BMCR 2022.10.20

The Hera of Zeus: intimate enemy, ultimate spouse

, , , The Hera of Zeus: intimate enemy, ultimate spouse. Classical scholarship in translation. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2022. Pp. 348. ISBN 9781108841030 £90,00.

This book, as its title suggests, is essentially about Hera’s relationship with Zeus, as well as her aspects as “spouse, queen, and angry goddess” (p.11). The authors cite Hesiod, Theogony 866-92, who lists six of the goddesses with whom Zeus produces children, as well as Hera, the “older” sister and wife of Zeus. Hesiod Theogony 453-91, recounts how Kronos was preparing to swallow his and Rhea’s first-born child–who would have been Zeus, but Rhea managed to delay Zeus’ birth and instead gives birth to her daughter, Hera, whom Kronos permitted Rhea to raise, thereby enabling Rhea to conceal her still-to-be born, second child, Zeus, from his father: “it is by being born before Zeus that his sister and future wife saves the brother who will become the king of gods and Men,” they write (p.23).

A “Preface by Fritz Graf” (pp. xiii-xviii) precedes the main text.[1] The book itself is divided into three chapters, each of which has multiple sub-sections. Chapter One, section 1.1, “On Olympus: Conjugal Bed and Royal Throne of Zeus,” begins by examining Hera’s epithets: leukolenos, “white-armed,” Boopis, “with large/beautiful eyes,” and Thea or potnia, which in no way evokes her as angry or fearsome, but rather as the spouse of Zeus, nymphe. Her epithet Chrysothonos refers not only to her radiant appearance and gilded ornaments but also to her status as a sovereign—’draped in gold’.” Section 1.2, “”Ultimate Spouse” (p. 17 ff.), citing Hesiod’s Theogony 886-923, which lists a catalog of the wives of Zeus, points out that only at the end of his list does Hesiod name Hera, who becomes Zeus’ last and ultimate “wife,” as opposed to the Homeric Hymn to Apollo, which lists Hera as the first and final wife of Zeus—and thus the children of Leto are born into a world in which the couple Zeus-Hera already has been an established union. Subsection 1.2.1, ‘Sister and Wife’: Family Affairs,” points out that Zeus and Hera are the children of Kronos, and that Hera is the first daughter of Kronos, with Hestia and Demeter being Kronos’ other daughters. Hera says that she “has the highest status for two reasons, because of my birth and because I am the wife of the king of the immortals” (Homer, Iliad 4.57-61). Subsequent sections focus on Hera’s supreme beauty (1.2.2) and erotic powers (1.2.3). Subsection 1.2.4 focuses on Hera’s sovereignty as the spouse of Zeus, but it mentions that Zeus himself is also frequently called “spouse of Hera” (Homer Il. 7.411,10.5, etc. This term also appears in Pindar Nem. 7.95; cf. pp.34 -40).

Section 1.3: In addition to Hera’s sphere of marriage and sovereignty, her second sphere is that of anger, of dispute, and conflict. As they point out, even the first book of the Iliad shows Hera “standing beside Zeus, <both as> his intimate enemy and his ultimate spouse” (p.42),

“When Zeus reproaches her for her excessive and inexorable hatred of the Trojans, he evokes the ferocious aspect that Hera can display. So it is not surprising that in the Greek tradition, Ares, the god who has power over the shock of armies and whose sole pleasure in close combat, is thought to be her son” (p.41).

After Ares is wounded in battle and complains to his father, Zeus replies to him, “You love nothing but eris (strife/contention) and battle, and you have the same intolerable unceasing anger as your mother, Hera, whom I have such difficulty in taming with words” (eris appears in Iliad 5, 891, although this passage is cited on p.46 only as lines Iliad 5.892-3).

