Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Helper of the hospitable

Ares, the hated son of Zeus & Hera. Thracian God of War, as a Thracian
was he seen as being outside the ordered world of the Greek polis? Was
war then seen to be a barbarian activity, as an outside force to be
shunned and feared? In Sparta they would sacrifice puppies to Ares, and
they had a statue of Ares in chains, on theory that if the Lacedaemonians
kept Ares is chains then they would forever keep their martial spirit.
In a similar way Athens erected a statue of Nike Apteros; that is wingless
Victory, so she could not leave the city.

Ares whose war cry was as loud of 10 000 men. Lover of Aphrodite (does
this show Greek fear at the irrational, disruptive and eventually
destructive nature of sexual love?). In a typical example of the
ancient Greek love of dichotomy, Ares was held in opposition to
Athena, in that she represented strategy, rational thought and
intelligence applied to war, the just war, warfare to defend the
polis. Ares on the other hand was an anthropomorphic shadow of
bloodlust, of the dashing off into the icy cold din of battle.

Ares would side first with one city, and then with another. He
represented the love of battle itself. His sacred animals were the
vulture and the dog, as they would feast upon the not always dead
bodies of the battlefield. His attendants are Deimos, dread fear
personified, and Phobos, panic stricken flight, the supreme at war
goddess Enyo, destroyer of cities. Also in attendance to Ares would be
found Eris, the personification of Strife. Eris took delight in battle
and in human bloodshed.

Some have Eros born of the union between Ares and Aphrodite, for
myself I would agree with Hesiod and make Eros one of the original
gods. For it is desire that allows us to remake the world anew.

This poem was a fun one to translate, lots of operatic language and
imagery. The first five of so lines are a list of attributes for
Ares. Reminding me of ALP's mamafesta (a feminising of the word
manifesto) starting on page 104 of Finnegans Wake. Of course Joyce had
to take it too far.

I tried to show the Greek desire for a well ordered life, for the
following of custom, for knowing what is to be done, and what should
not be done. If one followed the customs of the polis, in particular
the custom of hospitality, Ares will grant victory. But for the
heretic, for the one who disdained the mores of the people Ares would
be a tyrant, meeting force with force.

I can make no claim at being a classical scholar, I am at best a vain
poseur, and I am sure that my translations can not fully illuminate
the thinking of people who lived over two thousand years ago, but as
always I hope you will at least grant me my petty pretense. For I at
least had some fun writing this poem, and even more than that I was
able to learn a bit more about the world around me. And as we slowly
meander our way to the eternal void what more can any of us hope to

The image is of Ares & Aphrodite and it came from here:


Homeric Hymn 8 - To Ares

Surpassingly strong Ares,
Prevailing with chariots, crested of gold,
Strong willed, Shield bearing, City protecting,
Clad in shining bronze, Strong hearted,
Untiring, Mighty with spear,
Bulwark of Olympus.

Victorious good-at-war Father,
Helper of the hospitable,
Tyrant to the hostile.

The well-ordered he leads to the light
Bearing his sceptre of courage.

He sets spinning his fiery bright
Shield above the clouds, across
The seven-pathed constellation.
There forever his foals,
Full of fire, steer him.
The third firmament
Above the orbit.

Hearken champion of the ones who bleed,
Giver of courage to the youth,
Kindly pour down your radiance
From on high, giving sustenance
And warlike courage. Allow that I
May be able to rout sharp cowardice
From my thoughts, and bend my deceitful
Soul back to it's senses.

Restrain my anger and blood-lust,
Restrain my charge the icy din
Of battle. - But thou courage give.
Blest one, let me abide without harm
Within well-ordered peace;
Shunning ill-will, tumult and
The call of the queen
Who is violent doom.

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