"I sing of golden-throned Hera whom Rhea bare. Queen of the immortals is she, surpassing all in beauty: she is the sister and wife of loud-thundering Zeus, --the glorious one whom all the blessed throughout high Olympos reverence and honor even as Zeus who delights in thunder."
(Homeric Hymn 12)
Hera, (Roman: Juno) [pronounced in English: he-rah or hair-ah and in Greek: E-ruh] is Queen of the Gods, and the goddess of marriage, child birth and women in Greek mythology. The meaning of her name is uncertain but some scholars believe it means "mistress".
Hera was the third child and youngest daughter of the Titans, Cronus and Rhea. Hera originally was an earth deity and like with Demeter, her worship predates the coming of the Olympians. With her marriage to Zeus, Hera was viewed as having a more celestial role, having some power over the sky, moon and stars. In fact, Here was believed to have created the Milky Way galaxy from droplets of her breast milk when she suckled the infant Heracles (Hercules).
Homer believed Hera to have been the most beautiful goddess. In art, she is shown as a regal, mature woman in her 30s-40s. Hera is often called "cow-eyed", which seemingly suggests that she possessed large, beautiful, brown eyes. A more common and modern phrase would be "doe-eyed". Hera is most often portrayed in a standing position, though when she is seated it is often upon her throne. Upon her head is a crown and in one hand she holds her lotus-tipped scepter. In the other hand she may hold a pomegranate, a symbol of fertility, or a phiale or patera, a shallow dish used to make libations to the gods. In archaic representations Hera is often shown holding a cuckoo (bird), one of her sacred birds, or an egg, another symbol of fertility.
Unlike her sister Hestia, Hera did not vow to remain a virgin forever. Unlike her sister Demeter, Hera did not take mortal lovers. Instead, Hera would go on to marry Zeus and become Queen of the Gods.
Zeus' seduction and winning over of Hera is probably one of the most beautiful stories of Greek myth. At first Hera wanted nothing to do with Zeus. She rejected him and always fled his company. She preferred the sanctity of nature and to commune with her grandmother, Gaia. For Zeus, it was the complete opposite. Zeus fell madly in love with Hera from the moment he saw here. His feeling for her were different and not like his previous conquests. He loved her. Zeus spent much of his time secretly following Hera as she spent her days frolicking and playing in nature. He knew that if he could just get close to her that she would not be able to resit him. Zeus thought of a plan.
One day while Zeus was secretly following Hera, a cool rain fell causing Hera to temporarily stop what she was doing and caused her to take cover. Zeus knew this was his moment to act. Zeus transformed himself into a wet, shivering cuckoo and landed himself at her feet. Hera immediately saw the poor creature and took pity on it. "O, you poor thing", she said as she placed the bird to her bosom to warm it. Zeus immediately transformed back to his proper shape and whisked Hera off into the air before she had time to react. Zeus lay Hera down in a field and made love to her. As they made love a golden cloud descended from the sky to hide their nakedness, beautiful wildflowers sprouted up in the field all around them, butterflies filled the sky and birds sang. The pair were possessed with such passion that their act of love making lasted three hundred years. The act complete, Zeus looked Hera in her eyes and asked for her hand in marriage. "Come with me and be my Queen", he pleaded. Hera consented.
The royal marriage was considered to be the biggest celebration ever to occur among the gods. Nearly every god or goddess attended. Those that physically could not attend due to their nature, sent gifts instead. Among items given to Hera was a dress that was considered to be the most beautiful dress to have ever been made and a magical tree that bore golden apples, a gift from Hera's grandmother, Gaia. Zeus himself gave his beloved bride a golden throne. Every god or goddess invited made sure to be on time for the wedding, except one. The mountain nymph, Chelone, was always late and this time would not be the exception. As punishment she was transformed into the first turtle.
Though the wedding was seemingly perfect, the marriage between Zeus and Hera was anything but. Zeus could not be faithful. He constantly had affairs with nymphs and mortal women, fathering gods and demigods, left and right. Observant readers of the myths should know that each and every time a god has sex a pregnancy results. So Zeus literally fathered the majority of the gods, demigods and heroes of Greek myth. Hera, as the goddess of marriage, was herself always dutiful and loyal. Yet she constantly suffered the pain of Zeus' affairs. In myth Hera is usually famous for her unyielding persecution of Zeus' mistresses and bastard offspring.
