Hera – Olympian Queen of All Gods

Hera is one of the Olympian gods. She is the Greek goddess of marriage, family, and women, and protector of them while they are giving birth. She is the queen of the Olympians, sister and wife of Zeus, and child of the titans Cronus and Rhea. Usually presented as a strong matronly woman crowned with a diadem or veiled as a married woman. She was described as vengeful and jealous of her husband, Zeus, his lovers, and illegitimate offspring. Her symbols are the pomegranate, the scepter, and the crown. 

Key Facts

Family tree

ParentsCronus and Rhea
Partner(s)Zeus
SiblingsHestia, Hades, Poseidon, Zeus, Demeter, and Chiron
OffspringAngelos, Arge, Ares, the Charites, Eileithyia, Eleutheria, Enyo, Eris, Hebe, Hephaestus

Personality

Roman NameJuno
Other NamesUni
Ancient GreekἭρα
The God ofMarriage, family, women
SymbolsPomegranate, scepter, crown

Hera’s Origins

Hera was the daughter of the Titan Cronus and Rhea and one of the six world-ruling Olympian gods. Her father, Cronus, was fated to be dethroned by one of his children. So he swallowed all of them after their birth. Hera didn’t get away with it and was doomed to perish in her father’s belly.

The fate of Hera and her siblings changed when her mother, Rhea, tricked Cronus and gave him a stone to swallow instead of the newborn Zeus. When Zeus reached maturity, he made his father cοught up all his siblings. Consequently, he overthrew his father, and war just started between the Titans and the Olympians

The war known as Titanomachy lasted for ten years, and it included many series of battles. Two generations of gods were fighting to have dominion over the universe. Finally, the Olympians won and took control of Mount Olympus. Zeus married his sister Hera and became queen of all gods and humans.

This is the story of Hera’s origins, according to Hesiod’s Theogony. Other sources presented that Hera was born in Samos under a sacred Lygos tree where her holy temple, Heraion, was built. In addition, she married Zeus near there by the River Imbrasos. She remained a faithful wife, in stark contrast to her husband. She is known for her jealousy and cruel punishments toward her husband’s lovers.

Hera’s Marriage With Zeus

Hera was the goddess of marriage and childbirth, so she had to be a loyal wife to her husband and give birth to his children. So, she didn’t have love affairs either with mortals or immortals. She stayed loyal and trustful to her husband throughout her life.

She was very charmed by Zeus, so she seduced him, as she had divine beauty. In other tales of this story, such as in Pausanias texts, Zeus seduced Hera by transforming himself into a cuckoo. Hera caught the bird and kept it with her, which is why a cuckoo is seated on her scepter.

Another story presents Zeus causing a terrible storm while Hera was walking toward Mount Thorax. He transformed into a cuckoo who appeared to her and sat on her lap. Hera covered him with her cloak. Later, Zeus transformed back, and he didn’t let her go. She refused to sleep with him, but Zeus promised to marry her if she did. 

According to Callimachus, the wedding of Zeus and Hera lasted three thousand years. He also referred to the texts that Gaia gave them the apples of Hesperides as a gift.

It is commonly known that Hera wasn’t happy in this marriage, as Zeus cheated on her and impregnated other women, both mortals, and immortals.

Once, Hera was so upset that she left Zeus and retreated to Euboea. However, Zeus tried to take her back, but she didn’t want to. Cithaeron, the local king, advised Zeus to “marry” a wooden statue of women. When Hera learned about Zeus getting married, she showed up to end this marriage only to find that he was going to get married to a wooden statue. After that, they reconciled, and people started to celebrate Daedala.

Hera’s Offspring

Hera had many offspring with Zeus. One of her most important children was Ares. Ares was the god of war, so he was wild and even dangerous sometimes. Moreover, she was the mother of Hebe, the goddess of youth. Hebe symbolizes the human’s desire to stay young forever.

