horrific violence against men: context for Hera’s deception of Zeus

The goddesses and gods in the ancient Homeric Iliad are as deceitful and violent as humans. Hera, the powerful and demonically raging queen-goddess, supported Greek men besieging Troy. Her spouse Zeus, in contrast, aided Trojan men attacking Greek men. Zeus could scarcely control with words Hera’s anger, and he was inferior to her in guile. She deceived and seduced him in order to help Greek men kill Trojan men. Passionate entanglements of ancient Greek divinities, both female and male, push forward the Iliad’s horrific violence against men. Even now, under a much different polytheistic, intersectional religion, many still believe that men don’t deserve mercy.

The god Poseidon, Hera’s brother, intervened directly in the fighting to help Greek men attack Trojan men. He rallied Greek men and led them into battle against Trojan men:

So urging, across the plain Poseidon swept, shouting mightily,
as loud as the cry of nine-thousand men, or ten-thousand men,
in battle as they join in the war god’s strife.
So mighty did Lord Poseidon, Shaker of Earth, shout
from his lungs that in the heart of every Greek man he roused
great strength to war and to fight without ceasing.

{ ὣς εἰπὼν μέγ᾽ ἄϋσεν ἐπεσσύμενος πεδίοιο.
ὅσσόν τ᾽ ἐννεάχιλοι ἐπίαχον ἢ δεκάχιλοι
ἀνέρες ἐν πολέμῳ ἔριδα ξυνάγοντες Ἄρηος,
τόσσην ἐκ στήθεσφιν ὄπα κρείων ἐνοσίχθων
ἧκεν: Ἀχαιοῖσιν δὲ μέγα σθένος ἔμβαλ᾽ ἑκάστῳ
καρδίῃ, ἄληκτον πολεμίζειν ἠδὲ μάχεσθαι. }[1]

From the high peak of Olympus, Hera on her golden throne looked down with joy at her brother Poseidon leading Greek men in killing Trojan men. That’s grotesque.[2] Men’s deaths should be cause for sadness and regret, not joy.

Zeus and Hera seated as co-rulers of the cosmos

From her position of divine privilege, Hera thought only of her side winning. She would do whatever she could to continue the killing of Trojan men:

Zeus was then seated at the topmost peak of Ida with its many springs.
Hera saw him, and he was hateful to her in her heart.

{ Ζῆνα δ᾽ ἐπ᾽ ἀκροτάτης κορυφῆς πολυπίδακος Ἴδης
ἥμενον εἰσεῖδε, στυγερὸς δέ οἱ ἔπλετο θυμῷ. }

Hera felt hate toward her husband Zeus because he would help fleeing Trojan men. Preparing to attack him in his vulnerability, she went to her luxurious bedroom and anointed her lovely body with the soft, rich fragrance of ambrosial oil. Then she armed herself further:

When she had thus anointed her beautiful body,
she combed her hair. With her hands she arranged the shining,
beautiful, ambrosial curls streaming from her immortal head.
Then she clothed herself in an ambrosial robe that Athena
had crafted and smoothed for her, a robe with many embroideries.
At her breast she pinned the robe with brooches of gold.
She circled her waist with a belt of a hundred tassels
and in her pierced ears she put earrings
having triple drops of fine clusters, shining full of grace.
With a covering veil, the beautiful goddess veiled herself,
with a bright, beautiful veil, glistening as white as the sun.
Beneath her shining feet she bound beautiful sandals.

{ τῷ ῥ᾽ ἥ γε χρόα καλὸν ἀλειψαμένη ἰδὲ χαίτας
πεξαμένη χερσὶ πλοκάμους ἔπλεξε φαεινοὺς
καλοὺς ἀμβροσίους ἐκ κράατος ἀθανάτοιο.
ἀμφὶ δ᾽ ἄρ᾽ ἀμβρόσιον ἑανὸν ἕσαθ᾽, ὅν οἱ Ἀθήνη
ἔξυσ᾽ ἀσκήσασα, τίθει δ᾽ ἐνὶ δαίδαλα πολλά:
χρυσείῃς δ᾽ ἐνετῇσι κατὰ στῆθος περονᾶτο.
ζώσατο δὲ ζώνῃ ἑκατὸν θυσάνοις ἀραρυίῃ,
ἐν δ᾽ ἄρα ἕρματα ἧκεν ἐϋτρήτοισι λοβοῖσι
τρίγληνα μορόεντα: χάρις δ᾽ ἀπελάμπετο πολλή.
κρηδέμνῳ δ᾽ ἐφύπερθε καλύψατο δῖα θεάων
καλῷ νηγατέῳ: λευκὸν δ᾽ ἦν ἠέλιος ὥς:
ποσσὶ δ᾽ ὑπὸ λιπαροῖσιν ἐδήσατο καλὰ πέδιλα. }