To list every single instance of Hera going after a lover of Zeus would make this blog entry far too long in length. Therefore, I will relate only the special few that stick out due to their uniqueness, level of importance in Greek myth, or even their entertainment value
1. Leto - When Hera found out that Zeus had an affair with the female Titan, Leto, who was pregnant with twins, she immediately went to her grandmother, Gaia, and made her promise that Leto would not be allowed to give birth upon the earth. Leto wandered the earth in great labor pains until she found the island of Delos, which at the time was not connected to the earth but was free-floating in the ocean. As a result, Leto was able to find refuge and gave birth to the twins, Apollo and Artemis.
2. Semele - When Hera found out that Zeus had an affair with the mortal Semele, she shape-shifted into an old woman and tricked Semele into making Zeus reveal himself to her in his true form. Semele did this by securing a promise from Zeus that he would grant her one wish, and by swearing on the river Styx that he would grant the wish, no matter what it may be. Zeus was forced to obey and revealed himself to Semele upon which she spontaneously burst into flames and was consumed by the fire. Only a pile of ashes remained where she once stood. However, Zeus rescued the fetus from her womb before it perished. The child was the god Dionysus.
3. Lamia - When Hera found out that Zeus had an affair with the mortal Queen of Lybia named Lamia, she cursed the woman, transforming her into a hideous monster. In such form Lamia devoured her own offspring and began eating the children of humans. Hera didn't stop there. Hera then cursed Lamia so that every time she closed her eyes she would see nothing but the images of the children she murdered.
4. Io - When Zeus suspected that Hera knew he was having an affair with the mortal Io, Zeus transformed her into a cow to hide her from Hera. Hera wasn't fooled and then saw through Zeus' deception. She then told Zeus how much she adored the cow and asked Zeus to give it to her. Not wanting to blow his cover, Zeus gave her the cow. Hera then tasked her loyal servant, the giant Argus, who had a hundred eyes all over his body, to guard the cow. Argus affliction was such that he never closed all of his eyes at once, in effect, never truly sleeping. Hermes later slew Argus, upon the orders of Zeus, in order to free Io the cow. Hera, mourning the loss of her giant servant, placed his hundred eyes in the peacock, Hera's other sacred bird. Hera then sent a gadfly to relentless harass Io by biting her. Io had no choice but to constantly flee the fly and as a result wandered the earth without rest. She eventually came upon Prometheus who told her that if she could make it to Egypt she would be free of the fly. When Io made it to Egypt Zeus transformed her back into a woman.
5. Callisto - When Hera found out that Zeus had an affair with Callisto, a devotee of Artemis who swore a vow of chastity, she tattled to Artemis. Zeus tried to hide Callisto and her child by turning them into bears but Artemis found them and shot and killed them with her arrows. Zeus then placed them in the heavens as the constellations of Ursa Major (The Big Dipper) and Ursa Minor (The Little Dipper).
6. Alcmene - When Hera found out that Zeus had an affair with the mortal Alcmene, she sent witches to her to curse her and prevent her son Heracles (Hercules) from being born. The witches failed. Then Hera sent two serpents to kill Heracles. He strangled the snakes dead and even while a babe. Hera would go on to make Heracles' life a living hell, even making him go mad and murder his own children. However, Heracles eventually overcame everything Hera threw at him. Eventually Heracles became a god.
Hera's wrath was not just limited to the women Zeus cheated on her with, nor their offspring. The Queen of the Gods also fought against Artemis during the Indian wars and kicked her behind. Artemis raised her arrows to shoot the Queen but Hera saw her in advance. Hera gathered up the storm clouds and used them as her shield. She then gathered up all the hail stones, merged them together, and then launched the boulder of ice at Artemis which sent the virgin huntress flying and unable to attack Hera further.
