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Hera

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Hera
  • Queen of the Gods
  • Goddess of marriage, women, marital harmony, and the protector of women during childbirth
Member of the
Hera Campana Louvre Ma2283.jpg
The Campana Hera, a Roman copy of a Hellenistic original, from the Louvre
Major cult centerArgos, Mycenae, Samos
AbodeMount Olympus
AnimalsHeifer, cuckoo, peacock
SymbolPomegranate, sceptre, crown (polos or diadem)
Personal information
ParentsCronus and Rhea
SiblingsPoseidon, Hades, Demeter, Hestia, Zeus; Chiron (half)
ConsortZeus
ChildrenAngelos, Arge, Ares, the Charites, Eileithyia, Eleutheria, Enyo, Eris, Hebe, Hephaestus
Roman equivalentJuno
Etruscan equivalentUni

In ancient Greek religion, Hera (/ˈhɛrə, ˈhɪərə/; Greek: Ἥρα, translit. Hḗrā; Ἥρη, Hḗrē in Ionic and Homeric Greek) is the goddess of marriage, women and family, and the protector of women during childbirth. In Greek mythology, she is queen of the twelve Olympians and Mount Olympus, sister and wife of Zeus, and daughter of the Titans Cronus and Rhea. One of her defining characteristics in myth is her jealous and vengeful nature in dealing with any who offend her, especially Zeus' numerous adulterous lovers and illegitimate offspring.

Her iconography usually presents her as a dignified, matronly figure, upright or enthroned, crowned with a polos or diadem, sometimes veiled as a married woman.[1] She is the patron goddess of lawful marriage. She presides over weddings, blesses and legalises marital unions, and protects women from harm during childbirth. Her sacred animals include the cow, cuckoo and the peacock. She is sometimes shown holding a pomegranate, as an emblem of immortality. Her Roman counterpart is Juno.[2]

Hera on an antique fresco from Pompeii

Etymology

The name of Hera has several possible and 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"[3] as Zeus is said to have married her for love.[4] According to Plutarch, Hera was an allegorical name and an anagram of aēr (ἀήρ, "air").[5] So begins the section on Hera in Walter Burkert's Greek Religion.[6] 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."[7] A. J. van Windekens,[8] 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.[9] 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,[10] as well in the Cypriotic dialect in the dative e-ra-i.[11]

Cult

Hera may have been the first deity to whom the Greeks dedicated an enclosed roofed temple sanctuary, at Samos about 800 BCE. It was replaced later by the Heraion of Samos, one of the largest of all Greek temples (altars were in front of the temples under the open sky). There were many temples built on this site, so the evidence is somewhat confusing, and archaeological dates are uncertain.

The temple created by the Rhoecus sculptors and architects was destroyed between 570 and 560 BCE. This was replaced by the Polycratean temple of 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 certain, were of the Mycenaean type called "house sanctuaries".[12] 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.[13]

The Temple of Hera at Agrigento, Magna Graecia
.

Though the 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,[14][15] where the festivals in her honor called Heraia were celebrated. "The three cities I love best," the ox-eyed Queen of Heaven declares in the 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 temple of Hera.[16]

In Euboea, the festival of the Great Daedala, sacred to Hera, was celebrated on a sixty-year cycle.

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 Argolis, were the very earliest monumental Greek temples constructed, in the 8th century BCE.[17]

Importance

According to Walter Burkert, both Hera and Demeter have many characteristic attributes of Pre-Greek Great Goddesses.[18]

In the same vein, British scholar Charles Francis Keary suggests that Hera had some sort of "Earth Goddess" worship in ancient times,[19][20][21] connected to her possible origin as a Pelasgian goddess (as mentioned by Herodotus).[22][21]

According to Homeric Hymn II to Delian Apollo, Hera detained Eileithyia to 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, delaying the birth of Heracles until her protégé, Eurystheus, had been born first.[23]

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.[24] She gave the creature to Python to raise.

