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Hera (, Greek Ἥρα, Hēra, equivalently Ἥρη, Hērē, in Ionic and Homer) is the wife and one of three sisters of Zeus in the Olympian pantheon of Greek mythology and religion. Her chief function was as the goddess of women and marriage. Her counterpart in the religion of ancient Rome was Juno. The cow, lion and the peacock were considered sacred to her. Hera's mother is Rhea and her father Cronus.
Portrayed as majestic and solemn, often enthroned, and crowned with the polos (a high cylindrical crown worn by several of the Great Goddesses), Hera may bear a pomegranate in her hand, emblem of fertile blood and death and a substitute for the narcotic capsule of the opium poppy. Scholar of Greek mythology Walter Burkert writes in Greek Religion, "Nevertheless, there are memories of an earlier aniconic representation, as a pillar in Argos and as a plank in Samos."
Hera was known for her jealous and vengeful nature against Zeus's lovers and offspring, but also against mortals who crossed her, such as Pelias. Paris also earned Hera's hatred by choosing Aphrodite as the most beautiful goddess.
The name of Hera admits a variety of mutually exclusive etymologies; one possibility is to connect it with Greek ὥρα hōra, season, and to interpret it as ripe for marriage and according to Plato ἐρατή eratē, "beloved" as Zeus is said to have married her for love. According to Plutarch, Hera was an allegorical name and an anagram of aēr (ἀήρ, "air"). So begins the section on Hera in Walter Burkert's Greek Religion. In a note, he records other scholars' arguments "for the meaning Mistress as a feminine to Heros, Master." John Chadwick, a decipherer of Linear B, remarks "her name may be connected with hērōs, ἥρως, 'hero', but that is no help, since it too is etymologically obscure." A. J. van Windekens, offers "young cow, heifer", which is consonant with Hera's common epithet βοῶπις (boōpis, "cow-eyed"). R. S. P. Beekes has suggested a Pre-Greek origin. Her name is attested in Mycenaean Greek written in the Linear B syllabic script as 𐀁𐀨, e-ra, appearing on tablets found in Pylos and Thebes.
Hera may have been the first to whom the Greeks dedicated an enclosed roofed temple sanctuary, at Samos about 800 BCE. It was replaced later by the Heraion, one of the largest Greek temples anywhere (Greek altars were in front of the temples, under the open sky). There were many temples built on this site so evidence is somewhat confusing and archaeological dates are uncertain.
We know that the temple created by the Rhoecus sculptors and architects was destroyed between 570- 60 BCE. This was replaced by the Polycratean temple 540-530 BCE. In one of these temples we see a forest of 155 columns. There is also no evidence of tiles on this temple suggesting either the temple was never finished or that the temple was open to the sky.
Earlier sanctuaries, whose dedication to Hera is less secure, were of the Mycenaean type called "house sanctuaries". Samos excavations have revealed votive offerings, many of them late 8th and 7th centuries BCE, which show that Hera at Samos was not merely a local Greek goddess of the Aegean: the museum there contains figures of gods and suppliants and other votive offerings from Armenia, Babylon, Iran, Assyria, Egypt, testimony to the reputation which this sanctuary of Hera enjoyed and to the large influx of pilgrims. Compared to this mighty goddess, who also possessed the earliest temple at Olympia and two of the great fifth and sixth century temples of Paestum, the termagant of Homer and the myths is an "almost...comic figure" according to Burkert.
Though greatest and earliest free-standing temple to Hera was the Heraion of Samos, in the Greek mainland Hera was especially worshipped as "Argive Hera" (Hera Argeia) at her sanctuary that stood between the former Mycenaean city-states of Argos and Mycenae, where the festivals in her honor called Heraia were celebrated. "The three cities I love best," the ox-eyed Queen of Heaven declares (Iliad, book iv) "are Argos, Sparta and Mycenae of the broad streets." There were also temples to Hera in Olympia, Corinth, Tiryns, Perachora and the sacred island of Delos. In Magna Graecia, two Doric temples to Hera were constructed at Paestum, about 550 BCE and about 450 BCE. One of them, long called the Temple of Poseidon was identified in the 1950s as a second temple there of Hera.
Hera's importance in the early archaic period is attested by the large building projects undertaken in her honor. The temples of Hera in the two main centers of her cult, the Heraion of Samos and the Heraion of Argos in the Argolid, were the very earliest monumental Greek temples constructed, in the 8th century BCE.