As beautiful, young immortals, Hera and Zeus had embraced in bed “without their parents knowing {φίλους λήθοντε τοκῆας}.” To recreate that passion, Hera now was dressed to kill. Many men yearn to die with a smile on their face. Men lives should matter more.

Hera knew what she wanted and how to get it. She went to the goddess Aphrodite and said:

Give now to me love and yearning, by which you subdue
all mortal and immortal men.

{ δὸς νῦν μοι φιλότητα καὶ ἵμερον, ᾧ τε σὺ πάντας
δαμνᾷ ἀθανάτους ἠδὲ θνητοὺς ἀνθρώπους. }

Hera mendaciously claimed that she sought to promote peacemaking between her foster father Oceanus and her foster mother Tethys. Mired in endless strife, that couple had sunk into a sexless marriage. Aphrodite readily agreed to help Hera, “for you sleep in the arms of Zeus, the mightiest {Ζηνὸς γὰρ τοῦ ἀρίστου ἐν ἀγκοίνῃσιν ἰαύεις}”:

So Aphrodite spoke and unbound from her breasts an embroidered lappet,
inlaid, fashioned with all manners of allurements.
It held love and desire and seductive talk,
such as steals the senses of even wise men.

{ ἦ, καὶ ἀπὸ στήθεσφιν ἐλύσατο κεστὸν ἱμάντα
ποικίλον, ἔνθα δέ οἱ θελκτήρια πάντα τέτυκτο:
ἔνθ᾽ ἔνι μὲν φιλότης, ἐν δ᾽ ἵμερος, ἐν δ᾽ ὀαριστὺς
πάρφασις, ἥ τ᾽ ἔκλεψε νόον πύκα περ φρονεόντων. }

Hera, truly the mightiest, tucked this lappet between her own breasts. She thus was fully armed to overwhelm Zeus.

Hera and Zeus embracing

Hera went to the god Sleep, the brother of Death. She needed his help to carry out her conspiracy against her husband:

Lull to sleep for me Zeus’s gleaming eyes beneath his brows
as soon as I have laid beside him in love.
I will in turn give you a beautiful throne, forever enduring,
one of gold. Hephaestus, my own son, he with both legs crippled,
will skillfully make it and set beneath a stool for feet.
You may rest your shining feet on that when you drink your wine.

{ κοίμησόν μοι Ζηνὸς ὑπ᾽ ὀφρύσιν ὄσσε φαεινὼ
αὐτίκ᾽ ἐπεί κεν ἐγὼ παραλέξομαι ἐν φιλότητι.
δῶρα δέ τοι δώσω καλὸν θρόνον ἄφθιτον αἰεὶ
χρύσεον: Ἥφαιστος δέ κ᾽ ἐμὸς πάϊς ἀμφιγυήεις
τεύξει᾽ ἀσκήσας, ὑπὸ δὲ θρῆνυν ποσὶν ἥσει,
τῷ κεν ἐπισχοίης λιπαροὺς πόδας εἰλαπινάζων. }[3]

Sleep hesitated. In the past, he put Zeus asleep to help Hera assail her step-son Heracles. But Zeus awoke and furiously attacked both Sleep and Hera. She nonetheless was undaunted. A woman who trafficked in women, Hera sweetened her offer to Sleep:

Come now, do it, and I’ll give you one of the youthful Graces
to marry and be called your wife —
Pasithea, for whom you have been longing all your days.

