Goddess of the Month - Hera


WHO IS HERA?

Hera by Soa Lee
Hera by Soa Lee from Soanala.com

Hera is the majestic Queen of the Olympian Gods, Goddess of Sovereignity, marriage, childbirth, and women. She is also Queen of Heaven and Lady of the Starry Sky. Her worship in the Peloponnese and the Cyclades predates the first appearance of Her consort Zeus, and She is traceable in some form back to Crete, where She was called Potnia Theron, Mistress of Animals. Some of Her other names include:


Pais - Girl
Nympheuomene - Betrothed Bride
Teleia - Adult Woman
Khera - Widow
Gamelia - of Marriage
Autorote - The Unbulled/Unyoked One (a title indicating a virgin)
Boopis - Cow-Eyed
Hyperkheiria - She Whose Protecting Hand is Above Us
Antheia - Blooming One
Heniokhe - of the Chariot

Herstory

Hera had many centers of worship, the best known being The Heraion, which stood on the island of Samos. She also had a major temple between Argos and Mycenae at the foot of Mount Euboea, where She was worshipped as Hera Argeia, Argive Hera, in festivals called simply Heraia. She had a strong connection also to Sparta. "The three cities I love best are Argos, Sparta and Mycenae of the broad streets." - Homer, Iliad Book IV. However, votary statues and shrines to this ancient Lady have been found all over the Aegean and on the Greek mainland. She was quite important from earliest times, and some of Her temples are amongst the oldest truly monumental Hellenic structures of the archaic period. Her importance was recognized in early Greek poetry as well, especially in many sections of the Iliad and in some of the Homeric hymns. "Fifteen stades distant from Mykenai [in Argolis] is on the left the Heraion (temple of Hera). Beside the road flows the brook called Water of Freedom. The priestesses use it in purifications and for such sacrifices as are secret. The sanctuary itself is on a lower part of Euboia. Euboia is the name they give to the hill here, saying that Asterion the river had three daughters, Euboia, Prosymna, and Akraia, and that they were nurses of Hera. The hill opposite the Heraion they name after Akraia, the environs of the sanctuary they name after Euboia, and the land beneath the Heraion after Prosymna. This Asterion flows above the Heraion, and falling into a cleft disappears. On its banks grows a plant, which also is called Asterion. They offer the plant itself to Hera, and from its leaves weave her garlands. It is said that the architect of the temple was Eupolemos, an Argive. The sculptures carved above the pillars refer either to the birth of Zeus and the battle between the gods and the Gigantes, or to the Trojan war and the capture of Ilium. Before the entrance stand statues of women who have been priestesses to Hera and of various heroes, including Orestes. They say that Orestes is the one with the inscription, that it represents the Emperor Augustus. In the fore-temple are on the one side ancient statues of the Kharites (Graces), and on the right a couch of Hera and a votive offering, the shield which Menelaus once took from Euphorbos at Troy. The statue of Hera is seated on a throne; it is huge, made of gold and ivory, and is a work of Polykleitos. She is wearing a crown with Kharites (Graces) and Horai (Seasons) worked upon it, and in one hand she carries a pomegranate and in the other a sceptre. About the pomegranate I must say nothing, for its story is somewhat of a holy mystery. The presence of a cuckoo seated on the sceptre they explain by the story that when Zeus was in love with Hera in her maidenhood he changed himself into this bird, and she caught it to be her pet. This tale and similar legends about the gods I relate without believing them, but I relate them nevertheless. By the side of Hera stands what is said to be an image of Hebe fashioned by Naukydes; it, too, is of ivory and gold. By its side is an old image of Hera on a pillar. The oldest image is made of wild-pear wood, and was dedicated in Tiryns by Peirasos, son of Argos, and when the Argives destroyed Tiryns they carried it away to the Heraion. I myself saw it, a small, seated image. Of the votive offerings the following are noteworthy. There is an altar upon which is wrought in relief the fabled marriage of Hebe and Herakles. This is of silver, but the peacock dedicated by the Emperor Hadrian is of gold and gleaming stones. He dedicated it because they hold the bird to be sacred to Hera. There lie here a golden crown and a purple robe, offerings of Nero. Above this temple are the foundations of the earlier temple and such parts of it as were spared by the flames. It was burnt down because sleep overpowered Khryseis, the priestess of Hera, when the lamp before the wreaths set fire to them. Khryseis went to Tegea and supplicated Athena Alea. Although so great a disaster had befallen them the Argives did not take down the statue of Khryseis; it is still in position in front of the burnt temple." - Pausanias, Description of Greece.

JUNO BARBERINI
JUNO BARBERINI from Museo Pio-Clementino, Musei Vaticani, Vatican City

Early worship of Hera has been interpreted by some to point to matriarchal pre-Mycenian societies as Her origin. This idea was posited by scholars as early as the nineteenth century. Johann Jakob Bachofen especially felt that the constant cycle of Zeus's infidelities and Her reactions to them pointed to an older root of the subordination of the Goddess into the patriarchal cult of Zeus brought into Greece by the Mycenians and Dorics. This idea is supported by shrines dedicated to Hera as a Maiden Goddess as well as a Mother Goddess, something found much more in matrifocal cultures, whose views of the cycles of women was much more fluid. At the Spring of Kanathos near Nauplia, Hera was said to go yearly to renew Her virginity. "In Nauplia [in Argolis] . . . is a spring called Kanathos. Here, say the Argives, Hera bathes every year and recovers her maidenhood. This is one of the sayings told as a holy secret at the Mysteries which they celebrate in honor of Hera." - Pausanias, Description of Greece.

Symbology

While one of the most well-known symbols of Hera is the peacock, this was not part of Her worship until the classical period. Before then the peacock was a relatively unknown bird, which was known as "the Persian bird" by such people as Aristotle. Before Alexander's people brought back peacocks from their expeditions, the primary bird associated with Hera was the cuckoo. Another quite ancient symbol of Hera is the cow. Sites from Cyprus to Euboia have masks of cows and bulls as part of Her votary equipment, and there are many fragments of poetry written honoring Her as "Cow-Eyed". Pomegranates and poppies carved of wood or ivory are often found with other temple equipment. Another plant associated with Hera is the apple since Gaia was said to have given Her the trees with the golden apples which could confer immortality as a bridal gift. These apples were protected in a garden by the daughters of the Titan Atlas in a place known as "The Garden of the Hesperides", which figures later into stories of Hera as part of the Twelve Labors of Herakles.

Sappho's Hymn to Hera (trans. M. M. Miller) (Greek hymns C7th B.C.E.)

Hera, the mighty, bring to my dreaming
Phantom the fair, a woman in its seeming,
That to the kings came in answer to their praying
When winds delaying

Kept them at Troy tho taken was the city.
First they embarked from Scamander, but his pity
Zeus restrained, and the godhead jealous
Held them from Hellas.

Then were they fain to call on thee, and holy
Zeus, and Thyone's lovely child. So, lowly.
Thee I beseech to grant me, Lady gracious,
To do the things precious

Pure things and fair - again as in the olden
Days when I taught to dance and sing the golden
Girls of Mitylene, sweetheart and vestal,
On thy day festal.

So, as the longing sons of Greece, by grace of
Thee and thy fellows, gat them from their place of
Exile, O Hera, whose favor is unfailing,
Speed my home-sailing!


back to the Goddess of the Month pageBack to the main page...