In Greek mythology, few divine couples were perfect. More often than not, married couples among the Greek gods were in rocky relationships. Aphrodite and Hephaestus often did not see eye to eye, and the relationship between Hades and Persephone was definitely not formed on love—Hades kidnapped his bride and tricked her into eating a pomegranate, sealing her fate in the underworld. Very few of the divine married couples, however, could be as icy toward each other as Zeus and Hera.
With such tense relationships at work among the gods, domestic violence was, unfortunately, a prevalent occurrence on Mt. Olympus. Yet, the Greek gods were beings of immense power, so consequentially, fights between spouses were horrifically violent. When Zeus threatened Hera with extravagant punishment, he usually meant what he said, and when fists flew, Zeus did not pull his punches. One of the most extreme punishments Hera was forced to endure came either after she incited the gods of Olympus to attempt a rebellion against Zeus, or when she tried to thwart the success of Zeus’ illegitimate son, Heracles (Hercules). In response to one of these events, Zeus bound his wife in an unbreakable golden chain and hung her up in the sky within the sight of all the gods, but also out of their reach. Zeus made the punishment even worse by attaching anvils to Hera’s feet, stretching her more efficiently than if she was on a medieval rack. Anyone who attempted to rescue Hera from her punishment was thrown by Zeus far and hard enough to leave them breathless when they hit the ground. Zeus eventually let Hera go free, but their lovers’ quarrels continued, though Hera likely took her husband’s threats more seriously.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
- The Iliad by Homer, translated by E. V. Rieu and edited by Peter Jones. New York: Penguin Books, 2014.