{ ἀλλ᾽ ἴθ᾽, ἐγὼ δέ κέ τοι Χαρίτων μίαν ὁπλοτεράων
δώσω ὀπυιέμεναι καὶ σὴν κεκλῆσθαι ἄκοιτιν.
Πασιθέην, ἧς αἰὲν ἱμείρεαι ἤματα πάντα. }

Women themselves abuse women. Thrilled with the thought of embracing Pasithea, Sleep immediately agreed. He thus went with Hera to waylay Zeus on Mount Ida.

As soon as Zeus saw Hera, lust for her enveloped his heart. Hera mendaciously claimed that she was going to her foster parents to urge them to put aside their strife and come them together in conjugal embrace. Zeus begged her not to hurry. As if seeking to enact the pattern of Hera’s story about her foster parents, Zeus suggested that they bed down and lose themselves in love. Zeus was so lacking in guile that he described his desire for Hera as now exceeding what he felt in his numerous extra-marital affairs that produced numerous extra-marital children:

Never before has such desire for a goddess or mortal woman
poured around and overpowered the heart within my breast,
not even when I was seized with love for Ixion’s wife,
who gave birth to Peirithous, peer of gods in counsel,
nor when I loved lovely ankled Danaë, Akrisios’s daughter,
who gave birth to Perseus, preeminent above all warriors,
nor when I loved far-famed Phoenix’s daughter,
who gave birth to Minos and godlike Rhadamanthys,
nor when I loved Semele, nor when I loved Alcmene in Thebes,
who gave birth to my son Heracles the stout-hearted,
and Semele gave birth to Dionysus, the joy of mortals,
nor when I loved Demeter, the fair-haired queen,
nor when I loved the glorious Leto, nor yet so much you
as now I love you, for so has sweet desire seized me.

{ οὐ γάρ πώ ποτέ μ᾽ ὧδε θεᾶς ἔρος οὐδὲ γυναικὸς
θυμὸν ἐνὶ στήθεσσι περιπροχυθεὶς ἐδάμασσεν,
οὐδ᾽ ὁπότ᾽ ἠρασάμην Ἰξιονίης ἀλόχοιο,
ἣ τέκε Πειρίθοον θεόφιν μήστωρ᾽ ἀτάλαντον:
οὐδ᾽ ὅτε περ Δανάης καλλισφύρου Ἀκρισιώνης,
ἣ τέκε Περσῆα πάντων ἀριδείκετον ἀνδρῶν:
οὐδ᾽ ὅτε Φοίνικος κούρης τηλεκλειτοῖο,
ἣ τέκε μοι Μίνων τε καὶ ἀντίθεον Ῥαδάμανθυν:
οὐδ᾽ ὅτε περ Σεμέλης οὐδ᾽ Ἀλκμήνης ἐνὶ Θήβῃ,
ἥ ῥ᾽ Ἡρακλῆα κρατερόφρονα γείνατο παῖδα:
ἣ δὲ Διώνυσον Σεμέλη τέκε χάρμα βροτοῖσιν:
οὐδ᾽ ὅτε Δήμητρος καλλιπλοκάμοιο ἀνάσσης,
οὐδ᾽ ὁπότε Λητοῦς ἐρικυδέος, οὐδὲ σεῦ αὐτῆς,
ὡς σέο νῦν ἔραμαι καί με γλυκὺς ἵμερος αἱρεῖ. }

That’s an obtuse way for Zeus to flatter his wife Hera. She hated his strong, independent sexuality. She persecuted the illustrious children he had with other women. Although he was nominal head god in charge of the cosmos, Zeus lacked Hera’s relational sophistication.

In order to advance her conspiracy, Hera pretended not to be insulted by Zeus’s extra-marital affairs. She told him that she was too modest to have sex on Ida’s heights, where others might observe their intercourse. Of course, there’s nothing shameful about a wife having sex with her husband. Zeus promised to envelop their conjugal intercourse with a golden cloud. That happened with the now nearly unimaginable erotica of archaic Greece:

With those words Cronos’s son Zeus clasped his wife in his arms.
Beneath them the bright earth made fresh-sprung grass
and dewy lotus and crocus and hyacinth,
thick and soft, that bedded them on the ground.
There they lay, clothed about with a beautiful
golden cloud. Glistening dew drops fell from it.

