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40. Marital Discord, Second Essay, I. 521-567
"Dread son of Cronos," the ox-eyed queen replied,
"what is this?
I have never questioned you, nor asked:
you have ever peace to think on what you wish.
But now my heart fears silver-footed Thetis,
daughter of the Old Man of the Sea, has swayed you;
for she knelt by you at dawn and clasped your knees.
Dare I imagine that you bowed to her, gave her a firm pledge
of support for Achilles, and promised slaughter by the Greek ships?"
Then cloud-gathering Zeus replied:
"You’re obsessed, forever brooding. I can hide nothing from you,
yet you’ll achieve nothing too, only estrange us,
and so much the worse for you.
If things are as you think, then is it not because I wish them so?
Now sit there, quiet, and obey me;
lest I set my all-powerful hands on you,
and all the gods of Olympus lack the strength save you."
More Words from Hera (551-559)
Ironies continue. Hera is called “honored” or “revered” Hera (potnia--551), but she quickly addresses Zeus with a most scurrilous word: “most terrifying. . .” (ainotate--552). The adjective ainos means “horrible” or “dreadful” or “terrible,” and it frequently appears in Homer with words such as “pain”
or “anger” or “trembling” or “wretch.” Hera now calls him “Most terrible son of Kronos.” Our translations “prettify” the word; Lattimore has “Majesty, son of Kronos;” other translations have “Most dread son of Cronus.” These translations can easily be interpreted as indications of the majesty or fear-inducing character of Zeus. Just as he is a god whom all other gods rise to meet, so Hera recognizes this honorable and high location of Zeus. But I don’t think so. She is continuing in the vein of her earlier words. When she says ainotate, she truly is saying “you most dreadful and terrible” Zeus. She isn’t hymning a trait; she is livid at the way he seemingly can get away with things, without
That she is almost spitting out her indignation follows quickly from the next words (552):
“What sort of words you speak!”
Now her complaint both repeats the words Zeus just used but then bores in on him like a laser beam. She sounds like a 2020-betrayed woman. The gist of what she says is (553-555):
"formerly I didn’t especially inquire or ask about (Hera uses the same verbs Zeus just used in 550) you, but you advised, without care, and did whatever fit your pleasure. But now (emphatic) I have a dreadful fear in my mind"
Enough is enough! For years she had given him a “free pass,” perhaps explaining his rough or unpredictable or straying behavior in ways that maintained her dignity and his freedom. But now she will do so no longer. Then, in words taken right from Homer’s earlier description of the meeting of Thetis and Zeus, Hera describes precisely not only the fact of the meeting between Thetis and Zeus but also the content of that meeting. Using a verb we have come to know and love (oio), she states her suspicions quite clearly (558-559):
“I think (suppose--oio) that you nodded to her unerringly, to the effect that you would honor Achilles, and you would destroy many Achaians against the ships"
She doesn’t just “think” it. In fact, she knows it. That is why Zeus will be so apoplectic in lines 560-567. She has figured out his secret plan, and she speaks it right back to him. He has been discovered, found out, exposed, “outted.” When that is the case you can either admit what you are up to and try to repair a relationship. . .or you can take the track that Zeus pursues here--to
Zeus the Terrible Responds (561-67)
I love the understated Britishism of Professor Kirk in his massive commentary on the Iliad. He interprets Zeus’ words here as an expression of “passionate firmness,” Op. cit., p. 111. Kirk
believes that Zeus uses an “affectionate remonstrance” with Hera (561) before saying his piece. I read it differently. I see Zeus uttering a violent threat in these lines. The address to Hera
is best translated, “You crazy bitch” The word daimonie means “to be influenced by a daimon” or an (untoward) divinity. It is more properly rendered “You wretched bitch.” Thus, I don’t see a “firmness” here like that of George Banks in Mary Poppins, where he sings about being the “lord of his castle” and treating his subjects “with firm but gentle hand, noblesse oblige. . .” Yet that is how I see many of the commentators or translators rendering the passage. Lattimore has it “Dear lady.” No way. We are in the realm here of domestic violence, which is/was probably somewhat far from the world of great classicists or, if it was part of their world, they would have been ashamed to bring this experience to bear in their interpretation of Homer, and so they can’t render the language with the violent threats that really are present. So, we read Zeus’ speech rightly if we see him attacking
her in kind (562-563):
“You bitch! You are always ‘supposing’ (oio again), you never miss a beat, do you?”
But then his verbal abuse turns into a combination of ridicule and threat (562-563):
“For all that, you really can’t accomplish anything, but rather you will be farther from my heart"
In other words, he doesn’t answer her at all, even though she is dead-on right in her words. He simply ridicules her for not being able to do anything about her knowledge, and if she even so much as tries to do anything, she will lose his affection. Then follows a solemn threat, which we have seen only one place earlier in the Iliad, when Agamemnon was threatening to take away Achilles’ prize. In that earlier location (line 325), Agamemnon said he was going to send heralds to do it but if
Achilles was uncooperative, he would come and seize her himself. And, “This will be the worse for him.” It is a most aggrandizing, overreaching statement of royal chutzpah to grind one’s subject
into the ground, especially when that subject is far superior to you in valor.
These words of Agamemnon to Achilles set the stage for interpreting a like threat of Zeus to Hera. If she loses his affection, “This will be the worse for you.” What kind of relational power play is here?
Is this just “passionate firmness” as Kirk and the bevy of his stained-glass translators render it? I don’t think so. This is a calculated attempt, backed up by threats of violence, to keep one’s spouse away from the truth.
And then Zeus closes his lines with the most pompous and unctuous unconcern (564):
“Even if things are as you say, that would be the way I want it"
Don’t give an inch. Lest we think that Zeus is all “threatened out,” he still has time for one more (565-567):
“But shut up and sit down [Lattimore’s translation is much more ‘dignified’--’sit down in silence’--right!], obey my word, lest it avail you not at all, however many gods there are in Olympus, when I come near, when I place my untouchable hands on you"
Now there’s a real man, don’t you think? He can either whip his women folk into subjection or cow them to silence. He will do what he wants to do principally because he wants to do it. Yet, he will also characterize what he does as something “fitting”--as if it arose out of something more than his own whim. The last words of the passage are particularly telling. The whole tenor of the passage rises to the moment of threatened violence—with Zeus’ own hands. But the way that Zeus describes his hands is arresting. They are, literally, “untouchable” hands (aaptous). No one, divine or human, can really “touch” them, but they will, you can be sure of it, “touch” you! What do you think of that?
I think this patient exposition of Book I and especially of a passage like this makes us more sympathetic to Plato’s complaints in the Republic about the Homeric deities. He doesn’t want the
children in the kallipolis to be exposed to the stories of Olympian quarrels, violence, sexual promiscuity, or excessive emotion. The popular reaction to Plato’s strictures against Homer today is for us to say to the great philosopher, “Lighten up!” But now that we have looked closely at this passage in Homer, we might read Books II-IV of the Republic again in a more sympathetic light.
These aren’t the types of actions we want to splice into the mindsof children. . .or many adults, for that matter. What do you think? Is this just harmless frivolity or are there deeper questions and
concerns that arise when you read this passage?