Goddess of Marriage
Photo: Eduardo De Salceda, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/34/Marriage_of_Zeus_and_Hera_%28detail%29_Pompeian_Art.jpg
Hera, Goddess of Marriage
God of: Marriage, women and family, as well as a protector of oaths. She was particularly worshiped in the city of Argos, in the Argolis region of Greece.
Parents: Kronos and Rhea
Married to: Zeus
Children: Unlike Zeus, Hera only had children with her husband: Ares, Hephaestus, Hebe (the goddess of youth) and Eileithyia (the goddess of childbirth).
Symbols: Royal symbols, such as a throne and sceptre, lotus flowers, pomegranates, cows, lions, cuckoos, hawks and peacocks (who pulled her chariot).
Location of Story: A pool of water in the streets of Athens.
“Oh my dear, don’t waste a single breath on that good-for-nothing, lecherous, scoundrel of a husband of mine!”
“Err… OK?” Delphi replied. She was sat at Hera’s feet, nervously trying to lean away from the peacocks which were strutting around her. The goddess was sat on the stone seat at the edge of the pool, looking at the brightly coloured lotus flowers.
“I always knew he was nothing but trouble! I mean, really? What kind of a man turns himself into a cuckoo to try and impress you?”
Delphi didn’t know the answer to this, so decided not to say anything. Hera looked down at her, with fire in her eyes.
“He thinks I don’t know, but believe me, I know! I know what he gets up to when he thinks I’m not watching! Turning himself into this and that, chasing women around like there’s no tomorrow… Not that he cares what I think, of course…” She dropped her head and Delphi felt a wave of sadness wash over her.
“I… I’m sorry. That must be really…”
“But I got them back you know!” Hera’s head whipped up again and the fire in her eyes burned even brighter. “Leto, Semele, Io, all of them! They all suffered for it, like I suffered! I always get justice in the end!”
“Even Heracles! Oh, my dear, you should’ve seen what I made him do!” and she laughed, in a not very pleasant way, for slightly too long for comfort. Then she seemed to shrink again and went back to staring sadly at the lotus flowers.
“Look…” Delphi began. “If Zeus is that bad, why don’t you just leave him?”
Hera shot her a look that burnt.
“How dare you? Because he is my husband, and I promised to stay with him, that’s why!”
Delphi fell backwards at the power of her voice, rolled over and ran for it. She knew one thing for sure: it was not a good idea to make Hera angry.
Queen of Gods
Hera is the Queen of the Olympians, and wife of her brother Zeus (but the gods were generally quite happy with that sort of thing). Originally, she had turned down his advances, so, typically for him, he tricked his way into her affections. Knowing she loved animals, Zeus conjured up a storm and transformed himself into an injured cuckoo and pretended to be in trouble outside her window. Hera rushed outside and brought in the little cuckoo, warming it against her body. One thing led to another from there…
Marriage to Zeus
Their wedding was a spectacular affair. All the gods and goddesses attended it, and they were given lavish gifts, such as a tree laden with golden apples from their grandmother Gaia. However, their marriage was not a happy one. Zeus was unfaithful to her many, many times with many different women, and this would send Hera into enormous jealous rages. She even tried to lead a rebellion against him, but when this failed, she was chained to the sky for four days until he finally let her go.
Hera would often try to punish the women that Zeus had taken for lovers. When Leto was pregnant with Apollo and Artemis, she banned her from giving birth on land – forcing Poseidon to raise the island of Delos for her, and even then she had to give birth in an olive tree! Another story tells of how she tricked the mother of Dionysus, Semele, into asking Zeus to reveal his full power to her, which was so powerful it destroyed her. In another tale, Zeus tried to protect his lover Io from her jealousy by turning her into a cow – not the best plan, as Hera sent a gadfly to continually sting and torment her!
Hera wasn’t even particularly kind to her own children. It is unclear whether Hephaestus was really Zeus’ son, but because he had a shrivelled foot, Hera threw him off Mount Olympus and into the sea! But Hera’s wrath was particularly reserved for Zeus’ other children. She was the cause of all the torment suffered on Heracles, when she blinded him with madness so he would kill his family, leading to his famous ‘labours’ where he would try and make amends.
Hera, as the protector of marriage, was also heavily involved in the Trojan War. When Paris declared Aphrodite the most beautiful over her, she lent her full support to the Greeks, not least because Helen had broken her marriage vows with Menelaus. This huge war led to the destruction of the city and the death of many Greek heroes such as Achilles and Hector.
Hebe, Goddess of Youth
Although Hera was usually portrayed as an older woman and wife, she was also sometimes represented through her daughter Hebe. In this form, she was young and especially beautiful. Hebe and Hera were often worshipped together, such as at the Heraion at Argos, and was sometimes even linked to the old witch goddess Hecate. Together these made up three aspects of womanhood – a youthful girl, a mother and an old woman (other goddesses like the Fates or Artemis are sometimes represented in the same way).
Hebe was the goddess of youth and was often found working as a cupbearer to the gods, serving drinks, helping with chores, and generally doing the kind of jobs which fell to the young girl of the household. However, she was later married to Heracles – which must have annoyed her mother no end!
Where do you want to go next?
Rejoin the wedding procession in the street.
Follow the wedding procession towards the Sacred Gate.