The name Hera may come from ἥρως hērōs, meaning “Master” (therefore translating as “Mistress”) or from ὥρα hōra meaning “season”.
Hera presides over the marriage union and all proper and necessary arrangements of marriage, protects the marriage bed, and protects the interest of honorable women. She enacts particularly strict punishment on those who dishonor their fellow women, especially Herself.
She was also the Goddess of the sky; the Milky Way is said to be milk from Hera’s breast.
The Archaic Hera
Some of the earliest temples discovered in the Mediterranean region may have been dedicated to Hera, including a temple at Samos that dates back 800 years BCE and the earliest temple built at Olympia.
Unfortunately, we know little about this very ancient Hera who seems to have been first among Her kin and whose power must have diminished with Her marriage to Zeus although some would argue that it is through Her that he ever had any power in Greece in the first place, as evidenced by the epithet; Zeus Heraios, Zeus, consort of Hera.
Discussion of Modern Thought Regarding Hera
A controversial theory exists naming Hera “Great Goddess” in an archaic matriarchal system which was brought down by Her marriage to Zeus contrived by patriarchal invaders to the area. This is supposition with little evidence behind it but still an interesting concept to explore.
Many modern Pagans worship the Great Goddess as the “Maiden, Mother, Crone” triple Goddess and Hera is one historical Goddess with some scant evidence to support this idea. There is a tradition that there was once a shrine in Stymphalia in Arcadia to Hera in three aspects, Hera Pais the Virgin girl, Hera Teleia the Bride/Wife/grown woman(although there is some disagreement as to the translation of Teleia, see epithets below) , and Hera Chḗrē, the widow.
It is perhaps prudent to point out that there is no “Mother” aspect here(though it does exist elsewhere), Hera was not known in later centuries for her mothering instinct, nor was she terribly sympathetic to the maternal status of mortal women. These epithets may be simply clarifying that Hera is a Goddess who is concerned with every aspect of an honorable woman’s life. According to one tradition, Hera renews her virginity at the spring of Kanathos near Nauplia every year
Thoughts on Hera’s Personality
Although she is portrayed in many myths as shrewish and vengeful, Hera seems to be a protectress of honor in the ancient honor society of the Greeks. So, while she is a protectress of honorable women, those whose honor is impugned are subject to Her wrath.
The union of marriage is sacred to Her. Her treatment of the illegitimate offspring of Her husband is that of the archetypal stepmother- resentful of the rewards granted them that could instead be bestowed on Her legitimate children, although in her case, her children were Divine and did not need any extra gifts.
The Birth of Hera
Hera was the third born daughter. Zeus was the last born son. Rhea wrapped a rock in swaddling clothes and gave it to Cronus to swallow and hid Zeus until He grew up. Cronus was then given a drug to cause him to vomit up his children and the children rose up against Him2.
Seduction and Marriage
Hera was the most beautiful of all the Goddesses and initially resistant to Zeus’s attentions. He already had somewhat of a playboy reputation even then. But He transformed Himself into a cuckoo bird and kept near Her until She gained an affection for the creature and kept it as a pet6. The seduction took 300 years and was ultimately aided by Aphrodite7.
It is said that the wedding took place in Crete where a temple was built and the ceremony reenacted every year. As a wedding gift, Gaia created the golden apples which grew in the garden of the Hesperides.
The Birth of Hephaestos
According to myth, Hera was furious with Zeus when he bore Athene from His head without Her input. Not to be outdone, Hera bore Haphaestos by parthenogenesis but she was disappointed by his ugly appearance and the fact that he was born crippled and she cast him out of Olympos.
After he grew up, Hephaestos returned with a “peace offering” for His mother, a magnificent throne. When she sat upon it she was stuck and He refused to release
Hera is most often portrayed as a matronly woman of regal bearing, well-dressed and wearing a polos crown and possibly a veil.
She is usually carrying a staff, occasionally with a lotus-like flower at the tip and a pomegranate or opium poppy capsule. Her chariot was pulled by peacocks, though these would have been added only after Alexander the Great’s Persian campaigns since the birds were unknown before then.
The cuckoo is her symbol from archaic times and the mythology suggests that Zeus came to Her as a cuckoo and she made a pet of Him as a warm-up to his final seduction.
Hera also has archaic associations with cattle as evidenced by her common epithet Boôpis, meaning “having cowlike aspect”, most often translated as “cow-eyed” as other translations might suggest that she was cow-headed like the Minatour, which doesn’t seem to have been the case.
Epithets of Hera
- Ἀλέξανδρος (Aleksandros) – “defending men”
- Αἰγοφάγος (Aigophágos) ‘Goat-Eater’
- Ἀκραῖα (Akráia) ‘(She) of the Heights’, As in “dwelling on high”.
- Ἀμμωνία (Ammonia) – Perhaps relating Her to the Egyptian God Amun
- Ἀργεία (Argéia) ‘(She) of Argos’ as the ruling deity of Argos
- Βασίλεια (Basíleia) ‘Queen’
- Βοῶπις (Boṓpis) ‘Cow-Eyed’ or ‘Cow-Faced’
- Βουναία (Bounáia) ‘(She) of the Mound’ (in Corinth)
- Χήρη (Chḗrē) or Khere – ‘Widowed’ or separated, estranged, aggrieved
- Γαμηλια (Gamelia)-Patroness of marriage rites
- Ἡνιοχη (Heniokhe) She who drives the chariot
- Ὑπερχειρία (Hyperkheiria) “Whose hand is above”
- Χρυσόθρονος (Khrusothronos) – Golden-throned
- Κουροτρόφος (Kourotrophos) She who nourishes the young
- Λευκώλενος (Leukṓlenos) ‘White-Armed’
- Λιμένια (Limenia) Of the Harbor
- Μεγαλοσθενέος (Megalostheneos) of great strength
- Νυμφευομενη (Nympheoamene) Who leads the bride
- Ὀλύμπια (Olympia) – of Olympia (in Elis)
- Παῖς (Pais) ‘Child’ The maiden
- Παγκρατής (Pagkrates) All-powerful, all mighty
- Παρθένος (Parthénos) ‘Virgin’
- Φαρυγαια (Pharygaia) – of Pharygaia (in Lokris)
- Πορφυρόζωνος (Porphyrozonos) with a purple girdle
- Πότνια (Potnia) Queen
- Σαμια (Samia) – of Samos
- Τελεία (Teléia) Fulfiller of prayers OR one who has reached a state of fulfillment (generally assumed to be through marriage)
- Ζυγια (Zygia) -“Yoked” Protector of the marriage commitment
- Ζωογόνος Θεά (Zoagonos Thea) Lifebringing Goddess
Temples to Hera
A Haraion is a temple dedicated to the Goddess Hera. Many were known throughout antiquity.
- Heraion of Samos, Dates to the 8th century BCE
- Heraion of Argos
- Heraion of Perachora, near Corinth, was a sanctuary complex dating to the 9th century BCE. This may have housed an oracle.
- Temple of Hera at Olympia, where the Olympic torch is lit even today by catching the rays of the sun.
- Heraion of Lucania said to have been founded by Jason and his Argonauts
- Heraion of Paestum
- Heraion of Selinunte
Festivals for Hera
The Heraean Games were all-female athletic competitions that took place at the stadium at Olympia as early as the 6th Century BCE. They may have been held during the Olympic year prior to the men’s games.
The Daedala was celebrated by the Boeotians a 60-year cycle, a festival of reconciliation between Zeus and Hera.