Hera Bio

Vatican Museum Barberini Hera
Head of Hera with diadem. Marble, Roman copy from the Imperial Era after the “Barberini Hera” type, 5th century BC. Marie-Lan Nguyen (September 2009) See page for author [CC BY 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org /licenses/by/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons
Hera – Vain Schemer

Greek: Hera; Latin: Juno

Intro:
Hera may be a holdover from possible, earlier matriarchal religions of the region (suggested in Zeus’ title “Zeus Heraois” where Zeus is named for his wife). In the Greek mythology that has been handed down to us, her life, up to the time she marries Zeus, holds little unique drama; that is, like her sisters and brothers, the other children of Titans Kronos and Rhea, she winds up in papa’s belly until Zeus forces their father to disgorge them, and she may have played a role in the war between the Titans and Gods [The Titanomachy]. Not the first wife of brother Zeus, King of the Gods, she is the last, and therein lies the main motive for Hera’s actions in Greek myth.

 

Hera’s Story:

Jealous, but unable to get the best of Zeus, she focuses her schemes on the other women — Titan, nymph, or mortal — whom the Great Adulterer continues to bed. When they are not available or suitable for her wrath, their demigod sons are. Hence, Hera, Queen of the Gods, is well known for persecuting Heracles, whose name means “the glory of Hera.” Ultimately, when Herakles joins the gods, the stepmother and new god reconcile with Hera marrying him to her daughter Hebe.

Grandparents: Uranos (sky) and Gaia (Earth)
Parents: The Titans, Kronos and RheaMates: Zeus, IxionChildren: Hebe, Ares, Eileithyia (By Zeus)Hephaistos (Without father)Typhaon (Without father)

Symbols: Crown, staff, pomegranate

Animals: Peacock, cow, lion, cuckoo

Powers (Spheres of Influence): Air, Marriage, Fertility, Women

Shrines: The primary cult centers were the Heraion near Mykenai in Argos, Olympia, and the island of Samos, possibly her birthplace.

See Pausanias’s Description of Greece, Volume 3 for a bit about the peacock and pomegranate symbolism in her shrine

In Modern Culture: Hera features in modern adaptations of the Heracles story as the demigod’s main opponent. Wonderwoman also features her. In Rick Riordan’s Lightning Thief, Cabin 2 at Camp Half-Blood is dedicated to her.

Drawing of an image from a 5th century BCE Athenian red figure vase depicting Hermes slaying the giant Argus Panoptes. Note the eyes covering Argus' body. Io as a cow stands in the background. PD  Wilhelm Heinrich Roscher - http://www.minervaclassics.com/Hermes_Io_Argos_Roscher.jpg, "Ausführliches Lexikon der Griechischen und Römischen Mythologie", published 1890
Drawing of an image from a 5th century BCE Athenian red figure vase depicting Hermes slaying the giant Argus Panoptes. Note the eyes covering Argus’ body. Io as a cow stands in the background. PD Wilhelm Heinrich Roscher – http://www.minervaclassics.com/Hermes_Io_Argos_Roscher.jpg, “Ausführliches Lexikon der Griechischen und Römischen Mythologie”, published 1890

Hera’s trademark peacock bears plumage decorated with the many (100) eyes of Argos Panoptes (whom Hermes put to sleep). In obedience to Hera, Argos had attempted to guard a mortal woman-turned-cow (Io) against the advances of Zeus. After Hermes slew him, a salvage operation put Argos’ eyes on the stately bird. Hera continued to harass the poor cow by sending a gadfly after it, sending it wandering over the Earth until it reached the Nile.

Hera produced children without help of a mate in response to Zeus’ producing his own daughter Athena parthenogenically. The main offspring was Hephaistos who features in the myth explaining how Dionysus acquired a throne on Mt. Olympus and the ugliest god married the goddess of love and beauty, Aphrodite. The second offspring was Typhaon, a monstrous version of Hephaistos.

