Hera is the wife (and sister) of Zeus, which makes her the queen of the gods. Unlike her husband, who works to ensure a Trojan victory, Hera supports the Achaean war effort. Hera’s desire for the Achaeans to prevail stems from an event known as the Judgment of Paris, the consequences of which helped launch the Trojan War. Homer provides only one direct reference to the Judgment of Paris, at the beginning of Book 24. The poet explains that Paris had once “offended Athena and Hera” in a way that produced in them a “deathless hate of sacred Troy.” The poet goes on to reference the event when the goddesses “came to his shepherd’s fold” and Paris “favored Love / who dangled before his eyes the lust that loosed disaster.” Although Homer’s reference remains oblique, his original audience would have understood the allusion to the event when Paris had to choose the most beautiful of three goddesses, and he selected Aphrodite (i.e., “Love”) because she offered him the hand of Helen, thus sparking “the lust that loosed disaster.” Motivated by the sting of this rejection, Hera turns against Paris and, by extension, against all Trojans.
The Hera that Homer presents in The Iliad is headstrong and conniving, and her main role in the poem involves antagonizing Zeus and undermining his attempts to favor the Trojan army. Her passionate hatred of the Trojans leads her to disobey Zeus’s commands and work with Athena to give the Achaeans every advantage possible. At times, her disobedience draws the wrath of her husband, who is quick to threaten her with violence. In Book 1, for instance, he warns that the gods will be “powerless to protect you when I come / to throttle you with my irresistible hands.” Nevertheless, Hera persists. Her disobedience of Zeus takes both direct and indirect forms. She frequently calls Zeus out directly when he makes unfair judgments. At other times, she goes behind Zeus’s back and issues her own commands. Her most conniving act in the entire poem occurs in Book 14 when she conspires to waylay her husband by seducing him and then, with the help of the goddess Sleep, lull him into a deep slumber. Her plan works, allowing her to briefly gain the upper hand.
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