{ ἦ ῥα καὶ ἀγκὰς ἔμαρπτε Κρόνου παῖς ἣν παράκοιτιν:
τοῖσι δ᾽ ὑπὸ χθὼν δῖα φύεν νεοθηλέα ποίην,
λωτόν θ᾽ ἑρσήεντα ἰδὲ κρόκον ἠδ᾽ ὑάκινθον
πυκνὸν καὶ μαλακόν, ὃς ἀπὸ χθονὸς ὑψόσ᾽ ἔεργε.
τῷ ἔνι λεξάσθην, ἐπὶ δὲ νεφέλην ἕσσαντο
καλὴν χρυσείην: στιλπναὶ δ᾽ ἀπέπιπτον ἔερσαι. }[4]

Zeus slept with Hera in his arms. Men so dream in love.

Zeus and Hera having sex on Mount Ida

Hera’s conspiracy against Zeus prompted horrific violence against men. The god Sleep immediately rushed to the Greek warships. He urged Poseidon:

Now, Poseidon, earnestly help Greek men
and give them glory, though for a little time while still sleeps
Zeus, since over him I have blanketed soft slumber.
Hera has tricked him to sleep with her in love.

{ πρόφρων νῦν Δαναοῖσι Ποσείδαον ἐπάμυνε,
καί σφιν κῦδος ὄπαζε μίνυνθά περ, ὄφρ᾽ ἔτι εὕδει
Ζεύς, ἐπεὶ αὐτῷ ἐγὼ μαλακὸν περὶ κῶμ᾽ ἐκάλυψα:
Ἥρη δ᾽ ἐν φιλότητι παρήπαφεν εὐνηθῆναι. }[5]

Poseidon went to the front line and ordered Greek men to attack Trojan men. They obeyed that bloodthirsty god:

Not so loudly roars the sea’s surf on the shore,
driven up from the deep by the dread blast of the North Wind,
nor so loud is the roar of blazing fire
when it leaps to burn the forest in mountain glades,
nor so loudly does the wind shriek among the high crests
of the oaks, when the wind roars the loudest in its rage —
as was the sound of Trojan men and Greek men
screaming in attacking each other.

{ οὔτε θαλάσσης κῦμα τόσον βοάᾳ ποτὶ χέρσον
ποντόθεν ὀρνύμενον πνοιῇ Βορέω ἀλεγεινῇ:
οὔτε πυρὸς τόσσός γε ποτὶ βρόμος αἰθομένοιο
οὔρεος ἐν βήσσῃς, ὅτε τ᾽ ὤρετο καιέμεν ὕλην:
οὔτ᾽ ἄνεμος τόσσόν γε περὶ δρυσὶν ὑψικόμοισι
ἠπύει, ὅς τε μάλιστα μέγα βρέμεται χαλεπαίνων,
ὅσση ἄρα Τρώων καὶ Ἀχαιῶν ἔπλετο φωνὴ
δεινὸν ἀϋσάντων, ὅτ᾽ ἐπ᾽ ἀλλήλοισιν ὄρουσαν. }[6]

Greek and Trojan men at battle of Troy fight over dead body of Patroclus

The Greek Telamonian Ajax speared the Trojan Archelochus in the neck. Archelochus fell dead. Archelochus’s brother Acamas then killed the Greek ally Promachus, son of Alegenor. The Greek Peneleos in turn charged Acamas, who ran away. Peneleos then speared the Trojan Ilioneus:

He struck this man beneath the brow at the root of the eye
and drove out the eyeball. The spear went completely through the eye-socket
and the neck’s nape. Ilioneus sank down backward, stretching out both
hands. Peneleos, drawing his sharp sword,
struck mid-neck and cut to the ground the man’s
head with its helmet on. The mighty spear nonetheless remained
in his eye. Lifting the spear high, like the head of a poppy,
Ilioneus’s head he displayed to the Trojans and vaunted over it:
“Trojans, do me a favor and tell Ilioneus’s
dear father and mother to weep for him in their halls,
since the wife of Promachus, son of Alegenor, also will not
rejoice at the arrival of her dear husband when we
Greek sons return in ships from the land of Troy.”

