernal love of universal dominion, a love which was inherited from the heathen Empire by the "Christian" Church of Catholic Rome.