Monday, October 15, 2012

Zeus, Hera and the Hekatonkheires

I'm a big fan of the myths that break the rule. I love Atalanta, I have a crush on Baucis and Philemon and I greatly enjoy reading the myth of Hera's revenge on Zeus, and the Hekatonkheire Briareos, who came to Zeus's rescue. The myth is one of the firsts I heard, but I've learned it's a very obscure myths to some. So, today, I want to share this myth with you, because it may show a completely other side of the Theoi we know and love, and the Hekatonkheires (Ἑκατόγχειρες), whom no one seems to know and love.

"First there was only Chaos. Then, Chaos gave birth to Gaea, Tartarus, Eros, Erebus and Nyx. Gaea gave birth to Ouranos, and gave birth to twelve Titans, three Cyclopses and three Hekatonkheires--the hundred-handed Ones--all fathered by her son. The Olympians, eventually, challenged the Titans and won. All Olympians went through an unsettled period, where Their domains were divided and They indulged themselves on mortals and immortals alike. Especially Zeus.

Zeus had taken Hera as his wife in the beginning of His reign, after a spree of lovers and offspring. Hera had refused His advances, but he had turned himself into a cuckoo, presenting Himself to Hera as hurt and drenched. Hera took pity on the bird and took it as a pet, pressing it to Her breast. Zeus turned back to His own form instantly and took Hera by force, shaming Hera into marrying Him.

Hera accepted Her fate, but was not light on the many lovers her husband had. Especially the children Zeus fathered, raised Her anger; they became daily reminders of Zeus' disloyalty to Her, and turned Her into a laughing stock to Her brothers and sisters. She had accepted all she could, and devises a plan for revenge.

The first thing She does, is enlist the help of nearly all other major Theoi. She convinces Them that They are no less than Her husband, and that His many children may one day pose a threat to them all. Many of the Theoi do not need much convincing. Zeus has become arrogant after His victory over the Titans. His bouts of unjust anger have upset the Theoi, and to many of Them, Zeus would make no better leader than They would. The Theoi, convinced, agree to assist Hera. All but Hestia.

One night thereafter, Hera slips a sleeping agent into Her husband's drink. When Zeus falls into a deep sleep, Hera and the other enlisted Theoi take Him and lay Him on His bed where They bind Him tightly with ropes. It's a coup; while Zeus reigned over Them, together They have the strength to end that reign and turn the card in Their favor.

When Zeus awakes, he soon realizes what had happened and becomes furious with His wife, as well as the brothers and sisters He has freed from the belly of Their father. Yet, try as He might, His bonds will not break, as they were fashioned with Immortal hands.

Zeus, deathly afraid for his reign and very existence, calls out for help. While the other Theoi argue amongst Themselves about who should lead in Zeus' stead, Zeus lays in his silent bedrooms and waits, plotting revenge to keep the worry from his mind. In the dead of night, it is the Hekatonkheire Briareos who comes to Zeus's aid. It was, after all, Zeus who freed him and his two brothers from Tartaros, where his father Ouranos had put them.

The Hekatonkheires were born monstrous; a hundred hands sprouted from their shoulders and each had fifty heads. They were giants, all possessing incredible strength. Their father feared them, and they were locked away. During the Titan War, it were the Hekatonkheires and their other monstrous siblings who had eventually turned the tides in the favor of Zeus's army, and Zeus had rewarded them well. As such, they remained loyal.

The primordial Goddess Thesis saw what had happened to Zeus and descended to Tartaros for aid. With his brothers guarding the gates to Tartaros, it was Briareos who came to Zeus' aid in the moment of His greatest fear. Diligently, his hundred hands undid the knots to Zeus' bindings while Zeus Himself held still, and waited. When His bonds fell away, He thanked Briareos humbly, and took His revenge.

Hera, He chained to the sky with golden chains, anvils tied to Her ankles until Zeus took mercy on Her and vowed to release Her if She promised to remain loyal to Him. Poseidon and Apollon were robbed of their Divine status for a year and forced to hard labor; They were sentenced to build the walls around the greatest of cities: Troy. How the others were punished is unclear, but the experience was a turning point for the Gods of Olympus. Zeus realized His behavior had gotten Him into this mess in the first place, and He strove to do better. He became a strong and consistent leader. He minimized His infidelity. He became the beacon of glorious power the other Theoi gladly bowed down to. The coup was forgiven, and Zeus and Hera's marriage improved. The nation settled, ruled justly by Zeus."

It is this myth, which made me want to devote myself wholly to the Hellenic pantheon. The hyper-inflated humanity displayed by the Theoi sets the basics for the Hellenic ethics. The struggle to be better, do better, to forgive and put trust in great leaders, to know your place and rise to glory within it; these are all lessons to be learned from this myth. These are also the basics of Hellenic ethics.