{ τὸν τόθ᾽ ὑπ᾽ ὀφρύος οὖτα κατ᾽ ὀφθαλμοῖο θέμεθλα,
ἐκ δ᾽ ὦσε γλήνην: δόρυ δ᾽ ὀφθαλμοῖο διὰ πρὸ
καὶ διὰ ἰνίου ἦλθεν, ὃ δ᾽ ἕζετο χεῖρε πετάσσας
ἄμφω: Πηνέλεως δὲ ἐρυσσάμενος ξίφος ὀξὺ
αὐχένα μέσσον ἔλασσεν, ἀπήραξεν δὲ χαμᾶζε
αὐτῇ σὺν πήληκι κάρη: ἔτι δ᾽ ὄβριμον ἔγχος
ἦεν ἐν ὀφθαλμῷ: ὃ δὲ φὴ κώδειαν ἀνασχὼν
πέφραδέ τε Τρώεσσι καὶ εὐχόμενος ἔπος ηὔδα:
εἰπέμεναί μοι Τρῶες ἀγαυοῦ Ἰλιονῆος
πατρὶ φίλῳ καὶ μητρὶ γοήμεναι ἐν μεγάροισιν
οὐδὲ γὰρ ἣ Προμάχοιο δάμαρ Ἀλεγηνορίδαο
ἀνδρὶ φίλῳ ἐλθόντι γανύσσεται, ὁππότε κεν δὴ
ἐκ Τροίης σὺν νηυσὶ νεώμεθα κοῦροι Ἀχαιῶν. }[7]

Sex need not be associated with violence. Hera’s sexual deception of Zeus, however, is deeply enmeshed in horrific violence against men. Mothers and fathers, wives and sisters and brothers, all should notice and care about violence against men.[8]

War has long been gender-instituted as violence against men. In the ancient Greek Iliad, both female and male gods show little concern for men’s lives as they push forward horrific violence against men. Even in our time of intense concern about gender equality, men’s deaths in war typically generate no thought about gender injustice. That terrible failure of reason indicates fertile soil for war.

Achilles in battle at Troy tramples Hector's dead body

* * * * *

Read more:


[1] Homer, Iliad 14.147-52, ancient Greek text and English translation (modified) from Murray (1924). The Chicago Homer provides a useful resource for studying the ancient Greek text of the Iliad.

Subsequent quotes above are similarly sourced. They are Iliad 14.157-8 (Zeus was then seated at the topmost peak of Ida…), 14.175-86 (When she had thus anointed her beautiful body…), 14.296 (without their parents knowing), 14.198-9 (Give now to me love and yearning…), 14.213 (for you sleep in the arms of Zeus, the mightiest), 14.214-7 (So Aphrodite spoke and unbound from her breasts…), 14.236-41 (Lull to sleep for me Zeus’s gleaming eyes…), 14.267-9 (Come now, do it, and I’ll give you one of the youthful Graces…), 14.315-28 (Never before has such desire for a goddess or mortal woman…), 14.346-51 (With those words Cronos’s son Zeus clasped his wife in his arms…), 14.357-60 (Now, Poseidon, earnestly help Greek men…), 14.357-60 (Not so loudly roars the sea’s surf…), 14.493-505 (He struck this man beneath the brow…).

[2] Hera is highly significant in the Iliad:

her unremitting lust for vengeance provides the divine model for the inhuman excesses of the final battle books {of the Iliad}. … Hera is prominent as a savage goddess who, in Zeus’ words ({Iliad} 4.34ff), lusts to “raw-eat” the flesh of Priam and of all Troy. This Hera is, finally, to triumph over the divine pity which Zeus comes to represent. The lust for raw-eating or omophagia, applied to her in Book 4, is the epic’s primary image of moral degeneration, just as a meal roasted and shared with others is the primary metaphor for the best of human behavior.

O’Brien (1990) p. 106. Zeus berated the war-god Ares as being like his mother Hera:

You have the unbearable, overpowering rage of your mother,
Hera. With my words I can scarcely control her.

