Ancient Greek Myths About Hera – The Queen of Mount Olympus
Who is Hera?
According to many ancient Greek myths and facts about Hera, the goddess Hera was a powerful queen who jointly ruled Mount Olympus with her husband/brother Zeus. And if you could go back in time, to the various ancient Greek cities and states, you would definitely see a number of temples dedicated to the goddess Hera.
It was also not uncommon for the ancient Greeks to have personal shrines in their homes devoted to Hera. She was considered the patron goddess of women, marriage, and childbirth. In many Greek myths, Hera is commonly tagged as an extremely vindictive and jealous goddess. Stories about her are full of her meting out punishments to love interests and illegitimate children of Zeus.
The following ancient Greek Myths about Hera expose readers to the birth, powers, children, symbols and popular depictions of the goddess Hera, Queen of Mount Olympus:
Hera’s Birth and Family
Hera was born to Cronus and Rhea – the king and queen of the Titans, respectively. Many ancient Greeks believed that the goddess was born on the island of Samos. Therefore, Samos became a hub for the worship of Hera.
Another myth claims that she was brought up by Oceanus and Tethys while Zeus busied himself freeing his other siblings.
Staying on the topic of siblings, Hera had about 6 siblings: Poseidon, Zeus, Hades, Demeter, Hestia, and Chiron. The Titan King Cronus, fearing that one of his children would grow strong to knock him off his throne decided to swallow all his children with the exclusion of Zeus. Kind courtesy of Rhea’s quick thinking, baby Zeus was saved.
In the end, what Cronus hoped to avoid came to pass. Zeus muscled strength and courage and freed all his siblings, including Hera, from the stomach of Cronus. What ensued in the coming eons of years was the war between the Titans and the Olympians.
Marriage to Zeus
After the Olympians emerged victorious over the titans, Zeus and the Olympus settled atop Mount Olympus. Hera and Zeus then got married and went on to produce several children – Hephaestus, Ares, Eris, Hebe, Eileithyia, and Enyo.
The union between Hera and Zeus was fraught by endless conflicts and chaos. Their discord primarily stemmed from Zeus’ inability to remain faithful to Hera. The king of Olympus, Zeus, had quite a number of extramarital affairs with goddesses, demigods, and mortal women. As a result, Hera grew furious and jealous.
Often times, Hera’s wrath was unleashed upon the illegitimate children that were bore out of Zeus’ escapades.
Hera’s Vindictiveness and Unrelenting Wrath
Below are some examples of the unfortunate mistresses and illegitimate children of Zeus that ended up suffering the wrath of Hera:
Leto, the Titan Goddess
Hearing of Zeus infidelity and impending illegitimate children’s birth, Hera dispatched a fearsome python to chase the pregnant Leto. Hera also commanded all the lands on earth not to give Leto or her children any refuge.
The myth goes on to say that Leto wandered the earth for days and nights, looking for a place to give birth. In the end, it was the inhabitants of the Cyprian island of Delos that came to Leto’s aid. Delos accommodated her all throughout her labor. Finally, Leto was able to give birth to Artemis and Apollo. But even this was no simple act. It is believed that Hera connived with her daughter Eileithyia to elongate the labor. Leto, therefore, had to spend nine months in labor and in pain.
Upon hearing the news of Leto’s successful delivery, Hera became even more furious. She again sent the python to kill Apollo and his sister Artemis. Nevertheless, the Greek god of light Apollo proved too strong for the python and slayed it at the Oracle of Delphi.
Io, the Priestess of Hera
Hera never hesitated to inflict pain and suffering on any mortal woman or goddess that in the slightest of ways got the attention of Zeus. One such victim of her wrath was Io, a priestess at one of her temples.
Io was not just a priestess at the temple of Hera, she was also the princess of Argos. And one would have expected Hera to be a bit lenient to one of her own priestesses. Instead, Hera was as ruthless as ever. She turned Io into a cow in order to prevent Zeus from chasing her.
In a different account of the story about Io, some myths claim that Zeus was the one who turned Io into a cow in order to evade Hera’s watchful gaze. However, his plan backfired. Hera found out about it this love interest of Zeus. Mad with rage and jealousy, she sent the one-hundred-eyed monster of Argos to keep his eyes firmly on Io. Feeling a bit sorry for the princess, Zeus tasked Hermes to kill the monster. This, in turn, forced Hera to place Argus’ 100 eyes on the peacock. This explains why the ancient Greeks often associated the peacock to the goddess Hera.