Hera was often quick to take offense and people often suffered greatly for their indiscretion. When Gerana, the Queen of the Pygmies, foolishly claimed that she was more beautiful than Hera, Hera turned her into a crane. When Side, the wife of Orion, did the same exact thing Hera picked her up and threw her into Hades. When Hera found out that the nymph Echo was distracting her with her constant chattering so that Zeus could cheat with other women, Hera cursed Echo so that she could only repeat the last few words said by another. When Zeus and Hera were arguing over which gender enjoyed sex best, they sought after a man named Tiresias. Zeus claimed that women enjoyed sex more than men did but Hera believed the opposite. They sought after Tiresias to solve the debate due to his strange circumstance. Tiresias was turned into a woman after he stumbled upon a pair of mating snakes and hit them. He lived as a woman for 7 years until he found another pair of mating snakes and hit them again and turned back into a man. Tiresias ultimately sided with Zeus in his belief that women enjoyed sex better. Hera was so furious she blinded Tiresias.
Perhaps the most famous example of Hera's wrath occurred when Paris of Troy sided with Aphrodite in a dispute between Hera, Aphrodite and Athena as to which goddess was more beautiful. When Paris chose Aphrodite, Hera vowed revenge by making sure that Troy was utterly destroyed in the Trojan war. She even went to the lengths of seducing Zeus so that he would be distracted and would not be able to help the Trojans.
Hera's actions didn't always go unpunished. In fact, on one occasion Hera had the nerve to try to overthrow her husband. She paid dearly for her deception. It came about that Hera grew to hate her husband. She conspired with the other gods to help her overthrow Zeus. Hera drugged Zeus' drink and after he fell asleep on his couch she and the other gods tied him up. Hera and the rest of the gods began to argue about who would become the new ruler. They were so preoccupied that they did not see that Zeus' friend, Briareus, one of the Hecatoncheires, freed him. Zeus unleashed such a terrible storm that the other gods immediately dropped to their knees and begged forgiveness. Zeus realizing that Hera was behind this, grabbed her by the throat, tied golden chains around her limbs, dangled anvils from her feet, and hung her in the sky. Hera screamed in pain for a full day until Zeus finally agreed to release her, providing she would swear a sacred oath that she would never again attempt to overthrow him. Hera agreed and swore the oath. It is said from that point onward that Hera took her jealousy and anger out upon Zeus' mistresses and offspring since she was no longer able to go after Zeus directly.
On at least one occasion, Zeus used Hera's capacity for jealousy to get her back. The pair had been fighting and Hera left him, vowing never to return to his bed. Crafty Zeus picked up a log and carved it into the shape of a woman and then clothed it in female robes and concealed it with veils. Zeus then sent a messenger to Hera to inform her that he had met another woman and had fallen in love and was going to marry her. Hera was livid! She immediately flew back to Olympus and demanded to know where the usurper was. Seeing the veiled image sitting beside Zeus on his throne she rushed at "her" with the intent of shredding to pieces the woman who dared dethrone her. As she tore asunder the veil and robe Hera's fingers hit the hard wood beneath. The look on her face betrayed her confusion which quickly gave way to embarrassment as Hera realized that Zeus had once again tricked her. Hera was soon laughing and forgave her husband and returned to his side and bed.
As a goddess of women one might be tempted to think that Hera was a wonderful mother. Yet the myths do not portray her as such. By her husband Hera gave birth to Eileithyia, the goddess of childbirth, Hebe, the goddess of youth, Ares, the god of war, Enyo, goddess of war, and possibly Eris, the goddess of strife and discord. Hera also was the mother of Hephaestus, whom she either bore from Zeus or whom she gave birth to without the aid of a male.
According to one version of the myth of Hephaestus' birth, Hera was jealous that Zeus gave birth to Athena from his head so she set out to create her own child without her husband's aid. Regardless if Zeus was the true father of Hephaestus or not, Hephaestus was born ugly and lame. Hera was so disgusted with the appearance of her infant that she threw him out the window. The poor newborn god fell through the air for an entire day before finally landing on the island of Lemnos, where he ultimately made his home. Hephaestus became the god of black smiths and those who work with metals. He grew up to gain his revenge on his mother by creating her a throne as a gift. As soon as she sat upon it she found that she was stuck tight and could not stand up or move. Hephaestus gave a shrill laugh as he left the mother who cruelly abandoned him. The other gods begged Hephaestus to release her but he refused. Finally, it took Dionysus getting him drunk before he agreed to free her.
Though Hera was usually portrayed in a negative light in myth she did have a positive side. Hera thoroughly protected and helped the mortals she liked. She protected and helped the hero Jason on his quest for the Golden Fleece, only abandoning him when he cheated on his wife.
