Hera (Greek: Ἥρα, transl. Hēra or Ἥρη, transl. Hērē), in Greek myth, is the goddess of weddings, motherhood, and wives, equivalent of Juno in Roman myth. Sister and wife of Zeus, she is the queen of the gods, and patroness of marital fidelity.
Portrayed as majestic and solemn, often crowned with the poles (a tall cylindrical crown worn by several goddesses), Hera is usually depicted bearing in her hand a pomegranate, a symbol of fertility, blood and death, and a substitute for the opium poppy pods. The cow and later the peacock were her main symbolic animals. Iris was his faithful attendant, also a messenger and a maidservant.
Portrayed as jealous and aggressive against any extramarital relationship, she hated and persecuted Zeus' mistresses, and the bastard children generated from these relationships. She tried, among some examples, to kill Heracles in his cradle. The only exception was Hermes and his mother Maia, whom the goddess even admired for her cunning and beauty.
Hera is described as "golden-haired" by Bakilides. Homer refers to her as "the goddess of the target arms."
The name Hera admits a variety of mutually exclusive etymologies; One possibility is to connect it with the Greek ὥρα, hora (season), or according to Plato, ἐρατή,, perar (beloved) as Zeus said to have married her for love. According to Plutarch, Hera was an allegorical name and an anagram of AER - ἀήρ (air). Walter Burkert, in a note, records that other scholarly "arguments" include the meaning "lady" as a feminine for heros (master).
John Chadwick, a Linear B decipherer, observe that "her name can be connected with heroes, ἥρως (hero), but that doesn't help since it is also etymologically obscure."
Linguist AJ van Windekens offers "young cow, heifer," which is in line with common epithet of Hera ,βοῶπις (boōpis, "cow's eyes"). RSP Beekes suggested a pre-Greek origin. Her name is attested in Greek Mycenaean written in the linear syllabic script B, e-ra, appearing in finds found at Pilos and Thebes.
Hera may have been the first goddess to whom the Greeks dedicated a sanctuary with an enclosed roof, at Samos about 800 BCE. It was later replaced by the Herakion, one of the largest Greek temples anywhere (Greek altars stood in front of temples, in the open). There were many temples built on this site but the evidence is a bit mixed and the archaeological dates are uncertain.
In Euboea, the festival of the Great Daedala, was sacred to Hera, and was celebrated on a sixty-year cycle.
The importance of Hera in the Archaic period is attested to by the great building projects carried out in her honor. The temples of Hera in the two main centers of her worship, the Heraian on the island of Samos and Argos in Argolida, were the oldest and most monumental Greek temples ever built, in the 8th century BC.
Hera had shrines, and was worshipped in many parts of Greece, often in common with Zeus. Her worship can be traced back to the earliest times: thus we find Hera, surnamed Pelasgis, worshipped by Iolcos. But the main site of her worship was Argos.
According to tradition, Hera had disputed possession of Argos with Posidon, but the gods of the river acted against her. Her most celebrated shrine was situated between Argos and Mycenae, at the foot of Mount Euboea. The vestibule of the temple contained ancient statues of the Graces, Hera's bed, and a shield that Menelaus had taken at Troy from Achilles.
The colossal seated statue of Hera in this temple, made of gold and ivory, was the work of Polycletus. She wore a crown on her head, accompanied by the graces and hours; on one side she held a pomegranate, and on the other a scepter directed with a cuckoo.
Properly speaking, Hera was the goddess of marriage and the birth of children. Various epithets and nicknames, such as Ilithia, Gamelia, Zulia, Teleia, etc., contain allusions to this character of the goddess, and Ilithia and Hours are described as her daughters. Her favorite places on earth would be the center of her cults, Argos, Sparta and Mycenae.
There has been considerable scholarship, beginning with the work of Johann Jakob Bachofen in the mid-19th century, on the possibility that Hera, whose importance in early Greek religion is firmly established, was originally the goddess of a matriarchal people, presumably who inhabited Greece before the Hellenes.