Semele, the Princess of Thebes
Semele was a beautiful young princess of Thebes. She was the daughter of King Cadmus. The story goes on to say that Zeus, disguised as a mortal, impregnated Semele.
When Hera got news of Zeus’ affair with Semele, she convinced Semele to ask Zeus to show himself in his full godly might.
Zeus could not resist Semele’s request and did Semele’s bidding. Unfortunately for Semele, Zeus’ light was too much for her to handle. She immediately lit up in flames. There was a glimmer of hope for the unborn child of Semele. Zeus took in the child and nursed him in his thighs. That child’s name was Dionysus, the god of wine, grapes, and winemaking.
Similar to the case of Semele, Hera was at it again, this time around her victim was Callisto. She turned Callisto into a bear. She did this so that the goddess of the hunt, Artemis, would hunt the deer down. In the end, Callisto (who was now a deer) could not evade the sheer hunting skills of Artemis. After Callisto died, Zeus created a new constellation in the skies in honor of Callisto
Hera punishes Echo for aiding Zeus
Echo was tasked by Zeus to distract Hera in order for Zeus to go about his extra-marital affairs in peace. When Hera got whiff of the actual plan, she punished Echo. As part of his punishment, Echo was made to repeat the last words of others.
How Hera delayed Alcmene’s birth of Hercules
The most vindictive act of Hera came with her conflict with Alcmene and her son, demigod Hercules (also known as Heracles). Alcmene was Amphitryon’s wife. She was also the granddaughter of Perseus. According to Hesiod, Alcmene was a very tall and beautiful woman who had wits and wisdom far beyond any mortal in her kingdom.
After Zeus shape-shifted himself into the body of Amphitryon, the king of Olympus then went ahead to bed Alcmene. The product of their union was Hercules.
Hercules’ birth was welcomed with joy on Mt. Olympus. Zeus himself expected Hercules to become a mighty ruler of the surrounding towns and cities in Tiryns.
Hera, filled with jealousy, miraculously impregnated the wife of Sthenelus. Homer’s Iliad states that it only took Sthenelus’ wife seven months to give birth to Eurystheus. Hera connived with her daughter, Lucina (Eileithyia), the goddess of childbirth, to delay the birth of Hercules. By so doing, Eurystheus was born before Hercules. This simple act of vengeance ensured that Eurystheus had a stronger birthright to the throne of Tiryns.
Hera’s numerous spats with Hercules (Heracles)
Judging by how much Hera hated Alcmene, it was only natural that she made herself a thorn in the flesh of Alcmene’s son, Hercules.
All throughout Hercules’ life, Hera was ever-present to put a wrench in his wheel. A few days shortly after Hercules was born, Hera sent two very deadly snakes to kill the baby, Hercules. Even at that age, the hero-god Hercules proved to be too strong an opponent for the snakes. Hercules strangled the snakes with his bare baby hands.
In another instance, Hera successfully bewitched Hercules into killing his wife and children. And in order to atone for his gross crime, Hercules accepted his famous Twelve Labors. At every turn of the way, Hera was there to make things very difficult for Hercules. For example, she was responsible for unleashing the Hydra of Lerna on Hercules’ town; she changed the minds of the Amazons and made them aggressive towards Hercules while he tried to secure the girdle of Hippolyta.
Hera versus Ixion
The story of Ixion is steeped deep in betrayal. Ixion was the son of Ares (in some myths Leonteus) who ruled over the Lapiths
The story begins with Zeus inviting Ixion to Mount Olympus to dine with the gods. Perhaps lost in all the wine that he drank on Mount Olympus, Ixion began fancying Hera. In the myth, it is stated that Ixion burnt with lust for the goddess queen Hera. He even went as far as making his intentions known to Hera.
Zeus, being an all-powerful god, took the wind of Ixion’s betrayal and carved a cloud that depicted Hera in a very seductive manner. Not realizing that it was a trick, Ixion went ahead and copulated with the cloud. By this time, it was apparent that Ixion had betrayed the trust of his host.
Either Hera or Zeus was said to have cast Ixion to Hades. Over there, Ixion was fated to spend eternity bound to a spinning wheel.
Strangely, the union between the cloud and Ixion produce the Centaurus – the first among the race of ancient Greek mythological beasts known as centaurs (or Ixionidae). The centaurs are half-men/half horse that lived in isolation from men. They were infamous for their savagery and lustful behaviors.
