Once established as the king of the newly victorious Olympians, Zeus (following Cronus’ example) pursued his own sister Hera and, after seducing her near Argos, made her his wife. But although celebrated on Olympus, theirs was not a marriage made in heaven. Zeus’ serial philandering wounded Hera deeply. Indeed, she was not the only god to find his rule at times intolerable. Homer tells how Hera and the other gods once tied Zeus up, and it was only when the sea-nymph Thetis summoned Briareus, whose hundred hands made light work of even complicated knots, that he was freed. Zeus’ wrath was terrible. He enslaved Poseidon and Apollo for their part in the conspiracy, forcing them to build the walls of Troy, and took his revenge on Hera. In the Iliad Zeus reminds her.
Do you not recall how you were hung from a great height, with an anvil suspended from each ankle, and I fastened golden handcuffs to your wrists, unbreakable. And you hung there in the misty air, and far and wide across Olympus the gods were angered. But they could not free you.
Only when the gods swore a great oath never again to rebel against him did Zeus set Hera free.
Of their three children, only their daughter, Hebe (‘Youth’), was entirely undemanding. One son, Ares, was the god of war, of whom (in the Iliad) Zeus declares: ‘I hate you more than any of the gods on Mount Olympus. Conflict is your chief delight – and war and violence. You have the harsh inflexibility of your mother Hera, which I cannot bear. Indeed, I can only just control her by my words.’
Their other son, Hephaestus, was (to his parents at least) even more troublesome. When he was born lame, Hera considered him so unattractive that she flung him from the peaks of Mount Olympus far out to sea. Two sea-nymphs, Thetis and Eurynome, rescued him and brought him up, in return for which Hephaestus made them ‘beautiful bronze goods, brooches, spiral arm-bands, cups and chains, there in their hollow cave, while the roaring stream of Ocean gushed, foaming, by’. In time, Hera discovered her lost son and, appreciating his potential, reinstated him on Mount Olympus, put him to work on enhancing her jewelry collection and gave him Aphrodite as his wife. In another version of the myth Hephaestus took revenge by constructing a throne, which clamped Hera tight and held her captive. Only thanks to Dionysus’ persuasive words and wine did Hephaestus set his mother free.
Zeus, Hera & Their Children Photo Gallery
Zeus was even less enamoured of his son. Once, when Hephaestus took Hera’s side, Zeus seized him by the foot and again threw him off the mountain. The Iliad describes Hephaestus falling for a whole day before crashing to earth on Lemnos. But he was reprieved. Homer imagined him working in his smithy on Olympus, assisted by golden automata formed like beautiful young women, with ‘sense, mind, voice and strength’, creating wheeled tripods, which could move of their own volition. (Later authors placed Hephaestus’ forge in Sicily, beneath Mount Etna.) Despite his skill, Hephaestus was a figure of fun. The gods laughed ‘merrily’ not only as they watched him hobbling around their banqueting hall, but when they discovered that his brother Ares had cuckolded him.
Despite their feisty relationship, Zeus was susceptible to Hera’s blandishments. Indeed, he magically extended their wedding night on Samos to last three hundred years, and Homer describes how Hera, having dressed alluringly in her bedchamber on Mount Olympus, later seduced Zeus on a mountaintop near Troy:
He took Hera in his arms, and beneath them from the earth rose fresh young grasses and clover, jewelled with dew, and crocuses and hyacinths so plentiful and soft that they cushioned them from the hard earth. And they lay down together, and a golden cloud – it was sublime – rolled over them and drops of dew dripped down.