According to the Homeric Hymn III to Delian Apollo, Hera detained Eileithyia to already prevent Leto from going into labor with Artemis and Apollo, since the father was Zeus. The other goddesses present at the birthing on Delos sent Iris to bring her. As she stepped upon the island, the divine birth began. In the myth of the birth of Heracles, it is Hera herself who sits at the door instead, delaying the birth of Heracles until her protégé, Eurystheus, had been born first.
The Homeric Hymn to Pythian Apollo makes the monster Typhaon the offspring of archaic Hera in her Minoan form, produced out of herself, like a monstrous version of Hephaestus, and whelped in a cave in Cilicia. She gave the creature to Python to raise.
In the Temple of Hera at Olympia, Hera's seated cult figure was older than the warrior figure of Zeus that accompanied it. Homer expressed her relationship with Zeus delicately in the Iliad, in which she declares to Zeus, "I am Cronus' eldest daughter, and am honourable not on this ground only, but also because I am your wife, and you are king of the gods." Though Zeus is often called Zeus Heraios 'Zeus, (consort) of Hera', Homer's treatment of Hera is less than respectful, and in late anecdotal versions of the myths (see below) she appeared to spend most of her time plotting revenge on the nymphs seduced by her Consort, for Hera upheld all the old right rules of Hellene society and sorority.
There has been considerable scholarship, reaching back to Johann Jakob Bachofen in the mid-nineteenth century, about the possibility that Hera, whose early importance in Greek religion is firmly established, was originally the goddess of a matriarchal people, presumably inhabiting Greece before the Hellenes. In this view, her activity as goddess of marriage established the patriarchal bond of her own subordination: her resistance to the conquests of Zeus is rendered as Hera's "jealousy", the main theme of literary anecdotes that undercut her ancient cult.
However, it remains a controversial claim that primitive matriarchy existed in Greece or elsewhere.
Hera was most known as the matron goddess, Hera Teleia; but she presided over weddings as well. In myth and cult, fragmentary references and archaic practices remain of the sacred marriage of Hera and Zeus, and at Plataea, there was a sculpture of Hera seated as a bride by Callimachus, as well as the matronly standing Hera.
Hera was also worshipped as a virgin: there was a tradition in Stymphalia in Arcadia that there had been a triple shrine to Hera the Girl (Παις [Pais]), the Adult Woman (Τελεια [Teleia]), and the Separated (Χήρη [Chḗrē] 'Widowed' or 'Divorced'). In the region around Argos, the temple of Hera in Hermione near Argos was to Hera the Virgin. At the spring of Kanathos, close to Nauplia, Hera renewed her virginity annually, in rites that were not to be spoken of (arrheton). The Female figure, showing her "Moon" over the lake is also appropriate, as Hebe, Hera, and Hecate; new moon, full moon, and old moon in that order and otherwise personified as the Virgin of spring, The Mother of Summer, and the destroying Crone of Autumn.
In Hellenistic imagery, Hera's chariot was pulled by peacocks, birds not known to Greeks before the conquests of Alexander. Alexander's tutor, Aristotle, refers to it as "the Persian bird." The peacock motif was revived in the Renaissance iconography that unified Hera and Juno, and which European painters focused on. A bird that had been associated with Hera on an archaic level, where most of the Aegean goddesses were associated with "their" bird, was the cuckoo, which appears in mythic fragments concerning the first wooing of a virginal Hera by Zeus.
Her archaic association was primarily with cattle, as a Cow Goddess, who was especially venerated in "cattle-rich" Euboea. On Cyprus, very early archaeological sites contain bull skulls that have been adapted for use as masks (see Bull (mythology)). Her familiar Homeric epithet Boôpis, is always translated "cow-eyed", for, like the Greeks of Classical times, its other natural translation "cow-faced". In this respect, Hera bears some resemblance to the Ancient Egyptian deity Hathor, a maternal goddess associated with cattle.
