Hebe (Classical Greek: Ήβη), in Greek mythology, is the goddess of youth, legitimate daughter of Zeus and Hera. Thus, she fulfilled various duties on Olympus: she prepared Ares' bath, helped Hera hitch up her chariot, and served nectar and ambrosia to the gods.
Hebe had influence over eternal youth and the ability to restore youth to mortals, a power that seems unique to her, as in Ovid's Metamorphoses, some gods lament the aging of their favorite mortals. According to Philostratus the Elder, Hebe was the youngest of the gods and responsible for keeping them eternally young, and was therefore the most revered by them.
Her role in ensuring the eternal youth of the other gods is fitting to her role as cupbearer, as the word ambrosia has been associated with a possible Proto-Indo-European translation related to immortality, eternity, and life force.
The Greek ἥβη is the inherited word for "youth," from the Protoindo-European * (H) iēgw-eh2-, "youth, vigor."
The name Hebe comes from the Greek word meaning "youth" or "prime of life". Juventus also means "youth", as can be seen in derivatives such as juvenile.
Hebe is the daughter of Zeus and Hera and was seen in myth as a diligent daughter performing household chores that were typical of unmarried, high-ranking girls in ancient Greece.
One of her roles was to be the cupbearer to the gods, serving them ambrosia and nectar. In the classical sources, Hebe's departure from this role was due to her marriage to the deified hero Heracles. Despite this, Cicero seems to suggest that Hebe or Ganymede, who is usually seen as her successor, could serve in the role of cupbearer at the heavenly feast.
The reasoning for Hebe's dismissal was turned into a moralizing story in the 1500s by the Church of England , where it was stated in a note in an English-Latin dictionary that Hebe fell down while attending to the gods, causing her dress to fall apart, exposing her naked body publicly.
Although there is no classical literary or artistic source for this account, the story was modified to function as a warning for women to stay modestly covered at all times, as naked women in particular were seen as shameful by the Church.
She was replaced by the mortal Ganymede, a handsome shepherd, seen by Zeus tending his flock. Hebe danced with the muses and the hours, to the sound of Apollo's lyre. She married Heracles, when the hero, after his death, was immortalized, and with him she had two sons, Alexiares and Anicetos.
In Greek art, Hebe was usually depicted wearing a sleeveless dress and with the company of Heracles, she was usually depicted with one or both parents at her wedding ceremony, or with Aphrodite.
Hebe was a remarkably popular subject in art in the period between 1750 and 1880, having attracted little artistic attention before or since. In the later period, many depictions were portraits of women like Hebe, for whom, at the very least, the only necessary modifications to a normal costume were a flowing white dress, a few flowers in her hair, and a cup to hold. Most artists added an eagle and a backdrop amidst the clouds.
In French, there was a special term, "en Hébé," for the costume. Impersonation appears in rococo and neoclassical styles. Even some very aristocratic models allowed a certain degree of nudity, such as the exposure of a single breast, although this was usually much greater in non-portrait representations.