{ μητρός τοι μένος ἐστὶν ἀάσχετον οὐκ ἐπιεικτὸν
Ἥρης: τὴν μὲν ἐγὼ σπουδῇ δάμνημ᾽ ἐπέεσσι }

Iliad 5.892-3. Zeus calls Hera “incorrigible {ἀμήχανε}.” Iliad 15.14. Exasperated with her manipulation and abuse of him, Zeus tells her, “surely there’s no more bitch-like one than you {οὐ σέο κύντερον ἄλλο}.” Iliad 8.483.

Hera isn’t subordinate to Zeus. Although they have different personalities, Hera and Zeus are equal partners and equal in honor. Pirenne-Delforge, Pironti & Guess (2022) pp. 1-4, 21-2. Hera and Zeus have a “productive antagonism {antagonisme productif}.” Pironti (2017) p. 83. Hera is “Zeus’ staunch competitor for influence and power.” McCall (2013) p. 35. The modern myth of ancient Greek patriarchy has grossly distorted understanding of Hera:

Hera is the most under-appreciated deity in the pantheon of Homer’s Iliad. Inseminating mortals with thoughts and understanding the secret plans of Zeus, Hera proves to be a goddess of the mind. Hera’s characteristic sphere of action is the phrénes, the realm of physiological, emotional, and intellectual activity. Hera’s own creative vision enlarges the imaginative scope of the epic – for her noetic mode of seeing brings unity to what is otherwise disparate and heterogeneous, including the community of gods themselves. In effect, Homer’s Hera solves the political riddle of Hesiod’s Theogony and thus stabilizes the Olympian regime.

Ali (2015), Abstract.

[3] The god Sleep (Hypnos / Ὕπνος) was then on the island of Lemnos under the rule of King Thoas. Scholars have questioned why Sleep was on Lemnos. Hunter (2021) pp. 66-72. Bringing Hera to Lemnos in her conspiracy against her husband associates her with the husband-killing Lemnian women. Virgil, a perceptive reader of the Iliad, similarly included the husband-killing Danaids on Pallas’s sword-belt.

[4] Hera and Zeus embraced on a meadow filled with flowers: “this is a youthful, secret, and extremely eroticised union.” Pirenne-Delforge, Pironti & Guess (2022) p. 34. The imagery evokes the life-giving potential of men’s sexuality:

With the cloud to cover them, the earth, unasked, throws up a carpet of spring flowers beneath the lovers, as if inspired by their divine potency and fecundated by the gleaming dew that drips down; this is a bold phrase, since we are not told outright that the dew comes from the cloud!

Janko (1994) p. 206. Scholars have seen in the story of Hera’s deception of Zeus influence of ancient eastern literature, including literature of ancient Mesopotamia, including Gilgamesh’s catalog of Ishtar’s lovers. No such influence is necessary to account for any aspect of the story. Kelly (2008).

Ancient adherents of traditional Greco-Roman religion disparaged Hera’s deception of Zeus in the Iliad. Arguing that the Iliad and the Odyssey should be banned from the ideal city, Plato regarded the story of Hera’s deception of Zeus as not “conducive to being under self-control {ἐπιτήδειον εἶναι πρὸς ἐγκράτειαν ἑαυτοῦ}.” Plato, Republic 3.390b. Plato’s teacher Socrates similarly sought to suppress discussion of castration culture.

Underscoring men’s vulnerable position in relation to women, Plutarch objected to Hera overly beautifying herself:

when she picks up those gold brooches and finely wrought earrings, and, lastly, turns to the witchery of Aphroditê’s magic band, it is plainly a case of overdoing things and of wanton conduct unbecoming to a wife.

{ ὅταν δὲ τὰς χρυσᾶς περόνας ἀναλαμβάνῃ καὶ τὰ διηκριβωμένα τέχνῃ ἐλλόβια καὶ τελευτῶσα τῆς περὶ τὸν κεστὸν ἅπτηται γοητείας, περιεργία τὸ χρῆμα καὶ λαμυρία μὴ πρέπουσα γαμετῇ γέγονεν. }

Plutarch, Moralia, Book 8, Table Talk {Quaestiones convivales / Συμποσιακά} 6.693c, ancient Greek text and English translation from Clement & Hoffleit (1969). Men typically don’t object to women beautifying themselves as long as women do so not at men’s expense and beautify themselves solely and sincerely to motivate men’s sexual labor on behalf of women.

