In the heat of the conflict between the Greeks and the Trojans, the Gods took sides. Hera, Queen of Olympians, and Athena, the Goddess of War and Wisdom, were still offended at having lost the Judgement of Paris, though Athena was worshiped by the Trojans – until Odysseus found a way to desecrate her Trojan temple. Aphrodite, having won over the young Trojan prince with the offer of Helen, stood on the side of Troy, even whisking Paris away from a vengeful Menelaus.
Apollo, offended by Agamemnon, sent a plague that afflicted the Greeks – in response, Agamemnon supplicated the God, but not without violating the honor of his most powerful ally, Achilles (this is actually how the Iliad opens).
Artemis, Apollo’s sister, is equally offended when the aforementioned Agamemnon kills a stag in her Sacred Grove. Agamemnon is forced to make a sacrifice – his daughter Iphigenia. While the consequences of this event are not recounted in the Iliad, they form the backbone of Sophocles’ play Electra (as well as the Freudian complex of the same name).
Poseidon, God of Storms and the Seas, wishes to help the Greeks, though his brother Zeus forces his hand. However, in the Odyssey, he is in direct conflict with Odysseus, which is part of the reason that Odysseus’ return to Ithaca takes so long.
Aries, God of War, fights along with Aphrodite on the side of the Trojans; Hermes and Hephaestus play peripheral rolls, while Demeter and Hestia are invisible figures, with Hestia not even receiving a single mention from Homer, either in the Iliad or the Odyssey.
If you’ve been counting, that makes for eleven of the twelve Olympian Gods; Hera Athena and Poseidon actively pro-Greek; Aphrodite, Aries, and Apollo acting on behalf of the Trojans.
Agamemnon’s actions provoked the wrath of Artemis, while Hermes and Hephaestus act at the behest of the others (for instance, Hephaestus made Achilles’ armor, while Hermes gave Odysseus instructions on how resist Circe’s magic in the Odyssey).
Finally, Demeter, the Goddess of the Fields, and Hestia, the Goddess of the Hearth, play no part. Fitting, given the theme of this tale – it is about war, though its stance on war, pro or anti, is still being hotly debated, thousands of years later.
So, eleven out of the twelve are accounted for. That leaves just one.
King of the Gods, Zeus.
Zeus the Just…
Zeus the Neutral.
Enter our tale, the Deception of Zeus.
[Note: some sources swap Dionysus with Hestia as an Olympian; I’m going with Hesiod’s list from his Theogeny]
The following narrative comes from the Iliad, Book 14, lines 153-353. Ancient editors referred to it as the Dios Apate, the Deception of Zeus. Here’s a brief summary:
Looking down from Olympus, watching Poseidon rallying the Greeks, Hera thought of a plan to distract Zeus long enough for Troy to be destroyed. As much as disliked her husband, she knew that if she could seduce him, and make him fall asleep afterward, there would be enough time for a decisive victory.
Hephaestus, her son, had built her a private chamber. Here, she cleansed herself, and anointed herself with olive oil (sacred to Athena) and ambrosia. She put on a garment that Athena herself had woven and decked herself in jewelry from head to toe. Leaving her chamber, she sent for Aphrodite.
Now, remember that Aphrodite was on the opposing side of the war. However, she was still the Goddess of love. Here came Hera’s first deception:
She explained that her adopted parents, Oceanus and Thetys were quarreling, to the point that they were no longer sharing a marriage bed. Hera planned on visiting them, but given their lack of sexual intimacy, wondered if Aphrodite could spare any of her charms, so that Hera could help them reconcile.
Aphrodite, seeing no harm in this, relented. She gave Hera her girdle; it contained the charms of love, desire and sweet flattery (“which steals the judgement even of the most prudent”, trans. Samuel Butler).
Phase one of Hera’s plan was complete.
Hera left Olympus in search of Hypnos, God of Sleep. Finding him, Hera started by offering him a magical Golden Throne, made by no less than Hephaestus.
In return, all she required was that Hypnos lulled Zeus asleep when she held him against her bosom.
Sleep laughed at her request. He told Hera he would help her if it was any other god she requested, but that last time she had asked him to sway Zeus to sleep, she had taken the opportunity to torment Hercules. Zeus went into a rage; Sleep was only protected by fleeing to Night, the Goddess Nyx, who not even Zeus would challenge.
Hera responded that Hercules was one thing; for Zeus, the fate of the Trojans was another.
Then she made a second offer – the Grace Pasithea, who personified relaxation, meditation, hallucination and all other altered states of consciousness.
A perfect companion for the God of Sleep; in fact, Hypnos had longed for Pasithea for countless ages.
Hypnos made Hera swear by the river Styx, making her place one hand on the Earth, the other on the sea, so that all of the Gods below the Heavens would bear witness to the marriage, from the Olympians to the Titans.
Hera willingly obliged him.
Phase two of Hera’s plan was complete.
Zeus found Hera on Mount Ida and asked her why she had left Mount Olympus. Hera repeated the lie she had told Aphrodite, but Zeus begged her not to go.
Instead, he told her how smitten he was with her.
He even listed his countless other lovers, none of whom rivaled her in the moment.
He wanted her now.
Hera demurred; what if one of the Gods saw her naked? What if a mere mortal saw her being ravished by Zeus? She would never be able to command their respect again.
Zeus had a plan. He surrounded them in a golden cloud so thick that even the Sun, Helios, would never see them (it was Helios who reported Aphrodite’s infidelity with Aries to Hephaestus).
Yes, Zeus had a plan. Hera just had a better one.
Zeus pushed himself against the Hera’s bosom,
where he was ensnared by the charms of Aphrodite,
and enveloped in the arms of Hypnos…
Hera’s plan had worked.
The final siege of Troy was about to begin.