Zeus was infamous for having many sons and daughters from his affairs with various goddesses, nymphs, and mortal women. Some grew into great heroes while others were revered gods.
Many of the most famous and beloved figures in Greek mythology were children of Zeus. Heracles, Athena, Apollo, Perseus, and Artemis were all his children.
He was the most well-known of Zeus and Hera’s offspring, but Ares inspired little love from either his father or the people of Greece. The god of war was disliked and distrusted because he represented a force antithetical to what his kingly father stood for.
While Zeus rarely played a particularly active role in any of his children’s lives, some received notable favor. Divine children like Artemis, Apollo, and Athena were given praise and gifts, while heroes like Heracles were sent aid and power.
Most people would assume that Zeus’s only son with his wife Hera would be particularly favored by his father. In human cultures, the legitimate son would typically be his father’s heir and carrier of the family legacy.
Zeus’s only son born into his marriage, however, was Ares. The god of war was anything but favored by his father.
The Greek people, and their gods, largely regarded Ares with some ambivalence. As the god of warfare, he represented a brutality, violence, and danger that most people wished to avoid.
His father felt no differently about him. In fact, several stories feature Zeus’s scorn for Ares far more than any type of paternal affection.
In the Iliad, one of the earliest examples of written Greek legend, Zeus makes his dislike for Ares abundantly clear. When the god of war returns to Olympus wounded from battle, Zeus shows nothing but disgust for him.
Homer’s Zeus describes Ares as a “double-faced liar” who is the “most hateful of all gods” who reside upon Olympus.
Zeus goes so far to say that if Ares had been born to anyone other than Hera, Zeus would have banished him from the company of gods altogether. Only Ares’s status as his son prevented Zeus from letting his pain continue.
In fact, the Greeks believed that Ares spent little of his time among the other gods of Olympus. They believed the unlikable god made his home in Thrace, a country they associated with barbarity and violence.
Unlike human kings, who knew they would someday die and pass their holdings on to the next generation, Zeus had no need for an heir. The only privilege Ares received as the king’s son was the fact that Zeus allowed him to remain a god at all.
Zeus’s attitude toward his son may seem cold, but it was due to the fact that Ares represented both the worst of Zeus himself and what he stood against.
Zeus was the god of law, order, and stability. As the king of the Olympian gods, he ensured that both natural laws and those of men were justly followed.
Ares, on the other hand, cared nothing for law. Unlike Athena, who only supported men and armies whose causes were just, Ares was a god of war who was not selective in his violence.
Sometimes, the violence associated with Ares was in direct opposition to Zeus’s laws. Whenever men fought with one another Ares was considered to be at the heart of the conflict.
It is unsurprising, then, that Zeus looked unfavorably on his son’s wanton destruction. While Zeus made and enforced the laws that kept society stable, Ares was a force of instability and lawlessness.
Although he embodied justice and order, Zeus could also be a vengeful and violent god. When angered, he could be just as destructive as his son.
Zeus’s anger was always directed, though. He did not destroy out of sheer love of violence, but with the goal of enforcing his laws.
For example, Zeus sent a storm to destroy Odysseus’s ship because the crew had butchered some of the sacred cattle of Helios. He caused Bellerophon to fall from Pegasus because the hero’s arrogance in trying to reach Olympus violated the natural order that placed the gods out of reach of mortals.
Ares inherited Zeus’s destructive tendencies, but none of the focus behind them. He did not care whether an army fought to defend their land or for an unlawful cause, and he generally chose no sides in battle.
The one war in which Ares did choose a side, like most other gods, was in the Trojan War. Even then, however, he relished in the destruction on both sides of the conflict and was said to have sided with Troy because Aphrodite supported Paris.
Zeus had two children who were deities of war. Athena was favored by her father and represented the strategic use of force in service to a just cause, while Ares was called hateful for his unbridled and unfocused use of force.
Zeus’s dislike of his son was not due to Ares’s violent nature and the destruction he brought with him. What Zeus saw distasteful was Ares’s love of violence for its own sake rather than as a means to an end.
While Ares was the only son of Zeus and Hera, he did not hold a favored position among the gods of Olympus. Even to the people of Greece, he was viewed with ambivalence.
This was because Ares represented the brutal and destructive nature of war. While his half-sister Athena was a protectress associated with strategy and justice, Ares loved warfare and violence for their own sake.
Zeus held such a low opinion of his son that in the Iliad he claimed that he would have stripped Ares of his godhood long before if he had been anyone else’s child. The king of the gods saw his own son as duplicitous, violent, and out of control.
It was not violence itself that Zeus disliked, however. The king of the gods was known to be violent himself when angered.
Instead, Zeus’s ill feelings toward his son were because Ares did not use his violence in service of any sense of law, morality, or righteous cause. Ares relished violence in any circumstances, which made him hateful to the king of law and justice.