Eileithyia and Eris were her children, too. Eileithyia was the goddess of childbirth, and Eris was the god of strife and discord. Another important god who was a child of Hera was Hephaestus. Hephaestus was the god of metallurgy, the blacksmith of the Olympians. After his birth, he was rejected from the heavens by Hera because he had a congenital impairment. Thetis and the Oceanid Eurynome raised him instead of his mother.

Two other Hera’s children were Angelos and Enyo. Angelos was the underworld deity, and Enyo was the goddess of war and Ares’s companion. Many stories mentioned that Ares and Enyo had a child named Enyalius,  a god of war, too.

Finally, Arge, a nymph, and the Charites were also children of Hera. The Charites were three goddesses of charm, nature, beauty, goodwill, human creativity, and fertility.

Etymology

There are a lot of possible etymologies of the name Hera. One of them connects it with the greek word ὥρα hōra, which means season. So, in this interpretation, the name Hera means it is the right time for marriage.

According to Plato’s etymology, it derives from the greek word ἐρατή eratē, which means beloved, the one that Zeus married out of love. Plutarch gave a different version insisting that the name Hera is allegorical and an anagram of aēr (ἀήρ, “air”). 

John Chadwick, a decipherer of Linear B, connected the name with the greek word ἥρως, which means hero, but this etymology isn’t clear enough to be accepted. Moreover, R.S.P Beekes has suggested that the etymology of her name should have a pre-Greek origin.

Roles And Responsibilities

Hera responsibilities
ArchaiOptix, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Hera, as a queen, had many responsibilities. The most important of them was that she was the goddess of marriage and a woman’s protector. So, she had to protect marriages and women throughout their lives, especially in labor. She had to be a role model of a loyal wife to all women, and she had to remain pure and trusting. They gave her the epithets “child” and “virgin”  because she had to be pure as a virgin young lady.

The Greeks also called her “Alexandros,” which means that she was the protector of the men, too. Generally, she was a protector, as she used to protect entire cities, such as Sparta, Mycenae, Argos, and Samos. She was thought to be the patron of the cities of Argos and Samos, too.

Hera’s Sacred Animals and Plants

One of the sacred animals of Hera was the Cuckoo, which was the symbol of Zeus’ love for Hera as he transformed into a cuckoo to worm his way into her chamber. Another one was the peacock which symbolizes immortality and beauty.

Moreover, other sacred animals of Hera were the lion, a symbol of her power, strength, and immortality, and the cow, which emphasizes her role as a mother and woman, as it is a nurturing animal.

The sacred plants of Hera were the lotus flowers, the willow trees, the water lilies, and pomegranates. The pomegranate symbolized fertility for Hera, as she was generally the protector of women, especially while giving birth.

Hera’s Powers

Hera was one of the six first-born gods and queen of all gods and humans, so she was a mighty goddess. 

She had power over a woman’s menstrual cycle, and she could make women’s periods quite painful If they were offensive (Biokinesis). She had power over gods, humans, animals, and all living creatures, like her husband, Zeus. Moreover, she could move any object using only her mind (Telekinesis).

In addition, she could manipulate other people’s or semigods’ minds. She used to drive Dionysus crazy (Pathokinesis). She could also change her appearance and transform herself as she wished. Furthermore, she was able to curse anyone disrespectful to her or bless someone who deserved it. 

Hera had superhuman strength, senses, and stamina. She could kill giants with her hands, sense everything, even if it was very far away, and stay awake for days without rest. 

She manipulated the weather (Atmokinesis)  and especially the wind (aerokinesis). She used to control the earth, too. She caused a lot of earthquakes (Terrakinesis). Finally, she could transform anyone into a monster. For example, she transformed Lamia into a monster who fed on Children.

Hera’s Personality

Ancient writers described Hera as a jealous, vengeful, cruel, vindictive, assertive, vain, wrathful, ruthless, and short-tempered goddess. She could do anything to revenge on her husband’s lovers and offspring.

For example, when Alcmene was giving birth to Heracles, Hera sent her daughter Eileithyia to prevent this childbirth, and Graea withes to harden her labor. Heracles was finally born, but Hera didn’t stop to make his life difficult.