Homeric Hymn to Pythian Apollo:
[305] She it was who once received from gold-throned Hera and brought up fell, cruel Typhaon to be a plague to men. Once on a time Hera bare him because she was angry with father Zeus, when the Son of Cronos bare all-glorious Athena in his head. Thereupon queenly Hera was angry [310] and spoke thus among the assembled gods:

“Hear from me, all gods and goddesses, how cloud-gathering Zeus begins to dishonor me wantonly, when he has made me his true-hearted wife. See now, apart from me he has given birth to bright-eyed Athena [315] who is foremost among all the blessed gods. But my son Hephaestus whom I bare [317a] was weakly among all the blessed gods and shrivelled of foot, a shame and a disgrace to me in heaven, whom I myself took in my hands and cast out so that he fell in the great sea. But silver-shod Thetis the daughter of Nereus [320] took and cared for him with her sisters: would that she had done other service to the blessed gods! O wicked one and crafty! What else will you now devise? How dared you by yourself give birth to bright-eyed Athena? Would not I have borne you a child —I, who was at least called your wife [325] among the undying gods who hold wide heaven. [325a] Beware now lest I devise some evil thing for you hereafter: yes, now I will contrive that a son be born me to be foremost among the undying gods —and that without casting shame on the holy bond of wedlock between you and me. [330] And I will not come to your bed, but will consort with the blessed gods far off from you.”

When she had so spoken, she went apart from the gods, being very angry. Then straightway large-eyed queenly Hera prayed, striking the ground flatwise with her hand, and speaking thus:

[335] “Hear now, I pray, Earth and wide Heaven above and you Titan gods who dwell beneath the earth about great Tartarus, and from whom are sprung both gods and men! Harken you now to me, one and all, and grant that I may bear a child apart from Zeus, no wit lesser than him in strength —nay, let him be as much stronger than Zeus as all-seeing Zeus than Cronos.” [340] Thus she cried and lashed the earth with her strong hand. Then the life-giving earth was moved: and when Hera saw it she was glad in heart, for she thought her prayer would be fulfilled. And thereafter she never came to the bed of wise Zeus for a full year, [345] nor to sit in her carved chair as aforetime to plan wise counsel for him, but stayed in her temples where many pray, and delighted in her offerings, large-eyed queenly Hera. But when the months and days were fulfilled [350] and the seasons duly came on as the earth moved round, she bare one neither like the gods nor mortal men, fell, cruel Typhaon, to be a plague to men. Straightway large-eyed queenly Hera took him and bringing one evil thing to another such, gave him to the dragoness; and she received him.

Those who tried to seduce Hera fared badly, with eternal punishment. When Ixion exhibited signs he wished to bed Hera, Zeus formed a cloud in the shape of his wife. Ixion impregnated the cloud; was sent to endure eternal punishment by being chained to an eternally spinning fiery wheel, while the cloud bore Centauros, the father of the Centaurs.

Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca E1. 20 (trans. Aldrich) (Greek mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
“Ixion fell in love with Hera and tried to rape her, and when Hera told Zeus about it, Zeus wanted to determine if her report was really true. So he fashioned a Cloud (Nephele) to look like Hera, and laid it by Ixion’s side. When Ixion bragged that he had slept with Hera, Zeus punished him by tying him to a wheel, on which he was turned by winds up in the air. The Cloud (Nephele) bore Kentauros (Centaurus) from Ixion’s seed.

Unusually, Hera supports the hero Jason of Iolcus, Thessaly, but then, she does so to get back at Pelias, king of Iolcus, for defiling her temple;

Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 1. 92 (trans. Aldrich) (Greek mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
“[Neleus & Pelias] found out that she [their step-mother Sidero] was mistreating [their mother] Tyro; yet when they set out to get her she eluded them and escaped into the temenos of Hera. But Pelias slaughtered her right on the altar, and from that time forth he continued to hold Hera in small esteem.”

besides, Jason helped her when she was disguised as an old woman.

More typically, but for unique reasons, she punishes the long-lived, transgendering seer Tiresias by striking him blind. His crime? He said women derived more pleasure from the sex act than men. But then, Hera had her own conflicts, being both a virgin goddess and the matron par excellence, the goddess of marriage. Irritated with Echo for helping Zeus in his affairs, she changes her from nymph to the repeater of others’ words.

Hera’s most important role is in the story of the Trojan War. First, she was one of the three goddesses contending for the title of “most beautiful” awarded by the Trojan prince Paris (Alexander). Now, although Hera is usually seen as angry and manipulative, she is still a beauty, a fact we should not overlook. When Oenoe claimed she was more beautiful than Hera, Hera punished her by turning her into a crane. Merit placed Hera in the beauty contest, but the goddess of love, Aphrodite won, thanks to Paris’ preference for her bribe. The third goddess was the crafty goddess of strategy, Athena.