Roman copy of a Greek 5th century Hera of the "Barberini Hera" type, from the Museo Chiaramonti

In the Temple of Hera, 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."[25]

Matriarchy

There has been considerable scholarship, reaching back to Johann Jakob Bachofen in the mid-nineteenth century,[26] 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.[27]

However, it remains a controversial claim that an ancient matriarchy or a cultural focus on a monotheistic Great Goddess existed among the ancient Greeks or elsewhere. The claim is generally rejected by modern scholars as insufficiently evidenced.[28]

Youth

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.[29] At Plataea, there was a sculpture of Hera seated as a bride by Callimachus, as well as the matronly standing Hera.[30]

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').[31] In the region around Argos, the temple of Hera in Hermione near Argos was to Hera the Virgin.[32] At the spring of Kanathos, close to Nauplia, Hera renewed her virginity annually, in rites that were not to be spoken of (arrheton).[33] Robert Graves interprets this as a representation of the new moon (Hebe), full moon (Hera), and old moon (Hecate), respectively personifying the Virgin (Spring), the Mother (Summer), and the destroying Crone (Autumn).[34][35]

Emblems

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, which European painters focused on.[36] 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". In this respect, Hera bears some resemblance to the Ancient Egyptian deity Hathor, a maternal goddess associated with cattle.

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."[37]

Epithets

Hera bore several epithets in the mythological tradition, including:

  • Ἀλέξανδρος (Alexandros) 'Protector of Men' (Alexandros) (among the Sicyonians)
  • Αἰγοφάγος (Aigophágos) 'Goat-Eater' (among the Lacedaemonians[38])
  • Ἀκραῖα (Akráia) '(She) of the Heights'[39]
  • Ἀμμωνία (Ammonia)
  • Ἄνθεια (Antheia), meaning flowery[40]
  • Ἀργεία (Argéia) '(She) of Argos'
  • Βασίλεια (Basíleia) 'Queen'
  • Βουναία (Bounáia) '(She) of the Mound' (in Corinth[41][42])
  • Βοῶπις (Boṓpis) 'Cow-Eyed'[43] or 'Cow-Faced'
  • Λευκώλενος (Leukṓlenos) 'White-Armed'[43]
  • Παῖς (Pais) 'Child' (in her role as virgin)
  • Παρθένος (Parthénos) 'Virgin'
  • Τελεία (Teléia) (as goddess of marriage)
  • Χήρη (Chḗrē) 'Widowed'
  • Τελχινία (Telchinia), Diodorus Siculus write that she was worshiped by the Ialysians and the Cameirans (both were on the island of Rhodes). She was named like that because according to a legend, Telchines (Τελχῖνες) were the first inhabitants of the island and also the first who created statues of gods.[44]
  • Ζυγία (Zygia), as the presider over marriage. Her husband Zeus had also the epithet Zygius (Ζυγίος). These epithets describing them as presiding over marriage.[45]

Mythology

Birth

Hera is the daughter of the youngest Titan Cronus and his wife, and sister, Rhea. Cronus was fated to be overthrown by one of his children; to prevent this, he swallowed all of his newborn children whole until Rhea tricked him into swallowing a stone instead of her youngest child, Zeus. Zeus grew up in secret and when he grew up he tricked his father into regurgitating his siblings, including Hera. Zeus then led the revolt against the Titans, banished them, and divided the dominion over the world with his brothers Poseidon and Hades.[46]

Marriage with Zeus

Hera is the goddess of marriage and childbirth rather than motherhood, and much of her mythology revolves around her marriage with her brother Zeus. She is charmed by him and she seduces him; he cheats on her and has many children with other goddesses and mortal women; she is intensely jealous and vindictive towards his children and their mothers; he is threatening and violent to her.[47]

In the Iliad, Zeus implies their marriage was some sort of elopement, as they lay secretly from their parents.[48] Pausanias records a tale of how they came to be married in which Zeus transformed into a cuckoo to woo Hera. She caught the bird and kept it as her pet; this is why the cuckoo is seated on her sceptre.[49] According to a scholion on Theocritus' Idylls when Hera was heading toward Mount Thornax alone, Zeus created a terrible storm and transformed himself into a cuckoo who flew down and sat on her lap. Hera covered him with her cloak. Zeus then transformed back and took hold of her; because she was refusing to sleep with him due to their mother, he promised to marry her.[50]