Some of Zeus’ offspring suffered greatly from Hera’s revengeful character, while she killed others. Once, she sent a python to harass Leto and her children. Moreover, she lured Zagreus with toys and took him to the Titans, who eventually ate him. 

Hera shows how vindictive and wrathful she is when she sends Athena to restart the Trojan war. She wanted to destroy the city and see the Trojans die or be enslaved. The cause of such behavior was that Hera had lost a beauty contest with Aphrodite and Athena.

One might also call her self-centered and stubborn. She tried many times to overthrow Zeus with the aid of the other Olympians. She would never admit that she was wrong or that she had lost.

Hera had many flaws, but she had some positive personality traits. She took her role as a woman protector very seriously and was always there when a woman needed her help, especially during pregnancy or labor. She also protected women whose husbands had abused her. She could be caring, sweet, and compassionate. She was also loyal to her husband. 

Hera’s Appearance

According to Greek Mythology, Hera is stunningly beautiful, even more, beautiful than Aphrodite. Her figure appeared to be tall and elegant. In addition, she had beautiful, captivating eyes and white skin.

She used to wear veils and elegant clothes like a woman ready for her marriage. Moreover, she wore her high, cylindrical, golden crown decorated with precious diamonds and a lot of jewelry from head to toe.

Hera was very proud of her beauty and meticulous about her looks, as she wanted to be the most desirable goddess.

Myths About Hera

Hera myths
Attributed to Louis-Jean-François Lagrenée, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Semele And Dionysus

Semele was the youngest daughter of Cadmus, king of Thebes. Moreover, she was the mother of Dionysus, the god of wine. The father of Dionysus was Zeus, as Semele had a secret love affair with him.

However, Hera discovers the truth, and she transforms herself into an old crone to take revenge. She gained her trust and did not believe her when she told her that she was Zeus’ lover. Hera planned to plant seeds of doubt that the man that Semele was in love with wasn’t Zeus.

So, when she met Zeus again, she asked him to show his divine form to discover that he was the father of all gods and humans. Zeus begged her to change her mind, but she didn’t.

The moment that happened, Semele perished and got consumed in flames. However, Zeus managed to rescue the fetal whom he gave birth from his thigh. 

Tiresias

Tiresias was a famous Greek prophet. Once, as a priest of Zeus, he encountered two snakes mating and hit them. Afterward, he suddenly became a woman. As a woman, he was a priestess of Hera, and he got married, and she had children. 

Seven years later, Tiresias found two snakes mating again, trampled on them, and he became a man again. After this transition, Zeus and Hera asked him to answer a question. The question was about which sex experienced more pleasure during mating. 

Zeus supported that women had more pleasure, while Hera supported the opposite. Tiresias answered that women had more pleasure. Hera got mad, and he made him blind. Zeus couldn’t do anything to reverse this situation. So, he gave him the gift of prophecy.

Hera’s Place In Ancient Greek Religion

Sites Sacred to Hera

The ancient Greek people may have constructed the first roofed temple sanctuary to honor Hera at Samos in approximately 800 BC. This temple was replaced later by another sanctuary, the Heraion, one of the most significant temples. That reveals that Hera wasn’t just a local greek goddess of the Aegean but quite an important one.

The Greek people also dedicated the earliest temple at Olympia and two of the most prestigious fifth and sixth-century Doric temples of Paestum (550BC and 450 BC). Furthermore, other temples were devoted to Hera in Corinth, Tiryns, Perachora, and Delos.

On the Greek mainland, a sanctuary of Hera had been constructed between the former Mycenaean cities of Mycenae and Argos, which hosted the festivals in her honor, the Heraia. One could also find sacred temples to Hera in her favorite cities, Argos, Mycenae, and Sparta.

Representations In Art

Hera, in ancient Greek art, is represented on a throne next to Zeus. For example, in the Parthenon frieze in Athens, she turns toward Zeus while holding her veil open. She was portrayed more as a married woman and wife, loyal to her husband, than solely as an independent, strong woman.

