1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Hera

HERA, in Greek mythology, the sister and wife of Zeus and queen of the Olympian gods; she was identified by the Romans with Juno. The derivation of the name is obscure, but there is no reason to doubt that she was a genuine Greek deity. There are no signs of Oriental influence in her cults, except at Corinth, where she seems to have been identified with Astarte. It is probable that she was originally a personification of some department of nature; but the traces of her primitive significance are vague, and have been interpreted to suit various theories. Some of the ancients connected her with the earth; Plato, followed by the Stoics, derived her name from ἀήρ, the air. Both theories have been revived in modern times, the former notably by F. G. Welcker, the latter by L. Preller. A third view, that Hera is the moon, is held by W. H. Roscher and others. Of these explanations, that advanced by Preller has little to commend it, even if, with O. Gruppe, we understand the air-goddess as a storm deity; some of the arguments in support of the two other theories will be examined in this article.

Whatever may have been the origin of Hera, to the historic Greeks (except a few poets or philosophers) she was a purely anthropomorphic goddess, and had no close relation to any province of nature. In literature, from the times of Homer and Hesiod, she played an important part, appearing most frequently as the jealous and resentful wife of Zeus. In this character she pursues with vindictive hatred the heroines, such as Alcmene, Leto and Semele, who were beloved by Zeus. She visits his sins upon the children born of his intrigues, and is thus the constant enemy of Heracles and Dionysus. This character of the offended wife was borrowed by later poets from the Greek epic; but it belongs to literature rather than to cult, in which the dignity and power of the goddess is naturally more emphasized.

The worship of Hera is found, in different degrees of prominence, throughout the Greek world. It was especially important in the ancient Achaean centres, Argos, Mycenae and Sparta, which she claims in the Iliad (iv. 51) as her three dearest cities. Whether Hera was also worshipped by the early Dorians is uncertain; after the Dorian invasion she remained the chief deity of Argos, but her cult at Sparta was not so conspicuous. She received honour, however, in other parts of the Peloponnese, particularly in Olympia, where her temple was the oldest, and in Arcadia. In several Boeotian cities she seems to have been one of the principal objects of worship, while the neighbouring island of Euboea probably derived its name from a title of Hera, who was “rich in cows” (Εὔβοια). Among the islands of the Aegean, Samos was celebrated for the cult of Hera; according to the local tradition, she was born in the island. As Hera Lacinia (from her Lacinian temple near Croton) she was extensively worshipped in Magna Graecia.

The connexion of Zeus and Hera was probably not primitive, since Dione seems to have preceded Hera as the wife of Zeus at Dodona. The origin of the connexion may possibly be due to the fusion of two “Pelasgic” tribes, worshipping Zeus and Hera respectively; but speculation on the earliest cult of the goddess, before she became the wife of Zeus, must be largely conjectural. The close relation of the two deities appears in a frequent community of altars and sacrifices, and also in the ἱερὸς γάμος, a dramatic representation of their sacred marriage. The festival, which was certainly ancient, was held not only in Argos, Samos, Euboea and other centres of Hera-worship, but also in Athens, where the goddess was obscured by the predominance of Athena. The details of the ἱερὸς γάμος may have varied locally, but the main idea of the ritual was the same. In the Daedala, as the festival was called at Plataea, an effigy was made from an oak-tree, dressed in bridal attire, and carried in a cart with a woman who acted as bridesmaid. The image was called Daedale, and the ritual was explained by a myth: Hera had left Zeus in her anger; in order to win her back, Zeus announced that he was about to marry, and dressed up a puppet to imitate a bride; Hera met the procession, tore the veil from the false bride, and, on discovering the ruse, became reconciled to her husband. The image was put away after each occasion; every sixty years a large number of such images, which had served in previous celebrations, were carried in procession to the top of Mount Cithaeron, and were burned on an altar together with animals and the altar itself. As Frazer notes (Golden Bough,2 i. 227), this festival appears to belong to the large class of mimetic charms designed to quicken the growth of vegetation; the marriage of Zeus and Hera would in this case represent the union of the king and queen of May. But it by no means follows that Hera was therefore originally a goddess of the earth or of vegetation. When the real nature of the ritual had become lost or obscured, it was natural to explain it by the help of an aetiological myth; in European folklore, images, corresponding to those burnt at the Daedala, were sometimes called Judas Iscariot or Luther (Golden Bough,2 iii. 315). At Samos the ἱερὸς γάμος was celebrated annually; the image of Hera was concealed on the sea-shore and solemnly discovered. This rite seems to reflect an actual custom of abduction; or it may rather refer to the practice of intercourse between the betrothed before marriage. Such intercourse was sanctioned by the Samians, who excused it by the example of Zeus and Hera (schol. on Il. xiv. 296). There is nothing in the Samian ἱερὸς γάμος to suggest a marriage of heaven and earth, or of two vegetation-spirits; as Dr Farnell points out, the ritual appears to explain the custom of human nuptials. The sacred marriage, therefore, though connected with vegetation at the Daedala, was not necessarily a vegetation-charm in its origin; consequently, it does not prove that Hera was an earth-goddess or tree-spirit. It is at least remarkable that, except at Argos, Hera had little to do with agriculture, and was not closely associated with such deities as Cybele, Demeter, Persephone and Dionysus, whose connexion with the earth, or with its fruits, is beyond doubt.