Hera’s wrath towards Paris of Troy
Prior to the legendary Trojan War, Paris of Troy tasked by Zeus to be a judge in determining which goddess was the fairest of all the goddesses on Mount Olympus. The contest was among Aphrodite, Athena, and Hera. The prize was a golden apple. According to the myths, all three goddesses tried to bribe their way to victory. Athena, the goddess of wisdom and strategic warfare, promised to bestow on Paris vast wisdom and strength. Hera’s promised to make Paris the ruler of large areas of Asia and Europe. However, Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty, promised Paris an undying love from the most beautiful mortal on earth, Helen.
Paris preferred Aphrodite’s offer and declared Aphrodite the most beautiful goddess on Mount Olympus. This enraged Hera. And when the Trojan War broke out, Hera fought against the Trojans; she lent her support to King Agamemnon of Mycenae.
Unlike many gods and goddesses in the Greek Pantheon, Hera stayed true and faithful to her husband. Hence, all of Hera’s children came from the union with Zeus. It is for this reason why she was venerated as the goddess of women, marriage, and childbirth.
Hera and Zeus brought forth about 8 children: Hephaestus, Ares, Eris, Hebe, Eileithyia, Angelos, Typhon, and Enyo. In some cases, Homer considered Enyo, the goddess of strife and destruction, the son of Ares instead.
In the case of Hephaestus, the god of fire and the forge, Hera despised him so much so that she ended up banishing him from Mount Olympus. To add insult to injury (perhaps to add injury to insult), Hephaestus ended up breaking his leg after he crashed down on the earth from Mount Olympus. The reason why Hephaestus got was unloved by his parents was because he was born very ugly and deformed. However, it was Hephaestus that got the last laugh. Hephaestus forged a magical throne and replaced Hera’s throne with his. The moment Hera sat on the throne, she was immediately bound to the throne. In exchange for freeing Hera, Hephaestus was given the beautiful goddess Aphrodite as a wife.
Ancient Places of Worship and Festivals in Honor of Hera
Some of the famous worship places devoted to the goddess Hera were Argos, Salmos, Sparta, and Mycenae. Between the 5th and 4th centuries BCE, the city of Elis had coins with Hera’s face on it.
In many of these cities, it was not uncommon to have athletic competitions in honor of Hera. The most famous of these competitions was “the Heraia”. There was also the Hierogamy – a series of festivals with themes of marriage and family values that primarily honored Hera.
From the 8th to the 7th century BCE, the temples at Olympia and Tiryns were frequented by quite a sizable number of Hera worshipers. With the passage of time, more and more Hera’s temples (in places such as Samos, Magna Graecia, and Paestum) sprang up.
Major Symbols and Popular Depictions
Over the centuries, Hera has come to be associated with the following symbols: pomegranate; lily; cow; cuckoo; lotus; peacock/peafowl; lion; and diadem.
The pomegranate symbol of Hera comes with the meaning of fertility and childbirth. The peacock symbolizes her pride and her majestic behavior. The cuckoo comes from the cuckoo bird that Zeus used to court Hera.
Among the gods and goddesses of the Greek Pantheon, Hera is one of those goddesses whose images remain very scanty. The stories that lived up to this day do not have a clear-cut description of her physical attributes. What many modern artists do is to commonly sculpt or paint Hera sitting on her throne in Mount Olympus, sometimes wearing a bridal veil.
Traditionally, her images and sculptures show her dressed in robes with a crown (polos) atop her head. She has also been depicted holding a lotus scepter. In Hesiod’s Theogony, Hera is described as frequently wearing golden sandals. Homer depicts her as a white-armed and ox-eyed looking goddess.
As for her chariot, Hera’s chariot is often pulled by peacocks. By so doing, she epitomizes true royalty and queenliness
Hera’s Powers and Abilities
Frequently regarded as one of the most powerful deities among the Twelve Olympians, Hera could certainly hold her own during battles. Besides, she was so much revered by not just mortals but by the gods on Mount Olympus. Her commitment to family values and marriages set her apart from other Greek gods and goddesses.
Hera, Queen of the heavens and the Earth, was often called upon to provide clear skies. However, she produced storms whenever a particular city or town crossed her. For couples that had difficulties giving birth, Hera was the deity that they called upon. She had the power to inject good health and harmonious conditions into families and marriages. Simply put, she was the keeper of the home in many ancient Greek societies.