[5] Zeus himself complained bitterly of Hera’s deceptions. After recounting his fury at her guileful persecution of his extra-marital son Heracles, Zeus told Hera:

I remind you again of these matters, so that you will cease your deceptions.
Don’t think that you will be protected by love-making in bed with me,
as when you came from among the gods and deceived me.

{ τῶν σ᾽ αὖτις μνήσω ἵν᾽ ἀπολλήξῃς ἀπατάων,
ὄφρα ἴδῃ ἤν τοι χραίσμῃ φιλότης τε καὶ εὐνή,
ἣν ἐμίγης ἐλθοῦσα θεῶν ἄπο καί μ᾽ ἀπάτησας. }

Iliad 15.31-3.

[6] This accumulating simile formally parallels Zeus’s expressed desire to have sex with Hera. It underscores the connection that the Iliad makes between women’s sexual manipulation of men and epic violence against men. On the men-obscuring translation of these verses in Wilson (2023), see note [9] in my post of Thetis’s plea to Zeus for Achilles.

[7] While showing no gendered concern for horrific violence against men, modern scholars have interpreted the Iliad with anachronistic, tendentious language of extreme violence. A peer-reviewed, scholarly article tendentiously and absurdly depicted Hera as a wife abused into compliance to her husband. This article claimed that “a paramount aspect of the relationship between Zeus and Hera” is “terrorism by physical abuse on the part of the husband and the compliant surrender of the wife.” Synodinou (1987) p. 22. Cf. e.g. O’Brien (1990), Pirenne-Delforge, Pironti & Guess (2022) pp. 1-4, 21-2, and Ali (2015).

Hera participated in a conspiracy to overthrow Zeus, the nominal head god in charge of the cosmos. Iliad 1.396-412. Hera’s deception of Zeus sexually is plausibly interpreted as another instance of treason:

Hera poses a challenge to Zeus and his ‘plan’, one that has undertones of the succession motif with all its entailed violence and destruction.

Garcia (2013) p. 205. Treason throughout history has typically entailed harsh punishment. Zeus scarcely punishes Hera for her attempted treason. Zeus’s physical threats against Hera have much less effect than the horrific violence against men in the Iliad.

In her introductory essay to her translation of the Iliad, Wilson describes women captured in war as enslaved and raped. Both Achilles and Agamemnon are thus an “enslaving rapist” in relation to Briseis. Wilson (2023) p. xlviii. The Iliad text itself provides no evidence that Achilles and Agamemnon treated Briseis worse than they did men who were subordinate to them. Achilles in his emotional simplicity seems to have been affectionately attached to Briseis. Moreover, being enslaved and raped is a grotesquely misleading characterization of Helen’s status in relation to Paris. More generally, captive women such as Ausonius’s Bissula had extensive freedom, high status, and high welfare, especially relative to men brutally killed in war. The relation of classical Arabic caliphs to their slave-girls provides more insight into captured women in the Iliad than does modern ideas of women enslaved and raped. Such violent language invokes oppressive, sexist stereotypes of rape, and supports vastly gender-disproportionate incarceration of men.

[8] Scholars haven’t adequately appreciated the significance of Hera’s deception of Zeus in the context of epic violence against men in Iliad 14. Ancient scholars labeled this story “the deception of Zeus {Dios apate / Διὸς ἀπάτη}.” Janko (1994) p. 149. They thus elided Hera, the vitally significant actor who deserves blame for her deception of Zeus. A leading modern scholarly commentary on the Iliad states:

The Deception of Zeus is a bold, brilliant, graceful, sensuous and above all amusing virtuoso performance, wherein Homer parades his mastery of the other types of epic composition in his repertoire. Its merits have made this episode all the more offensive to those, from Xenophanes and Plato (Rep. 3.390c) onward, who do not expect gods to take part in a bedroom farce. Many of the ancients tried to explain it as an allegory… .

