Misunderstood Deity: Hating on Hera

Juno_Receiving_the_Cestus_from_Venus_by_Joshua_Reynolds

It’s no secret that no one really likes the queen of the gods. If you ask someone what their favorite greek goddess is, you don’t get an overwhelming response of “Oh, I just love Hera because she’s so brave and lovable, and does so much for the Greek pantheon.”

Part of that may be because Hera does not have a clear identity. Everyone knows Athena as the goddess of wisdom and Demeter as goddess of crops, but Hera’s identity is mostly seen as Zeus’ wife and she’s largely overshadowed by him.

It’s also difficult to have an identity when what you’re famous for ends up being a mixed message (being the goddess of marriage and yet having an awful one).

Having a husband who disrespects you all the time and makes no secret of it isn’t exactly a recipe for marital bliss or peace of mind. Although some argue that Zeus actually loved her, I don’t entirely agree. Hera probably spearheaded the movement of blaming the other woman instead of the man in affairs. In Hera’s defense, she never tried to punish Zeus’ offspring with his previous wives and there’s not much she could do to Zeus even if she wanted to. Her lack of power fascinates me.

The extent of her payback at Zeus was trying to conceive by herself because she was upset with Zeus for having Athena by himself. Talk about having cake and eating it too! But Hera’s cake wasn’t exactly sweet, seeing as Hephaestus was born crippled and she cast him out of Olympus–the pinnacle of child abandonment.

There had to be a deeper cause for Hera being so spiteful, besides being the goddess of marriage and then having the worst marriage on heaven and earth. And after I found it, I felt sorry for Hera. So much so that I wrote a short story homage to her (you know, the least anyone could do for an ancient deity).

Basically, to cut a long oral myth short, Hera was the sister of Zeus. Before becoming Zeus’ wife (and before temples to Zeus were built), she had many temples dedicated to her as the goddess of marriage and fertility. Many women prayed to her for healthy children and Hera was seen as the mother of all mothers.

Through time, Hera’s image has lessened from an important deity for worship in the community to “Zeus’ wife”. Her image has also become twisted through re-tellings and a misogynistic view instead of one as the protector of marriage.

Case in point.

Case in point.

She rejected Zeus’ wooing and his advances, but not for long. One day, he turned himself into a little bird. When Hera cradled the bird to her breast out of sympathy, he changed back into his original form and raped her.

Ridiculous.

She married him to cover her shame and ended up being Zeus’ fifth or seventh wife (historical sources debate the number). I find it interesting that she never cheated on him and that she tried to hold her own in her marriage. Zeus seemed scared of her, as he avoided her all the time, but he also had a weird relationship with her.  He never allowed anyone to dishonor her except for himself and he listened to her for the most part.

In any case. Hera probably wasn’t the bitter harpy everyone makes her out to be, and even if she was, it’s not so far-fetched to see why.

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2 comments on “Misunderstood Deity: Hating on Hera

  1. I love your use of the the term, ‘to cut a long oral myth short,’ and shall use it whenever appropriate in conversation from now on (if that’s ok with you).

    Interesting post and subject matter, thanks.

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