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Notebook

Notebook, 1993-

ANCIENT GREEK CULTURE

Hera

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Hera [Juno]. Daughter of Kronos and Rhea, she was the sister and wife of Zeus. Her jealousy of Zeus and her hatred of his numerous paramours and their offspring both mortal and immortal, is legendary. She made life difficult for the illicit offspring of Zeus including Heracles, Dionysos, and Io. With Zeus she begot Ares, Hebe, Hephaestos, and Eileithyia. Exceptionally beautiful, but of a severe type of beauty, Hera claimed the title from Aphrodite and Athena, and avenged herself on Paris when the Trojan prince had chosen Aphrodite as the most beautiful woman, and went on to fight in the Trojan War on the side of the Greeks. She would at times lure even mortal lovers who would as a result suffer a terrible death at the hands of Zeus. Hera was worshipped as the deity of marriage and as patroness of women whom she guarded as daughters, as brides-to-be, as wives, and as mothers, for she presided over childbirth. She was not only queen of all gods and mortals, but the lawful wife of the supreme god and as such she was worshipped in many parts of Greece. The main festivals in her honour were called the Heraea, but in addition there was the Daedala, the Kallisteia, and the Hecatombaea. Her most important temples and sanctuaries were in Argos, Mycenae, Tiryns, Sparta, Nauplion, Olympia, Corinth, Stymphalia, Samos, Knossos, Syracuse, [p. 40] Acragas, and Selenus. Hera is usually depicted in ancient art holding a sceptre in one hand culminating in a cuckoo, a pomegranate [symbol of fertility] in the other, a crown on her head, and a veil which is the symbol of marriage. Her sacred bird was the peacock which symbolizes in accordance with the schools of thought the star-studded skies, or the mythical Argus. [pp. 40-41]

[Kyriazis, Constantine D. Eternal Greece. Translated by Harry T. Hionides. A Chat Publication. pp. 7-11]




'Will all great Neptune's ocean


Clean from my hand? No, this
    my hand will rather

The multitudinous seas
    incarnadine,

Making the green one red.'

[Shakespeare, Macbeth]



Poseidon's temple at Sounion, the 'holy promontory of Athens', mid 5th c. BC.
'This relativity craze
In our contemporary life: There's
What gives space an importance
Found only in ourselves!'

[Thomas Merton]


View from Perachora across Lake Vouliagmene. 'To the ocean of His being the spirit of life leads the streams of action.' [Isa Upanishad]


Among all the Olympians, Hera has had the worst press. The scene was set by Homer who portrayed her as bitter, quarrelsome, jealous and possessive. And today, all these thousand of years later, it is the destructive side of Hera which dominates the emotional atmosphere that she conjures up.

Hera is not jealous: she is jealousy itself. She is not just the discontented wife: she is bitterness and frustration personified. She is the very image of clinging possessiveness, the eternal image of negative wifeness that we see in Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, in James Joyce's Molly Bloom, in the offices of marriage counselor, in the living rooms of our friends, in the bitter pillow-talk of our own bedrooms.

So long as Hera projects on her husband all her own unlived creativity, so long as she expects to find fulfilment exclusively in her role as Mrs. Zeus, she creates her own betrayal and a marriage that is in a permanent state of war with brief interludes of peace in bed. Even loyalty, one of the most solid of the virtues that she embodies, turns into a yoke with which she tries to bind Zeus. Her much-vaunted fidelity becomes the martyr's demand to be endlessly acknowledged for her sacrifices. Instead of being a celebration of a freely given commitment, it expresses itself as a rejection of female sexuality. Hera's ultimate fidelity is not to the man but to the form. During one of their Olympian quarrels about whether men or women get more pleasure out of love-making, Zeus and Hera turned to Tiresias, the only human who had lived both as man and woman, for a conclusive answer. When he replied that women enjoyed love-making nine times as much as men, Hera became so furious that she struck him blind.

Raging and resentment are qualities of her very being and, sparked by jealously, they drive her to frenetic activity. She is at her most resourceful and destructively creative when her jealously demands revenge. She punishes [p. 161] Echo for willfully distracting her while she is trying to catch Zeus love-making with the nymphs by condemning her to repeat forever the last words uttered by others. She turns Io, one of Zeus' lovers, into a cow, and when Zeus continues to love her, she has her driven out of Greece to Egypt by a gadfly. She sends two snakes into his cradle to strangle baby Herakles, the son of Zeus' infidelity with Alcmena; when he escapes by strangling the snakes instead, she goes on persecuting him until, in Euripides' Herakles, she drives him to madness and the murder of his wife and children. Even the birth of the three sons she conceived by herself, Ares, Hephaistos and Typhon, is motivated by anger--by the urge to show Zeus that she can produce a son alone who shall be glorious among the gods.