Janko (1994) p. 168. In its context of epic violence against men, Hera’s deception of Zeus is much more significant than merely “bedroom farce.” A scholar without any apparent concern for gender observed:

Thus the despair of the heroic generals in the first scene of book 14 and the cruel deaths in battle of brave warriors in the third episode of that book are powerful indications of the pathos of the human condition; and what makes that pathos especially poignant and unbearable is the fact that while men are dying so pitifully, Hera and Zeus, without a thought or care for the deep distress of humanity, enjoy a romantic mountain top tryst amid all the pleasurable trappings of lust and seduction.

Golden (1989) p. 8. The pathos and distress that provides the context for Hera’s deception of Zeus particularly affects men. That pathos and distress poignantly indicates gender injustice that men endure with little social concern.

[images] (1) Zeus and Hera (Jupiter and Juno) seated as co-rulers of the cosmos. Painted by Cornelis de Vos in 1635. Preserved as accession # 5122 in Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten Antwerpen (KMSKA) {Royal Museum of Fine Arts, Antwerp}. Via Wikimedia Commons. A painting by Frans Wouters in 1635 is similar. (2) Hera and Zeus embracing. Painted by Frans Christoph Janneck in the eighteenth century. Via Wikimedia Commons. (3) Zeus and Hera having sex on Mount Ida. Painted by James Barry in the 1790s. Preserved as accession # VIS.2742 in the Graves Art Gallery (Sheffield, England). Via Wikimedia Commons. (4) Greek and Trojan men at Troy fight over dead body of Patroclus. Painted by Antoine Wiertz in the nineteenth century. Via Wikimedia Commons. (5) In battle at Troy, Achilles tramples Hector’s dead body. Painted by Antonio Raffaele Calliano in 1815 for the throne room of the Royal Palace of Caserta {Reggia di Caserta} in Southern Italy. Via Wikimedia Commons.


Ali, Seemee. 2015. “Seeing Hera in the Iliad.” CHS Research Bulletin. 3(2).

Clement, P. A. and H. B. Hoffleit, ed. and trans. 1969. Plutarch. Moralia, Volume VIII: Table-Talk, Books 1-6. Loeb Classical Library 424. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1969.

Garcia, Lorenzo F., Jr. 2013. Homeric Durability: Telling Time in the Iliad. Hellenic Studies Series 58. Washington, DC: Center for Hellenic Studies.

Golden, Leon. 1989. “Διἐς Ἀπάτη and the Unity of Iliad 14.” Mnemosyne. 42(1-2): 1–11.

Hunter, Richard. 2021. “Some Problems in the ‘Deception of Zeus.’Bulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies. 64(1): 59–72.

Janko, Richard. 1994. The Iliad: A Commentary. Vol. 4: Books 13-16. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Kelly, Adrian. 2008. “The Babylonian Captivity of Homer: The Case of the Διοσ Απατη.” Rheinisches Museum für Philologie, Neue Folge. 151(3/4): 259-304. Alternate online source.

McCall, Joshua B. 2013. Plot and Power in the Iliad. Master of Arts Thesis, University of Georgia.

Murray, A. T., trans. Revised by William F. Wyatt. 1924. Homer. Iliad. Loeb Classical Library 170 and 171. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Alternate source for Murray’s translation.

O’Brien, Joan. 1990. “Homer’s Savage Hera.” The Classical Journal. 86(2): 105–25.

Pirenne-Delforge, Vinciane, Gabriella Pironti, Raymond Geuss. 2022. The Hera of Zeus: Intimate Enemy, Ultimate Spouse. Classical Scholarship in Translation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Originally published in 2016 as Héra de Zeus (Paris: Les Belles Lettres). Review by Patricia Johnston.

Pironti, Gabriella. 2017. “De l’éros au récit: Zeus et son épouse.” Chapter 3 (pp. 63-83) in Gabriella Pironti & Corinne Bonnet, eds. Les dieux d’Homère. Polythéisme et poésie en Grèce ancienne. Presses universitaires de Liège. Alternate online source.

Synodinou, Katerina. 1987. “The Threats of Physical Abuse of Hera by Zeus in the Iliad.” Wiener Studien. 100: 13–22.

Wilson, Emily R., trans. 2023. Homer. The Iliad. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company.

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