Why did Hera hate Zeus?

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Hera from an Athenian ceramic

The Olympian gods were very human in their emotions and behaviors. They too experienced jealousy, envy and were vengeful and were often more irrational and unpredictable than people. A particularly good example of this is the Queen of the Gods Hera, who was vindictive, vengeful and cunning. Her relationship with her husband the King of the Gods, Zeus was turbulent, to say the least.

The King of the Olympian deities was notorious for his many sexual relationships with humans and demi-gods and he had many children with his lovers. Hera was constantly betrayed by her husband and he made to look foolish. Hera's hatred of Zeus was justified and she sought revenge against many of his lovers.

Who is Hera?

Hera was worshipped in Greece, but scholars believe that she may have had Asian origins. In one archaic Greek dialect, she is known as the ‘mistress.’ [1] Hera was in particular associated with the Argive region and she may have been originally a local Argive God, who through a process of synchronization, became part of the Olympian Pantheon.[2]

Bust of Zeus

Hera had many sanctuaries throughout Greece, and she was usually worshipped along with her husband and brother Zeus. In later Greek religion, she was the Queen of the Olympian gods and one of the 12 original Olympians. She was the deity of women. Marriage, the sky and was, closely associated with several animals, which were deemed sacred to her, such as cows [3] Her symbol was the peacock.

In several Greek traditions, Hera is more of a nature Goddess, and she was the personification of the primal power of the earth. The Romans, as a result, identified her with their Goddess Juno. According to some sources, in particular Homer, Hera is the daughter of Cronos and Rhea, and her brother was Zeus. At one time during the war between the Titans and Olympians, she was swallowed whole by her father Cronos but was later freed.[4]

Because her brother Zeus usurped their father’s throne, she was reared by Oceanus and Tethys. Zeus was madly in love with Hera, even though she was his sister. He did everything he could to woo her, and she eventually married him. At the wedding of Zeus and his sister/wife, Hera was presented with a magical tree with golden apples. In later traditions, she is shown as the consort of Zeus, who depends on her for advice and support.

Hera was often known as the mother of the Gods. She had eight children, and seven of these were fathered by Zeus, except for Typhoon (more on this later). Among the children she had with the King of the Gods was Ares, the God of War. Another of their children was Hephaestus, the deity of metalworking and Angelo, a goddess of the underworld. Hera was not a maternal figure, and she was not interested in justice or even morality. She even cast one of her children out of Olympus because she thought the infant was too ugly. Hera was arrogant, headstrong and vain and portrayed as a cunning and manipulative wife by poets such as Homer.[5]

Why do Hera and Zeus have a love/hate relationship?

A Temple of Hera in Sicily

Hera and Zeus frequently clashed. The relationship between Zeus and Hera was a complex one, and the King of the Gods, did love his wife, and she loved him. However, he had a wandering eye, and Hera knew this. The Goddess did all she could to retain his affections. On one occasion she borrowed the girdle of Aphrodite, the Goddess of Love, and she was able to briefly charm and fascinate Zeus. But his affection was temporary and he continued to have countless affairs. Her portrayal of Greek myths is often extremely negative. The myths often sought to portray her as ridiculous because she tried to stop Zeus' affairs.

In one story, Echo was a nymph in Greek legend who was a spirit of a forest or a body of water. Zeus gave her the job of distracting Hera from Zeus'sexual adventures. Echo was a charmer and a flatterer and she was very successful in distracting Hera for a long time. However, when Hera discovered that she was tricking her, she cursed Echo so that she would only repeat the words of others forever. This is the origin of the word echo.

Hera was portrayed as a powerful Goddess. She rode in a chariot drawn by two horses and she had her own retinue of Gods. Despite the adverse treatment of Hera, she was also feared and was fervently worshipped, especially by women. Hera was the Goddess of marriage and anyone who broke their marriage vows was believed to have personally insulted her and committed an act of hubris against the Goddess.[6] She punished unfaithful husbands and was believed to harm anyone who injured animals that were sacred to her. People also thought that Hera could help women in childbirth. Hera played a crucial role in the Trojan War.

Because of the judgment of Paris, she hated the Trojans, and she did all she could to help the Greeks in their siege of Troy. Despite Zeus' many affairs, no story survives where Hera was unfaithful to her husband, and she was an ever-loyal if long-suffering wife.[7] Not that she did not have her own admirers. When King Ixion, had the temerity to try and seduce Hera, Zeus did not take it well. The King of the Gods bound Ixion to a burning solar wheel, spinning across the heavens for all eternity.

Typhoon – the giant serpent

One of the features of the Greek gods was the phenomenon of parthenogenesis. This is where the deities were thought to be capable of asexual reproduction. Male and female gods could produce offspring without a sexual partner. Zeus in some accounts gave birth to the Goddess Athena when she emerged from his head, fully formed. This greatly angered Hera who saw it as a betrayal and a slight to her own children with Zeus. In the myths, she is shown as feeling threatened by the arrival of Athena.

