Hera, the wife of Zeus, was the last of his divine companions. She was the daughter of Cronus and Rhea. Her mother entrusted her to Tethys, who brought her up on the very edge of the world in a place called Oceanus while Zeus was struggling with the Titans. This is one legend, but it also is held that Zeus and his sister had a long betrothal, which dates back to the time when Cronus still ruled the world. There are numerous stories relating to the union of Zeus and Hera. One version by Pausanias tells how young Hera found a cuckoo stiff and cold on a wintry day and held it to her breast to warm it. The bird was none other than Zeus, who had disguised himself as such to overcome his sister’s refusal to satisfy his desire for her. But Hera did not yield to him until he promised to make her his legal wife. Also, is told the story of how each year the goddess bathes in the sacred stream at Nauplia, and thus recovered her virginity.

At the time, the marriage of Zeus and Hera was of great religious significance because it amounted to an act of worship on which the fertility of the world depended. Homer, in Book XIV of the Iliad, describes a very human version of this union between the god and goddess, but almost everywhere in Greek rites persisted a commemoration (or the provocation by magic) of their marriage. Usually on the occasions a statue of the goddess was decked in the apparel of a young bride and carried though the city to a sanctuary to where a marriage bed was proffered. Different cities had various versions of the ceremony. Poets usually set the marriage in the garden of Hephaetus in the far west. Others had the golden apples ripening in the garden be wedding a present from Gaea to the goddess, who thought they were so beautiful that she planted them in her garden by the sea.

Three children came from this divine marriage, Ares, Eileithyia, and Hebe; as for Hera’s fourth child, Hephaestus, Zeus usually is not credited as the father. Hera, the goddess protecting wives and legal marriages, was jealous of Zeus, whose innumerable infidelities she found hard to forgive, and she was particularly ardent in her hatred and pursuit of the illegitimate children fathered by her husband. This was particularly true of Hercules who she forced into the service of Eurystheus. At times Zeus punished Hera for her acts of violence. For example, when returning to Greece after taking the city of Troy the goddess raised a terrible storm at sea to wreck the ship of Hercules. This angered Zeus who literally suspended the goddess from Olympusby attaching an anvil to both of Hera’s feet. But once Hercules was deified, Hera was totally reconciled with him and gave him the hand of Hebe.

When Zeus bore Athena by himself, Hera gave birth to Typhaon without him. This terrible creature resembled neither the gods nor men. He was reminiscent of the monster Typhon that battled Zeus on behalf of the original earth goddess Gaia.

Hera was one of the three goddesses who entered the contest of beauty on Mount Ida in Phrygia. Zeus appointed the shepherd Paris to judge it, and he chose Aphrodite, which angered Hera and caused her bitter resentment against Troy. In the course of the Trojan War Hera favored the Achaeans, protecting Achilles (whose mother, Thetis, was said to have been brought up by Hera), and conferring immortality on Menelaus.

Hera was the principal goddess of the city of Argos where she had a famous temple. The peacock was her emblem, and its plumage was considered to the image of the hundred eyes of Argos, the watcher that she had set to watch Io. The goddess was often portrayed with a pomegranate in her hand, the symbol of fertility.

Hara’s Roman counterpart was Juno. A.G.H.


Grimal, Pierre, Larousse World Mythology, Secaucus, New Jersey, Chartwell Books, 1965, pp. 119-120 Cotterell, Arthur, A Dictionary of World Mythology, New York, G. P. Putman’s Sons, 1980, p. 143

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