Iliad: Book 14 | Hera Outflanks Zeus

Deacon Harrison Garlick and Adam Minihan welcome Thomas Lackey back to the podcast to discuss Book 14 of The Iliad, Hera Outflanks Zeus

In this episode we will discuss:

  • What happens in book fourteen?
  • What are we to make of Love and Sleep conquering Zeus?
  • Why is this one of the funniest books thus far (according to Adam)?
  • What else should be noted in book fourteen?

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Book Fourteen

Hera Outflanks Zeus

And so, deep in peace, the Father slept on Gargaron peak,

Conquered by Sleep and the strong assault of Love.  Homer (14.419)

64. What happens in book fourteen?

Nestor, who was still tending to the injured Machaon, leaves his tent and, upon seeing the ruined wall of the Achaeans, goes to find Agamemnon (14.27). Nestor finds the wounded Agamemnon alongside the also wounded Odysseus and Diomedes (14.34). Agamemnon again despairs and orders the Achaean to prepare to sail home (14.90), and he is chastised by Odysseus who calls him a “disaster” (14.102). Diomedes counsels the wounded kings to return to battle but inspire the soldiers from behind the front lines (14.158). Poseidon inspires Agamemnon and the sea god lets out a cry as loud as “nine, ten thousand combat soldiers” to strengthen the Achaeans (14.182). Meanwhile, Hera, wanting to run interference for Poseidon, plots “to make immortal love” with Zeus and lure him into a deep sleep (14.199). She lies to Aphrodite about her motives, and receives from the goddess of love a band with the power to “make the sanest man go mad” (14.261). Hera next enlists the god Sleep to help her overpower Zeus (14.279) by promising him one of the younger Graces to marry (14.323). Hera seduces Zeus, and the father of gods and men is conquered by love and sleep (14.420). 

Sleep tells Poseidon of Zeus’ slumber, and the sea god leads the Achaeans against the Trojans (14.430, 456). Ajax and Hector clash on the front lines, and Ajax lifts a “holding-stone”—a large stone used to anchor a ship—and strikes Hector (14.486). Hector “plunged in the dust” (14.494) and was taken back to Troy by his comrades (14.509). The retreat of Hector rises the Achaean battle-lust (14.520), and they push back against the Trojans until “the knees of every Trojan shook with fear” (14.592). Homer ends the book with an invocation to the Muses—the 5th invocation—as Poseidon shifts the favor of war to the Achaeans (14.596). 

65. What are we to make of Love and Sleep conquering Zeus?

To overcome Zeus, the father of gods and men, Hera must employ two powers: Love and Sleep. Hera avers that Love may “overwhelm all gods and mortal men” (14.242). Moreover, in the band of Love that Aphrodite gives Hera, it is said “the world lies in its weaving” (14.265). Similarly, Hera calls Sleep, the “twin brother of Death,” the “master of all gods and all mortal men” (14.279). She makes a similar statement about Night, stating: “old Night that can overpower all gods and mortal men” (14.312). Homer explicitly tells us that Zeus was “conquered by Sleep and the strong assaults of Love” (14.420). 

The conquering of Zeus raises questions as to the power and role of these more primordial gods. Homer does not present his reader with a clear relation or history between these personifications of primal power and the Olympian gods; however, the Greek poet Hesiod, who lived after Homer in the 700s BC, composed a genealogy of the gods called Theogony. Though he lived after Homer, Hesiod, like Homer, is weaving together longstanding traditions in Greek mythology into one coherent whole. For Hesiod, the world starts with the primordial gods of Chaos, then Earth (Gaia), then Abyss (Tartarus), and then Love (Eros). Pertinent to our passage in Homer, Chaos gives birth to Night, and then Night gives birth to Doom, Fate, Death, Sleep, and Dreams. 

The mythologies of Homer and Hesiod do not always agree. For example, Homer presents Aphrodite with a mother, while Hesiod presents her as a spontaneous generation of Uranus’ genitals being tossed into the sea by Cronos. Regardless, Hesiod provides a critical insight into the more primordial gods of Love and Sleep in relation to gods of Mount Olympus. One may posit, however, that Zeus is not conquered, as his will endures despite the efforts of Hera, Love, and Sleep. On the contrary, one may suggest that the fall of Zeus to Love and Sleep reveals that Zeus is in a manner subject to the more primordial gods and this would include Fate. We return to the question of whether Zeus is subject to a nameless Fate or such a Fate is simply an alter ego of his (Question 46). 

66. What else should be noted in book fourteen?

It is noteworthy that Nestor must use his son’s shield, as his “boy used his father’s” (14.12). Such familial themes will become more prominent in Homer’s Odyssey. We should note Poseidon is now doing what Hera tempted him to do previously (8.239). One may observe that Hera convinces Sleep to aid her by offering him a love-interest while she wears Aphrodite’s band (14.323). Given the theme of corpses and proper burials, Homer presents a corpse trade between the armies (14.552). We end with an invocation to the Muses, as Homer praises the god of earthquakes, i.e., the sea god Poseidon, for “turning the tide” (14.597).

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