Ares and Athena, Gods of War

In Canto V of the Iliad, Homer stages the confrontation between Ares and Athena. Both are gods of war, but in different ways.

Gods of war

Diomedes, one of the Greek chiefs, is supported by Athena. He wreaks havoc on the Trojan camp, even wounding Aphrodite and challenging Apollo, who are fighting for the other side. Ares then intervenes on the Trojan side to repel the Achaeans. Athena urges Diomedes to defeat Ares. Two deities, each representing a different aspect of the war, collide.

Ares, « madman », « scourge of mankind », « tainted with murder », is the god of war in its aspect of blind violence and devastation. He pounces on Diomedes as soon as he sees him, eager to take his life.

But Athena, goddess of strategy and intelligence in war, deflects Ares’ hand. She guides Diomedes’ spear straight at his adversary, who, wounded, must leave the battlefield and return to Olympus.

What does this passage from the Iliad and the gods of war tell us about the use of force?

Intelligence has triumphed over force and rage. It is intelligence that directs efforts to produce the right effect at the right time. It is intelligence that deflects the opponent’s strike to prevent it from being effective.

Conversely, violence that is not channeled towards a goal by intelligence is nothing but barbarism, incapable of achieving any political result. Force therefore solves nothing by itself; it is the direction given by intelligence that gives it its power.

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