The queen of heaven in Greek mythology, Hera was the sister and wife of Zeus, the king of the gods. The Greeks worshiped her as a mother goddess and considered her a protector of marriage and childbirth and a patron of women. Many of the myths and legends about Hera concern her terrible jealousy of and revenge against Zeus's numerous lovers and children. Hera's counterpart in Roman mythology was the goddess Juno.
Birth and Marriage. The daughter of the Titans Cronus* and Rhea, Hera was swallowed after birth by Cronus. Her siblings Demeter*, Hades*, Poseidon*, and Hestia suffered the same fate. However, Rhea managed to save Zeus, the youngest brother. Later Zeus rescued his brothers and sisters by giving Cronus a potion that caused him to vomit them up. Some stories say that Hera was raised by the Titans Oceanus and Tethys; others claim that she grew up under the care of Temenus, who ruled the region of Arcadia in Greece.
When Zeus and his brothers defeated the Titans and divided the universe among themselves, they gave nothing to their sisters. Hera was furious at being left out, and this anger persisted throughout her relationship with Zeus. According to some myths, Zeus seduced Hera while disguised as a cuckoo. Other tales say that he found her on an island and carried her away to a cave. Stories place their wedding at various sites: in the Garden of the Hesperides (the nymphs of the setting sun), at the top of Mount Ida in Anatolia (present-day Turkey), or on the island of Euboea in the Aegean Sea. Festivals commemorating the marriage took place throughout Greece.
As the wife of Zeus, Hera bore him four children: Hephaestus, the god of fire and crafts; Ares, the god of war; Ilithyia, the goddess of childbirth; and Hebe, the cupbearer of the gods. Zeus and Hera often quarreled, and their arguments sometimes became fierce enough to shake the halls of Olympus, the home of the gods. Most of their arguments concerned Zeus's seduction of other women, but they also argued about the nature of love itself.
In their most famous quarrel over love, Hera insisted that men received more sexual pleasure than women, while Zeus argued the opposite. In an attempt to end the dispute, Hera and Zeus agreed to consult Tiresias, a mortal who had been both male and female. Tiresias sided with Zeus, claiming that women had much greater pleasure than men. Enraged by his answer, Hera blinded Tiresias. Zeus compensated Tiresias for his loss of sight by giving him the gift of prophecy.
Anger and Revenge. Zeus wandered the world seducing beautiful women, goddesses, and nymphs—often while disguised as a mortal or an animal. His unfaithfulness made Hera insanely jealous.
patron special guardian, protector, or supporter
Titan one of a family of giants who ruled the earth until overthrown by the Greek gods of Olympus
nymph minor goddess of nature, usually represented as young and beautiful
prophecy foretelling of what is to come; also something that is predicted
* See Names and Places at the end of this volume for further information.
Most of her anger was directed at Zeus's lovers and their children, whom she persecuted and punished mercilessly. Many of the stories about Hera concern her revenge against these individuals.
One of the greatest victims of Hera's anger was Hercules*, the son of Zeus and a mortal women named Alcmena. Hera hounded and punished Hercules throughout his life. Soon after his birth, she sent two snakes to kill him, but the infant Hercules, who would become known for his tremendous strength, strangled the snakes instead. Another time, Hera drove Hercules temporarily insane, causing him to kill his own wife and children. Once, when she raised a storm against Hercules' ship, Zeus retaliated by hanging Hera from Mount Olympus by her wrists, with anvils attached to her feet.
Another of Hera's victims was Io, a Greek princess with whom Zeus had an affair. Hera suspected that Zeus had a new lover and went searching for him. To save Io from his wife's jealousy, Zeus turned the girl into a white calf. When Hera found Zeus, she asked to have the calf as a gift. Not daring to refuse, he agreed. Io roamed the meadows as a calf for a long time, constantly pestered by a horsefly sent by Hera to torment her. Feeling pity for Io, Zeus often visited her in the shape of a bull. Finally, he promised Hera that he would pay no more attention to Io, and Hera agreed to transform her back into a woman.
Semele, a mortal woman who gave birth to Zeus's son Dionysus*, was another of Hera's victims. Hera suggested to Semele that she ask her lover to appear in his full glory. Zeus, who had promised to grant Semele any wish, sadly did so and appeared with his thunderbolts, causing Semele to burn to death immediately. Athamas, the king of Thebes, and his wife Ino, who later became a sea goddess, raised Dionysus after his mother's death. Hera punished them as well by making them go mad.
Hera's vengeful nature was directed mainly at her husband's unfaithfulness, but there were other victims too. One famous story tells of a beauty contest between Hera and the goddesses Athena* and Aphrodite*. The judge of the contest, the Trojan prince Paris, chose Aphrodite as the most beautiful of the three. The angry Hera punished Paris by siding with the Greeks against the Trojans in the Trojan War and by acting as protector of the Greek hero Achilles*.
The Roman Juno. The Romans identified Hera with the goddess Juno. In many ways, Juno had greater authority than Hera. For the Greeks, Hera's long-lasting bond with Zeus—despite its many problems—symbolized the strength and importance of marriage. Marriage, home, and family were even more important to the Romans, so the cult of Juno was significant throughout ancient Rome.
cult group bound together by devotion to a particular person, belief, or god
Juno closely resembled Hera, and myths about her were basically the same. However, there were some differences. In Roman mythology, for example, Juno's origin is sometimes associated with an Italian mother goddess closely connected to fertility. She is often linked with the moon, and the month that the Romans named in her honor—June—was considered the most favorable time of the year for weddings.
One of the principal Roman myths of Juno concerns Minerva, the Roman counterpart of the Greek goddess Athena. According to this story, Minerva was born from the head of Jupiter, which angered Juno. She complained to Flora, the goddess of flowers and gardens, who touched Juno with a magic herb that caused her to give birth to the god Mars*. A similar myth exists in Greek mythology, but in some versions of that story, Hera gives birth to the monster Typhon, who tries to defeat Zeus and take his power. While the Greek myth illustrates Hera's vengeful nature, the Roman story emphasizes fertility and motherhood.