Hera bore several epithets in the mythological tradition, including:
- Αἰγοφάγος (Aigophágos) 'Goat-Eater' (among the Lacedaemonians)
- Ἀκραῖα (Akráia) '(She) of the Heights'
- Ἀμμωνία (Ammonia)
- Ἀργεία (Argéia) '(She) of Argos'
- Βασίλεια (Basíleia) 'Queen'
- Βουναία (Bounáia) '(She) of the Mound' (in Corinth)
- Βοῶπις (Boṓpis) 'Cow-Eyed' or 'Cow-Faced'
- Λευκώλενος (Leukṓlenos) 'White-Armed'
- Παῖς (Pais) 'Child' (in her role as virgin)
- Παρθένος (Parthénos) 'Virgin'
- Τελεία (Teléia) (as goddess of marriage)
- Χήρη (Chḗrē) 'Widowed'
Children and Zeus
Hera presides over the right arrangements of the marriage and is the archetype of the union in the marriage bed, but she is not notable as a mother. The legitimate offspring of her union with Zeus are Ares (the god of war), Hebe (the goddess of youth), Eris (the goddess of discord) and Eileithyia (goddess of childbirth). Enyo, a war goddess responsible with the destruction of cities and attendant of Ares, is also mentioned as a daughter of Zeus and Hera, though Homer equates her with Eris. Hera was jealous of Zeus' giving birth to Athena without recourse to her (actually with Metis), so she gave birth to Hephaestus without him, though in some stories, he is the son of her and Zeus. Hera was then disgusted with Hephaestus' ugliness and threw him from Mount Olympus. In an alternative version, Hera alone produced Hebe after being impregnated by a head of lettuce or by beating her hand on the Earth, a solemnizing action for the Greeks.
Hephaestus gained revenge against Hera for rejecting him by making her a magical throne which, when she sat on, did not allow her to leave. The other gods begged Hephaestus to return to Olympus to let her go, but he repeatedly refused. Dionysus got him drunk and took him back to Olympus on the back of a mule. Hephaestus released Hera after being given Aphrodite as his wife.
Hera is the stepmother and enemy of Heracles, who was named "Hera-famous" in her honor; Heracles is the hero who, more than even Perseus, Cadmus or Theseus, introduced the Olympian ways in Greece. When Alcmene was pregnant with Heracles, Hera tried to prevent the birth from occurring by tying Alcmene's legs in knots. She was foiled by Galanthis, her servant, who told Hera that she had already delivered the baby. Hera punished Galanthis by turning her into a weasel.
While Heracles was still an infant, Hera sent two serpents to kill him as he lay in his cot. Heracles throttled a single snake in each hand and was found by his nurse playing with their limp bodies as if they were a child's toys. The anecdote is built upon a representation of the hero gripping a serpent in each hand, precisely as the familiar Minoan snake-handling goddesses had once done. "The picture of a divine child between two serpents may have been long familiar to the Thebans, who worshiped the Cabeiri, although not represented as a first exploit of a hero".
Later she stirred up the Amazons against him when he was on one of his quests.
One account of the origin of the Milky Way is that Zeus had tricked Hera into nursing the infant Heracles: discovering who he was, she pulled him from her breast, and a spurt of her milk formed the smear across the sky that can be seen to this day. Unlike any Greeks, the Etruscans instead pictured a full-grown bearded Heracles at Hera's breast: this may refer to his adoption by her when he became an Immortal. He had previously wounded her severely in the breast.
Hera assigned Heracles to labor for King Eurystheus at Mycenae. She attempted to make almost each of Heracles' twelve labors more difficult.
When he fought the Lernaean Hydra, she sent a crab to bite at his feet in the hopes of distracting him. When Heracles took the cattle of Geryon, he shot Hera in the right breast with a triple-barbed arrow: the wound was incurable and left her in constant pain, as Dione tells Aphrodite in the Iliad, Book V. Afterwards, Hera sent a gadfly to bite the cattle, irritate them and scatter them. Hera then sent a flood which raised the water level of a river so much that Heracles could not ford 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 Cretan Bull to Hera. She refused the sacrifice because it reflected glory on Heracles. The bull was released and wandered to Marathon, becoming known as the Marathonian Bull.
Some myths state that in the end, Heracles befriended Hera by saving her from Porphyrion, a giant who tried to rape her during the Gigantomachy, and that she even gave her daughter Hebe as his bride. Whatever myth-making served to account for an archaic representation of Heracles as "Hera's man" it was thought suitable for the builders of the Heraion at Paestum to depict the exploits of Heracles in bas-reliefs.
According to the urbane retelling of myth in Ovid's Metamorphoses, for a long time, a nymph named Echo had the job of distracting Hera from Zeus' affairs by leading her away and flattering her. When Hera discovered the deception, she cursed Echo to only repeat the words of others (hence our modern word "echo").
