Queen of the gods and the goddess of marriage, women, childbirth and family.
The youngest daughter of Cronus and Rhea. Sister and wife of Zeus. Being the goddess of marriage, she frequently tried to get revenge on Zeus' lovers and their children.
Her symbols include the peacock, cuckoo, and cow.
Hera is the daughter of the youngest Titan Cronus and his wife, and sister, Rhea. Cronus was fated to be overthrown by one of his children; to prevent this, he swallowed all of his newborn children whole until Rhea tricked him into swallowing a stone instead of her youngest child, Zeus. Zeus grew up in secret and when he grew up he tricked his father into regurgitating his siblings, including Hera. Zeus then led the revolt against the Titans, banished them, and divided the dominion over the world with his brothers Poseidon and Hades.
Marriage with Zeus
Hera is the goddess of marriage and childbirth rather more than of motherhood, and much of her mythology revolves around her marriage with her brother Zeus. She is charmed by him and she seduces him; he cheats on her and has many children by other goddesses and mortal women; she is intensely jealous and vindictive towards his children and their mothers; he is threatening and violent to her.
In the Iliad, Zeus implies their marriage was some sort of elopement, as they lay secretly from their parents. Pausanias records a tale of how they came to be married in which Zeus transformed into a cuckoo bird to woo Hera. She caught the bird and kept it as her pet; this is why the cuckoo is seated on her sceptre. According to a scholion on Theocritus' Idylls, when Hera was heading toward Mount Thornax alone, Zeus created a terrible storm and transformed himself into a cuckoo bird who flew down and sat on her lap. When Hera saw him, she covered him with her cloak. Zeus then transformed back and took hold of her; because she was refusing to sleep with him due to their mother, he promised to marry her. In one account Hera refused to marry Zeus and hid in a cave to avoid him; an earthborn man named Achilles convinced her to give him a chance, and thus the two had their first sexual intercourse.
According to Callimachus, their wedding feast lasted three thousand years. The Apples of the Hesperides that Heracles was tasked by Eurystheus to take were a wedding gift by Gaia to the couple.
Heracles strangling the snakes sent by Hera, Attic red-figured stamnos, ca. 480–470 BCE. From Vulci, Etruria.
Hera is the stepmother and enemy of Heracles. The name Heracles means "Glory of Hera". In Homer's Iliad, when Alcmene was about to give birth to Heracles, Zeus announced to all the gods that on that day a child by Zeus himself, would be born and rule all those around him. Hera, after requesting Zeus to swear an oath to that effect, descended from Olympus to Argos and made the wife of Sthenelus (son of Perseus) give birth to Eurystheus after only seven months, while at the same time preventing Alcmene from delivering Heracles. This resulted in the fulfilment of Zeus's oath in that it was Eurystheus rather than Heracles. In Pausanias' recounting, Hera sent witches (as they were called by the Thebans) to hinder Alcmene's delivery of Heracles. The witches were successful in preventing the birth until Historis, daughter of Tiresias, thought of a trick to deceive the witches. Like Galanthis, Historis announced that Alcmene had delivered her child; having been deceived, the witches went away, allowing Alcmene to give birth.
Hera's wrath against Zeus' son continues and while Heracles is still an infant, Hera sends two serpents to kill him as he lies in his cot. Heracles throttles the snakes with his bare hands and is found by his nurse playing with their limp bodies as if they were a child's toy.
The Origin of the Milky Way by Jacopo Tintoretto, 1575
One account of the origin of the Milky Way is that Zeus had tricked Hera into nursing the infant Heracles: discovering who he was, she pulled him from her breast, and a spurt of her milk formed the smear across the sky that can be seen to this day. Unlike any Greeks, the Etruscans instead pictured a full-grown bearded Heracles at Hera's breast: this may refer to his adoption by her when he became an Immortal. He had previously wounded her severely in the breast.
When Heracles reached adulthood, Hera drove him mad, which led him to murder his family and this later led to him undertaking his famous labours. Hera assigned Heracles to labour for King Eurystheus at Mycenae. She attempted to make almost all of Heracles' twelve labours more difficult. When he fought the Lernaean Hydra, she sent a crab to bite at his feet in the hopes of distracting him. Later Hera stirred up the Amazons against him when he was on one of his quests. When Heracles took the cattle of Geryon, he shot Hera in the right breast with a triple-barbed arrow: the wound was incurable and left her in constant pain, as Dione tells Aphrodite in the Iliad, Book V. Afterwards, Hera sent a gadfly to bite the cattle, irritate them and scatter them. Hera then sent a flood which raised the water level of a river so much that Heracles could not ford the river with the cattle. He piled stones into the river to make the water shallower. When he finally reached the court of Eurystheus, the cattle were sacrificed to Hera.
Eurystheus also wanted to sacrifice the Cretan Bull to Hera. She refused the sacrifice because it reflected glory on Heracles. The bull was released and wandered to Marathon, becoming known as the Marathonian Bull.
