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The Greek Goddess Hera: Stories & Overview

Instructor: Mary Deering

Mary has a Master's Degree in History with 18 advanced hours in Government. She has taught college History and Government courses.

Meet Hera, the ancient Greek goddess of marriage and childbirth. Explore the relationship between Hera and the famous Greek hero Heracles and learn about Hera's relationships with other Greeks.

Hera, the Queen of the Greek Gods

Hera was a major female character in the pantheon of gods of ancient Greece. According to the ancient Greeks, Hera was the wife and sister of the leader of the Greek gods, Zeus. The Greek gods were the children of Cronus and Rhea. Cronus was fearful that his children would take his power when they grew up and so he swallowed each of his babies whole. Finally Rhea hid the infant Zeus from her husband. When Zeus had grown into a young strong god, he returned and challenged his father for supremacy. As a result of the poison Zeus put in his father's drink, Cronus threw up all of his now-adult children. Zeus and his siblings eventually defeated Cronus and imprisoned him deep in Tartarus, a dark pit in the underworld.

Statue of Hera from the Louvre Museum. Photograph by Marie-Lan Ngyuen
Statue of Hera from the Louvre Museum, Photograph by Marie-Lan Ngyuen

As the new rulers of Olympus, the home of the gods, Zeus and his brothers and sisters divided the world into separate spheres. Zeus became the lord of the sky, Poseidon became the lord of the sea, and Hades took the throne of the underworld. Zeus married his older sister, Hera, who was the goddess of marriage and childbirth; Hestia, another of his sisters, became the guardian of the home; and Demeter became the goddess of grain.

Carving of Hera and Zeus
Carving of Hera and Zeus

Hera and the Great Hero

Each of the gods controlled a different aspect of life and many of them had direct contact with the mortals who walked the Earth. Hera played a large role in one of the most famous legends in Greek mythology: the story of the great hero Heracles.

Heracles was the son of Zeus and a mortal woman. Zeus was a very unfaithful husband and Hera hated the children that he had with other women. Zeus loved the mother of his new son and doted on the already incredibly strong baby boy. Jealous of her husband's love for his newborn baby son, Hera sent two huge snakes to kill Heracles, but the infant grabbed both snakes by the neck and strangled them. This event brought the little boy great fame and prestige.

Image of Greek pottery depicting Hera from British Museum. Photography by Marie-Lan Nguyen
Image of Greek pottery depicting Hera from British Museum, photography by Marie-Lan Nguyen

When he grew up, Heracles married a princess and had three children. As an adult, he enjoyed even greater fame and prestige. Zeus longed to make his wonderful son an immortal; however, Hera had not forgotten her husband's betrayal and she demanded that Heracles perform services for King Eurystheus of Tiryns in order to earn his immortality.

The arrogant young hero refused to enter into any man's service and so in a fit of rage, Hera made Heracles go insane and kill his own children. When he realized what he had done, Heracles withdrew entirely from society due to his great sadness at the loss of his children. Heracles consulted the oracle of Delphi and asked for advice. The oracle informed the hero that he must obey the will of the gods by performing 12 labors for King Eurystheus.

The hero agreed and he performed 12 dangerous acts for the king. Heracles killed monsters, like the Hydra; captured the sacred deer of Artemis, goddess of the hunt; and cleaned the stables of King Augeas. After he completed all of the tasks set to him, Heracles continued to have many different and dangerous adventures.

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