In the Greek pantheon, Zeus grabs all the eyeballs. He fought the Titans, he established Olympus and his roving eye makes for many interesting escapades. All this while Hera, his wife, stands by warming and protecting the home and hearth. But that was not always the case. The subjugation of Hera, is almost as epic as the defeat of the Titans. When looked at carefully, it coincides with a time when the Greeks decided to leave the sheltered harbour and warm hearth to sail forth and establish a Hellenic empire of city states along the Aegean Sea.

Hera was worshipped throughout Greece, and the oldest and most important temples were consecrated to her. Hera’s position from being THE creative force, that most cultures referred to as ‘God’, to becoming the ‘stay- at- home’ wife is one of the most profound changes ever in Western civilization.

The slow and gradual fall of Hera, from being the mother of the universe to a jealous and vindictive wife who is always looking for ways to catch Zeus’s infidelities out is a story that has been pushed to the periphery. Her strength and power that is in evidence in the manner in which she protects homes and stands as an equal with her brother-husband Zeus has been neatly folded into a jealous rage that was easy for the male tellers of these stories to accept.  

Hera’s biography gives us many clues to her strength and stamina- born of the titans Cronus & Rhea, she contains within her the measure of time from Cronus and the ability to bring ease, reduce pain from her mother Rhea, the goddess of comfort and ease. Metaphorically, she not only transcends time but perpetuates mortal life by bringing fertility and easing the pain of childbirth; in a complex way she untangles the limitation and the pain that time inflicts on mortals by helping rejuvenation through the birth of a child.

She ruled over the heavens and earth, much before Zeus won the control of the sky by drawing lots with his brothers! And from her cosmic position, she connected with every hearth and home, keeping them warm and blessing them with children. So it could be said that she reigned with a benign hand, over the mortal world linking the macrocosm of the heavens to microcosm of the home and hearth.

Hera’s role as wife and mother is also unique; she was neither Zeus’s first wife nor was she his last love interest! But she, with her solemn beauty and calm demeanor was, Zeus’s only permanent consort. Her children, too, had no glamorous roles as gods – her daughters were Hebe the cupbearer of Olympus and Ilithia, the Goddess of childbearing; while her sons were Ares, the war monger who often lost a battle and Hephaestus the blacksmith – all crucial elements that make life comfortable and livable, but not heroic like those of Zeus’s other children like Athena, his first born.

Hera brought with her, a steady calmness and a stoic beauty that countered the fiery Zeus with his stormy emotions and cracking thunderbolt. She is underplayed, maybe even undervalued but her strong and ancient matriarchal powers were what all the great Greek heroes had to retreat to, when tossed in the stormy seas of patriarchal conquest.

While the stories about how she destroyed Hercules’s are popular and unfortunately define Hera’s role in the Greek pantheon today, it would be shortsighted to keep her within these narrow confines. See her, instead, as the bright cosmic sky behind the dark thundering’s of Zeus’s stormy throne. That is where her true nature lay- making homes happy and warm, helping all to grow and prosper. Also Read: The tale of the peacock

Written by: Sheila Bhattacharya