AskDefine | Define Hera

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Hera n : queen of the Olympian gods in ancient Greek mythology; sister and wife of Zeus remembered for her jealously of the many mortal women Zeus fell in love with; identified with Roman Juno [syn: Here]

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see hera

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Etymology

From Ἥρα.

Proper noun

Hera
  1. : 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.

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Extensive Definition

In the Olympian pantheon of classical Greek Mythology, Hera ( or /ˈhɛrə/, Greek ) or Here ( in Ionic and Homer) was the wife and older sister of Zeus. Her chief function was as goddess of women and marriage, her equivalent in Roman mythology being Juno. The cow and, later, the peacock were sacred to her.
Hera was born of Cronus and Rhea, but was swallowed by her father after birth due to a prophecy that one of his children would take over the throne. Zeus was not swallowed because of a plan hatched by Rhea and Gaia. The former wrapped a stone in baby clothes and gave it to Cronus. Zeus, meanwhile, was moved to a cave on Crete. Rhea later gave Cronus an herb which, she said, could make him completely invincible, but it actually made him regurgitate the five other Olympians: Hestia, Demeter, Hera, Hades and Poseidon, as well as the previously ingested stone. When Zeus grew older, he banished Cronus to Tartarus, the deepest chasm in the underworld, because the Titans were immortal and could not be killed.
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 in her hand the pomegranate, emblem of fertile blood and death, and a substitute for the narcotic capsule of the opium poppy. "Nevertheless, there are memories of an earlier, aniconic representation, as a pillar in Argos and as a plank in Samos". Hera was well known for her jealous and vengeful nature, most notably against Zeus's paramours and offspring, but also against mortals who crossed her, like Pelias and arguably even Paris, who offended her by choosing Aphrodite as the most beautiful of goddesses, thus earning her hatred.
"The name of Hera, the Queen of the gods, admits a variety of mutually exclusive etymologies; one possibility is to connect it with hora, 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." 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 tablets.

The cult of Hera

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. There were also temples to Hera in Olympia, Corinth, Tiryns, Perachora and the sacred island of Delos. In Magna Graecia, the temple long called the Temple of Poseidon among the group at Paestum was 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. (It was replaced later by the Heraion, one of the largest Greek temples anywhere.) There were many temples built on this site so evidence is somewhat confusing and archaeological dates are confused. We know that the temple from the architects Rhoechus was destroyed between 570- 60 BC. This was replaced by the Polycratean temple 540-530BC. 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 is less secure, were of the Mycenaean type called "house sanctuaries". Samos excavations have revealed votive offerings, many of them late 8th and 7th century, 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".
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, because 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."http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/2199 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, 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..

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 have kept familiar to us. 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 (see Pomegranate), 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, Hera may be displayed wearing a diadem and be veiled.

Epithets

Aside from the aforementioned Boôpis, Hera bore several other epithets in the mythological tradition. One was Aegophagus, "goat-eater", under which she was worshiped by the Lacedaemonians.

Hera and her children

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, Hebe, Eris (the goddess of discord) and Eileithyia (goddess of childbirth). Hera was jealous of Zeus' giving birth to Athena without recourse to her (actually with Metis), so she gave birth to Hephaestus without him. Zeus was then disgusted with Hephaestus' ugliness and 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 his wife.

Hera, the nemesis 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 turned her into a weasel.
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 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".
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. The Etruscans pictured a full-grown bearded Heracles at Hera's breast.
Some myths state that Hera befriended Heracles for saving her from a giant who tried to rape her, 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.

The Twelve Labors

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. To annoy Heracles after he took the cattle of Geryon, 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.

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).

Hera's jealousies

Echo

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. Leto 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 Eileithyia, 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. Some versions say Artemis helped her mother, Leto, give birth to Apollo for nine days. 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/Arcas.
A follower of Artemis, Callisto took a vow to remain a virgin. But Zeus fell in love with her and disguised himself as Artemis 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 in the 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.
Another alternate version: Artemis killed Callisto in bear form, deliberately.

Semele and Dionysus

Dionysus was a son of Zeus by a mortal woman. When Hera learned that Semele, daughter of Cadmus king at 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. In another version, Dionysos 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 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 was driven to the ends of the earth, [which the Romans believed to be] Egypt, where she became a priestess of 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, 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.

Gerana

Gerana was a queen of the Pygmies who boasted she was more beautiful than Hera. The wrathful goddess turned her into a crane and proclaimed that her bird descendants should wage eternal war on the Pygmy folk.

Other stories involving Hera

Cydippe

Cydippe, a priestess of Hera, was on her way to a festival in the goddess' honor. The oxen which were to pull her cart were overdue and her sons, Biton and Cleobis pulled the cart the entire way (45 stadia, 8 kilometers). Cydippe was impressed with their devotion to her and her goddess and asked Hera to give her children the best gift a god could give a person. Hera ordained that the brothers would die in their sleep.
This honor bestowed upon the children was later used by Solon as a proof while trying to convince Croesus that it is impossible to judge a person's happiness until they have died a fruitful death after a joyous life.

Tiresias

Tiresias was a priest of Zeus, and as a young man he encountered two snakes mating and hit them with a stick. He was then transformed into a woman. As a woman, Tiresias became a priestess of Hera, married and had children, including Manto. After seven years as a woman, Tiresias again found mating snakes, struck them with her staff, and became a man once more. As a result of his experiences, Zeus and Hera asked him to settle the question of which sex, male or female, experienced more pleasure during intercourse. Zeus claimed it was women; Hera claimed it was men. When Tiresias sided with Zeus, Hera struck him blind. Since Zeus could not undo what she had done, he gave him the gift of prophecy. An alternative and less commonly told story has it that Tiresias was blinded by Athena after he stumbled onto her bathing naked. His mother, Chariclo, begged her to undo her curse, but Athena couldn't; she gave him prophecy instead.

Chelone

At the marriage of Zeus and Hera, a nymph named Chelone was disrespectful (or refused to attend). Zeus condemned her by turning her into a tortoise.

The Iliad

According to the Iliad, during the Trojan War, Diomedes fought Hector and saw Ares fighting on the Trojans' side. Diomedes called for his soldiers to fall back slowly. Hera, Ares' mother, saw Ares' interference and asked Zeus, Ares' father, for permission to drive Ares away from the battlefield. Hera encouraged Diomedes to attack Ares and he threw his spear at the god. Athena drove the spear into Ares' body and he bellowed in pain and fled to Mt. Olympus, forcing the Trojans to fall back.

The Golden Fleece

Hera hated Pelias for having murdered Sidero, his step-grandmother, in a temple to Hera. She later manipulated Jason and Medea to kill Pelias.

The Metamorphoses

In Thrace, Hera and Zeus turned King Haemus and Queen Rhodope into mountains, the Balkan (Haemus Mons) and Rhodope mountain chains respectively, for their hubris in comparing themselves to the gods.

In popular culture

  • Like the other gods of the Greek pantheon, Hera's character was burlesqued in the Disney animated film Hercules (1997 film). The storyline of the movie took great liberties with the legend of Hercules; while in Greek lore Hera had particular ire toward this half-mortal son of Zeus, in the film she was Hercules's own mother. She was voiced in the film by Samantha Eggar.
  • Hera appeared for two episodes in the tv series Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and one episode of its spinoff series Xena: Warrior Princess; she was portrayed by Meg Foster. Like in the original myths she despised Hercules and tried to kill him and was also the responsible for the death of Hercules' wife and children in the series premiere. Hera was banished to the Abyss of Tartarus by Hercules, and later brought back in the series finale where she was able to make peace with both Zeus and Hercules. In her appearance in Xena which took place after the Hercules series had ended, Zeus had killed Hera, after Hera sided with Hercules against Zeus and his doctrine of killing Xena's unborn child to prevent the prophecy that her child would be the end of the Olympian gods.

See also

Notes

Sources

  • Burkert, Walter, Greek Religion 1985.
  • Burkert, Walter, The Orientalizing Revolution: Near Eastern Influence on Greek Culture in the Early Archaic Age, 1998
  • Farnell, Lewis Richard, The cults of the Greek states I: Zeus, Hera Athena Oxford, 1896.
  • Graves, Robert, The Greek Myths 1955. Use with caution.
  • Kerenyi, Carl, The Gods of the Greeks 1951 (paperback 1980)
  • Kerenyi, Karl, 1959. The Heroes of the Greeks Especially Heracles.
  • Ruck, Carl A.P., and Danny Staples, The World of Classical Myth 1994
  • Seyffert, Oskar. Dictionary of Classical Antiquities 1894. (On-line text)
  • 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.

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Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Agdistis, Amor, Aphrodite, Apollo, Apollon, Ares, Artemis, Ate, Athena, Bacchus, Ceres, Cora, Cronus, Cupid, Cybele, Demeter, Despoina, Diana, Dionysus, Dis, Eros, Frigg, Gaea, Gaia, Ge, Great Mother, Hades, Helios, Hephaestus, Here, Hermes, Hestia, Hymen, Hyperion, Jove, Juno, Jupiter, Jupiter Fidius, Jupiter Fulgur, Jupiter Optimus Maximus, Jupiter Pluvius, Jupiter Tonans, Kore, Kronos, Magna Mater, Mars, Mercury, Minerva, Mithras, Momus, Neptune, Nike, Olympians, Olympic gods, Ops, Orcus, Persephassa, Persephone, Phoebus, Phoebus Apollo, Pluto, Poseidon, Pronuba, Proserpina, Proserpine, Rhea, Saturn, Teleia, Tellus, Venus, Vesta, Vulcan, Zeus
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