In this view, her activity as goddess of marriage established the patriarchal bond of her own subordination: her resistance to Zeus' conquests is presented as "jealousy" of Hera, the main theme of the literary anecdotes that reduce her ancient cult.
However, it remains a controversial claim that early matriarchy existed in Greece or elsewhere.
Hera was best known as the matron goddess, Hera Teleia, but she also presided over marriages. In myth and worship, fragmentary references and archaic practices remain of the sacred marriage of Hera and Zeus, and at Plateias there was a sculpture of Hera sitting as the bride of Chalimachus.
Hera was also worshipped as a virgin: there was a tradition in Stymphalia, Arcadia that there had been a triple shrine to Hera: the Girl (Παις), the woman of middle age (Τελεια [Teleia]), and the Elder (Χήρη [chére] 'Widow' or "Divorced"). In the region of Argos, the temple of Hera at Hermione near Argos was of the Virgin Hera.
In the spring of Canato (Kanathos), near Nauplia, Hera renewed her virginity annually in the arrheton rites. The female figure, showing her in the lake with the reflected "moon" was also used for Hebe and Hecate; new moon, full moon, and old moon in that order represented the goddess' personification as the Virgin of Spring, the Mother of Summer, and Lady of Autumn.
Regarding the actual meaning of Hera, the ancients themselves offer various interpretations: some considered her as the personification of the atmosphere, others as the queen of the heavens or the goddess of the stars, or as the goddess of the moon, and she is even confused with Ceres, Diana, and Persephone.
According to modern views, Hera is the great goddess of nature, who was worshiped everywhere from the earliest times. The Romans identified their goddess Juno with the Greek Hera.
We still have various representations of Hera. The most noble image, and one that was later seen as the ideal of the goddess, was the statue of Polykleto. She was usually depicted as a majestic woman in a mature age, with a beautiful forehead, large and wide-open eyes, and with a grave and commanding expression.
Her hair was adorned with a crown or diadem. A veil often drew down the back of her head, to characterize her as the bride of Zeus, and, indeed, the diadem, veil, scepter, and peacock are her common attributes. A number of statues and heads of Hera still exist.
Birth, youth and marriage to Zeus
Hera was, according to some accounts, the eldest daughter of Kronos and Reia, and a sister of Zeus. Apollodorus, however, calls Hestia the eldest daughter of Kronos and Lactantius calls Hera the twin sister of Zeus. According to the Homeric poems, she would have been raised by Thetis before Zeus usurped the throne from Kronos. She then became her brother's wife, without her parents' knowledge. This version is variously modified in other traditions.
Being a daughter of Kronos, she, like her other brothers, was swallowed by her father, but then freed by Zeus, and, according to an Arcadian tradition, raised by Temeno, son of Pelasgo.
Other documentary sources, however, report that she would have been raised by Euboea, Prosymna, and Acraea, the three daughters of the river Asterion; and according to Olen (Greek poet), they were her nurses. Several parts of Greece also claimed the honor of being her homeland; among them are Argos and Samos, which were the main places of her worship.
Her marriage to Zeus also offered ample possibilities for poetic invention, and several places in Greece have claimed the honor of having been the scene of the wedding, such as Euboea, Samos, Cnossus in Crete, and Mount Thornax in southern Argolida (Greece).
This wedding was a prominent part of the worship of Hera under the name hieros gamos. On this occasion, all the gods honored the bride with gifts and gave her a tree with golden apples, which was placed by the Hesperides in Hera's garden near Hyperborea.
The Homeric poems show nothing of this, they only report that after her marriage to Zeus she was treated by the gods of Olympus with the same reverence as they treated her husband. Zeus himself, according to Homer, listened to her advice, and told her his secrets, rather than other gods. Hera also felt entitled to rebuke Zeus when he consulted others without her knowing.
