Deception of Zeus

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Jupiter and Juno on Mount Ida by James Barry, 1773 (City Art Galleries, Sheffield.)

The section of the Iliad that ancient editors called the Dios apate (the "Deception of Zeus") stands apart from the remainder of Book XIV. In this episode, Hera makes an excuse to leave her divine husband Zeus; in her deception speech she declares that she wishes to go to Oceanus, "origin of the gods", and Tethys the "mother". Instead Hera beautifies herself in preparation for seducing Zeus and obtains the help of Aphrodite. In the climax of the episode Zeus and Hera make love hidden within a golden cloud on the summit of Mount Ida. By distracting Zeus, Hera makes it possible for the Greeks to regain the upper hand in the Trojan War.[1]

The peculiarities of this episode were already being discussed in Antiquity. Even early commentators were shocked by the storyline and its implications for the morality of the gods. An expression of this moral criticism is found in Plato's Republic.[2]

Later, as it became fashionable to question whether certain passages of the known text of the Iliad were really composed by Homer (see Homeric scholarship), the genuineness of the "Deception of Zeus" was doubted. Albrecht Dihle[3] listed the linguistic features unique to this section and "found so many deviations from the normal traditional use of Homeric formulas that he concluded that this section of the Iliad could not belong to the phase of oral tradition but was a written composition."[4] Richard Janko, by contrast, describes the episode as "a bold, brilliant, graceful, sensuous, and above all amusing virtuoso performance, wherein Homer parades his mastery of the other types of epic composition in his repertoire".[5] The debate on this issue is not yet settled.

Walter Burkert found that the passage "shows divinity in a naturalistic, cosmic setting which is not otherwise a feature of Homeric anthropomorphism",[6] and linked it to the opening of the Babylonian Enuma Elish where Apsu and Tiamat, respectively the fresh and salt waters, are the primordial couple who "were mixing their waters." Like Tethys and Oceanus they were superseded by a later generation of gods. Tethys does not otherwise appear in early Greek myth and she had no established cult.


  1. ^ Homer. Iliad, Book 14, Lines 153-353.
  2. ^ Plato. Republic, 390c.
  3. ^ Dihle 1970, pp. 83–92; Burkert 1992, p. 201: Note 9 offers a condensed bibliography of the discussion.
  4. ^ Burkert 1992, p. 91.
  5. ^ Janko 1994, p. 168.
  6. ^ Burkert 1992, p. 92.


  • Walter Burkert (1992). The Orientalizing Revolution: Near Eastern Influence on Greek Culture in the Early Archaic Period. Harvard University Press.
  • Albrecht Dihle (1970). Homer-Probleme.
  • Richard Janko (1994). The Iliad: A Commentary. Vol. 4: Books 13-16. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.