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In the Olympian Pantheon of classical Greek Mythology, Hêra was queen of the Gods and Goddesses, as well as wife and sister of Zeus. Many of the older temples in the Greek world belonged to her.

Hera’s Roman equivalent is Juno. In Rome, with Jupiter and Minerva she shared the most important temple in the city.


Description

Hera is portrayed as majestic and solemn, often enthroned and crowned with the polos, the high cylindrical crown worn by several of the Great Goddesses. In her hand she may bear the pomegranate, emblem of fertile blood and death and a substitute for the narcotic capsule of the opium poppy (Ruck and Staples 1994). "Nevertheless, there are memories of an earlier, an iconic representation, as a pillar in Argos and as a plank in Samos" (Burkert 1985 p.131).


Etymology and pre-history

Unlike some Greek gods, Hera's name is not analyzable as a Greek or Indo-European word. She therefore seems to be a survival of a pre-Greek "great goddess" figure - perhaps one of the powerful female divinities of the Minoan civilization pantheon, or of some unidentified pre-Greek Pelasgian people.

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 at Samos Islandand in the Argolid, were the very earliest monumental Greek temples constructed, in the 8th century BC.

Hera's seated cult figure at Olympia 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 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.


Cult

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." Her other main center of cult was at Samos Island. In Magna Graecia, the temple long called the Temple of Poseidon among the group at Paestum as identified in the 1950s as a second temple there of Hera.

Greek altars of Classical times were always under the open sky. Hera may have been the first to whom an enclosed roofed temple sanctuary was dedicated, at Samos about 800 BC., later by the[Heraion, one of the largest Greek temples.


Association with animals

Her archaic association was primarily with cattle, as a Cow Goddess, who was especially venerated in "cattle-rich" Euboea. Her familiar epithets in Homer boôpis, is always translated "cow-eyed", for, like the Greeks of Classical times, we reject its other natural translation "cow-faced" or at least "of cow aspect". A cow-headed Hera, like a Minotaur would make a dark demon of fear. But on Cyprus, very early archaeological sites contain bull skulls that have been adapted for use as masks.


The Twelve Labors

Hera assigned Heracles to labor for King Eurystheus at Mycenae. She attempted to make almost each of Hercules' 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. To annoy Heracles after he took the cattle of eryon, 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 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 Cretan Bul] to Hera, who hated Heracles. She refused the sacrifice because it reflected glory on Heracles. The bull was released and wandered to Marathon, becoming known as the Marathonian Bull.


Vindictive Hera

Echo

For a 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 speak the words of others (hence our modern word "echo").


Leto Artemis Apollo

When Hera discovered that Leto was pregnant and that Hera's husband, Zeus, was the father, she banned Leto from giving birth on the mainland, or any island at sea. She found the floating island of Delos, which was neither mainland nor a real island and gave birth there. The island was surrounded by swans. As a gesture of gratitude, Delos was secured with four pillars. The island later became sacred to Apollo. Alternatively, Hera kidnapped Ilithyia, the goddess of childbirth, to prevent Leto from going into labor. The other gods forced Hera to let her go. Either way, Artemis was born first and then assisted with the birth of Apollo. Another version 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.


Callisto and Arcas

Hera also figures in the myth of Callisto and Arcas.

A follower of Artemis, Callisto took a vow to remain a virgin. But Zeus fell in love with her and disguised himself as Apollo in order to lure her into his embrace. Hera then turned Callisto into a bear out of revenge. Later, Callisto's son with Zeus, Arcas, nearly killed her in a hunt and Zeus placed them up in the clouds in the beautiful heavens. An alternate version: One of Artemis' companions, Callisto lost her virginity to Zeus, who had come disguised as Artemis. Enraged, Artemis changed her into a bear. Callisto's son, Arcas, nearly killed his mother while hunting, but Zeus or Artemis stopped him and placed them both in the sky as Ursa Major and Ursa Minor.

Hera was not pleased with the placement of Callisto and Arcas in the sky, so she asked her nurse, the Tethys to help. Tethys, a marine goddess, cursed the constellations to forever circle the sky and never drop below the horizon, hence explaining why they are circumpolar.


Semele Dionysus

Dionysus was a son of Zeus by a mortal woman. A jealous Hera again attempted to kill the child, this time by sending Titans to rip Dionysus to pieces after luring the baby with toys. Though Zeus drove the Titans away with his thunderbolts but only after the Titans ate everything but the heart, which was saved, variously, by Athena, Rhea, or Demeter. Zeus used the heart to recreate Dionysus and implant him in the womb of Semele, hence he was again "the twice-born". Sometimes it was said that he gave Semele the heart to eat to impregnate her. Some people think Hera was the one to kill Semele, but it was Zeus who did. But Dionysus managed to rescue her from the underworld and have her live on Mount Olympus.


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 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. Hera sent a gadfly to sting Io as she wandered the earth. Eventually Io was driven to the ends of the earth, Egypt, where the Egyptians saw her and worshipped her as a goddess.


Lamia

Lamia was a queen of Libya, whom Zeus loved. Hera turned her into a monster and murdered their children. Or, alternately, 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.


The Goddess and Children

Though she presides over the right arrangements of the marriage and is the archetype of the union in the marriage bed, she is not as notable as mother. The legitimate offspring of her union with Zeus is Ares, Hebel (the goddess of youth), Eris (the goddess of discord) and Eileithyia (goddess of childbirth). Hera was jealous of Zeus' giving birth to Athen without recourse to, so she gave birth to Hephaestus without him, though this version is debatable. According to the latest, Zeus and Hera were both parents of Hephaestus and so disgusted with his ugliness that they threw him from Mount Olympus. As another alternative version, Hera gave birth to all of the children usually accredited to her and Zeus together, alone 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 it, didn't allow her to leave it. 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 wife.


Symbol

Hera is the symbol of jealousy, often persecuting Zeus's mistresses and children. She’s also the symbol of revenge for she never forgot an injury and was known for her vindictive nature.

Angry with the Trojan prince Paris for preferring Aphrodite, goddess of love, to herself, Hera aided the Greeks in the Trojan War and was not appeased until Troy was finally destroyed.


References

  • Burkert Walter, Greek Religion 1985.
  • Burkert, Walter, The Orientalizing Revolution: Near Eastern Influence on Greek Culture in the Early Archaic Age, 1998.
  • Ely, Talfourd,’’The Gods of Greece and Rome”, Dover Publications, ISBN 0-486-42798-6.
  • Graves, Robert, The Greek Myths 1955.
  • Kerenyi, Carl]], The Gods of the Greeks 1951.
  • Ruck, Carl A.P., and Staples , The World of Classical Myth 1994.
  • 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.