 The Judgement of Paris. Bronze handle mirror, Etruscan artwork, 4th–3rd century BC. Louvre Department of Greek, Etruscan and Roman Antiquities, Sully, ground floor, room 20. Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license: Marie-Lan Nguyen (user:Jastrow).
The Judgement of Paris. Bronze handle mirror, Etruscan artwork, 4th–3rd century BC. Louvre Department of Greek, Etruscan and Roman Antiquities, Sully, ground floor, room 20. Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license: Marie-Lan Nguyen (user:Jastrow).

Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca E3. 2 (trans. Aldrich) (Greek mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
“[At the wedding of Peleus and Thetis:] Eris tossed an apple to Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite, in recognition of their beauty, and Zeus bade Hermes escort them to Alexandros [Paris] on Ide, to be judged by him. They offered Alexandros gifts: Hera said if she were chosen fairest of all women, she would make him king of all men; Athena promised him victory in war; and Aphrodite promised him Helene in marriage. So he chose Aphrodite.”

That meant that during the ten years of the war, Aphrodite favored the Trojans, while the losers supported the Achaeans (Greeks).

In the Roman sequel to the Iliad, Vergil’s epic Aeneid, Juno continues to harass the Trojans as they become the Romans. Juno became the Romans’ honored patron goddess, a goddess of marriage and fertility, as in Greece, but also with a military aspect and protector of wealth, very different from the Greek goddess and deserving of her own distinct bio.

But back to Hera’s place in the Iliad….

In Book XIV, Hera plots against her husband in order to help the Achaeans. It’s not that Zeus favors the Achaeans over the Trojans, but he wants the gods to maintain a neutral stance. Some of the major gods and goddesses have distinct favorites. Aphrodite was joined by Ares, Artemis, and Apollo, while Poseidon joined Athena and Hera, which put him in an odd position vis a vis Odysseus, a leading hero of the Greeks, with whom Poseidon is angry, but favoring is not the same as helping.

Poseidon is Zeus’ brother and considers them equal, with Hades as a third equal god. As long as what Zeus wants agrees with what Poseidon wants, he’ll go along with his little brother, but that’s it. When he sees signs of discouragement among the Achaeans, Poseidon interferes on their side. Hera decides to help… by keeping Zeus occupied. Her plan is two-fold. First she will seduce, and then she will make Zeus fall sleep.

Iliad XIV Samuel Butler translation:
With this [Poseidon] raised a mighty cry of battle, and sped forward to the plain. The voice that came from his deep chest was as that of nine or ten thousand men when they are shouting in the thick of a fight, and it put fresh courage into the hearts of the Achaeans to wage war and do battle without ceasing.

Juno of the golden throne looked down as she stood upon a peak of Olympus and her heart was gladdened at the sight of him who was at once her brother and her brother-in-law, hurrying hither and thither amid the fighting. Then she turned her eyes to Jove as he sat on the topmost crests of many-fountained Ida, and loathed him. She set herself to think how she might hoodwink him, and in the end she deemed that it would be best for her to go to Ida and array herself in rich attire, in the hope that Jove might become enamoured of her, and wish to embrace her. While he was thus engaged a sweet and careless sleep might be made to steal over his eyes and senses.

She calls on other gods for help, deceiving them as is convenient. Aphrodite provides her with a belt full of spells that makes Zeus mad for her. Hypnose (Sleep), with various bribes and sacred oaths (because she had done something similar before and the results were not pleasant) agrees to and then does put the king of the gods to sleep.

Then Sleep answered, “Juno, great queen of goddesses, daughter of mighty Saturn, I would lull any other of the gods to sleep without compunction, not even excepting the waters of Oceanus from whom all of them proceed, but I dare not go near Jove, nor send him to sleep unless he bids me. I have had one lesson already through doing what you asked me, on the day when Jove’s mighty son Hercules set sail from Ilius after having sacked the city of the Trojans. At your bidding I suffused my sweet self over the mind of aegis-bearing Jove, and laid him to rest; meanwhile you hatched a plot against Hercules, and set the blasts of the angry winds beating upon the sea, till you took him to the goodly city of Cos away from all his friends. Jove was furious when he awoke, and began hurling the gods about all over the house; he was looking more particularly for myself, and would have flung me down through space into the sea where I should never have been heard of any more, had not Night who cows both men and gods protected me. I fled to her and Jove left off looking for me in spite of his being so angry, for he did not dare do anything to displease Night. And now you are again asking me to do something on which I cannot venture.”

And Juno said, “Sleep, why do you take such notions as those into your head? Do you think Jove will be as anxious to help the Trojans, as he was about his own son? Come, I will marry you to one of the youngest of the Graces, and she shall be your own- Pasithea, whom you have always wanted to marry.”

