Hera was both the twin sister and the wife of the Greek god Zeus. She was worshiped as the Queen of Heaven and reigned sovereign over all matters concerning women.
She represented the institution of marriage and all aspects of family life. Hera also watched over expectant mothers and was called upon to give aid during childbirth.
According to most accounts, the goddess favored the city of Argos and was said to have been chosen over Poseidon to rule as its patron deity. Though the origin of Hera's birthplace varies throughout the ancient texts, the regions mostly commonly associated to the event are Samos, Argos, Euboea and Stymphalos.
During the great war of the gods and titans, Hera was whisked away and safely hidden inside the land of Arcadia. Here she was raised under the guidance of King Temenus and lovingly nursed by the four seasons.
When it came to be that the fighting had ended and the titans had been banished to Tartarus, Zeus traveled to Mount Thornax to seek out the company of his sister.
When he saw that Hera was not even remotely interested, the enterprising god quickly assumed the shape of a dowdy cuckoo bird and coyly paraded himself before the goddess.
Just as he had hoped, Hera instantly took pity upon the shabby creature and nestled him closely against her warm breast. In the blink of an eye, Zeus resumed his true form and ravished his unsuspecting sister right on the spot!
Hera was so embarrassed by the shameful incident that she saw no other alternative but to marry him. As a wedding present Mother Earth presented the couple with a magical fruit tree capable of producing an abundance of elegant golden apples.
If eaten, these delightfully gilded orbs would reward their taster with the gift of immortality. Wanting to keep her prize safe, Hera journeyed far beyond the river Oceanus and into the remote land of the Hyperboreans.
She then planted the sapling into the ground and appointed the Hesperides, three daughters of Night and Erebus, to act as caretakers to the garden. Because she did not fully trust the nymphs, Hera placed Ladon, a hundred-headed serpent skilled at the art of human speech at the entrance way to guard and protect her sacred orchard.
The Garden of the Hesperides makes numerous appearances throughout the ancient tales. It is from this mystical grove that Eris picked the apple of discord used to instigate the beginning of Greece's ten year siege on Troy.
Hera's wedding present was also the focal point of the eleventh labor of Heracles for the hero's task was to retrieve samples of the divine fruit and present them to King Eurystheus of Tiryns.
Hera went on to bear Zeus three children; Ares, Hebe and Eileithya, but in spite of this her marriage was anything but happy.
It seems that her husband proved to be quite the rogue and was well known throughout Greece for his countless romances.
Hera spent most of her time trying to catch the scoundrel in the act, and when she did, it almost always meant trouble for the unfortunate maiden involved. You can read more about these illicit affairs by going to my page dedicated to Zeus .
Hera was known to be jealous and demanding, and could be unforgiving to those showing her even the slightest bit of impiety. It is said that she once condemned Side, the first wife of Orion to hades for claiming to have beauty that surpassed her own.
According to Apollodorus, Hera caused the daughters of Proetus to go mad for not showing proper reverence to one of her statues. She also vindictively blinded the old seer Teiresias for siding with Zeus during one of their many arguments.
Because of her dislike for Paris , Hera fought fiercely on the side of the Greeks during the Trojan War. She also played a major role in the story of Jason and the golden fleece.
Hera proved to be a loyal friend to the Argonauts and frequently came to them in their time of trouble. You can read more about Jason and his quest for the magical fleece by going over to my page dedicated to Medea .
Because she ruled over all aspects of feminine issues and concerns, Hera was often worshiped in the three phases of womanhood; maiden, mother, crone. It was believed that she was able to renew her virginity every year by traveling back to Argos and bathing in the Canathus Spring.
Hera is very rarely depicted without having a peacock by her side. To see how this beautiful creature came to be so highly cherished by the goddess, I bring to you the tale of Io and how the peacock got its spots.
One day Io, the daughter of the river god Inachus, inadvertently attracted the attention of Zeus as she was busy performing her priestess duties in the temple of Hera.
Each night as Io lay sleeping, the god would appear in her dreams and invite the maiden to come and meet with him in a nearby meadow. Alarmed by these nightly rendezvous, Io voiced her concerns to Inachus who promptly dispatched a messenger to seek advice from the Delphic Oracle.
When the herald returned from his inquiry, he brought with him a somber message. Apollo's priestess warned Inachus to permanently exile Io from her homeland lest the city of Argos would be destroyed by a thunderbolt. Sadly, Inachus had no other option but to banish Io from her home.
It came to be that one day Hera, who was unable to locate her husband anywhere on Mount Olympus, looked down and saw that the earth was tightly wrapped in a mysterious thick black mist.
Immediately suspecting that Zeus was behind the odd occurrence, the suspicious goddess sped down from the heavens to investigate. Hearing the sound of approaching footsteps, Zeus, who was hiding Io amongst the veil of fog, quickly changed his paramour into a snow white heifer.
