Hera, Greek Goddess of Marriage

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Hera is known as the first of Greek goddesses. As wife of Zeus, she's the leading lady of all the Olympians. Despite her husband's philandering ways -- or perhaps because of them -- she is the guardian of marriage and the sanctity of the home.


History and Mythology

Hera fell in love with her brother, Zeus, but it wasn’t until she managed to get hold of some love magic from Aphrodite that he returned the feelings.

It is, quite possibly, her deep love for Zeus that allows Hera to put up with all his mistresses - Zeus has gotten involved with numerous nymphs, sea maidens, human ladies, and even the random female farm animal. Although she begrudgingly tolerates his infidelities, Hera has been less then patient with the offspring of these mistresses. She is the one who drove Hercules -- the son of Zeus by Alcmene -- to madness, convincing him to murder his own wife and children in a fit of rage.

Hera's tolerance for Zeus' infidelities should not be interpreted as weakness. She was known to fly into jealous tirades, and wasn’t above using her husband's illegitimate offspring as weapons against their own mothers. Each of these children represented an insult to Hera, and she didn’t mind unleashing her wrath upon them. She also had no qualms about seeking vengeance upon other goddesses who felt themselves superior.

At one point Antigone bragged that her hair was more fair than Hera. The queen of Olympus promptly turned Antigone's luscious locks into a nest of serpents.

Hera and the Trojan War

Hera played a crucial role in the story of the Trojan War. At a banquet, a golden apple was presented by Eris, goddess of discord.

It was decreed that whichever goddess -- Hera, Aphrodite, or Athena -- was the fairest should have the apple. Paris, a prince of Troy, was nominated to judge which goddess was most fair. Hera promised him power, Athena promised him wisdom, and Aphrodite offered him the most beautiful woman in the world. Paris chose Aphrodite as the fairest goddess, and she offered up the lovely Helen of Sparta, wife of King Menelaus. Hera was none too happy with the slight, so she decided that to pay Paris back, she would do everything in her power to see Troy destroyed in the war. She even drove her son Ares, god of war, off the battlefield when she saw he was fighting on behalf of the Trojan army.

Worship and Celebration

Despite the fact that Zeus was always straying from the marriage bed, to Hera, the vows of her nuptials were sacred, and so she was never unfaithful to her husband. As such, she became known as a goddess of marriage and sovereignty. She was a protector of women, and is represented by such animals as the cow, the peacock and the lion. Hera is often portrayed holding a pomegranate, and wearing a crown. She is similar in aspect to the Roman Juno.

The center of Hera's cult appears to have been a temple known as the Hera Argeia, which is near the city of Argos.

However, there were temples to her in a number of Greek city-states, and women often kept altars to her within their home.

Greek women who wished to conceive - particularly those who wanted a son - might make offerings to Hera in the form of votives, small statues and paintings, or apples and other fruits representing fertility.

Interestingly, the earliest Heraian temple dates back further than any known temple to Zeus, which means the Greeks were likely worshiping Hera long before they honored her husband. This may be due, in part, to the importance of procreation in early Greek society. In addition, for Greek women, getting married was the only way to change their social status, so it was a highly significant event - as divorce was unheard of, it was up to women to ensure their own happiness within the marital relationship.

The Heraian Games

In some cities, Hera was honored with an event called the Heraia, which was an all-female athletic competition much like the Olympic games. Scholars believe this celebration took places as early as the sixth century B.C.E. and consisted primarily of foot races, since girls and women in Greece were not really encouraged to be athletic. The winners were presented with crowns of olive branches, as well as some of the meat from whichever animal had been sacrificed to Hera that day - and if they were really lucky, they might receive an offer of marriage from a well-to-do spectator.