Leto and Artemis/Apollo
When Hera discovered that Leto was pregnant and that Zeus was the father, she banned Leto from giving birth on terra-firma, or the mainland, or any island at sea. Poseidon gave pity to Leto and guided her to the floating island of 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 secured with four pillars. The island later became sacred to Apollo. Alternatively, Hera kidnapped Eileithyia, the goddess of childbirth, to prevent Leto from going into labor. The other gods bribed Hera with a beautiful necklace nobody could resist and she finally gave in.
Either way, Artemis was born first and then assisted with the birth of Apollo. Some versions say Artemis helped her mother give birth to Apollo for nine days. Another variation states that Artemis was born one day before Apollo, on the island of Ortygia and that she helped Leto cross the sea to Delos the next day to give birth to Apollo.
Semele and Dionysus
When Hera learned that Semele, daughter of Cadmus King of Thebes, was pregnant by Zeus, she disguised herself as Semele's nurse and persuaded the princess to insist that Zeus show himself to her in his true form. When he was compelled to do so, having sworn by Styx  his thunder and lightning destroyed Semele. Zeus took Semele's unborn child, Dionysus and completed its gestation sewn into his own thigh.
In another version, Dionysus was originally the son of Zeus by either Demeter or Persephone. Hera sent her Titans to rip the baby apart, from which he was called Zagreus ("Torn in Pieces"). Zeus rescued the heart; or, the heart was saved, variously, by Athena, Rhea, or Demeter. Zeus used the heart to recreate Dionysus and implant him in the womb of Semele—hence Dionysus became known as "the twice-born". Certain versions imply that Zeus gave Semele the heart to eat to impregnate her. Hera tricked Semele into asking Zeus to reveal his true form, which killed her. Dionysus later managed to rescue his mother from the underworld and have her live on Mount Olympus.
See also Dionysus' birth for other variations.
Hera almost caught Zeus with a mistress named Io, a fate avoided by Zeus turning Io into a beautiful white heifer. However, Hera was not completely fooled and demanded that Zeus give her the heifer as a present.
Once Io was given to Hera, she placed her in the charge of Argus to keep her separated from Zeus. Zeus then commanded Hermes to kill Argus, which he did by lulling all one hundred eyes to sleep. In Ovid's interpolation, when Hera learned of Argus' death, she took his eyes and placed them in the plumage of the peacock, accounting for the eye pattern in its tail. Hera then sent a gadfly (Greek oistros, compare oestrus)) to sting Io as she wandered the earth. Eventually Io settled in Egypt, where according to Ovid she became the Egyptian goddess Isis.
Lamia was a queen of Libya, whom Zeus loved. Hera turned her into a monster and murdered their children. Or, alternatively, she killed Lamia's children and the grief turned her into a monster. Lamia was cursed with the inability to close her eyes so that she would always obsess over the image of her dead children. Zeus gave her the gift to be able to take her eyes out to rest, and then put them back in. Lamia was envious of other mothers and ate their children.
Other stories involving Hera
Gerana was a queen of the Pygmies who boasted she was more beautiful than Hera. The wrathful goddess turned her into a crane and proclaimed that her bird descendants should wage eternal war on the Pygmy folk.
Cydippe, a priestess of Hera, was on her way to a festival in the goddess' honor. The oxen which were to pull her cart were overdue and her sons, Biton and Cleobis, pulled the cart the entire way (45 stadia, 8 kilometers). Cydippe was impressed with their devotion to her and her goddess and asked Hera to give her children the best gift a god could give a person. Hera ordained that the brothers would die in their sleep.
This honor bestowed upon the children was later used by Solon, as a proof while trying to convince Croesus that it is impossible to judge a person's happiness until they have died a fruitful death after a joyous life.
Tiresias was a priest of Zeus, and as a young man he encountered two snakes mating and hit them with a stick. He was then transformed into a woman. As a woman, Tiresias became a priestess of Hera, married and had children, including Manto. After seven years as a woman, Tiresias again found mating snakes, struck them with her staff, and became a man once more.
As a result of his experiences, Zeus and Hera asked him to settle the question of which sex, male or female, experienced more pleasure during intercourse. Zeus claimed it was women; Hera claimed it was men. When Tiresias sided with Zeus, Hera struck him blind.
Since Zeus could not undo what she had done, he gave him the gift of prophecy. An alternative and less commonly told story has it that Tiresias was blinded by Athena after he stumbled onto her bathing naked. His mother, Chariclo, begged her to undo her curse, but Athena could not; she gave him prophecy instead.
