Hera’s Month of Devotional Thought: Day 5 – Family & Genealogy

Χαίρετε πάντες!

Today I will answer the fifth question in the list: who are members of the family/genealogical connections of Hera? I will stick strictly to her direct relationships, that is her husband and blood relatives.

Her primary relationship, a twofold one at that, is the relationship with Her husband and brother, Zeus. They are the Royal Couple of the Gods, rulers of Olympos, and as such are Gods of government, as well as marriage. In order to seduce Her, Zeus is said to have transformed Himself into a cuckoo, which Hera caught to keep as Her pet, and thus managed to seduce the maiden. To quote Pausanias:

“The presence of a cuckoo seated on the sceptre [of Hera] they explain by the story that when Zeus was in love with Hera in her maidenhood he changed himself into this bird, and she caught it to be her pet [in order to seduce her].”
– Pausanias, Description of Greece 2. 17. 4 (trans. Jones).

Despite Her marriage and Their status as the ideal married couple in terms of cultus, Zeus is described in myth as having numerous affairs and offspring out of wedlock, both mortal and divine, a fact quoted ad nauseam by detractors trying to discredit Hellenic polytheism and the worship of Zeus. Hera’s myths often depict Her as jealous and vengeful against the lovers and illegitimate offspring of Zeus, another fact cited ad nauseam by some other (or sometimes even the same) detractors to discredit the worship of Hera. However, the mythological and theological significance of these myths, as well as these mentioned misunderstandings are topics other posts.

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Athena, Hera and Zeus, Athenian red-figure pyxis C5th B.C., University of Pennsylvania Museum. Taken from Theoi.com.

As I indicated earlier, Hera is not just the wife of Zeus, she is also His sister. Her parents are Kronos and Rhea, and following Hesiodos’ list of Kronos’ children she was Their third child, and like Her siblings was swallowed shortly after birth by Kronos. Eventually, Zeus, Who had escaped this fate by the schemes of Rhea, managed to force His father to disgorge His offspring, and Hera along with Her siblings joined Zeus’ rebellion against Kronos’ rule.

Being the daughter of Kronos and Rhea, Hera is also the granddaughter of Gaia and Ouranos.

Zeus and Hera have a few children together. Those who are in all versions of the myths their children are Hebe, Eileithyia, and Ares. Hebe served as cupbearer and handmaiden to Her Mother, I have already discussed her in this post.

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Hera and Hebe, Athenian red-figure pelike C5th B.C., Private Collection, Lucerne. Taken from Theoi.com.

Eileithyia is the Goddess of childbirth. Since the primary goal of marriage in ancient Hellas was to produce legitimate offspring to perpetuate the family and ensure (male) heirs, it makes sense that the first married couple – as Hera is sometimes said to have invented the institution – would bring forth the Goddess of Childbirth, to aid women in giving birth to their husbands’ heirs. Hera can however also withhold her daughter’s assistance, as she did when Leto gave birth to Artemis and Apollon. Ares is the only male offspring of Zeus and Hera Who is definitively Their child. He is a God of War, and during the Titanomachy (War of the Titans) defended the Olympians’ stronghold of Olympos against the assaults of the Titans. He has a strong relationship with His Mother and has come to Her aid when Hephaistos captured Her and held Her hostage (more on that in a sec).

Hera is also said to have given birth to Hephaistos. Homeros declares Him the son of Zeus and Hera, others of Hera alone. This latter version claims that after Zeus had given birth to Athena on his own, Hera was furious as she was His wife and the one to bear His children. In retaliation, she then produced Hephaistos without intercourse, but when he was born was appalled by his ugliness and threw him of Olympos to hide her shame.

“Zeus gave birth from his own head to Tritogeneia [Athena] . . . Hera was very angry and quarrelled with her mate. And because of this strife she bare without union with Zeus who hold the aigis a glorious son, Hephaistos, who excelled all the sons of Heaven in crafts.”
– Hesiodos, Theogonia 921 ff (trans. Evelyn-White).

“Hera bore Hephaistos without benefit of sexual intercourse, although Homer says that Zeus was his father. Zeus threw him from the sky for helping Hera when she was in chains. Zeus had hung her from Olympos as punishment for setting a storm on Herakles as he was sailing back from his conquest of Troy. Hephaistos landed on Lemnos, crippled in both legs.”
– Pseudo-Apollodoros, Bibliotheka 1. 19 (trans. Aldrich).

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Hephaistos, Dionysos, Satyros, Hebe and Hera. Athenian red-figure skyphos C5th B.C., Toledo Museum of Art. Taken from Theoi.com.

He landed on Lemnos, and either the landing crippled His legs, or He was born with malformed legs. Hephaistos grew up on Lemnos, developed his skill in smithing and the crafts, and eventually exacted vengeance on Hera by sending Her a gift, a golden chair that, when She sat upon it, captured Her. Eventually He was compelled by the Gods to let Her go, in exchange for His ascension to Olympos and taking His rightful place amongst them. Before he was convinced, however, Ares tried to threaten Him and force Him into releasing Hera, but Ares failed to convince Hephaistos. Afterwards, Hera and Hephaistos were reconciled. In the version as recounted by Homeros, Zeus was the father of Hephaistos and threw Him off Olympos for being malformed, and eventually reconciled with him.

Yet another version of the story of Hera’s wrath following Zeus’ birthing of Athena on His own tells of how She prayed to her grandparents, Ouranos and Gaia, to help Her beget a child on Her own, to exceed Zeus in power. She then bore the monstrous Typhon who would wage war aginst the Gods and eventually be defeated by Zeus and buried underneath Mt. Etna.

A final family member I want to discuss is, perhaps surprisingly, Herakles. In myth, Hera was relentless in pursuing Him and sabotaging Him. Yet when Herakles finally ascended to Olympos and became a God, a reconciliation took place between them. It is said that as part of Herakles’ apotheosis and the reconciliation, Hera lay on Her bed, and Herakles would lie on Her belly in foetal position, as if a baby in Her womb, and would then crawl out from between Her legs, thus symbolically being reborn as Her son, and as a God. She also offers Him Her breast to suckle, another symbol of Their reconciliation.Then Herakles received Her daughter Hebe as His wife, making Her His adopted mother as well as his mother-in-law.

“From the time he [Herakles] achieved immortality, Hera’s enmity changed to friendship, he married her daughter Hebe.”
– Pseudo-Apollodoros, Bibliotheka 2. 160 (trans. Aldrich).

With this, I will end this blog post.

Praise be to Glorious Hera, Solemn Queen of All!

Ἔρρωσο.

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