by Natasha Neil
I like to joke that Hera’s Punishment wrote itself. I was reading Robert Graves’s The Greek Myths and I came across a couple of paragraphs about Zeus and Hera’s relationship. Once, Graves said, after Zeus’s many infidelities, Hera grew so frustrated with him that she decided to usurp his power. After conspiring with the other Olympians, she used magical rawhide thongs to tie him into a hundred knots while he slept. Later, when he got free, he hung her up in the sky as punishment. Those two aspects, as well as Zeus and Hera’s power dynamic, really sparked my imagination. Graves also said that if she pushed him too far, he would hurl thunderbolts or flog her. She in return would find ways to humiliate him and sometimes borrow Aphrodite’s magic girdle to bend him to her will.
Of course, no matter how many rawhide thongs and magic girdles are involved, no story writes itself. I grew up hearing stories of the Greek gods, so their characters were familiar to me. The marriage between Zeus and Hera was not an ideal one, and it was tricky to figure out just how I wanted to portray their relationship, especially since Hera was not only Zeus’s wife but his sister.
It was a challenge to make a marriage of infidelities between a brother and sister both interesting and erotic. I wanted Hera to be more than an angry wife, more than a spurned sister. It was important to me for her to keep her power, even while being hung in the sky. When I finally figured out their relationship, it was very gratifying.
From the original Robert Graves book, I discovered that as punishment for their part in the failed coup, Apollo and Poseidon were sent as slaves to the king of Troy. As a result, they built the city of Troy, which seems to be why the walls were impossible to breach. I loved this tiny detail and the humiliation of the gods being slaves to a mortal. This is also made me think that Apollo’s connection to Troy stemmed from the earlier story of Hera’s Punishment.
Turning a couple of paragraphs into a full-fledged story left a lot of room to imagine what Robert Graves didn’t write about. Like true characters, my Zeus and Hera took on a life of their own. Zeus could not stay focused on his wife, and was easily distracted by a pretty nymph who ended up giving me an idea for a new creation myth of my own.
Hera’s Punishment was a fun story to research and write. I hope you have as much fun reading it as I did writing it.
Anthologies which include this story: