Welcome to another installment of Mythology Mondays!
Today we’re going to learn a bit about Hera, Greek Queen of the Gods.
(Thanks to Kayla for suggesting her in the comments on my Facebook post!)
Hera gets a bad rap, honestly, especially with TV shows like Hercules: The Legendary Journeys being one of the main ways most modern Westerners know of her. She’s seen as jealous and shrewish, a vindictive, scorned wife of the king of the gods.
But let’s be real for a moment: if your partner slept around as much as Zeus did (according to the myths), wouldn’t you be a little cranky? I mean, assuming it’s not an open relationship (and for Zeus and Hera, it wasn’t).
One of the main things people know about the Greek gods these days (if they know anything) is that Zeus…was a bit of a player. And by “bit of a player” I mean he had sex with pretty much everything. Most mythological creatures in Greek mythology? Yeah, they exist because Zeus is their dad.
And the thing is, this is after he and Hera are married. In the beginning, they were both born of Cronos and Rhea (yeah, they’re sister and brother, which is honestly pretty common in a lot of mythologies; I know, it’s kinda weird; just go with it). However, Cronos was told his son would usurp him. So he ate all his kids, natch.
Cronos was told his son would usurp him. So he ate all his kids, natch. Click To Tweet
Finally, tired of losing her children to her husband’s ever-hungry maw, Rhea gave him a rock wrapped in a swaddling cloth instead of her latest child, and Cronos ate that instead. (Dude did NOT look at what he was eating.) Zeus got sent off to be raised by some other folks, and then came back at adulthood, usurped his dad, and freed his siblings from his dad’s stomach.
That’s what we call a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Later, Zeus and Hera get married (there’s some stuff about how they didn’t know they were related? But I’m not sure how that works if he literally cut her out of Cronos’ stomach. Myths! Ever conflicting!), and they’re the King and Queen of all the Gods in Greece. They get to live on Olympus, and Zeus’ brothers get the ocean (Poseidon) and the underworld (Hades).
And then…Zeus starts having affairs. A lot of them. The list of his offspring from these affairs is so huge, I can’t even get into it here. You can see it on Theoi, though.
The truth is, Hera is a powerful and awesome (used in the original sense of the word) figure, and she knows it. She demands respect. She’s the queen of the gods, goddess of marriage, family, and women, and the stars in the sky. Literally the queen of heaven.
If you take her myths at face value, you might just see a jealous wife. (Which, you know, she has every right to be, because damn, Zeus.) You need to dig deeper to see what’s really happening there.
Many of Hera’s myths are about her persecuting the consorts or children of her husband. She also is seen to often punish those who do not offer her due respect, and favour those who do offer it. And then, of course, there’s her relationship with her own son, Hephaestus.
The children of Zeus that she persecutes are “bastards” — as in, children born from different consorts, out of wedlock — but they are also often Zeus’ favourite bastard sons (Herakles and Dionysos). Her persecution of them isn’t so much about them as it is about her husband, and his disrespect of her. Not only does he disrespect her by fathering children with other women, but then he has the gall to favour those children over the ones he sires with Hera. That’s seriously disrespectful.
It’s important, too, to remember that even though there are plenty of Greek goddesses who were very revered and loved, many women in Greek mythology are cast as troublemakers of some sort — Hera’s jealousy is an example of this. The simple answer as to why? Mostly male writers in a very patriarchal society.
This is why many modern pagans choose to read the myths and not take them at face value, but dig deeper into them to see if they can find other meanings. For me, Hera becomes not a goddess of jealousy, but a goddess of honour, duty, and boundaries. The boundaries of marriage are important to her. It’s very important that duties and responsibilities are followed, that things are proper, that people act honourably.
In the context of the society these myths come out of, Zeus doesn’t act honourably so far as his marriage is concerned, and Hera reacts to this accordingly.She’s the queen of the gods, and she needs to set boundaries and defend them — even if that makes her disliked. Click To Tweet
She’s the queen of the gods, and she needs to set boundaries and defend them — even if that makes her disliked.
As for why she treats Hephaistos so terribly, well. That can be also seen as a reflection of the society they were in — Ancient and Classical Greece are not renowned for women’s rights, nor the rights of the disabled. You see ableism in the myths of many ancient cultures, even if some gods themselves are disabled.
Or it could also be what I mentioned above — Hera being cast as a troublemaker because of who was writing the myths and the times they were being written in. Of course she’ll have a fraught relationship with her disabled son.
Hera’s Roman counterpart is known as Juno, a name you probably recognize if you’ve read Bellica (or if you like mythology, or the TV show Rome). In creating my pantheon for Athering, I chose Juno to be the queen of the gods. She’s based on the ideas of Hera and the Roman Juno, and I also borrowed a little from Janus.
While Hera and Juno share a lot of aspects (including the connection to peacocks), they are different goddesses. You can learn about one to inform your view of the other, but don’t mistake them for each other.
I hope you enjoyed this segment of Mythology Mondays, and learned a little about Hera, Queen of the Gods. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask in the comments below!
PS: Let me know in this poll who you want to see in the next installment, which is scheduled for June 11th. The poll closes this Friday, June 1st.