Hera in The Iliad

Instructor: Lauren Boivin

Lauren has taught English at the university level and has a master's degree in literature.

This lesson takes a look at the Greek goddess Hera and the role she plays in Homer's epic poem 'The Iliad.' We learn about Hera's past, the part she plays in the Trojan War, and her motivations for doing so.

A Little Bit About Hera

Homer's The Iliad doesn't tell us everything about Hera, so it might be useful to have some background information on her so we can better understand why she does the things she does in the epic poem. Hera is the queen of the gods. She is Zeus's wife and also his sister (if one wants examples of healthy, functional relationships, one should not look to the Greek gods.) She has a habit of violent anger and jealousy. Her husband, Zeus, has a habit of cheating on her, so this anger and jealousy get a lot of exercise! We see some of it at play in the story of The Iliad.

Hera Takes Sides

In The Iliad, we see Hera always taking the side of the Greeks against the Trojans. She intervenes many times to help the Greeks in battle. One might suspect that she does this because she is fond of the Greeks and wants to help them. Not so. Hera helps the Greeks because she is mad at Paris, the Prince of Troy, because he once said the goddess Aphrodite was prettier than her. Seriously. That is the whole reason Hera supports Greece in their battle against the Trojans--because she's mad at Paris for not saying she is the prettiest goddess.

Hera's Interventions

Many times throughout The Iliad, Hera intervenes in the Trojan War on behalf of the Greeks. Not all of her interventions are successful, but in the end Hera's role is essential in determining the outcome of the war. She spends a lot of time arguing with Zeus over it. Hera convinces Zeus to let her break the truce between the Trojans and the Greeks in order to get the fighting started again so that more Trojans will die.

Later, when Zeus forbids the gods from interfering further with the war, Hera seduces him and drugs him into a deep sleep so that she can go and meddle anyway. Hera fights for the Greeks (or at least against the Trojans) through her dealings with Zeus and also more directly on the battlefield. Without Hera, the Trojan War could very well have had a different ending!

Hera's Power

Hera should be powerful and respected in her own right, but she gets more prestige from being Zeus's wife than from her own merits, and she must continually submit to his will, thus highlighting the many gender inequalities in The Iliad. Hera tries to assert her equality with Zeus by saying, ''I am a god too--of the same birth as yourself, eldest daughter of Crookmind Cronos, eldest and most honorable.''

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