In postclassical art, she is represented in various paintings with Zeus as an allegory of marriage. Such paintings are Ruben’s Medici cycle, Henri at Lyons, and The meeting of Marie.

In other paintings, the artists focused on portraying her anger against Zeus. For instance, in the Ingres painting of Jupiter and Thetis, she looks threateningly on the left of the picture. 

Moreover, she had been presented with her attribute of peacocks, in the tails of whom the artists had drawn the eyes of Argus, the guardian of Ιο.

Other paintings where Hera is presented are the Judgement of Paris, El Juicio de Paris, The Origin of the Milky Way, and The Birth of the Milky Way. In the early 19th century, there weren’t many representations of Hera in art.

Festivals

One of the festivals devoted to Hera was the Daedala. This festival was about reconciliation and was held every four years at Plataea in Boeotia. According to Pausanias, there were the lesser Deadala and the greater Deadala. The lesser was the one that was held every four years, while the greater was held after fourteen years.

In the lesser Deadala, people went to an ancient oak grove and left pieces of cooked meat to ravens. They were watching in which tree the ravens would go after taking the meat. Out of this tree, they carved an image dressed as a bride. This image would be drawn to the river Asopus and back to Plataea, attended by a cheering crowd.

In the greater Daedala, the people of Boeotia chose one of the figures that had accumulated throughout the previous years and designated the “bride.” They prepared the “bride” properly and raised her on a wagon. This wagon was transported to Mount Cithaeron, where people offered a heifer to Hera and a bull to Zeus with plenty of wine.

Another festival was the Heraea. It is unknown when the festival started or which was its frequency. At this festival, it was only one event, the stadion. Only unmarried young women could participate in this race in three different categories. The winners were awarded a wreath of olive leaves and a part of cow’s meat devoted to Hera.

There was also the Junolia, a Roman festival in honor of Hera (Juno), held on March 7. This festival maybe concluded with a three-day feast.

In The Old Texts

Hera in old texts
Douris, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Ancient Greek and Latin writers mentioned Hera many times in their readers, as she had a main role in their stories. Homer referred to Hera in the Iliad and Odyssey as one of the gods who was an ally of the Greek people. One can also read about Hera in Homeric hymns and religious poems written in the seventh and sixth centuries. 

Moreover, Hesiod had written in his texts Theogony and the Works and Days about Hera, specifically Hera’s origins. In Pindar’s surviving poems, Hera’s relationships with various heroes are mentioned. For example, he wrote about how she helped Jason and the Argonauts and how she tried to kill Heracles.

In Aeschylus’ tragedy Prometheus Bound, he tells the story of Prometheus stealing the fire from heaven and the punishment he got from Zeus. During his sentence, he meets Io, who explains Hera’s pursuit of her.

In Latin old texts, Lucretius mentioned that the cult of the Olympian gods was misguided in his philosophical epic On the Nature of Things. Hera plays a vital role in Virgil’s epic poem, Aeneid. In this text, Aeneas came to Italy after the Trojan war, and Hera appears to be his enemy.

In his epic Argonautica, Valerius Flaccus referred to Hera as the patron of the Argonauts. Finally, Silius Italicus in the Punica mentioned that Hera was the main divine enemy of the Romans in Hannibal’s war and Hannibal’s ally.

FAQs

Who was Hera?

Hera was the goddess of marriage and protector of women during labor.

Who were the parents of Hera?

Hera’s parents were Cronus and Rhea.

Did Hera have any siblings?

She had three brothers and sisters: Hestia, Hades, Poseidon, Zeus, Demeter, and Chiron.

How many children did Hera have?

She had eleven children, Angelos, Arge, Ares, the Charites, Eileithyia, Eleutheria, Enyo, Eris, Hebe, and Hephaestus.

Who was Hera’s husband?

Zeus

Hera’s mythologies and powers are similar to which god?

Frigg

Featured Image Credit: Berlin Painter, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons