Hera  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Hera was the queen of the gods, and goddess of marriage and birth; daughter of Cronus and Rhea, sister and wife of Zeus, mother of Hephaestus, Ares, and Hebe in classical Greek Mythology. She was one of the Twelve Olympians. Her chief function was as the goddess of women and marriage. In Roman mythology, Juno was the equivalent mythical character. The cow, and later, the peacock were sacred to her. Hera's mother was 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. A 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, most notably against Zeus's paramours and offspring, but also against mortals who crossed her, such as Pelias. Paris offended her by choosing Aphrodite as the most beautiful goddess, earning Hera's hatred.

Contents

Name

"The name of Hera, the goddess of marriage, admits a variety of mutually exclusive etymologies; one possibility is to connect it with hora (‘ωρα), season, and to interpret it as ripe for marriage." So begins the section on Hera in Walter Burkert's Greek Mythology. 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 (‘ηρως) '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 βοώπις (boôpis, cow-eyed). E-ra appears in Mycenaean Linear B tablets.

The cult of Hera

Hera may have been the first to whom the Greeks dedicated an enclosed roofed temple sanctuar, at Samos about 800 BC; 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 BC. This was replaced by the Polycratean temple 540-530 BC. 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 BC, which reveal 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 BC and about 450 BC. One of them, long called the Temple of Poseidon was identified in the 1950s as a second temple there of Hera.

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

Hera's early importance

Both Hera and Demeter had many characteristic attributes of the former Great Goddess. The Minoan goddess represented in seals and other remains, whom Greeks called Potnia theron, "Mistress of the Animals", many of whose attributes were later also absorbed by Artemis, seems to have been a mother goddess type, for in some representations she suckles the animals that she holds. Sometimes this devolved role is as clear as a simple substitution can make it. 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 protegé, Eurystheus, had been born first.

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 BC.

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 Gaia to raise.

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.

Matriarchy

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.

The young Hera

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 Virgin, the Matron, and the Separated (Chêra, 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).

Emblems of the presence of Hera

In Hellenistic imagery, Hera's wagon 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. (The Survival of the Pagan Gods : Mythological Tradition in Renaissance Humanism and Art). 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" or at least "of cow aspect" is rejected. A cow-headed Hera, like a Minotaur would be at odds with the maternal image of the later classical period. In this respect, Hera bears some resemblance to the Ancient Egyptian deity Hathor, a maternal goddess associated with cattle.

The pomegranate, an ancient emblem of the Great Goddess, remained an emblem of Hera: many of the votive pomegranates and poppy capsules recovered at Samos are made of ivory, which survived burial better than the wooden ones that must have been more common. Like all goddesses, images of Hera might show her wearing a diadem and a veil.

Hera, her children and the affairs of Zeus

Zeus's paramours

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. Hera was then disgusted with Hephaestus' ugliness and threw him from Mount Olympus. In an alternate 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, the enemy of Heracles

Hera was 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 an animal.

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, Hera befriended Heracles for 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.

Echo

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 then 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, his thunder and lightning blasted her. Zeus took the child and completed its gestation sewn into his own thigh. Another variation is when Hera persuades Semele to force Zeus to show himself in his real form. Unfortunately, he must do what the princess wants, having sworn by Styx. 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 and gave it to Semele to impregnate her; 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 show his true form, which killed her. But Dionysus managed to rescue her from the underworld and have her live on Mount Olympus.

See also Dionysus' birth for other variations.

Io

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

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.


In Popular Media

  • Hera was a near-constant foe for Hercules in several made for TV movies and later the TV 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 3, she was seen as an evil, ungrateful drunk, and was eventually killed by the series protagonist Kratos, by him snapping her neck/spine.

See also




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