Myths of the Greek and Roman Gods

L2-The Hieros Gamos of Zeus and Hera

Homer, Iliad, book 14, lines 185-419, translated by Ian Johnston, 2019.

Prof. Johnston’s complete translation of the Iliad can be found at:

Homer’s Iliad, trans. Ian Johnston 

In this section of the Iliad, Zeus has forbidden the pro-Greek gods (among them Hera, Athena,  and Poseidon) to intervene by helping the Greeks in the battle against the Trojans. Zeus is now  watching the battle from the top of Mount Ida, just outside Troy. The gods are furious, and  Poseidon, in disguise, is already helping the Greek, ignoring Zeus’s order. Hera now decides to  seduce Zeus and then have Hypnos (Sleep) make Zeus fall asleep so that Poseidon can continue  help the Greeks for as long as possible.

 

As this was happening, on a peak of Mount Olympus
Hera of the golden throne was standing watching.
She recognized her brother-in-law at once,
as he kept busy in the war where men win glory,
for he was her brother and her husband’s, too.190
Hera’s heart was pleased. She looked across at Zeus,
sitting on the highest peak on top of Ida,
with its many fountains. Hatred filled her heart.
So ox-eyed queen Hera then began considering
how she might deceive the mind of aegis-bearing Zeus.
In her heart the best course of action seemed to be
to make herself look most attractive, go to Ida,
then see if Zeus would want to lie down with her,
embrace her, and make love. Then she could pour out
on his eyelids and his crafty mind a deep warm sleep.200
She went off to her bedroom, which Hephaestus,
her dear son, had made for her, with close-fitting doors
set against their posts, secured with a secret lock,
which no other god could open. She went in there,
then closed the shining doors. First, with ambrosia
she washed from her lovely body all the stains,
then rubbed her skin with fragrant oil, divinely sweet,
made specially for her. If this perfume were merely stirred
inside Zeus’s bronze-floored house, its scent would then diffuse
throughout heaven and earth. She used this perfume210
all over her fair body, then arranged her hair.
With her own hands she combed her shining locks in braids,
a stunning style for an immortal goddess.
Then she wrapped around herself a heavenly robe,
which Athena made for her from silky fabric,
adorning it with gorgeous embroidery.
She pinned the robe around her breast with golden brooches.
On her waist she put a belt with a hundred tassels.
Hera then fixed earrings in her pierced ear lobes,
each with three gemstones, an enchanting glitter.220
Next the queen of goddesses placed on her head
a fine new dazzling shawl, white as the sun.
She then slipped lovely sandals over her sleek feet.

Hera Vists Aphrodite

Once Hera had dressed her body in this finery,
she left the room and summoned Aphrodite.
Some distance from the other gods, she said to her:

“My dear child, will you agree to do
what I ask of you, or will you refuse,
because you’re angry with me in your heart,
since I help the Greeks and you aid the Trojans?”230

Zeus’s daughter Aphrodite answered her:

“Hera,
honoured goddess, daughter of great Cronos,
say what’s on your mind. My heart tells me
I should do what you ask, if I can,
if it’s something that can be carried out.”

Then queen Hera, with her devious mind, replied:

“Then give me Love and Sexual Desire,
which you use to master all immortals,
and mortal men as well. I’m going to visit
the limits of this all-nourishing earth,240
to see Oceanus, from whom the gods arose,
and mother Tethys, the two who reared me,
taking good care of me inside their home,
once they got me from Rhea, that time Zeus,
who sees far and wide, forced Kronos
underground, under the restless seas.
I’m going to visit them. And I’ll resolve
their endless quarrel. For a long time now,
they’ve stayed apart from one another,
not sharing love there in the marriage bed,250
since anger fills their hearts. If my words
could reconcile the hearts in these two gods,
bring them to bed again, once more in love,
they’d think of me with loving reverence.”

Laughter-loving Aphrodite answered Hera:

“It would not be appropriate for me
to say no to your demand, since you sleep
in the arms of Zeus, the greatest of the gods.”

Aphrodite spoke, then loosened from her breasts
the finely decorated, embroidered garment260
in which all her magic charms were fixed—for love,
erotic lust, flirtation, and seduction,
which steals the wits even of clear-thinking men.
Aphrodite put this in Hera’s hands, then said:

“Take this garment. Tie it round your breasts.
Everything is interwoven in the cloth.
I don’t think you’ll come back unsuccessful
in getting what it is your heart desires.”

Aphrodite finished. Ox-eyed queen Hera smiled,
and, as she did so, put the garment round her breasts.270
Then Aphrodite, Zeus’s daughter, went back home.

Hera Visits Hypnos (Sleep)

Hera sped off, leaving the crest of Mount Olympus.
She touched down on Pieria, lovely Emathia,
rushed by the highest mountains of Thracian horsemen—
her feet did not touch ground on those snow-covered peaks.
From Athos she went across the heaving sea,
coming to Lemnos, city of godlike Thoas.
There she met Sleep, Death’s brother. Clasping his hand,
she spoke to him:

“Sleep, king of all men and gods,
if you’ve ever listened to what I say,280
obey me now. I’ll be grateful always.
Lull Zeus’s radiant eyes to sleep for me,
when I’m stretched out for sex beside him.
I’ll give you as a gift a lovely throne,
indestructible gold which my own son
Hephaestus with his ambidextrous skills
will make for you. Under it he’ll set a stool,
so you can rest your feet when drinking wine.”

