Saturday, February 02, 2008
In Greek mythology, Hera, the Queen of the Gods, does not come off as a welcome presence to other characters. She is the patron goddess of marriage and takes order and responsibility quite seriously. Her husband, Zeus, is a fickle ruler of the gods who pursues and impregnates other goddesses and mortals, yet Hera is painted as jealous and petty rather than rightfully furious with her husband’s constant betrayals. Most of the stories of Hera involve her revenge upon Zeus by inflicting suffering upon Zeus’s paramours and children. As a child, I disliked Hera and identified with Athena and Artemis. As I grew into teen-hood, I became interested in the stories of Psyche and Orpheus, who were mortals caught up in the scheming of the gods, and by extension, the goddesses Aphrodite and Persephone. As an adult, I find myself drawn toward the womanly goddesses: Hestia, goddess of the hearth, Demeter, goddess of the harvest (and righteously angry mother who forced the hand of Zeus)… and Hera.
I wondered why in all the stories I read, there was very little in the way of positive anecdotes about Hera. Why did her fidelity and fierce adherence to propriety not translate into compelling stories about helping humans and gods overcome marital struggles? Aphrodite was certainly the goddess of love, but she didn’t seem as interested in helping people maintain their relationships once they got married. After all, Aphrodite promised the shepherd Paris that if he chose her as the most beautiful goddess, he’d get to have the most beautiful mortal in the world as his wife—Helen of Sparta, who was already married to Menelaus.
The first positive account I ever read of Hera was by Bernard Evslin, who wrote Heraclea: A Legend of Warrior Women. The story is of a giantess who was the daughter of Hera, and who became the forerunner of Heracles (i.e. Hercules). I don’t remember too much of the book. I know that Zeus was portrayed in a particularly negative light, especially in comparison with Hera, who adored her large, powerful child. I also remember a passage in which the sorrowing Heraclea eats her beloved’s head “like an apple.” I couldn’t get that image out of my head if I tried.
The next time I read a positive portrayal of Hera was in Kate McMullan’s Myth-o-Mania series. Hera is the queen of the gods and true boss, no contest. Zeus is a hot-headed “mythomaniac,” i.e. liar, and Hades, another typically negatively portrayed god, works to set the matters straight. I found these eight fractured-myth young-readers quite enjoyable, and look forward to the time when they’ll be in print again.
Do you know of any other instances in which stories of Hera portray the goddess in a positive light?
Anamaria of Books Together has a recent blog post on Greek myths, and asks if you have a particular favorite collection of myths from your childhood. To continue that train of thought, I’d like to know if you have a particular favorite chapter-book that uses a Greek myth in one form or another. (Also, if you have a least favorite book, please list that too.)