This is one of the very few myths in which Zeus is vulnerable, and we see that it was a very shocking experience to Him, probably more so than this retelling lets on. Zeus was on a power high, and this coup shattered His entire world view. It humbled Him. There is a card in the Olympus Tarot I use, which illustrates this myth. It's meaning when drawn is 'gratitude'.

The BBC series 'Clash of the Gods' has actually included a more aggressive version of this myth in their program. I've included it below.

What do you think of this myth? Did you know it? Does it change your views on Zeus? On the other Theoi? The Hekatonkheires? What would have happened to the pantheon without this coup? Let me know in the comments, if you will.


Hawthorne said...

I am familiar with only the BBC's version of this myth and it certainly doesn't change my views on Zeus at all, although I admit to being biased. He has touched my life in so many ways that it is impossible for me to look upon him harshly. I love him unconditionally and will do so until my dying breath and beyond.
The other version you wrote about I hadn't encountered before now, but I have an issue with the implication that Zeus raped Hera and "shamed" her into marrying him. I don't believe a deity of Zeus's stature would have to resort to rape to get women, divine or mortal, to sleep with him. That goes for all of the Theoi, really. I just don't think "rape" as we know it today is what the myths meant. I think it meant more along the lines of the male deities having power over the Goddesses since the myths were written in times of patriarchy and penned by men. Maybe this is my background in the Dianic tradition speaking, but I don't think any of the Goddesses were believed to be as important or powerful as the male Gods,except for maybe Athene.
The myth doesn't change my opinion of any of the other Theoi. Zeus is supreme and they know it. He's stronger and wiser. They are certainly important and necessary, but Zeus is the leader.

Elani Temperance said...

As a response to your comment, I finally bit the bullet and wrote a semi-coherent post about rape in ancient Hellas and Hellenic mythology. I think I agree with your viewpoint, but you are the best judge of that. I'm certainly curious about what you think.
Thank you for your reply.

MediumRob said...

As far as I'm aware, no archaic or classical myth refers to the cuckoo story as one involving rape.

Apollodoros makes no mention of the story at all, only saying that Zeus and Hera got married. Kallimachos hints at a secret tryst between the gods; Theokritos says that 'all women know how Zeus married Hera', which doesn't really lend itself to a story of rape.

Only in a scholia to Theokritos that cites Aristotle do we get the cuckoo story and only that Zeus transformed himself into a cuckoo to effect contact with Hera (perhaps as a secret tryst). There's no suggestion of violence, violation or lack of consent.

In fact, it's only in Pausanias writings from the 1st-2nd centuries AD, and in those of a 1st century AD Roman author's story of Jupiter that it's suggested there was rape, but there's no earlier record of it in Greek myth.

Dini Pantheacraft said...

Thank you for this interesting post. Can you give sources which say that Zeus "raped" (sexually assaulted?) and therefore "shamed her into marrying him"? - I'm asking because all I can find is that he turned into a bird / cuckoo who Hera took in, that Zeus took his normal form and 'seduced' Hera. I know you touched on the subject 'rape' before and I don't mean to go into it -too deep- in a comment; all I'd like to say is that the word 'rape' in these translations (incl. Wiki) more likely than not means 'rapture', 'seduction', or 'elopement'; interestingly the site exclusively speaks of 'seduction' and not 'rape'. I admit I speak from a position of bias as I'm a devotee of Hera and Zeus :-) I wasn't familiar with the mythology about Zeus being bound -and ultimately this leading to him becoming the King He is. Thank you for posting that -- it helped me filling a gap between how I experience Zeus & Hera i.e. awe-fully powerful, yet perfectly just[ified] in all They do on the one hand; and the sometimes [too] negative portrayal a superficial read of mythology can render on the other hand. The video at the end I do not care for at all: it is that sort of quasi academic material, composed by people who have no real relationship to the Theoi, I cannot take such seriously.

Maya M said...

What is the source of the long quotation in your post? The rebellion of Olympians against Zeus, as far as I know, is explicitly mentioned in only one ancient source - the Iliad. And there is not a word about Zeus improving his behaviour after it. On the contrary, we see him in the same Iliad reminding Hera how he put her to torture (and implicitly threatening with a fresh round of torture if she disobeys), we hear Athena warning other Olympians that if they make Zeus angry, he would beat them all in a row, guilty and innocent ones alike. We also know that he forced Thetis, the very goddess who saved him from the coup d'etat, to marry a mortal against her with. And we know from other sources that he wanted to lay with her himself, again against her wish.