After Zeus destroyed the giants, Hera prayed to Gaia, the Earth Mother, for a son who would be the equal of Zeus. Gaia heard her prayers and enabled her to have a child on her own. Gaia told Hera to Cronus asked her to give him two eggs that had been smeared with his semen. Hera buried them and Typhoon a giant sea monster emerged from them. However, soon after is birth, Hera reconciled with Zeus the King of the Gods and told him about the monster. Later, Zeus battled Typhoon for control of the cosmos and he emerged victorious.[8] Zeus did not blame Hera and they continued to be married, even if it was not domestic bliss.

Hera and Hercules

Hercules is one of the greatest heroes of Greek mythology. The tales of his Seven Labors were very popular in the Ancient World. Hercules was a demi-god and the son of Zeus and Alcmene. Alcmene was married when Zeus impregnated her. Hera in nearly every account hated Hercules. Not only was she angered by Zeus’ betrayals’ but she feared that the child would eventually be the heir of the King of the Gods.

In many stories, Hera hates him so much that she attempted to kill Hercules when he was an infant. She sent two snakes to kill the infant in his cradle, but remarkably Hercules managed to kill the snakes. Alcemne was so worried about the wrath of Hera that she abandoned her infant son on a slope, which was a common form of infanticide in the Greek World. However, Athena, his half-sister Athena managed to save him. She deceived Hera into thinking that he was dead. Later when Hercules reached manhood and began his labors, the Queen of the Gods did all in her considerable power to harm the son of Zeus. Later they were reconciled with the King of the Gods and Hercules married her daughter Hebe.[9]

Semele and Dionysus

Zeus had an affair with Semele the beautiful daughter of Cadmus, the Theban King. Zeus disguised himself so that he could have an affair with Semele. Hera found out about the affair and she decided to have her revenge. She disguised herself as a nurse and tricked Zeus to show himself in his true form to Semele. When he turned into his true form his thunder and lightning killed Semele.

Zeus took Semele's unborn child and completed its gestation by sewing it into his own thigh. He later became the god of Dionysus, the deity of wine and all forms of intoxication. It is also claimed in some accounts of this God, that he later retrieved his mother from the realm of the dead. This was probably at a time when Zeus and Hera were on good terms.[10]

Io and Hera

Another one of the more prominent affairs of Zeus was with Io, who was ironically a priestess of Hera. When the Goddess heard about this she was furious, and she turned the unfortunate Io into a white cow. Now Hera knew that Zeus would transform the white heifer back into her old female form and continue the affair. She had a 100 eyed giant Argos, to keep watch on the heifer and to tell her if Zeus tried to change her back to her human form.

Zeus, as cunning as ever, sent Hermes and he lulled the 100 eyed monster to sleep and killed it. Io in the form of the white heifer escaped. The Queen of the Gods saw this and she sent a gadfly to torment the heifer. Io in the form of the cow was driven half-mad by the gadfly.[11] It was typical of the cruelty of Hera, who was shown in the myths to be given to fits of rage. Later when Hera had become reconciled to Zeus it seems that Io was turned back into her old form by Zeus. She later married a future King of Egypt.

Conclusion

The stories above are just some of the incidents recounted from Greek mythology regarding Zeus infidelities and Hera’s vengeance. The Goddess of women, marriage, and childbirth had a complex relationship with Zeus. He was frequently unfaithful and humiliated her with his affairs with mortals. To be a Goddess and to have your husband betray you with mere mortals was insulting. The fact that Zeus was having illegitimate children was also a grievous insult to the Goddess of Marriage.

Still, she had genuine feelings for her husband. Hera was worshipped in a society that believed in vengeance and its morality was very different from those from the Judaeo-Christian tradition. Hera's cruelty was legendary. However, this would not have shocked the Greeks. Nor would her hatred of Zeus' the lovers be seen as immoral but would have been deemed to be understandable. However, it must be remembered that while Hera often hated Zeus, because of his infidelities, they continued to live together in Olympus.

Further Reading

Hansen, Randall, and William F. Hansen. Handbook of classical mythology. Abc-clio, 2004.

Morford, Mark PO, and Robert J. Lenardon. Classical mythology. Oxford University Press, USA, 1999.

O'Brien, Joan V. The Transformation of Hera: A study of ritual, hero, and the goddess in the Iliad. Rowman & Littlefield, 1993.

References

  1. Renehan, Robert. “Hera as Earth-Goddess: A New Piece of Evidence.” Rheinisches Museum für Philologie 117, no. H. 3/4 (1974): 193-201
  2. Slater, Philip Elliot. The glory of Hera: Greek mythology and the Greek family (Princeton University Press, 2014), p. 12
  3. Powell, Barry B. Classical Myth (London, Pearson, 2012), p. 12
  4. Powell, p. 161
  5. Beckwith, Miles C. “The’ Hanging of Hera’ and the Meaning of Greek ἄκμων.” Harvard Studies in Classical Philology (1998): 91-102
  6. Powell, p. 118
  7. Renehan, p. 113
  8. Renehan, p. 113
  9. Powell, p. 89
  10. Powell, p. 89
  11. Powell, p. 99
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