The emotions, and the chain of reactions they give rise to, may be overwhelmingly extravagant, but in them we can experience even more powerfully the destructive emotions and fantasies on which we expend so much energy in our own lives. All this darkness of raging and cruel vengeance has hidden Hera's light so effectively that it is at first hard to understand why she was so revered by the Greeks, why some of the most beautiful temples were dedicated in her honour, why, as Juno, she was above all other goddesses in Rome, why indeed she was worshipped as the goddess of sacred marriage.

It takes a fundamental shift of perspective to experience the light of Hera's polarity. The key to the shift is Hera's claiming back for herself the energy and the power that could not find expression in her role as wife and were instead turned self-destructively into jealousy, bitterness, resentment. Paradoxically, it is only when Hera stops seeking her definition in the role of wife that she embodies the essence of wife.

According to one of the most beautiful myths about the goddess, when she was no longer prepared to put up with Zeus' infidelities, she left him and returned to her birth-place in Euboea. They came together again but something is radically different between them. It is as if Hera had to distance herself from the relationship in order to connect with her own self-contained perfection and then, for the first time, meet her husband not in need but in fullness. 'Perhaps Hera had only really discovered her essential aloneness within the relationship, and could only learn what genuine relationship might be in solitude.' To persuade her to return, Zeus approaches Mt. Cithaeron with a veiled female statue who is proclaimed as a local princess that the king of the gods is about to marry. Hera discovers the deceit and smiles. Filled with a secret, smiling wisdom that leaves no room for raging jealousy, she is reconciled to him, now ready for the deep marriage for which she has always longed.

In her heightened state, Hera embodies unconditional commitment to the [p. 162] primal relationship that marriage symbolizes. In fact she was the patroness of all stages of a woman's life in relation to man. She was known as Hera Parthenos [maiden], Hera Teleia [full-grown, complete], Hera Chera [widow]. The word used to describe her state as wife shows that it was in the mystery of the sacred marriage that the goddess found her ultimate completion. Her three stages of transformation were identified by the Greeks with the three stages of the moon. She was the waxing moon as maiden, the full moon as fulfilled wife, the waning moon as abandoned, withdrawing woman.

'Hera is not the Great Mother but rather the spouse. That Hera is preeminently wife means that although she is a mother she is not mother as mother but mother as wife.' The other side of her destructively possessive aspect is a deep instinct to protect and nurture. Her protective aspect is sensitively evoked in the myth of her first loving encounter with Zeus. The god of gods sends a terrible storm to the mountain where Hera is sitting alone, turns himself into a cuckoo and descends trembling into her lap. The goddess takes the little bird in her arms and warms it by holding it tight against her breast.

Hera's protective strength manifests itself not only in her relationship with her husband but in her relationship to the community. Hera is a queen and the wider realm of things is as much her province as her family. Her attempt to make communities both of Olympos and the earth is an expression of the passionate concern she embodies for the communal life, for the whole. Aphrodite's passions may move us more readily in their intensity and surrender to the moment, but society cannot survive without Hera's steadfast commitment to the values and institutions on which they are founded.

We see Hera at work in all the women who devote a large part of their lives to running schools, hospitals, charities and churches. And we also see negative Hera at work when their social concern becomes mechanical and disconnected from the spirit that inspired it, or when they use it as a substitute for following their own life-giving energy where it leads them.

In the same way, the women who identify themselves with their husbands' work can either find in that supportive identification true fulfilment or hide dark resentment and frustration in their role as the 'power behind the throne'. Hera had her own 'golden throne' on Olympos, and when the modern Heras rediscover their own thrones and recreate their own kingdoms they will redeem the role of wife from its present discredited state and resolve Hera's central ambivalence. Until then Hera will remain buried in the tensions and anxieties of our marriages and our most intimate relationships, working her destructive will, possessive and possessed.

[Hera appeared to the Argive women once a year. She bathed in the spring flowing through the foothills and emerged with her virginity renewed--One-in-Herself, the Celestial Virgin.]

Hera's temple at Olympia, early 6th c. BC. 'Here I sing of Hera, she has a golden throne . . . . She is the sister, she is even the wife of Zeus the thunderer. She is glorious, all the gods on vast Olympos revere her, they honour her even equal to Zeus the lover of lightning.' [Homeric Hymn to Hera]

Typhon, c. 570 BC. Hera's fatherless son was a three-bodied monster with a hundred burning snake-heads--an expression of Hera's rage at Zeus and part of her struggle against him. He made war on Zeus as soon as he was fully grown, and he was only finally subjugated when the king of the gods trapped him under the island of Sicily where his breath created the flames of MT. Etna.] [p. 164]


[Stassinopoulos, Arianna and Roloff Beny. The Gods of Greece. New York: Abrams. 1983.]




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