In her general cult Hera was worshipped in two main capacities: (1) as the consort of Zeus and queen of heaven; (2) as the goddess who presided over marriage, and, in a wider sense, over the various phases of a woman’s life. Dionysius of Halicarnassus (Ars rhet. ii. 2) calls Zeus and Hera the first wedded pair, and a sacrifice to Zeus τέλειος and Hera τελεία was a regular feature of the Greek wedding. Girls offered their hair or veils to Hera before marriage. In Aristophanes (Thesm. 973) she “keeps the keys of wedlock.” The marriage-goddess naturally became the protector of women in childbed, and bore the title of the birth-goddess (Eileithyia), at Argos and Athens. In Homer (Il. xi. 270) and Hesiod (Theog. 922) she is the mother of the Eileithyiae, or the single Eileithyia. Her cult-titles παρθένος (or παῖς), τελεία and χήρα the “maiden,” “wife,” and “widow” (or “divorced”) have been interpreted as symbolical of the earth in spring, summer, and winter; but they may well express the different conditions in the lives of her human worshippers. The Argives believed that Hera recovered her virginity every year by bathing in a certain spring (Paus. viii. 22, 2), a belief which probably reflects the custom of ceremonial purification after marriage (see Frazer, Adonis, p. 176). Although Hera was not the bestower of feminine charm to the same extent as Aphrodite, she was the patron of a contest for beauty in a Lesbian festival (καλλιστεῖα). This intimate relation with women has been held a proof that Hera was originally a moon-goddess, as the moon is often thought to influence childbirth and other aspects of feminine life. But Hera’s patronage of women, though undoubtedly ancient, is not necessarily primitive. Further, the Greeks themselves, who were always ready to identify Artemis with the moon, do not seem to have recognized any lunar connexion in Hera.

Among her particular worshippers, at Argos and Samos, Hera was much more than the queen of heaven and the marriage-goddess. As the patron of these cities (πολιοῦχος) she held a place corresponding to that of Athena in Athens. The Argives are called “the people of Hera” by Pindar; the Heraeum, situated under a mountain significantly called Mt. Euboea, was the most important temple in Argolis. Here the agricultural character of her ritual is well marked; the first oxen used in ploughing were, according to an Argive myth, dedicated to her as ζευξιδία; and the sprouting ears of corn were called “the flowers of Hera.” She was worshipped as the goddess of flowers (ἀνθεία); girls served in her temple under the name of “flower-bearers,” and a flower festival (Ἠροσανθεία, Ἠροάνθια) was celebrated by Peloponnesian women in spring. These rites recall our May day observance, and give colour to the earth-goddess theory. On the other hand it must be remembered that the patron deity of a Greek state had very wide functions; and it is not surprising to find that Hera (whatever her origin may have been) assumed an agricultural character among her own people whose occupations were largely agricultural. So, although the warlike character of Hera was not elsewhere prominent, she assumed a militant aspect in her two chief cities; a festival called the Shield (ἀσπίς, in Pindar ἀγὼν χάλκεος) was part of the Argive cult, and there was an armed procession in her honour at Samos. The city-goddess, whether Hera or Athena, must be chief alike in peace and war.

The cow was the animal specially sacred to Hera both in ritual and in mythology. The story of Io, metamorphosed into a cow, is familiar; she was priestess of Hera, and was originally, no doubt, a form of the goddess herself. The Homeric epithet βοῶπις may have meant “cow-faced” to the earliest worshippers of Hera, though by Homer and the later Greeks it was understood as “large-eyed,” like the cow. A car drawn by oxen seems to have been widely used in the processions of Hera, and the cow was her most frequent sacrifice. The origin of Hera’s association with the cow is uncertain, but there is no need to see in it, with Roscher, a symbol of the moon. The cuckoo was also sacred to Hera, who, according to the Argive legend, was wooed by Zeus in the form of the bird. In later times the peacock, which was still unfamiliar to the Greeks in the 5th century, was her favourite, especially at Samos.

The earliest recorded images of Hera preceded the rise of Greek sculpture; a log at Thespiae, a plank at Samos, a pillar at Argos served to represent the goddess. In the archaic period of sculpture the ξόανον or wooden statue of the Samian Hera by Smilis was famous. In the first half of the 5th century the sacred marriage was represented on an extant metope from a temple at Selinus. The most celebrated statue of Hera was the chryselephantine work of Polyclitus, made for the Heraeum at Argos soon after 423 B.C. It is fully described by Pausanias, who says that Hera was seated on a throne, wearing a crown (στέφανος), and carrying a sceptre in one hand and a pomegranate in the other. Various ancient writers testify to the beauty and dignity of the statue, which was considered equal to the Zeus of Pheidias. Polyclitus seems to have fixed the type of Hera as a youthful matron, but unfortunately the exact character of her head cannot be determined. A majestic and rather severe beauty marks the conception of Hera in later art, of which the Farnese bust at Naples and the Ludovisi Hera are the most conspicuous examples.

Authorities.—F. G. Welcker, Griech. Götterl. i. 362 f. (Göttingen, 1857–1863); L. Preller (ed. C. Robert), Griech. Mythologie, i. 160 f. (Berlin, 1894); W. H. Roscher, Lex. der griech. u. röm. Mythologie, s.v. (Leipzig, 1884); C. Daremberg and E. Saglio, Dict. des ant. grecques et rom. s.v. “Juno” (Paris, 1877); L. R. Farnell, Cults of the Greek States, i. 179 f. (Oxford, 1896); A. B. Cook in Class. Rev. xx. 365 f. 416 f.; O. Gruppe, Griech. Mythologie u. Religionsgesch. p. 1121 f. (Munich, 1903). In the article Greek Art, fig. 24, will be found a roughly executed head of Hera, from the pediment of the treasury of the Megarians. (E. E. S.)