"Hi Elani, I have been wondering about something... I can't figure out the answer and maybe you can help. Why is it that Hera in the myths never punishes Zeus for his infidelity but always the humans he cheats with, or the children? Thank you in advance! I love your blog!"

Well, Hera did try to overthrow Her husband once, in the beginning of their reign. The reasons are never made entirely clear--nor for Her, nor for the others who joined her (most notably Poseidon and Athena). His adultry was most likely a factor, though, and at that time he also wasn't a very good leader to the Gods, nor a ruler over mankind. Especially Poseidon and Athena took offense to the latter tow. From Hómēros' 'Iliad':

"Help your brave son, therefore, if you [Thetis] are able. Go to Olympus, and if you have ever done him service in word or deed, implore the aid of Jove. Ofttimes in my father's house have I heard you glory in that you alone of the immortals saved the son of Saturn from ruin, when the others, with Juno, Neptune, and Pallas Minerva would have put him in bonds. It was you, goddess, who delivered him by calling to Olympus the hundred-handed monster whom gods call Briareus, but men Aegaeon, for he is stronger even than his father; when therefore he took his seat all-glorious beside the son of Saturn, the other gods were afraid, and did not bind him." [1. 397]

This specific example illustrates a point: Hera (women) cannot and should not punish or resent Zeus (men) for their infidelity. In fact, as long as a husband takes good care of his wife (both financially and sexually), he should be free to pursue any woman he is societally allowed to sleep with.

Because much of what has remained from ancient Hellas was written, created, or otherwise preserved by men, it's easy to get a lasting negative impression of women in the ancient Hellenic society. In fact, until a couple of decades ago, that was the prevalent notion in the scholarly community. So, let's look at the role of women in ancient Hellas before I can get back to the question at hand. Trigger warning: we have to get into the topic of sexual assault and rape for a moment here.

Marriage in ancient Hellas was a family affair. The father of the son--who was often in his thirties by the time he got married--opened negotiations with the family of a bride in her teens. The two families came to an agreement about dowry, a contract was signed by the father of the groom and the father of the bride in front of witnesses, and the groom met his new wife--often for the first time--before taking her to bed. Prostitution was common, and men tended to have concubines. Some even lived at the house. Demosthenes, a Hellenic writer from ancient Athens, was recorded as saying: 'we have courtesans for pleasure, concubines to provide for our daily needs, and our spouses to give us legitimate children and to be the faithful guardians of our homes'. In ancient Hellas, women were almost solely in charge of raising children. Their lives consisted of taking care of the hearth, her husband and her children. Any status a woman had, was tied in with her husband. Women were groomed to function in pairs. It was because of this that a widow was passed on to another male as soon as possible.

In ancient Hellenic society, free women lived separate from men. They rarely had interactions with men not from their oikos. Still, there are accounts of women being sexually assaulted, and monetary fines that were issued to the perpetrator. From this, we know that sexual assault and rape were criminal, and shameful acts. Ancient sources also tell us that men were only punishable for sexual assault or rape if they raped a woman--or possibly a man--above their own rank. No one was punished for raping a slave, for example, and the practice was common.

So then, what of Gods? It stands to reason that hierarchical rules also apply here, as myths are formed by the men who tell them. Who is higher in rank than a God? And, above all, who is higher in rank than Zeus? If Zeus desires a woman (or man), He is free to take her (or him) under ancient Hellenic law. It also stands to reason that a God lower in standing, say Apollon, would be punished severely for raping a Goddess above his standing. If Zeus had not claimed Hera, and He had laid claim to Her, I am sure He would have been unsuccessful, and perhaps would even have been punished.

Looking at mortals, nymphs and 'lesser' Immortals, nearly all Gods outrank them, so the ancient Hellens would have seen no problem in a sexual act between a God and these women. An exception to the rules and regulations applied to mortal adulterous men, would most likely have been made for the Gods as well. Their Divinity would allow Them to 'overrule' the mortal marriage without bringing shame to the husband, although there seems to be a threat stemming from a demi-God son (as can be seen in the myth of Perseus).

So, short answer after all of that: Hera doesn't punish Her husband for sleeping around (something He allegedly did far less after Her revolt) because it is not Her place, just as it was not the place of women in ancient Hellenic society to punish their husbands. Ancient Hellenic society, however, says nothing about women not punishing or resenting the women her husband engaged. Hera may not have been allowed or capable of punishing Her husband, but She could definitely take it out on His conquests and the children that came from those unions. That said, make sure to distinguish between Hellenic and Roman myth! The Roman Goddess Juno was far more vengeful than Hera was ever made out to be.

We might not agree with these views in modern times but I encourage placing the myths into their proper framework, a frame where the myths meet the society they were written down in, and are explained that way. These were the views of the people who wrote down the myths and they should be understood in those views. Who knows how the relationship between Zeus and Hera is these days and if they have or haven't had a bit of a sit down about this? I most certainly don't. Looking at ancient Hellenic myth, though, this is my explanation. I hope it makes things a bit clearer for you as well.