Section 1.4 focuses on the genealogy of her children. The Iliad names two sons: Ares and Hephaistos (Il. 5.888-97), whereas Hesiod’s Theogony 921-3 names three “children by Zeus”—Ares, Eileithyia, and Hebe:

“There is no heir, no son more powerful than his father and destined to succeed him to the throne. This empty space is not thematized per se in the poems, and it cannot be seen as a deficiency, because it contributes to establishing the permanence of the order with Zeus as king. It is nevertheless the case that having children is one of the most sensitive points in the relation between Zeus and Hera, and it repeatedly becomes a domain of conflict” between them (p. 51).

After discussing the particularities of their other children, the authors turn to childbirth and to the question of “filiation” through which Hera “gives her approval (or not) to the beginning of the process through which the newborn infant will (or will not) become a son. (p.59). According to Pindar (Nem. 7.1-4), “Eileithyia accompanies the human child from birth to hebe, the complete blossoming of his vital force, and even beyond that up to death,” thereby positioning Eileithyia genealogically “as the daughter of Hera and sister of Hebe” (p.60). Eileithyia “is not only responsible for bringing forth the child in birth, but also has an important role in the sphere of ‘filiation’, understanding by that term the process by which a baby, someone ‘born’, becomes the ‘son of someone’”(p.61).

Section 1.5, “The Lineage and the Nurse” (pp.66 -72) considers Hera’s relationships with the Achaeans and the destruction of Troy, and also with Herakles’ birth, life struggles, and his ultimate glory through Hera. Section 1.6 (pp.73-87) deals with the birth and destruction of Typhon, and leads to a discussion of the significant differences between the attitude of Hera and that of any of the genuinely maternal goddesses, such as Gaia or Rhea.

“In Hesiod, both Gaia and Rhea, each in her own fashion, intervenes actively when her children are attacked. Traditionally, though, Hera does not defend her children, she does the opposite: on one occasion she throws Hephaistos from the top of Olympus, on another she sends Athena to wound Ares….Hera, who does not define herself through her status as a mother but through her role as spouse, does not defend her children. She does not beget and bear a new sovereign <other than> Typhon, a mere aberrant challenger.” (pp.82-3)

Chapter 2, “In the Cities: Teleia and Basilea” (pp.92-231) examines Hera’s cult titles or epikleseis. Telos, “realization or fulfillment,” is said to be a “stand-in for gamos, and thereby designates marriage” (p.92), and Basilea (“queen”) is a noun parallel to Basileus (alluding to Zeus). When she is called pais or Parthenos, these are references to her as a child, when she was raised by he step-father, Temenus, in the area of Arcadia. She was the Goddess of Kithairon, a reference to her sanctuary on the slopes of Mt. Kithairon, next to the city of Plataia, a military theatre of operations during the Persian Wars. A festival called Daidala (from daidalos, “clever”), was held in Plataia when Greece was under the Roman Empire; the festival celebrated the uniting of all of Boeotia, and “brought together the Hera of the slopes of Kithairon with the Zeus of the summit “(p. 98). The story is that Zeus consulted the king Kithairon (eponym of the mountain) about what to do to resolve a dispute with his wife, and he was told that he should pretend to enter into a new marriage. This stratagem succeeded so well in arousing Hera’s jealousy that she rushed back to Kithairon to stop the marriage precession but then discovered “that the ‘bride’ is nothing but a decoy in the form of a wooden statue—a daidalon—over which a bridal veil was draped.” She was thereby reconciled with her husband (p.99). There were subsequently numerous processions, called daedala, both great and small. The small festival was held every 6 years, and the Great Daidala, a pan-Boeotian festival, was supposed to be held every fifty-nine years. There is some question about these dates, but Pausanias (9.3.4-7) associates the periods with the amount of time the Plataians had spent in exile, when they were prevented from celebrating this festival (p.101).