Some myths state that in the end, Heracles befriended Hera by saving her from Porphyrion, a giant who tried to rape her during the Gigantomachy, and that she even gave her daughter Hebe as his bride. Whatever myth-making served to account for an archaic representation of Heracles as "Hera's man" it was thought suitable for the builders of the Heraion at Paestum to depict the exploits of Heracles in bas-reliefs.
Hera (according to inscription); tondo of an Attic white-ground kylix from Vulci, ca. 470 BCE
Leto and the Twins: Apollo and Artemis
When Hera discovered that Leto was pregnant and that Zeus was the father, she convinced the nature spirits to prevent Leto from giving birth on terra-firma, the mainland, any island at sea, or any place under the sun. Poseidon gave pity to Leto and guided her to the floating island of Delos, which was neither mainland nor a real island where Leto was able to give birth to her children. Afterwards, Zeus secured Delos to the bottom of the ocean. The island later became sacred to Apollo. Alternatively, Hera kidnapped Eileithyia, the goddess of childbirth, to prevent Leto from going into labor. The other gods bribed Hera with a beautiful necklace nobody could resist and she finally gave in.
Either way, Artemis was born first and then assisted with the birth of Apollo. Some versions say Artemis helped her mother give birth to Apollo for nine days. Another variation states that Artemis was born one day before Apollo, on the island of Ortygia and that she helped Leto cross the sea to Delos the next day to give birth to Apollo.
Later, Tityos attempted to rape Leto at the behest of Hera. He was slain by Artemis and Apollo.
This account of the birth of Apollo and Artemis is contradicted by Hesiod in Theogony, as the twins are born prior to Zeus’ marriage to Hera.
Io with Zeus by Giovanni Ambrogio Figino, 1599
Io and Argus
The myth of Io has many forms and embellishments. Generally, Io was a priestess of Hera at the Heraion of Argos. Zeus lusted after her and either Hera turned Io into a heifer to hide her from Zeus, or Zeus did so to hide her from Hera but was discovered. Hera had Io tethered to an olive-tree and set Argus Panoptes (lit. 'all-seeing') to watch over her, but Zeus sent Hermes to kill him. Infuriated, Hera then sent a gadfly (Greek oistros, compare oestrus) to pursue and constantly sting Io, who fled into Asia and eventually reached Egypt. There Zeus restored her to human form and she gave birth to his son Epaphus.
Judgment of Paris
Main article: Judgement of Paris
This is one of the many works depicting the event. Hera is the goddess in the center, wearing the crown. Das Urteil des Paris by Anton Raphael Mengs, ca. 1757
A prophecy stated that a son of the sea-nymph Thetis, with whom Zeus fell in love after gazing upon her in the oceans off the Greek coast, would become greater than his father. Possibly for this reasons, Thetis was betrothed to an elderly human king, Peleus son of Aeacus, either upon Zeus' orders, or because she wished to please Hera, who had raised her. All the gods and goddesses as well as various mortals were invited to the marriage of Peleus and Thetis (the eventual parents of Achilles) and brought many gifts. Only Eris, goddess of discord, was not invited and was stopped at the door by Hermes, on Zeus' order. She was annoyed at this, so she threw from the door a gift of her own: a golden apple inscribed with the word καλλίστῃ (kallistēi, "To the fairest"). Aphrodite, Hera, and Athena all claimed to be the fairest, and thus the rightful owner of the apple.
The goddesses quarreled bitterly over it, and none of the other gods would venture an opinion favoring one, for fear of earning the enmity of the other two. They chose to place the matter before Zeus, who, not wanting to favor one of the goddesses, put the choice into the hands of Paris, a Trojan prince. After bathing in the spring of Mount Ida where Troy was situated, they appeared before Paris to have him choose. The goddesses undressed before him, either at his request or for the sake of winning. Still, Paris could not decide, as all three were ideally beautiful, so they resorted to bribes. Hera offered Paris political power and control of all of Asia, while Athena offered wisdom, fame, and glory in battle, and Aphrodite offered the most beautiful mortal woman in the world as a wife, and he accordingly chose her. This woman was Helen, who was, unfortunately for Paris, already married to King Menelaus of Sparta. The other two goddesses were enraged by this and through Helen's abduction by Paris, they brought about the Trojan War.
Hera plays a substantial role in The Iliad, appearing in a number of books throughout the epic poem. She hates the Trojans because of Paris' decision that Aphrodite was the most beautiful goddess, and so supports the Greeks during the war. Throughout the epic Hera makes many attempts to thwart the Trojan army. In books 1 and 2, Hera declares that the Trojans must be destroyed. Hera persuades Athena to aid the Achaeans in battle and she agrees to assist with interfering on their behalf.
In book 5, Hera and Athena plot to harm Ares, who had been seen by Diomedes in assisting the Trojans. Diomedes called for his soldiers to fall back slowly. Hera, Ares' mother, saw Ares' interference and asked Zeus, Ares' father, for permission to drive Ares away from the battlefield. Hera encouraged Diomedes to attack Ares and he threw his spear at the god. Athena drove the spear into Ares' body, and he bellowed in pain and fled to Mount Olympus, forcing the Trojans to fall back.
Jupiter and Juno on Mount Ida by James Barry, 1773 (City Art Galleries, Sheffield.)
