Hera

Hera was the queen of the gods, and the goddess of marriage, women, the sky and the stars of heaven. She was usually depicted as a beautiful woman wearing a crown and holding a royal, lotus-tipped sceptre, and sometimes accompanied by a lion, cuckoo or hawk.

Residence: Mount Olympus
Symbols: Pomegranate, peacock feather, diadem, cow, lion and lily
Parents: Cronus and Rhea
Siblings: Hestia, Hades, ZeusPoseidonDemeter, Chiron
Consort: Zeus
Children: Angelos, Ares, Eileithyia, Enyo, Eris, Hebe, Hephaestus
Roman equivalent: Juno

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The Campana Hera, a Roman copy of a Hellenistic original, from the Louvre.

Birth

Hera, like her siblings, was swallowed by her father Cronus as soon as she was born. Zeus with the help of Metis later tricked him into a swallowing a potion that forced him to disgorge his offspring.

Marriage to Zeus

Hera is known for her jealousy; even Zeus, who is known to fear nothing, feared her tantrums. Zeus fell in love with Hera, but she refused his first marriage proposal. He then preyed on her empathy for animals and other beings, created a thunderstorm and transformed himself into a little cuckoo. As a cuckoo, he pretended to be in distress outside her window. Hera, feeling pity towards the bird brought it inside and held it to her breast to warm it. Zeus then transformed back into himself and made love to her. Hera, ashamed of being exploited, agreed to marry Zeus. All of nature burst into bloom for their wedding and many gifts were exchanged.

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The Wedding of Hera and Zeus, from the House of the Tragic Poet, Pompeii.

Zeus loved Hera, but he also loved Greece and often sneaked down to Earth in disguise to bear children with the mortals. He wanted many children to inherit his greatness and become great heroes and rulers of Greece. Hera’s jealousy towards all of his lovers and children caused her to continuously torment them and he was powerless to stop his wife. She was always aware of Zeus‘ trickery and kept very close watch over him and his excursions to Earth.

Heracles

While Heracles was still an infant, Hera sent two serpents to kill him as he lay in his cot. Heracles throttled the snakes with his bare hands and was found by his nurse playing with their limp bodies as if they were a child’s toy.

Heracles strangling the snakes sent by Hera, Attic red-figured stamnos, c. 480–470 BC. From Vulci, Etruria.

When Heracles reached adulthood, Hera drove him mad, which led him to murder his family and this later led to him undertaking his famous labours. Hera assigned Heracles to labour for King Eurystheus at Mycenae. She attempted to make almost each of Heracles’ twelve labours more difficult. When he fought the Lernaean Hydra, she sent a crab to bite at his feet in the hopes of distracting him. Later Hera stirred up the Amazons against him when he was on one of his quests. 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, Heracles befriended Hera by saving her from Porphyrion, a giant who tried to seduce 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.

Leto

When Hera discovered that Leto was pregnant and that Zeus was the father, she convinced the nature spirits to prevent Leto from giving birth on terra-firma, the mainland, any island at sea, or any place under the sun. Poseidon gave pity to Leto and guided her to the floating island of Delos, which was neither mainland nor a real island where Leto was able to give birth to her children. Afterwards, Zeus secured Delos to the bottom of the ocean. The island later became sacred to Apollo. Alternatively, Hera kidnapped Eileithyia, the goddess of childbirth, to prevent Leto from going into labour. The other gods bribed Hera with a beautiful necklace nobody could resist and she finally gave in.

Io and Argus

One day, Hera saw a lone thundercloud and raced down in an attempt to catch Zeus with a mistress. Zeus saw her coming and transformed Io into a little snow-white cow. However, Hera was not fooled and demanded that Zeus give her the heifer as a present. Zeus could not refuse his queen without drawing suspicion so he had to give her the beautiful heifer.

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Hermes, Argus and the heifer Io, Athenian red-figure vase, c. 5th BC, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.

Once Io was given to Hera, she tied her to a tree and sent her servant Argus to keep Io separated from Zeus. Argus was a loyal servant to Hera and had immense strength and one hundred eyes all over his body. It was not possible to get past Argus since he never closed more than half his eyes at any time. Zeus was afraid of Hera’s wrath and so could not personally intervene, so to save Io, he commanded Hermes to kill Argus, which he did by lulling all one hundred eyes into eternal sleep. In Ovid’s interpretation, when Hera learned of Argus’ death, she took his eyes and placed them in the plumage of the peacock, her favourite animal, accounting for the eye pattern in its tail and making it the vainest of all animals. Hera, furious about Io being freed and the death of Argus, sent a gadfly to sting Io as she wandered the earth. Eventually Io made it to Egypt, the Egyptians worshiped the snow-white heifer and named her the Egyptian goddess Isis. Hera permitted Zeus to change Io back into her human form, under the condition that he never looked at her again. Io, the goddess-queen of Egypt, then bore Zeus‘ son as the next king.

The Judgement of Paris

All the gods and goddesses as well as various mortals were invited to the marriage of Peleus and Thetis and brought many gifts. Only Eris, goddess of discord, was not invited and was stopped at the door by Hermes, on Zeus‘ orders. She was annoyed at this, so she threw from the door a gift of her own: a golden apple inscribed with the word καλλίστῃ (kallistēi, “To the most beautiful”). Aphrodite, Hera, and Athena all claimed to be the most beautiful, and thus the rightful owner of the apple.

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The Judgement of Paris by Walter Crane

The goddesses quarreled bitterly over it, and none of the other gods would venture an opinion favoring one, for fear of earning the enmity of the other two. They chose to place the matter before Zeus, who, not wanting to favour one of the goddesses, put the choice into the hands of Paris, a Trojan prince. After bathing in the spring of Mount Ida where Troy was situated, they appeared before Paris to have him choose. The goddesses undressed before him, either at his request or for the sake of winning. Still, Paris could not decide, as all three were ideally beautiful, so they resorted to bribes. Hera offered Paris political power and control of all of Asia, while Athena offered wisdom, fame, and glory in battle, and Aphrodite offered the most beautiful mortal woman in the world as a wife, and he accordingly chose her. This woman was Helen, who was, unfortunately for Paris, already married to King Menelaus of Sparta. The other two goddesses were enraged by this and through Helen’s abduction by Paris, they brought about the Trojan War.

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”).

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, having sworn by Styx, his thunder and lightning destroyed Semele. Zeus took Semele’s unborn child, Dionysus and completed its gestation sewn into his own thigh.

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 Lamia’s grief and rage 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.

A Pygmy fights a crane, Attic red-figure chous, 430–420 BC, National Archaeological Museum of Spain.

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; depending on the myth, she made sure to leave the snakes alone this time.

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.