Her personality, as described by Homer, is not the very kindly type, and her main characteristics are jealousy, obstinacy, and a willingness to quarrel, which sometimes made her own husband tremble. Hence frequent conflicts arise between Hera and Zeus; and on one occasion Hera, together with Posidon and Athena, put Zeus in prison.
Zeus, in such cases, not only threatens her, but beats her; when after being bound, he was able to come out of the clouds, with his hands chained, and with two anvils suspended from his feet. She is frightened by his threats, and gives in when he is angry; and when she is unable to obtain her ends in any other way, she resorts to cunning and intrigue.
Thus she borrows Aphrodite's belt, which has the power of charm and fascination, to excite the love of Zeus. With Zeus, she was the mother of Ares, Hebe, and Hephaestus.
Due to the judgment of Paris, she was hostile to the Trojans, and in the Trojan War, she fought on the side of the Greeks. Hence her worship took precedence over Hellias. In the Iliad she appears as an enemy of Heracles, but is wounded by his arrows, and in the Odyssey she is described as a defender of Jason.
Children of Hera and birth of Hephaestus
Hera presides over marriages and is the archetype of union in the marriage bed, but she is not notable as a mother. The legitimate offspring of her union with Zeus, according to Hesiod are: Ares (the god of war), Hebe (goddess of youth) and Ilithia (goddess of childbirth).
Hera was jealous that Zeus gave birth to Athena, without recourse to her (by parthenogenesis since Athena was born from Zeus' own head), so she gave birth to Hephaestus, without him, although in some stories, he is her son with Zeus. Hera was disgusted at Hephaestus' ugliness and threw him off Mount Olympus.
In some myths, Hephaestus took revenge on his mother for rejecting him by making him a magical throne that, when she sat on it, did not allow her to get up. The other gods begged Hephaestus to return to Olympus to let her out, but he refused. Dionysus got him drunk and took him back to Olympus on the back of a mule. Hephaestus removed Hera from the throne after being given Aphrodite as his wife.
Pursuit of Zeus' mistresses
When Hera found out that Leto was pregnant and that Zeus was the father, she forbade Leto to give birth on dry land, or on the mainland, or on any island in the sea. Posidon, feeling sorry for Leto, guided her to a floating island in Delos, which was neither mainland nor a real island, and Leto was able to give birth to her children on the island.
As a gesture of gratitude, Delos was bound with four pillars. The island later became sacred to Apollo. Alternatively, Hera prevented her daughter Ilicia, the goddess of childbirth, from helping Leto give birth. The other gods bribed Hera with a beautiful necklace that no one could resist, and she finally gave in.
Artemis would have been born first and then assisted the birth of Apollo. Some versions say that Artemis helped her mother give birth to Apollo for nine days. Another version says that Artemis was born a day before Apollo, on the island of Othygia and that she helped Leto cross the sea to Delos the next day to give birth to Apollo.
According to Ovid's retelling of the urban myth in Metamorphoses, for a long time, a nymph named Echo had the job of distracting Hera while Zeus was dating other nymphs. When Hera discovered the deception, she cursed Eco to only repeat the words of others (hence our modern word "echo"). In the future, Echo would be one of the nymphs in love with Narcissus and would watch him languish over his own reflection.
When Hera discovered that Sêmele, the daughter of Cadmo, the king of Thebes, was pregnant with Zeus' child, she disguised herself as Sêmele's nurse and convinced the princess to insist that Zeus show her his true form. When he was forced to do so, having sworn by Styx, his thunder and lightning destroyed Sêmele. Zeus then took Dionysus from Sêmele's womb, and placed him on her thigh ending the pregnancy.
In another version, Dionysus was originally the son of Zeus with Demeter or Persephone. Hera sent her titans to tear the baby to pieces, from which he was called Zagreus ("shattered"). Zeus managed to rescue the heart; or, the heart was saved, by Athena, Reia, or Demeter.