In book 8, Hera tries to persuade Poseidon to disobey Zeus and help the Achaean army. He refuses, saying he doesn't want to go against Zeus. Determined to intervene in the war, Hera and Athena head to the battlefield. However, seeing the two flee, Zeus sent Iris to intercept them and make them return to Mount Olympus or face grave consequences. After prolonged fighting, Hera sees Poseidon aiding the Greeks and giving them motivation to keep fighting.
In book 14 Hera devises a plan to deceive Zeus. Zeus set a decree that the gods were not allowed to interfere in the mortal war. Hera is on the side of the Achaeans, so she plans a Deception of Zeus where she seduces him, with help from Aphrodite, and tricks him into a deep sleep, with the help of Hypnos, so that the Gods could interfere without the fear of Zeus.
In book 21, Hera continues her interference with the battle as she tells Hephaestus to prevent the river from harming Achilles. Hephaestus sets the battlefield ablaze, causing the river to plead with Hera, promising her he will not help the Trojans if Hephaestus stops his attack. Hephaestus stops his assault and Hera returns to the battlefield where the gods begin to fight amongst themselves.
Hera and Prometheus, tondo of a 5th-century BCE cup from Vulci, Etruria
Semele and Dionysus
See also: Dionysus § Birth
When Hera learned that Semele, daughter of Cadmus King of Thebes, was pregnant by Zeus, she disguised herself as Semele's nurse and persuaded the princess to insist that Zeus show himself to her in his true form. When he was compelled to do so, having sworn by Styx, his thunder and lightning destroyed Semele. Zeus took Semele's unborn child, Dionysus and completed its gestation sewn into his own thigh.
In another version, Dionysus was originally the son of Zeus by either Demeter or Persephone. Hera sent her Titans to rip the baby apart, from which he was called Zagreus ("Torn in Pieces"). Zeus rescued the heart; or, the heart was saved, variously, by Athena, Rhea, or Demeter. Zeus used the heart to recreate Dionysus and implant him in the womb of Semele—hence Dionysus became known as "the twice-born". Certain versions imply that Zeus gave Semele the heart to eat to impregnate her. Hera tricked Semele into asking Zeus to reveal his true form, which killed her. Dionysus later managed to rescue his mother from the underworld and have her live on Mount Olympus.
Lamia was a lovely queen of Libya, whom Zeus loved and slept with. Hera in jealousy, caused Lamia to kill her own children; out of grief for her actions, Lamia was turned into a misshapen creature that would therefore snatch and murder other people's children.
Gerana was a queen of the Pygmies who boasted she was more beautiful than Hera. The wrathful goddess turned her into a crane and proclaimed that her bird descendants should wage eternal war on the Pygmy folk.
Cydippe, a priestess of Hera, was on her way to a festival in the goddess' honor. The oxen which were to pull her cart were overdue and her sons, Biton and Cleobis, pulled the cart the entire way (45 stadia, 8 kilometers). Cydippe was impressed with their devotion to her and Hera so asked Hera to give her children the best gift a god could give a person. Hera ordained that the brothers would die in their sleep.
This honor bestowed upon the children was later used by Solon, as a proof while trying to convince Croesus that it is impossible to judge a person's happiness until they have died a fruitful death after a joyous life.
Tiresias was a priest of Zeus, and as a young man he encountered two snakes mating and hit them with a stick. He was then transformed into a woman. As a woman, Tiresias became a priestess of Hera, married and had children, including Manto. After seven years as a woman, Tiresias again found mating snakes; depending on the myth, either she made sure to leave the snakes alone this time, or, according to Hyginus, trampled on them and became a man once more.
As a result of his experiences, Zeus and Hera asked him to settle the question of which sex, male or female, experienced more pleasure during intercourse. Zeus claimed it was women; Hera claimed it was men. When Tiresias sided with Zeus, Hera struck him blind. Since Zeus could not undo what she had done, he gave him the gift of prophecy.
An alternative and less commonly told story has it that Tiresias was blinded by Athena after he stumbled onto her bathing naked. His mother, Chariclo, begged her to undo her curse, but Athena could not; she gave him prophecy instead.
At the marriage of Zeus and Hera, a nymph named Chelone was disrespectful or refused to attend the wedding. Zeus thus, turned her into a tortoise.
The Golden Fleece
Hera hated Pelias because he had killed Sidero, his step-grandmother, in one of the goddess's temples. She later convinced Jason and Medea to kill Pelias. The Golden Fleece was the item that Jason needed to get his mother freed.
When Zeus had pity on Ixion and brought him to Olympus and introduced him to the gods, instead of being grateful, Ixion grew lustful for Hera. Zeus found out about his intentions and made a cloud in the shape of Hera, who was later named Nephele, and tricked Ixion into coupling with it and from their union came Centaurus. So Ixion was expelled from Olympus and Zeus ordered Hermes to bind Ixion to a winged fiery wheel that was always spinning. Therefore, Ixion was bound to a burning solar wheel for all eternity, at first spinning across the heavens, but in later myth transferred to Tartarus.