Mythology Monday… Zeus & Hera

Clearly, I’m terrible at keeping a blog, as anyone looking at the date of my last post would be able to tell. But, I’m determined to do better.

Before I delve into another post on Greek Mythology, I would like to add that I am by no means an expert and all the information I have has been garnered by internet research. Forgive me if these posts ever contradict each other or don’t add up one hundred percent of the time. Greece has been around for a very, very long time. I mean we’re talking tens of thousands of years old here. It is said to have been inhabited since 70 000 BC and back then, what we call Greek Mythology today, was their primary source of religion.

They lived in a time of unimaginably difficult circumstances and the tales and interpretations of these gods/goddesses were told and retold. This is why there seems to be so many different accounts of their divinities. As time goes by, their world changes and with it, there are new layers—for lack of a better term—added to what they already believe. Also, remember that most often, these accounts were given by word-of-mouth. Ever played broken down telephone as a kid? Then you can understand how certain details may be overlooked or embellished.

In 750 BC, these tales were finally immortalised in writing. There is some debate as to whether it was written down by one or many, however, the general belief is that Homer was the main writer. Familiar name? No, not from The Simpsons. This Homer is famous as the author of The Odyssey and The Iliad, the most influential accounts of Greek Mythology. Roughly half a century after Homer, Hesiod penned another version—The Theogony. However, Hesiod depicted creation in a different light, which is basically the one I used for my previous post involving Chaos, i.e. the void.

For this round of Mythology Monday, I thought I would begin with the king and queen of the gods. Let’s start with the king himself. No, not Elvis, that’s a very different sort of king. Here, we’re talking about Zeus. I’m sure many have seen the numerous versions of him in Hollywood retellings. My personal favourite is Luke Evans in Immortals, however, Liam Neeson’s physical characteristics in Clash of the Titans is a more accurate representation when compared to mythology.

Zeus & Hera

Zeus was depicted as a mature man with one serious beard and a head of curly hair. As god of the sky, he is often seen clutching a lightning bolt, which he uses to punish those who anger him. He is said to have control over certain elements related to weather, such as air and storms, which usually include rain, thunder and lightning. His symbols were, of course, the lightning bolt, the oak tree and the eagle.

In my research, I discovered a rather interesting snippet of information. While a lot of other folklore hailed the sun-gods as the most important, Ancient Greece gave the highest role to a god who presided over rain. Any guess as to why? Yip, you got it. Greece is a hot country and rain would have been vital in ancient times.

This king of the gods resides on Mount Olympus, which as I stated in my previous post, he gained by overthrowing the Titans alongside his two brothers—Poseidon and Hades. When the three brothers shared their winnings, Zeus received the heavens while Poseidon presided over the sea and Hades the Underworld. This left the earth as neutral ground and the eventual dwelling place of mortal man.

The son of Cronus and Rhea, Zeus married Hera, his sister and goddess of marriage, in a somewhat tragic coupling. By Hera, Zeus fathered a small number of children, but he is infamous for his affairs. Through his scandalous unions, he brought forth members of the Olympians—Apollo, Artemis, Hermes and Dionysus, along with a vast number of non-Olympians, such as Persephone. Perhaps the strangest of all is the birth of Athena, who emerged from Zeus’ head.

Zeus may have been revered as the ruler of all the gods/goddesses and the most powerful, however, he did have his limitations. He held no control over The Fates and was even susceptible to trickery and deceit. Worse still, he was subjected to several weak traits. While noble, he was affected by lust, often driving his wife to intense jealousy. He was shown to be wise and just, however, he was also vengeful and known to be unpredictable in his decisions.

Perhaps in a strange sort of serendipity, Zeus weds Hera, another seemingly honourable divinity who has a tendency towards vengeance. As with many of the females in Greek Mythology, her story is a tragic one. Like Zeus, Hera was the daughter of Titans Cronus and Rhea, who were cast into the depths of Tartarus by their very own children. She is the goddess of marriage and women, sometimes accredited with childbirth and family. Depicted as a beautiful, majestic woman, her symbols were the cow and the peacock.

There are, of course, several accounts of how Hera came to marry Zeus. From the sweet portrayals of innocent affections—putting aside the incest—to the seduction and subsequent rape of Hera by her future husband. Whether willing or not, she found herself bound to Zeus in the only real marriage amongst the Olympians. Perhaps this is why she presides over marriage and has a strong connection to the protection of women.

She may be queen of the gods, but her power is tremulous at best. Don’t think that as Zeus’ wife he allows her to wear the pants in their relationship. Hera is forced to obey him in everything, though it is said that he would listen to her counsel and shared his secrets with her. Yet all the while, Hera was subjected to his various affairs. Thus the creation of her infamous jealousy and vengeful nature. Her wrath is directed at the objects of Zeus’ desire instead of the man himself, odd given her usual penchant for protecting the fairer sex.

It seems her good nature goes out the window when it comes to adulterers and any who dare to displease her. These infidelities lead to most of the tales involving Hera and her efforts to revolt against Zeus. In a most failed attempt, he punishes her by hanging her from her feet while the other gods/goddesses stand idly by out of fear that his anger would be turned on them. At her wails of suffering, Zeus agrees to let her down as long as she promises never to rebel against him ever again. Left with no other choice, Hera agrees, though her attempts to undermine Zeus continue.

Not exactly known as a mothering sort of goddess, Hera did give birth to a number of children, some by Zeus and others on her own. In some accounts, the pair gave life to three children—Ares, Hephaestus and Hebe. In others, Hera alone is responsible for Hephaestus, whom she flung from the Heavens because he was crippled. See? Not a very motherly sort of woman.

There are a plethora of stories involving Zeus and Hera, far more than I can go into during this post. The internet is crowded with information and the different accounts of mythology. So please, if you are reading this, remember this is an extremely brief overview. While there are stacks of great sites, one is my favourite and I will include a link to the site with every Mythology Monday I do.

I hope you enjoyed this one and have a general understanding of who Zeus and Hera were to the Ancient Greeks. For those looking to read more about them, below are the links for the king and queen of the gods.