Zeus used the heart to recreate Dionysus and implant it in the womb of Sêmele, hence Dionysus became known as "the twice-born." Certain versions claim that Zeus gave Gemini the heart to eat to make her pregnant. Hera tricked Gemini by asking Zeus to reveal his true form, which killed her. Dionysus later managed to rescue his mother from the underworld and bring her to live on Mount Olympus.
Hera almost caught Zeus with a lover named Io, a fate averted by Zeus who turned Io into a beautiful white heifer. However, Hera was not completely wrong and demanded that Zeus give her the heifer as a gift.
Once Io was given to Hera, she placed the titan Argos Panoptes to keep Io separated from Zeus. Zeus then ordered Hermes to kill Argos, which he did. The goddess, in gratitude, put her eyes on a peacock, which has eye designs on its tail to this day.
Hera, still disgusted, sent an insect to infest Io, who wandered from Greece to Egypt, where, on the banks of the Nile River, she returned to the form of a woman, giving birth to Epaphus. She ruled a region there wearing a crown with cow horns, Zeus would take pity and promises Hera never to touch Io again. Hera accepts and with a bit of distrust, makes peace with the nymph.
Lamia was a queen of Libya, lover of Zeus. Hera turned her into a monster and killed her children. Or, alternatively, she killed Lamia's children and sorrow turned her into a monster.
Finally, to torture her even more, Lamia was condemned by Hera not to be allowed to close her eyes, so that she would forever be obsessed with the image of her dead children. Zeus, pitying her, gave her the gift of being able to extract her eyes from time to time to rest. Lamia was jealous of the other mothers and ate their children.
Persecution of Zeus' bastard sons
Hera was the stepmother and enemy of Heracles, who was named "Glory of Hera" in her honor; Heracles is the hero who, more than even Perseus, or Theseus, introduced the forms of Olympus to Greece. When Alcmena was pregnant with Heracles, Hera tried to prevent the birth from occurring by tying up Alcmena's legs. She was thwarted by Galanthis, her servant, who told Hera that she had already had the baby. Hera punished Galanthis by turning him into a weasel.
While Heracles was still a baby, Hera sent two serpents to kill him while he was lying on his bed. Heracles strangled a single serpent in each hand and was found by his nanny playing with their flaccid bodies as if they were a child's toys.
The anecdote is built on a depiction of the hero holding a serpent in each hand. The image of a divine child between two serpents may have been very familiar to the Thebans, who worshipped the Cabeiri, although it is not depicted as a hero's first exploration.
Later, she roused the Amazons against him when Heracles was on one of his missions.
One myth about the origin of the Milky Way is that Zeus had tricked Hera by giving her a child to nurse, but this child was Heracles: When Hera found out, she pulled him from her breast, and a gush of his milk formed a speck in the sky that can be observed from that day on.
Unlike the Greeks, the Etruscans imagined an adult Heracles at Hera's breast: this may refer to his approval by her when he became immortal. He had already severely wounded her breast.
Hera made Heracles work for King Eurystheus of Mycenae. She made him do every job, popularly known as the Twelve Labors of Hercules.
When he fought the Hydra of Lerna, she sent a crab to bite his feet, hoping to distract him. When Heracles took Geryon's cattle, he shot Hera in the right breast with a barbed arrow: the wound was incurable and left her in constant pain, as Dione says to Aphrodite in the Iliad, Book V.
Then Hera sent a fly to bite the cattle. Hera then sent a flood that raised the water level of a river so high that Heracles could not cross the river with the cattle. He piled stones into the river to make the water shallower. When he finally reached the court of Eurystheus, the cattle were sacrificed to Hera.
Eurystheus also wanted to sacrifice the Bull of Crete to Hera. She refused the sacrifice because it reflected the glory of Heracles.
Some myths claim that in the end Heracles befriended Hera, saving her from Porphyry, a giant who tried to rape her during the Gigantomachy, and that she herself gave her daughter Hebe as Heracles' bride.