Sweet Sleep then said in reply:

“Honoured goddess Hera,
daughter of mighty Kronos, I could with ease290
bring some other immortal one to sleep,
even the streams of river Oceanus,
the source of all of them. But I won’t come
near Zeus, lull him to sleep, unless he bids me,
asks in person. Your request some time ago
taught me my lesson, on that very day
when Hercules, son of almighty Zeus,
set sail from Troy, after he’d sacked
the Trojans’ city. That’s when I seduced
the mind of aegis-bearing Zeus, pouring300
my sweetness over him. You then carried
evil in your heart for Hercules, driving
blasts of hostile winds across the sea,
taking him at last to well-settled Cos,
far from all his friends. When Zeus woke up,
he was incensed, throwing gods around his house,
looking, above all, for me. He’d have tossed me
from heaven into the sea, if Night,
who subdues gods and men, had not saved me.
I ran away to her, and Zeus held back,310
though still enraged, not wishing to offend
swift Night. Now here you are again, asking me
to do something I simply must not do.”

Ox-eyed queen Hera then answered him:

“Sleep,
why concern your heart about these matters?
Do you think all-seeing Zeus feels for Trojans
the same rage he felt then for Hercules,
his own son? But come, I’ll give you as your wife
one of the younger Graces. You can marry
Pasithea, whom you long for every day.”320

Hera finished. Sleep was overjoyed and said:

“All right, then. Swear to me by waters
of the inviolable river Styx, setting
one hand on the all-nourishing earth,
the other on the shimmering sea,
so all may witness our agreement,
even those gods underground with Kronos,
that you will give me one of the Graces,
Pasithea, whom I long for every day.”

Hera goes to Zeus on Mount Ida
White-armed goddess Hera agreed to Sleep’s request.330
She made the oath, as he had asked, invoking
all the gods under Tartarus, those called the Titans.
Once she finished saying the oath, they both set off,
wrapping themselves in mist. They left behind them
the cities of Lemnos and Imbros, moving quickly,
then came to Mount Ida with its many springs,
mother of wild creatures, and arrived at Lectum,
where for the first time they left the sea. They walked
on dry land, shaking treetops underneath their feet.
Sleep then stopped, before Zeus’s eyes could see him,340
climbed a high pine tree, at that time the tallest one
growing on Ida. It stretched up through the lower air
right into the sky. Concealed in that tree’s branches,
Sleep perched there, shaped like the clear-voiced mountain bird
which gods call Chalcis, but people name Cymindis.

Hera moved quickly on to Ida’s peak, high Gargarus.
Cloud-gatherer Zeus caught sight of her. As he looked,
his wise heart became suffused with sexual desire,
as strong as when they’d first made love together,
lying on a couch without their parents’ knowledge.350
Zeus stood up in front of her, called her, and said:

“Hera, what are you looking for, coming
down here from Olympus? Your chariot,
your horses are not here. You should use them.”

Queen Hera with her crafty mind then answered Zeus:

“I’m going to visit the outer limits
of this all-nourishing earth, to Oceanus,
from whom gods came, and mother Tethys,
who looked after me in their own home.
They raised me well. I’ll try to mediate360
their endless quarrel. For a long time now,
they’ve stayed apart from one another,
not sharing love there in the marriage bed,
since anger fills their hearts. As for my horses,
they’re standing at the foot of Ida,
with its many springs, to carry me
across dry land and sea. I’ve come here now,
down from Mount Olympus, to stop you
from being angry with me afterwards,
if I say nothing about going to visit370
deep-flowing Oceanus in his home.”

Cloud-gatherer Zeus then answered:

“Hera,
you can go there later. But why don’t we
lie down and make joyful love together?
I’ve never felt such sexual desire before
for any goddess, for any mortal woman.
It’s flooding through me, overpowering the heart
here in my chest—not even when I lusted for
Ixion’s wife, who bore me Peirithous,
a man as wise as gods, or Danaë,380
with her enchanting ankles, daughter
of Acrisius, who gave birth to Perseus,
most illustrious of men, nor the daughter
of famous Phoenix, who bore me Minos
and godlike Rhadamanthus, nor Alcmene,
who gave birth to Hercules in Thebes,
a mighty hearted son, nor Semele,
who bore that joy to mortals Dionysus,
nor fair-haired lady Demeter, nor Leto,
that glorious girl, not even for yourself—390
I felt for none of these the love I feel
for you right now—such sweet desire grips me.”

Queen Hera with her cunning mind then said in reply:

“Most fearsome son of Cronos, what are you saying?
If you now want us to make love lying here,
on Ida’s peaks, where anyone can see,
what if one of the immortal gods observes us,
as we sleep, then goes and tells the other gods?
I could not get up from this bed and go
into your home. That would be scandalous.400
But if that’s your wish, if your heart’s set on it,
you have that bedroom your own son Hephaestus
had built for you. It has close-fitting doors
fixed into posts. Let’s go and lie down there,
since you’re so keen for us to go to bed.”

Cloud-gatherer Zeus then answered her:

“Hera,
don’t be afraid that any god or man
will glimpse a thing. I’ll cover you up
in a golden cloud. Even sun god Helios
will not see the two of us, and his rays410
are the most perceptive spies of all.”

 

Zeus finished. Then Kronos’ son took his wife in his arms.
Underneath them divine Earth made fresh flowers grow—
dew-covered clover, crocuses, and hyacinths,
lush and soft, to hold the lovers off the ground.
They lay together there covered with a cloud,
a lovely golden mist, from which fell glistening dew.
Then Zeus slumbered peacefully on Mount Gargarus,
overcome with love and sleep, his wife in his embrace.

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Myths of the Greek and Roman Gods by Edited by Roberto Nickel is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.