According to the Iliad, during the Trojan War, Diomedes fought Hector and saw Ares fighting on the Trojans' side. Diomedes called for his soldiers to fall back slowly. Hera, Ares' mother, saw Ares' interference and asked Zeus, Ares' father, for permission to drive Ares away from the battlefield. Hera encouraged Diomedes to attack Ares and he threw his spear at the god. Athena drove the spear into Ares' body, and he bellowed in pain and fled to Mt. Olympus, forcing the Trojans to fall back.
The Golden Fleece
Hera hated Pelias because he had killed Sidero, his step-grandmother, in one of the goddess's temples. She later convinced Jason and Medea to kill Pelias. The Golden Fleece was the item that Jason needed to get his mother freed.
In Thrace, Hera and Zeus turned King Haemus and Queen Rhodope into mountains, the Balkan (Haemus Mons) and Rhodope mountain chains respectively, for their hubris in comparing themselves to the gods.
The Judgment of Paris
All the gods and goddesses as well as various mortals were invited to the marriage of Peleus and Thetis (the eventual parents of Achilles). Only Eris, goddess of discord, was not invited. She was annoyed at this, so she arrived with a golden apple inscribed with the word καλλίστῃ (kallistēi, "for the fairest one"), which she threw among the goddesses. Aphrodite, Hera, and Athena all claimed to be the fairest, and thus the rightful owner of the apple.
The goddesses chose to place the matter before Zeus, who, not wanting to favor one of the goddesses, put the choice into the hands of Paris, a Trojan prince. After bathing in the spring of Mount Ida where Troy was situated, they appeared before Paris to have him choose. The goddesses undressed before him, either at his request or for the sake of winning. Still, Paris could not decide, as all three were ideally beautiful, so they resorted to bribes. Hera offered Paris control over all Asia and Europe, while Athena offered wisdom, fame, and glory in battle, and Aphrodite offered the most beautiful mortal woman in the world as a wife, and he accordingly chose her. This woman was Helen, who was, unfortunately for Paris, already married to King Menelaus of Sparta. The other two goddesses were enraged by this and through Helen's abduction by Paris they brought about the Trojan War.
In popular media
- Hera was a near-constant foe for Hercules in several made-for-TV movies and later the television series Hercules: The Legendary Journeys. This version of Hera usually manifested as disembodied eyes throughout most of the made-for-TV films, but she eventually appeared in a human-like form near the end of the series' run.
- Hera was featured in the video game God of War III. She was seen as an evil, ungrateful drunk, and was eventually killed by the series protagonist Kratos, by him snapping her neck/spine.
- Hera is featured in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians and Heroes of Olympus book series, more notably in the first book of the latter series, as a goddess with a certain hatred to all demigods, especially Thalia Grace. In The Lost Hero, she is kidnapped by Porphyrion after taking Jason's memories.
- Hera has often appeared in the Wonder Woman comic book, sometimes as a patroness of the heroine, sometimes as her enemy.
- In the film Hercules by Walt Disney Animation Studios, Hera is voiced by Samantha Eggar. In this version, she is the loving biological mother of Hercules.
Genealogy of the Olympians in Greek mythology
- Burkert, Walter, Greek Religion 1985.
- Burkert, Walter, The Orientalizing Revolution: Near Eastern Influence on Greek Culture in the Early Archaic Age, 1998
- Farnell, Lewis Richard, The cults of the Greek states I: Zeus, Hera Athena Oxford, 1896.
- Graves, Robert, The Greek Myths 1955. Use with caution.
- Kerenyi, Carl, The Gods of the Greeks 1951 (paperback 1980)
- Kerenyi, Karl, 1959. The Heroes of the Greeks Especially Heracles.
- Ruck, Carl A.P., and Danny Staples, The World of Classical Myth 1994
- Seyffert, Oskar. Dictionary of Classical Antiquities 1894. (On-line text)
- Seznec, Jean, The Survival of the Pagan Gods : Mythological Tradition in Renaissance Humanism and Art, 1953
- Slater, Philip E. The Glory of Hera : Greek Mythology and the Greek Family (Boston: Beacon Press) 1968 (Princeton University 1992 ISBN 0-691-00222-3 ) Concentrating on family structure in 5th-century Athens; some of the crude usage of myth and drama for psychological interpreting of "neuroses" is dated.
- Smith, William; Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology, London (1873). "Gali'nthias"
- Theoi Project, Hera Hera in classical literature and Greek art
- The Heraion at Samos