The gods of the Greek pantheon were almost universally known for their many affairs. Zeus, Poseidon, and the others had dozens of children with both goddesses and mortal women.
Some loves were more famous than others, however, and for Ares one story in particular stands out among the rest.
Of all his affairs, the love Ares had for the goddess of beauty was by far the most famous.
Ares and Aphrodite were among the most famous lovers in Greek mythology, with a long-lasting relationship that seemed to be based on love and mutual attraction. Despite this, however, they were not considered to be married.
The reason Ares never actually married had to do with the scandalous way his relationship with Aphrodite began and how it contradicted the social rules of Greek society.
Like most gods of Greek mythology, Ares was said to have many lovers among both goddesses and human women. Most often, however, he was linked to Aphrodite.
The goddess of beauty and the god of war were often pictured together by artists and were said to have been the parents of many children. Their daughter Harmonia married a mortal man, giving some humans living in Greece and its colonies a supposed link to the pair.
Ares and Aphrodite, however, were not described as being married.
Aphrodite had been married to Hephaestus, the lame god of the smiths. In a challenge set by Zeus she had hoped Ares would prevail, but the smith god exploited the wording of Zeus’s proclamation to win Aphrodite for himself.
From the beginning, the couple was poorly matched. Aphrodite was repulsed by her unattractive husband and continued her affair with Ares after the marriage.
Hephaestus often went to Earth, where he had been raised after being thrown from Olympus as a child, and Ares used these absences to visit his lover. Whenever Hephaestus left Mount Olympus Aphrodite sent word to the god of war and he quickly went to her home.
He was spotted slipping into Hephaestus’s palace, however, by Helios. From his position in the sky, the god of the sun could see everything that happened during the day and noted how often Ares visited Aphrodite when her husband was away.
Helios reported what he had seen to Hephaestus, who decided to get proof of his wife’s affair. In his forge, he made a fine net of unbreakable metal to hang over his bed.
Hephaestus told his wife he was leaving for another trip to Earth, but stayed close by instead. Just as Helios had said, Ares soon paid a visit to his palace.
The smith’s trap was sprung as soon as the lovers were in bed together. The net fell upon them, trapping Ares and Aphrodite underneath it.
According to Homer, Hephaestus demanded his bride price back from Zeus, effectively divorcing his unfaithful wife. The poet described the goddess Aglaia as the smith god’s wife.
None of the ancient writers described a marriage taking place between Ares and Aphrodite, but she was usually shown as his consort. Whether through an official marriage or not, the two continued their love affair.
Many ancient sources depicted Ares and Aphrodite as being truly in love. One poet in the 5th century BC abandoned the tradition of Eros being their son and instead wrote a scene in which the god of love caused the initial attraction between the pair.
As much as Ares and Aphrodite’s relationship was based on love and attraction, however, it was still highly immoral in the Greek view of the world. Aphrodite had been married not for love, but on the command of her father figure.
Ancient Greek society was highly patriarchal and fathers arranged marriages for their children, often with little input from the bride and groom themselves. Children, particularly girls, were considered property to be given in marriage as the father saw fit.
Aphrodite had as little say in her marriage as most other women in the Greek world would have had. Despite any true affection she and Ares may have had for one another, Zeus had control over who she would marry.
In the custom of the time, a wife was expected to be loyal to her husband regardless of whether she felt any attraction or affection for him. The same held true, generally, for the goddesses of Mount Olympus.
The affair between Ares and Aphrodite is framed in a negative light. The lovers are described as duplicitous adulterers, with Hephaestus being justifiably angry and set on vengeance.
The scene in which Hephaestus trapped the couple in bed is one of many cases in mythology in which Ares is humiliated and defeated. The god of war was able to best the lame smith in winning Aphrodite’s affections, but the result was a public embarrassment.
Some authors also highlighted one of the practical concerns surrounding marital infidelity. According to a few writers, Eros had been born during Aphrodite’s marriage and Hephaestus had initially been led to believe the young god was his own child.
This scene reflects a concern shared by men in many cultures throughout history. Had Aphrodite’s affair not been discovered, Hephaestus would have had the responsibility of raising children that belonged to another man.
The scandal of Ares’ relationship with Aphrodite may have impacted how they were written about in later myths. While the goddess was often shown as his consort, she was not described as his wife.
In not having Ares and Aphrodite be properly married after Hephaestus returned her bride price, the air of scandal and immorality still hung over their relationship. No matter how long their relationship lasted, it would always be considered adulterous and improper.
Hephaestus was described as married to another goddess because he was the innocent party in the affair. But Ares and Aphrodite would always be marked by their unfaithfulness and impropriety.
In Greek mythology, Ares was not described as being properly married. Instead, Aphrodite was referred to as his consort rather than his wife.
The two were said to have fallen in love, but Zeus instead arranged Aphrodite’s marriage to Hephaestus. Unhappy as the smith god’s wife, Aphrodite continued an illicit affair with Ares.
When the pair were discovered, Hephaestus publicly humiliated them. He apparently divorced his unfaithful wife soon afterward, taking Aglaea as his new bride.
Ares and Aphrodite remained together, but ancient writers did not say they were married.
Although they were in love, Aphrodite had not been given a choice in her marriage. No matter how much she cared for another, she was expected to remain faithful to the husband that had been arranged for her.
Ares and Aphrodite violated the social norms and values of ancient Greece by continuing their affair after she was married. By having them remain unmarried, the couple continued to be defined by the scandal.