Section 2.4 (107-148) “The Goddess of Argos in her Dwelling” focuses on Hera’s role there. “The Goddess-of-Argos” above all is the goddess who protects Achaean heroes, especially Achilles. The abundance of her sanctuaries in Argos, Mycenae, and Sparta “shows that the creations of the poets had a concrete foundation, although there is no testimony about celebrations of her there before Pindar” although Pausanias visited such sites “four centuries later and confirmed them” (p.107). “Apart from the misadventures of Io and those of Herakles, which are very well attested and have close links with the Hera of Argos, local myths about the goddess have been preserved only in an allusive and fragmentary way” (p.111).

In subsection 2.4.3, “Veils of Marriage and a Veiled Marriage,” they argue that Zeus conceals his union with Hera in Book 14 of the Iliad, citing, as a major theme in Iliad 14, the term Dios apate, “the deceiving/beguiling of Zeus,” a term they use repeatedly (but do not translate) in this book beginning in subsection 1.2.3 (pp.30-34). Dios apate is of course a major theme of Iliad 14 and the first part of 15 (as many commentaries on the Iliad point out), but it would help if the authors elaborated this fact for their readers.

This subsection (2.4.3) discusses the implications of their marriage, while 2.4.4 examines the “The Sceptre, the Cuckoo, and the Throne”, and then develops (2.4.4.) “Hera and the Sovereignty of Zeus,” while 2.5 elaborates “The Sovereign Bride of Samos (pp. 129-141). Sections 2.6, “From Olympus to Olympia” (pp.148-173) and 2.7, “The Hera of Zeus and the Zeus of Hera” (pp.173-183) leads to section 2.8, “The Sovereign Queen Cult” (pp.184-226), and concludes with 2.9, “From the City Cults to Olympus: Return of the Dios Apate” (pp.226-231).

The third and final chapter (pp. 232-323) returns to the anger of Hera: “From Anger to Glory. Testing and Legitimizing.” We begin with her Cholos (anger) (3.1, pp.232-240), her relations with Herakles and Dionysus, her creation of various monsters, and her relations with her daughters and Zeus’ other children, her creation of monsters, such as the Sphinx, to harass mortals such as Laius and Oedipus, and her relationship to the Argonauts (pp.307-317), for whom she emerges as one of the main driving forces in many of the related plots of these stories.

The authors conclude that evaluating Hera “according to the criteria generally used among humans would mean making her a shrewish wife and an unworthy mother” (p.318)). “On Olympus, Hera is the perfect wife for Zeus because, as a queen, she is an imperfect mother” (p. 319). But by creating Typhon, who is no successor of Zeus, she ensures the reaffirmation of the eris ascribed to her by Zeus ensures his power, “for, the more Zeus faces conflict, the more stable is his power” and Hera thus becomes “the mailed fist of his constructive eris” (p.319).

This book is a valuable collection of aspects and details of Hera, although the title seems to me to be somewhat confusing, suggesting that Zeus is controlling her behavior, rather than focusing on her own motivations and deceptions, her passions and anger because she seems to me to driven more by these than by Zeus’s treatment of her. It would also help to explain more fully the actual meaning of such terms as Dios apate, whose Homeric allusion they cite but never fully explain, and how this applies to their theories about Hera. I nevertheless I found this collection of Hera’s actions and interactions well worth reviewing when considering the phenomenon of this goddess.



[1] I found this Preface somewhat disorienting, not least because the citation practice observed in it differs from that used elsewhere in the book.  Items that Graf and Graf alone mentions are cited by full title and date in the body of the Preface, but those items are not included in the volume’s bibliography and so full data are nowhere provided.  Items cited by Graf that turn out to have been cited by someone else (too) are cited in the Preface according to author-date and full(er) bibliographic data are provided in the bibliography.  What is more, in the book overall, items by individuals with the same last name are not disambiguated at the moment of citation (P. Johnston vs. S. Johnston, for example, or M.K. Langdon vs. S.H. Langdon, or C. Picard vs. O. Picard), but one must read all relevant entries in the bibliography.