Zeus is Beguiled by Hera by H. L. Havell

I

While the battle swayed to and fro, and the Greeks were enabled by Poseidon's aid to hold their own against the Trojans, Zeus was sitting on a lonely peak of Ida, wrapped in a high celestial reverie. Hera saw the uxorious king from her place of outlook on Olympus, and, noting his abstracted mood, she resolved to play him a trick. So she went to her chamber, which her son Hephæstus had made for her, and opened the door with a private key, which she always kept by her, so that none might invade her apartment in her absence. Having locked herself in, she began to make her toilet with peculiar care. First, she washed her person with ambrosia, and anointed herself with a fragrant oil, so rich and rare that, when she lifted the lid of the casket in which it was stored, a divine perfume filled earth and heaven with sweetness. Then she dressed her lustrous hair, and put on a wondrous robe, which Athene's own hands had wrought for her, clasping it to her bosom with golden brooches. A rich girdle confined her robe at the waist, and in her ears she hung earrings of costly pearl; and when she had put on her sandals, and thrown a glittering veil over her head, she went forth smiling in triumphant beauty, like a bride adorned for her husband.

Having thus prepared the whole battery of her charms, she went in search of Aphrodite, and when she had found her she drew her apart from the other gods, and said: "Wilt thou grant me a boon, dear child, or wilt thou deny me in anger, because I favour thine enemies, the Greeks?" "Name thy request, great queen of heaven," answered Aphrodite, "and I will grant it, if I can."

Concealing her real purpose, the cunning Hera replied: "I am bound on a journey to the ends of the earth, to visit the ancient deity Oceanus, and Tethys, his wife, who have long been parted by a bitter quarrel. If I can bring them together in love and kindness I shall do a good deed, and repay part of the great debt of gratitude which I owe them. Therefore, lend me, I pray thee, the mighty talisman which thou hast, whereof neither man nor god can resist the powerful spell."

"It becomes me not," answered Aphrodite, "to deny thee in this, for thou art the consort of high Jove." And therewith she took from her bosom an amulet, in which there was a mysterious virtue, able to soften the hardest heart, and turn it to thoughts of love and tenderness. There dwelt persuasion and sweet endearment, the eloquence of silence and the witchery of sighs. "Take it," she said, "and hide it in the folds of thy robe. Armed with this, thou wilt accomplish all thy desire."

Hera smiled her thanks, and taking the amulet sped away on her errand, which carried her, not, as she had pretended, to the distant dwelling of Oceanus, but to Lemnos, the Ægæan isle, the home of sleep. Arrived there, she sought out the drowsy god, and found him nodding in his shadowy cave. "Monarch of men and gods," she began, "Immortal Sleep, thou hast done me good service in the past, and I think thou wilt not fail me now. I would have thee lock fast the eyes of Zeus in slumber deep and long. Ask me not why, but do it, and I will give thee a golden throne, wrought, with a footstool, by Hephæstus, my son, whereon thou mayest sit in state like the Olympian king himself."

"Ask me aught else," answered Sleep, lifting his heavy eyes with a look of fear, "only ask me not to lay Zeus in slumber against his will. Hast thou forgotten what wild work he made when, at thy entreaty, I shed my power upon him, and lulled his wits in a deep trance, that thou mightest wreak thy malice on his favourite, Heracles? Then didst thou raise a storm, which drove Heracles far out of his course, when he was on his voyage from Troy. But when thy lord awoke, and saw what thou hadst done, he fell to buffeting all the gods in Olympus, who had hidden me from his sight. And soon they must have delivered me to his vengeance, and I should have been undone, but an ancient and venerable deity, even Night herself, came to my aid, and besought him to pardon me; and so he did, for he would not offend the august goddess, primeval Night."

"Go to," said Hera. "This is a far smaller thing than that of which thou speakest. All I desire is an hour of respite for mine afflicted Greeks. Come, do as I bid thee, and thou shalt have Pasiphaë, one of the Graces, for thy wife, and so fulfil the dearest of thy desires."

Then Sleep was glad, and answering said: "Swear to me, by the inviolable waters of Styx—placing one hand on the earth, and the other on the sea, that all the nether gods may be our witnesses—swear that thou wilt give me Pasiphaë for my bride."

Hera took the oath required, calling by name all the Titans that dwell in Tartarus. Then together they flew across the sea to Troyland, and paused not till they reached the wooded hills of Ida. Upwards then they soared, over the forest-clad slopes, and there was the sound of a going in the tree tops as they passed. And when they came to the peak where Zeus was sitting, Sleep disguised himself in the form of a swift, and hid himself in the branches of a tall fir-tree. But Hera went and stood in the presence of her lord.

As soon as the god saw her he was struck with wonder at her surpassing beauty, and his heart overflowed with tenderness, as in the old days when first he made her his bride. And the little swift shot down from the tree, and come flitting round the monarch's head. "Dear lady of my love," said he, "sit down by me awhile, and let us hold sweet converse together." So down she sat by his side, and took his hand, and beguiled him with her false blandishments. Like two simple lovers they seemed, caught in sly Cupid's silver net—he the sovereign of earth and heaven, and she, his imperious queen. And swiftly the subtle influence of Sleep came over him, and down he sank overpowered, couched on a soft bed of crocus and hyacinth and violet, which the earth put forth to bear up his sacred person; and on him rested a canopy of golden cloud, that he might slumber unobserved.


II

Safe now from the observation of Zeus, Hera descended swiftly to bear the news to Poseidon, and urge him to redouble his efforts on behalf of the Greeks. Having brought her message, she returned to Ida, and remained watching by the side of Zeus, ready to give warning when he awoke.

Poseidon was not slow to seize the occasion thus offered. Suddenly, as the Greeks were preparing to receive a furious charge from the enemy, there appeared in their van a gigantic warrior, clad from head to foot in mail of proof, and wielding a sword which flashed and burned with an awful light. "On, Greeks, on!" he shouted; and his voice was as the sound of many waters. "Down with them, even unto the ground, that Hector may know that there is more than one Achilles among us." And the two armies met, with a crash which was echoed by all the caverns of Ida, and recoiled again, each solid phalanx reeling from that tremendous shock.

Into the space thus left sprang Hector, and hurled his spear at Ajax, who was stepping forth to meet him. The weapon struck him on the breast, just at the point where the shield strap, heavily studded with metal, was crossed by the baldric of his sword; and this double barrier, backed by the corslet, proved an effectual defence. Hector fell back, vexed at his ill-fortune, and, as he was retiring, Ajax picked up one of the stones which were lying around, to serve as props for the ships, and flinging it struck him on the back of the neck, just above the rim of his shield. It was no maiden's hand which had aimed that blow, and Hector was sent spinning like a top. And as an oak reels and staggers when struck by the bolt of Zeus, and topples headlong to earth, a blackened and shattered trunk, so fell the mighty Hector, crushed under the weight of his shield, which was pressed down upon him by the ponderous stone.

When they saw him fall, the Greeks rushed forward, hoping to make him their prisoner. But the bravest of the Trojans and their allies—Sarpedon, Æneas, Glaucus, and Polydamas—interposed their shields, giving time for the others to lift him up and carry him to the place where his car and horses were waiting. Carefully they placed his senseless body on the chariot, and drove him towards the city, until they came to the ford of Scamander. There they halted, and, laying him on the bank, dashed water in his face. Presently he looked up, and leaning forward on his hands began to vomit blood. Then darkness came over his eyes, and he fell back again in a swoon.

Now that Hector was down, the Trojans had no course left to them but to retreat. They still fought valiantly, and the Greeks had to pay dear for their success. But slowly and surely they were being driven back from the camp.