The creation of this myth served to explain an archaic representation of Heracles as "Hera's man," thought appropriate for the builders of Heraian in depicting Hercules' exploits in the reliefs of Hera's temple.
Apollo and Artemis
When Hera discovered that Leto was pregnant and that Zeus was the father, she forbade Leto to give birth on dry land, or on mainland, or any island in the sea. Posidon, feeling sorry for Leto guided her to a floating island in Delos, which was neither mainland nor a real island, and Leto was able to give birth to her children on the island.
In the Iliad, she came to blows with Hera, when the divine allies of the Greeks and Trojans fought each other in the conflict. Hera struck Artemis in the ears with her own quiver, causing the hunter's arrows to fall. Then Artemis fled crying to Zeus, and Leto collected her bow and arrows.
In some myths Aphrodite was the daughter of Zeus and Dione. Zeus allegedly tried to seduce the goddess as soon as she came out of the sea in Cyprus. However, the goddess, frightened by the advances of the god of Olympus, ran away. Later, she would have given herself to Zeus of her own free will, earning the eternal hatred of Hera, his wife.
When Hera learned that Aphrodite was pregnant with Zeus' child, she maliciously put her hand on her belly and gave birth to a deformed child. This child would become the god Priapo. However, other myths say that Priapo is the son of Dionysus or Adonis. Some say that she never made it to Troy, but that Hera, to get revenge on Aphrodite, had Hermes kidnap Helen and bring her to Egypt. While Helen was in Egypt, Hera made a false Helen.
Zeus impregnated Gemini, without Hera's knowledge, and promised Gemini that she could ask for anything she wanted; deceived by Hera, she asked Zeus to show himself to her in his real form, as he showed himself to Hera. Unable to refuse, Zeus appears in a chariot of lightning and thunder, and Sêmele dies, from fright; Zeus takes the six-month premature baby, and raises him on his thigh.
The Punishment of Ixion
Ixion, who had been king of the Lapitae, fell in love with Hera and tried to rape her, and when Hera told Zeus, he wanted to check if it was really true. So he made a cloud to look like Hera, and placed it next to Ixion. When Ixion boasted to everyone that he had slept with Hera, Zeus, angered, punished him by tying him to a wheel, cast him into Tartarus doomed to spin in it for eternity.
Assistance to the Argonauts
Hera hated Pelias, because he had killed Siderus, in one of the goddess' temples. Later, she convinced Jason and Medea to kill Pelias. Jason became one of Hera's protégés, as did the Argonauts, who were helped by her in their quest for the golden fleece.
The Trial of Paris and the Trojan War
All the gods and goddesses as well as various mortals were invited to the wedding of Peleus and Thetis (the parents of Achilles). Only Eris, goddess of discord, was not invited.
She was annoyed by this, so she arrived at the wedding banquet with a golden apple, which had the inscription καλλίστῃ (kallistēi, "to the most beautiful"), and threw the apple among the goddesses. Aphrodite, Hera, and Athena all claimed to be the most beautiful, and thus the owner of the apple.
The goddesses chose to let the matter be settled by Zeus, who, not wanting to favor one of the goddesses, put the choice in the hands of Paris, a Trojan prince. The goddesses undressed for Paris on Mount Ida, yet Paris could not decide, as all three were ideally beautiful, so the goddesses resorted to bribery.
Hera offered control over all Asia and Europe, while Athena offered wisdom, fame and glory in battle, and Aphrodite offered the love of the most beautiful mortal woman in the world, this woman was Helen, who was married to the king of Sparta, Menelaus.
Paris chose Aphrodite, and the other two goddesses were furious that they had lost and favored the Greeks in the ensuing war, caused by the abduction of Helen by Paris.
During the Trojan War, Hera, Athena, Posidon, Hephaestus and Thetis protected the Greeks. In the war, Hera even wounded Artemis who was protecting the Trojans, and took Aphrodite's magic belt to favor the Greeks.
Hera as queen of the gods was represented in many sculptures from antiquity, the ones that still exist and are most famous are: