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In Greek mythology, Polemos (Πόλεμος; "war") was a divine personification or embodiment of war.[1] No cult practices or myths are known for him, and as an abstract representation he figures mainly in allegory and philosophical discourse.[2]

In one of Aesop's fables,[3] Polemos marries Hubris, the female personification of arrogance. Pindar says that Polemos is the father of Alala, goddess of the war-cry.[4]

In Aristophanes' Acharnians, Polemos is banned from parties by the choregus for burning vineyards, emptying the wine, and disrupting the singing. He is set in opposition to Dicaeopolis, who profitably champions peace and longs for marriage with Diallage, "Reconciliation". Dionysos, god of the life force, uses a vine stake as a weapon to wound the soldier Lamachus for neglecting him in favor of Polemos, but overall Aristophanes seem to be advocating a balance between Dionysos and Polemos, since the interests of the polis are served at times by peace and other times by war.[5] Polemos appears briefly as a monstrous character at the end of the prologue to Aristophanes' Peace: he has Tumult (Kudoimos) as his henchman, and has buried Peace under stones in a cave. Polemos has a giant mortar in which he threatens to grind all the cities of Greece, having plagued them for ten years. He sends Tumult to obtain a pestle sufficient for the task. He then withdraws to the "house of Zeus" and does not reappear, though his potential return is a threat throughout the play. The scenario seems to be original with Aristophanes. Polemos would have been played by the third actor of the troupe.[6]

According to Quintus Smyrnaeus, whose career dates to late antiquity, Polemos was the brother of the war goddess Enyo.[7]

Other Greek personifications of war and the battlefield include Alala, Ares, the Makhai, the Hysminai, the Androktasiai, the Phonoi, Enyo, Eris, and the Keres.


The pre-Socratic philosopher Heraclitus described Polemos as "both the king and father of all", with the capacity to bring all into existence and to annihilate.[8] For Heraclitus, Polemos "reveals the gods on the one hand and humans on the other, makes slaves on the one hand, the free on the other".[9] The fragment leaves it unclear as to whether Heraclitus thought of Polemos as an abstraction, a god, or a generalization of war, and this ambiguity is perhaps intentional.[10] Heidegger interpreted the polemos of Heraclitus as the principle of differentiation or "setting apart" (German Auseinandersetzung).[11]


  1. ^ Niall W. Slater, Spectator Politics: Metatheatre and Performance in Aristophanes (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2002), p. 119.
  2. ^ William Kendrick Pritchett, The Greek State at War (University of California Press, 1979), vol. 3, p. 161.
  3. ^ Aesop, Fables 533 (from Babrius 70)
  4. ^ Pindar, Dithyrambs fragment 78.
  5. ^ Richard F. Moorton, Jr., "Dionysus or Polemos? The Double Message of Aristophanes' Acharnians," in The Eye Expanded: Life and the Arts in Greco-Roman Antiquity (University of California Press, 1999), pp. 24, 39, 42, 45.
  6. ^ Carlo Ferdinando Russo, Aristophanes: An Author for the Stage (Routledge, 1962, 1994), pp. 135, 139, 143, 145; Slater, Spectator Politics, pp. 120, 280.
  7. ^ Quintus Smyrnaeus, Fall of Troy 8. 424 ff
  8. ^ Daniel Chapelle, Nietzsche and Psychoanalysis (State University of New York Press, 1993), p. 53, citing NER 19, frg. 53.
  9. ^ Gregory Fried, Heidegger's Polemos: From Being to Politics (Yale University Press, 2000), p. 21.
  10. ^ Fried, Heidegger's Polemos, p. 23.
  11. ^ Fried, Heidegger's Polemos, p. 17.

External links[edit]

  • Theoi Project, literary passages mentioning Polemos