All this aside, it should be stated a hundred times, if not more, that the myths do not reflect what worshipers actually believed about their gods. They are just stories concocted by their authors. Many of them are meant to convey through symbolism and metaphor truths about the human condition. In reality, Hera is a beautiful, majestic goddess who is worthy of worship and is not a bitter shrew as depicted in myth. Men do not build gorgeous temples to horrible beings who are in desperate need of psychotherapy and marriage counseling. Remember that according to Hieronymos, when Pythagoras went to Hades he saw Homer and Hesiod in Tartarus being punished for the lies they told about the gods.
Parents: The Titans Cronus and Rhea
Offspring: Ares, Enyo, Hebe, Eileithyia, Hephaestus, Eris
Attendants: Eileithyia, Hebe, The Horai, Nephelae (cloud nymphs), and Iris (goddess of the rainbow and messenger of Hera)
Sacred Epithets/Aspects: Zygia (protector of lawful marriage), Gamelios (protector of the marriage ritual), Kourotrophos (nurser of boys), Teleia (watcher of marriage), Antheia (blossom), Henioche (charioteer), Aegophagus (goat eater), Acraea (of the heights), Ammonia ("wife of Zeus Ammon"), Basileia (queen), Bounaia (of the mound), Boopis (cow eyed), Leucolenos (white armed), Pais (child), Parthenos (virigin), Chera (mistress)
Sacred Color: (Orphic Mysteries: Blue )
Zodiac Sign: (Orphic Mysteries: Aquarius )
Sacred Symbols: Crown, Pomegranate, Lotus Scepter, Phiale/Patera, Egg, Throne, The Planet Venus (shared also with Aphrodite) Chariot Pulled by Two Horses or Peacocks
Sacred Incense: Aromatic Herbs
Sacred Offerings: Libations of Wine, Oil, Milk, and Honey, Perfume
Sacrificial Animals: Heifer (female cow), Sheep/Lambs
Sacred Plant: Lotus, Pomegranate, Lily, Carnation
Sacred Bird: Cuckoo, Peacock
Sacred Animal: Cow, Lion
Festival: Daedala, (Roman: Numerous festivals for individual aspects of Juno)
***Note: According to Homer, Hera was her parent's eldest child and daughter.
***Note: In Arcadia, and undoubtedly in other locations, it was believed that Hera was a virgin goddess or that she renewed her virginity by a secret rite each year. The rite is usually believed to be a ritual bath in natural water. The goddess Aphrodite was also believed to renew her virginity and beauty each year with a sacred bath.
***Note: In certain parts of Greece, Hera was worshiped in triple-aspect, that of Hera the maiden, Hera the wife, and Hera the widow.
***Note: As usual, there are multiple versions of the marriage of Zeus and Hera. In the oldest versions Hera was said to be the one to pursue Zeus, having chosen him as her husband before he had any desire for her. In such tales, Hera normally achieves her desire with the help of Aphrodite who gives her a magic ribbon or sash to wear that makes her irresistible to Zeus. In a less romantic version, Zeus threatens to leave Hera naked in the world, for all to see, unless she agrees to marry him.
***Note: It's important to remember that there are no sacred literature in Ancient Greek religion. The myths are the creations of their authors and only represented their personal opinions. Hera's insane jealousy and the lengths she went to punish the mistresses of Zeus and their offspring can be viewed as social commentary concerning the status of women in Greek society. Such also reveals the misogyny of the myth tellers.
***Note: In myth, Hera only persecutes the female lovers of Zeus, and their offspring. She does not go after Zeus' male lovers. This again is social commentary as in Greece, men don't leave their wives for other men. So a male lover would not be viewed as a threat by a wife. Only when a husband cheated with another woman did women fear the loss of their financial stability and status if she were to be divorced.
***Note: According to one myth, Hera was the mother of the monster Typhon, having born him without the aid of a man, and then giving him to the dragon Python to raise.
***Note: The name Heracles means "Glory of Hera".
***Note: For making up such cruel lies about the gods, Homer and Hesiod are allegedly being tormented in Tartarus, the Greek version of hell. Homer is allegedly hanging from a tree and surrounded by serpents. Hesiod is allegedly tied to a bronze pillar where he continuously screams for help which never comes.