Who is Hera?

Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth

In Greek mythology, Hera— along with Demeter, Hades, Hestia, Poseidon, and Zeus — is one of the children of the Titans Cronus and Rhea. She is considered patroness of marriage, women, and childbirth, and her counterpart in Roman mythology is Juno. It seems likely that this affiliation with maternity led to the name of the title character in the 2007 movie, Juno. Both the peacock and the cow were sacred to her.

Peacocks were sacred to Hera.
Peacocks were sacred to Hera.

Hera is the wife of Zeus, and they had four children together. Their offspring were Hephaestus, the god of smiths and fire and husband of Aphrodite; Ares, the god of war; Hebe, the goddess of youth and spring, who became the bride of Hercules when he was taken up to Olympus; and Eileithyia, mentioned by Hesiod, but not the focus of a myth, although she is mentioned in a Homeric hymn in relation to the birth of Artemis and Apollo.

Demeter was one of Hera's siblings.
Demeter was one of Hera's siblings.

According to the myths, Zeus approached Hera as he approached many of his other loves — on the spur of the moment and in disguise. One day, when she was in Argos, Zeus caught sight of her and in order to approach her easily, turned himself into a cuckoo and got drenched in a rain shower. When Hera sat after her walk, the little cuckoo sat on her lap for warmth and soon changed back to his true shape.

Zeus proved to be perpetually unfaithful, so it is not surprising that Hera has a reputation for jealousy. Her vengeance against the other women Zeus loved and their children took interesting forms. Zeus turned Io into a heifer to conceal her from Hera, but Hera knew and asked to have the heifer as a gift. When Zeus sent Hermes to steal Io back, Hera set a gadfly that stung Io and chased her across Europe.

Callisto, a companion of Artemis, was seduced by Zeus, and Hera changed her into a she-bear. Zeus turned her into the constellation Ursa Major, the Great Bear. When Zeus, in the guise of a human, took up with Semele and she became pregnant with Dionysus, Hera convinced her to ask Zeus to see him in his divine form. He had to comply, but the sight killed Semele, although Zeus was able to rescue Dionysus.

Hera tried to stop Leto, another of Zeus’s consorts, from giving birth, by prohibiting a birth on any fixed earth. Leto searched the Earth, and finally found a floating island, which was immune from Hera’s ban. Alcmene, seduced by Zeus when he appeared disguised as her husband, became the mother of Hercules or Heracles, but not without Hera’s interference, as usual. In this case, she directed her wrath at the child. She sent two snakes to kill Hercules and his brother Iphicles in their cradles, but Hercules was so strong and precocious that he strangled the serpents before any harm was done. Note that the Disney movie Hercules is simply wrong in portraying Hercules as the son of Zeus and Hera.

As with other mythological figures, Hera’s name has been used for several astronomical sites. Both a ridge and a chasm — Juno Chasma and Juno Dorsa — on Venus are named for Hera.

Like Hera, Zeus was one of the children of the Titans Cronus and Rhea.
Like Hera, Zeus was one of the children of the Titans Cronus and Rhea.
Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth

Mary Elizabeth is passionate about reading, writing, and research, and has a penchant for correcting misinformation on the Internet. In addition to contributing articles to wiseGEEK about art, literature, and music, Mary Elizabeth is a teacher, composer, and author. She has a B.A. from the University of Chicago’s writing program and an M.A. from the University of Vermont, and she has written books, study guides, and teacher materials on language and literature, as well as music composition content for Sibelius Software.

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Discussion Comments

sapphire12

I wonder if the film Juno had the mistake intentionlly, but I noticed she referred to Juno as being the wife of Zeus. However, while Juno is Hera's counterpart in Roman myth, the counterpart of Zeus is called Jupiter or Jove. So, she tied Juno to the Greek version.

Most people probably never caught that, but I love that movie and love mythology, and it irks me every time I watch it.

panda2006

Many of the myths about Hera seem to show her as a very harsh, angry woman. At least, that's how it seemed to me when I first read about her.

Now that I think about it, though, Hera was a goddess, and perhaps the most powerful goddess at that, but she could not even control her husband without punishing mortal women who probably had no idea what they were getting into.

When I think about Hera or read her stories now, I realize she was probably a very sad woman- if she had ever existed, of course, which is unlikely.

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