When Hera parted the vaporous haze, she found her quizzical husband sitting alone with only a beautiful white cow for company. Convinced that there must be more to the story, Hera slyly requested that Zeus award her the fine looking animal as a gift.
Because he did not want to draw any more attention to himself, the defeated god sighed and quietly handed Io over to his wife.
Hera then demanded that Argus Panoptes, a giant whose body was covered with one hundred eyes stand guard over the unfortunate maiden. No where in Greece could one find a better watchman, for Argus never closed all of his eyes at the same time.
Io was taken to the Groves of Mycenae, where she was tied to an olive tree and staunchly observed, both day and night. Zeus sent his messenger Hermes to steal the cow away, but even the god of thieves found it impossible to avoid the vigilant stare of Argus.
Fortunately for Io, Hermes was also the god of trickery, and it did not take him long to devise a plan for restoring her freedom. The god clothed himself in the robes of a shepherd and approached Argus while playing a tune on a homemade pipe of reeds.
The giant found the music to be very pleasant and readily invited the unfamiliar minstrel to join him in the grove. Hermes sat down on a rock and continued playing, occasionally pausing to tell long winded tales of satyrs and other woodland deities.
As the god moved on from one story to another, he noticed that the eyes of the giant were beginning to become very heavy with slumber. He watched as one by one they closed, until finally Argus was fast asleep. Hermes then jumped to his feet and swiftly killed him with his pointed sword
Hera was so distraught over the death of her faithful servant, that she removed his eyes and placed them on the tail of her favorite bird, the peacock. She then turned her wrath onto Io and sent a monstrous gadfly to torment her with its constant sting.
In her anguish, Io crossed through many lands trying to escape the winged devil that pursued her. As she entered into the heart of the Caucasus Mountains, she came upon the spot where the imprisoned Prometheus lay bound.
The titan kindly offered his help by pointing out the best route for the heifer to follow. Frightened and confused, Io continued onward frantically running along the shore in search of a safe place to catch her breath.
Lacking the strength to move on, Io finally came to rest upon the banks of the Nile River. As she refreshed herself in the cool water, Zeus suddenly appeared and restored her back to human form.
The two resumed their love affair and in due time Io gave birth to a son named Epaphus. When the time came for Zeus to return home to his wife, he arranged for Io to marry King Telegonus of Egypt.
Epaphus grew to manhood in the home of his stepfather and eventually inherited his crown. Epaphus is credited with founding the city of Memphis and his descendants with colonizing the cities of Thebes, Crete and Argos.
Though Hera received her share of attention from perspective suitors, the goddess chose to turn a blind eye to their amorous advances. One unfortunate admirer was a Thessalian king by the name of Ixion.
It seems that King Ixion of Thessaly had been pledged to marry Dia, the daughter of King Eioneus of Magnesia. When the day came for the two to be joined together in marriage, Ixion was unable to fill the promised bride-price.
As a precautionary act, Eioneus took for himself Ixion's mares as collateral, promising to return them once the appropriate price had been met. After a while Ixion sent word to his new father-in-law stating that all would be made well if he would just come to collect the money.
Finding nothing dubious about the request, Eioneus gathered up his cloak and set out to recoup his funds. But when he arrived at the home of his daughter instead of a warm embrace, the old man was savagely seized by Ixion and thrown into a pit of fire.
Because his actions were both callous and unjust, Ixion could find no one willing to cleanse him of his crime. It came to be that Zeus found it in his heart to take pity on Ixion and agreed to conduct the purification ceremony atop of Mount Olympus.
But once the rites were finished, Ixion proceeded to insult his divine host by trying to seduce Hera. In order to teach the impertinent mortal a lesson, Zeus removed a cloud from the midday sky and shaped it into the image of his wife.
He then placed the phantom goddess in Ixion's bed and patiently waited for the king to retire for the night. When Ixion entered into his bedchamber he could not believe his eyes. "Surely," he said lustily, "I must have been blessed by Fortune!" and climbed in next to his new lover.
But his pleasure proved to be short lived, for just as things were getting heated Zeus burst into the room and caught Ixion in the act.
The angry god punished Ixion by chaining him to a wheel of fire which was designed to revolve around the heavens for the rest of eternity.
As for the phantom likeness of Hera, she was given the name of Nephele and went on to bear Ixion a son who was called Centaurus.
The unfortunate child was said to have been born with a physical deformity which prevented him from comfortably interacting with other humans.
The misplaced creature chose to live out his life on Mount Pelion, where he sired a race of half horse, half man creatures with the Magnesian mares he found living in the area. These beings took on the name of their father and were commonly referred to throughout the ancient tales as centaurs.
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