Sleep was pleased when he heard this, and answered, “Then swear it to me by the dread waters of the river Styx; lay one hand on the bounteous earth, and the other on the sheen of the sea, so that all the gods who dwell down below with Saturn may be our witnesses, and see that you really do give me one of the youngest of the Graces- Pasithea, whom I have always wanted to marry.”

Poseidon is given word that Zeus is asleep, so he can stir up the Greeks, which he does.

In time, Zeus awakens. Angry with his wife, he blames her for what is going on on the battlefield.

Book XV
The sire of gods and men had pity on him, and looked fiercely on Juno. “I see, Juno,” said he, “you mischief- making trickster, that your cunning has stayed Hector from fighting and has caused the rout of his host. I am in half a mind to thrash you, in which case you will be the first to reap the fruits of your scurvy knavery. Do you not remember how once upon a time I had you hanged? I fastened two anvils on to your feet, and bound your hands in a chain of gold which none might break, and you hung in mid-air among the clouds. All the gods in Olympus were in a fury, but they could not reach you to set you free; when I caught any one of them I gripped him and hurled him from the heavenly threshold till he came fainting down to earth; yet even this did not relieve my mind from the incessant anxiety which I felt about noble Hercules whom you and Boreas had spitefully conveyed beyond the seas to Cos, after suborning the tempests; but I rescued him, and notwithstanding all his mighty labours I brought him back again to Argos. I would remind you of this that you may learn to leave off being so deceitful, and discover how much you are likely to gain by the embraces out of which you have come here to trick me.

She manages to reduce his anger and obeys his instructions, but while Zeus was sleeping, enough happened on the battlefield to impel the further movement of the epic war.

And then, in the Roman tradition, adapting Greek legend to their own purposes, Vergil begins his famous epic with these lines about the wrath of Hera/Juno against the Trojans/future Romans, albeit in translation:

Arms and the man I sing, who first made way,
predestined exile, from the Trojan shore
to Italy, the blest Lavinian strand.
Smitten of storms he was on land and sea
by violence of Heaven, to satisfy
stern Juno’s sleepless wrath; and much in war
he suffered, seeking at the last to found
the city, and bring o’er his fathers’ gods
to safe abode in Latium; whence arose
the Latin race, old Alba’s reverend lords,
and from her hills wide-walled, imperial Rome.
O Muse! the causes and the crimes relate;
What goddess was provok’d, and whence her hate;
For what offense the Queen of Heav’n began
To persecute so brave, so just a man;
Involv’d his anxious life in endless cares,
Expos’d to wants, and hurried into wars!
Can heav’nly minds such high resentment show,
Or exercise their spite in human woe?

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4 Comments

  1. NS,
    Long time no talk to! I got something you might want to add to your bio of Hera. She might have been Zeus’ seventh wife, but he was her second husband. Joan V. O’Brien in “The Transformation of Hera” says at page 61, “I sugest that the bathing I the water near the confluence of the river Imbrasos signified the goddess’ (Hera’s) union with a river god.” At page 70 she adds, “… and perhaps also the goddess’ wedding with the river god.”
    The general argument is Hesiod and Homer created the Olympian family for a panhellenic audience. It would have been inappropriate to leave outside the golden lintel Hera, the goddess of the Argives. And at a PanHellenic event inappropriate to bring up her first husband.

    Bill

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    1. Greetings, Bill – Definitely something for me to read. Glad you found me again. (I had needed to take a break from writing and researching.) The Argive Hera and the Roman Juno.

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  2. Question regarding Hera. Many of Hera’s stories contain references to the peacock. From my reading the peacock wasn’t introduced to Greece until Alexander the Great many, many years later. How is this? Were the texts amended? Was it another bird that eventually got recognized as a peacock? I can find no answer. Please help!

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  3. Salve – I don’t know when was the first telling of the peacock-Hera tale. At this point, for all I know, it could have been in the early third century, but I hope to find out. This page has some leads you may wish to pursue: https://books.google.com/books?id=UixJAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA309&lpg=PA309&dq=herodotus+peacock&source=bl&ots=uvLCOrtHu1&sig=ULZQ4CvFYQl8cjTdr05BrLhTF6g&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0CB8Q6AEwAGoVChMIoIjQ3tj-xgIVQho-Ch3bVwKY#v=onepage&q=herodotus%20peacock&f=false

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