by Tim Kavi
Hera acts as the reigning queen of the gods in Greek mythology due to her role as Zeus’s wife. (Her counterpart is the Roman Goddess Juno). Hera also acts as the goddess of marriage and childbirth. Because Zeus is also the god of philanderers, their natures would frequently clash. This has led to Hera being depicted as a quarrelsome and jealous goddess that can be a force to be reckoned with. In spite of her place as Zeus’s bride, the worship of Hera is actually much older than that of her husband, stemming back to the days when the Greeks believed that any single entity associated with divinity must take the form of a woman. Her role is believed to have changed when the male’s role in procreation became more understood, leading to Hera’s worship as a mother figure rather than an all-encompassing deity.
Much of Hera’s jealousy was directed toward women that Zeus seduced or had affairs with, though one of the most common legends associated with Hera is her jealousy toward the hero Hercules. This jealousy stemmed from the fact that Zeus fathered Hercules with the mortal Alcmene, a mortal. Hera went as far as to send snakes to kill Hercules when he was a baby. She also stirred the Amazons against him while he was on a quest.
Another famous legend associated with Hera has to do with the judgment of Paris. At the wedding between Peleus and Thetis (the later parents of Achilles) many gods and goddesses were invited to the ceremony. Eris, the goddess of discord, threw a golden apple among some of the goddesses, and only the fairest was to own the apple. Since Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite claimed to be the most beautiful goddess, a decision had to be made as to which goddess should own the apple. The goddesses brought the question before Zeus, but Zeus was wise enough to leave the choice of who was the most beautiful up to Paris, a Trojan prince. So the three Goddesses, Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite came before Paris, but he could not decide. Finally, each of them offered Paris a gift to try to persuade him. It is said that Athena offered him great fame and glory in battle, Hera offered him control over all of Asia and Europe, and Aphrodite offered him the most beautiful mortal woman in the world. Because of this he chose Aphrodite, which absolutely enraged the other two goddesses, especially Hera. Of course, the most beautiful woman in the world at that time was Helen of Troy who was already married to the King of Sparta. So after the abduction of Helen by Paris, there was a great war (partially stirred up by the jealous goddesses); and this was called the Trojan war.
There is some debate surrounding Hera’s familial roles. Some origin stories depict Hera’s parents as the Titans Rhea and Cronos, making her Zeus’s sister. Given these close family ties, there is some debate on whether or not Zeus and Hera produced children together. Hera is known as the lone parent of Hephaestus. Ares and Hebe are often depicted as the children of Zeus and Hera, but in some traditions Ares is seen to have been conceived from a flower in the field of Olenus and Hebe fathered by a lettuce. These tales may have been invented to avoid adding scandal to Hera’s myth.
In any regard, the Greek goddess Hera is a major part of goddess mythologies and motifs. She is not only a fierce mother image, but also that of the fierce, powerful wife, and symbolizes both a wifely devotion towards her husband, and respect for the protection of marriage.