While watching the movie The Martian, a question arose regarding the name Ares:

Greek Gods were metaphrased into Latin when Romans took over. Ares (from the Greek Άρης) was now named Mars, and so on. And, as such, NASA uses the name Ares for their mission to Mars.

photo with a spacesuit from the movie; the word Ares spelled with no H is circled

They also have a spacecraft named Hermes, an import of Ερμής. By this convention, shouldn't it be Hares then instead of Ares, since both start with a vowel, followed by a consonant (character "r")?

'A' might be an exception or something, yet, I remembered Hagia Sophia (in Constantinopolis), from the greek Αγιά Σοφία. This follows the same convention as Hermes, rather than that of Ares. Similarly, we have the name Hades.

Why is there variation in this convention?

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    Interestingly, Ngrams shows a steadily declining usage of Hares until the two almost converge in present day. – Cascabel Oct 11 at 18:15
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    @Cascabel That probably represents the dropping of soft Hs in English over time with a concomitant loss in spelling. Or interference from rabbits. – David M Oct 11 at 18:17
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    @DavidM LOL...I just got the rabbit reference. Almost all hits for "Hares" on Ngrams refer to the Bugs variety of plural Hare. – Cascabel Oct 11 at 18:21
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    This has nothing to do with English, which took the names more or less directly from Latin. From what I understand, the Greek letter epsilon was adapted from the Phoenician letter he, but used to represent the vowel sound; eta originally indicated the /h/ consonant, but also shifted to represent the vowel. Greek instead uses diacritics to mark /h/ ("rough breathing"). A rough breathing vowel got transliterated with an H into Latin, thus Hera and Hermes and Helios; smooth breathing vowels remained bare, thus Ares and Apollo and Eos. – choster Oct 11 at 18:41
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it is about a transliteration of Greek to Latin, and not related to English. – choster Oct 11 at 18:44

Hermes and Ares are reasonable representations in the Latin alphabet of the sounds of the Greek names. The /h/ sound is absent from classical Greek spellings of words which contained it (like Hermes) because the Attic Greek alphabet did not have a distinct character for it—the character ‹H› was used for eta ('long e', contrasting with epsilon, 'short e'). Starting in the Hellenistic period the presence or absence of /h/ was indicated by diacritic marks, the 'rough' and 'smooth breathing' signs.

The /h/ sound was subsequently lost in Greek.

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    You imply that the ancient Greeks pronounced Ερμής with a leading H, despite the spelling but you don't come out and say it directly. Perhaps you should do that. – Spencer Oct 11 at 19:10
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    Ερμής is mis-spelt in the original posting. In Classical Greek, all vowel-initial words are written with one of the breathing marks, either rough or smooth. so Ερμής should be Ἑρμής – Colin Fine Oct 11 at 19:38
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    @ColinFine It appears that OP is a (modern) Greek himself, so he naturally employs the modern spelling without the diacritic. ... And I'd be curious to know: did classical orthography employ the diacritics even in inscriptions and non-literary contexts, or were they more like the vowel points in Hebrew? – StoneyB Oct 11 at 22:19
  • I'd like clarification. Is this what you're saying: 1. If an ancient Greek word begins with eta, that's transliterated as "he" regardless of aspiration. 2. If an ancient Greek word begins with alpha, that's transliterated "a" regardless of aspiration. 3. "Hagia Sophia" is exempt from this rule because it more recent than ancient times. – Jetpack Oct 13 at 23:54
  • What's the difference between "Hades" and "Ares"? – Jetpack Oct 14 at 0:01

I’m afraid you are labouring under a misapprehension. Mars is not the Latin for Ares with an aspirated first letter. It is derived from the Oscan Mavors. He was the god of war, like Ares, but he was also supposed to be the father of Romulus and Remus.

Many of the stories about Ares and other Greek Gods were adopted into the Roman cannon.

But the names were not all the same. So the Roman opposite number to ΕΡΜΗΣ was not HERMES but MERCVRIVS (Mercury) - the V representing a ‘u’ as in put.

Others have already pointed out that the initial epsilon of Greek Ερμης was aspirated: Hence the imported H.

In modern Greek, vowels are not aspirated. So what in ancient Greek would have been Hodos Hermou (οδός Ερμού) or Hermès Street is now pronounced Odhos Ermou with no ‘h’ but an aspirated delta, pronounced as in ‘that’.

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    The OP is asking about Ares, not Mars. – CJ Dennis Oct 12 at 3:03
  • The modern delta is not aspirated, it's lenited to a fricative. (The fricatives θφχ are descended from true aspirates, but the terms are not interchangeable.) – Anton Sherwood Oct 19 at 6:45
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    @AntonSherwood True: thank you for the correction. – Tuffy Oct 19 at 15:45

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