In one account Hera refused to marry Zeus and hid in a cave to avoid him; an earthborn man named Achilles convinced her to give him a chance, and thus the two had their first sexual intercourse.[51] A variation goes that Hera had been reared by a nymph named Macris on the island of Euboea, but Zeus stole her away, where Mt. Cithaeron, in the words of Plutarch, "afforded them a shady recess". When Macris came to look for her ward, the mountain-god Cithaeron drove her away, saying that Zeus was taking his pleasure there with Leto.[52]

According to Callimachus, their wedding feast lasted three thousand years.[53] The Apples of the Hesperides that Heracles was tasked by Eurystheus to take were a wedding gift by Gaia to the couple.[54]

After a quarrel with Zeus, Hera left him and retreated to Euboea, and no word from Zeus managed to sway her mind. Cithaeron, the local king, then advised Zeus to take a wooden statue of a woman, wrap it up, and pretend to marry it. Zeus did as told, claiming "she" was Plataea, Asopus's daughter. Hera, once she heard the news, disrupted the wedding ceremony and tore away the dress from the figure only to discover it was but a lifeless statue, and not a rival in love. The queen and her king were reconciled, and to commemorate this the people there celebrated a festival called Daedala.[55] During the festival, a re-enactment of the myth was celebrated, where a wooden statue of Hera was chosen, bathed in the river Asopus and then raised on a chariot to lead the procession like a bride, and then ritually burned.[56]

According to Diodorus Siculus, Alcmene, the mother of Heracles, was the very last mortal woman Zeus ever slept with; following the birth of Heracles, he ceased to beget humans altogether.[57]

Heracles

Heracles strangling the snakes sent by Hera, Attic red-figured stamnos, ca. 480–470 BCE. From Vulci, Etruria
.

Hera is the stepmother and enemy of Heracles. The name Heracles means "Glory of Hera". In Homer's Iliad, when Alcmene was about to give birth to Heracles, Zeus announced to all the gods that on that day a child by Zeus himself, would be born and rule all those around him. Hera, after requesting Zeus to swear an oath to that effect, descended from Olympus to Argos and made the wife of Sthenelus (son of Perseus) give birth to Eurystheus after only seven months, while at the same time preventing Alcmene from delivering Heracles. This resulted in the fulfillment of Zeus's oath in that it was Eurystheus rather than Heracles.[23] In Pausanias' recounting, Hera sent witches (as they were called by the Thebans) to hinder Alcmene's delivery of Heracles. The witches were successful in preventing the birth until Historis, daughter of Tiresias, thought of a trick to deceive the witches. Like Galanthis, Historis announced that Alcmene had delivered her child; having been deceived, the witches went away, allowing Alcmene to give birth.[58]

Hera's wrath against Zeus' son continues and while Heracles is still an infant, Hera sends two serpents to kill him as he lies in his cot. Heracles throttles the snakes with his bare hands and is found by his nurse playing with their limp bodies as if they were a child's toy.[59]

The Origin of the Milky Way by Jacopo Tintoretto
, 1575

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.[60] 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.

When Heracles reached adulthood, Hera drove him mad, which led him to murder his family and this later led to him undertaking his famous labours. Hera assigned Heracles to labour for King Eurystheus at Mycenae. She attempted to make almost all of Heracles' twelve labours more difficult. When he fought the Lernaean Hydra, she sent a crab to bite at his feet in the hopes of distracting him. Later Hera stirred up the Amazons against him when he was on one of his quests. 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

Hera (according to inscription); tondo of an Attic white-ground kylix from Vulci
, ca. 470 BCE

Leto and the Twins: Apollo and Artemis

When Hera discovered that Leto was pregnant and that Zeus was the father, she convinced the nature spirits to prevent Leto from giving birth on terra-firma, the mainland, any island at sea, or any place under the sun.[62] Poseidon gave pity to Leto and guided her to the floating island of Delos, which was neither mainland nor a real island where Leto was able to give birth to her children.[63] Afterwards, Zeus secured Delos to the bottom of the ocean.[64] 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.[65]

Either way, Artemis was born first and then assisted with the birth of Apollo.[66] Some versions say Artemis helped her mother give birth to Apollo for nine days.[65] 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.

Later, Tityos attempted to rape Leto at the behest of Hera. He was slain by Artemis and Apollo.

This account of the birth of Apollo and Artemis is contradicted by