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.)


Anamaria (bookstogether) said...

Thank you! I think the development of your interest and identification with the various myths is really interesting; I'm going to have to think about mine.

I agree with you completely about Hera, too: whenever she is mentioned, I am hopeful that she'll come off well, and it seems as if she never does. Historically her cult was very powerful, so the Greeks must not have been bothered by her portrayal as much we are.

As for myth-related chapter books, I can't remember any from my own childhood (there must have been some!). I'm making up for that now, though. I'll look for the Myth-O-Mania series at the library; and have you heard anything about The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan?

Alkelda the Gleeful said...

Anamaria: One of the reasons I really wish the Myth-o-Mania books would come back into print would be to give them to young readers who are not quite ready for Rick Riordan's books. I enjoyed the Lightning Thief and sequels, and am looking forward to the next one. I wonder if Percy Jackson is going to herald a new world order a la His Dark Materials.

My daughter is currently asking, "Who are the bad gods? Who are the bad goddesses?" and part of me is thinking about the euphemisms people had for certain gods so as not to attract attention.

Fuse #8 is gunning for Winged Girl of Knossos to come back into print. It's a Newbery honor book that deals with Greek mythology. I've never read it, and probably won't get to do so any time soon, as it's not even readily available as a used-book. Zounds!

TadMack said...

I just finished Cupid for the Cybils. It wasn't about Hera, obviously, but it was an entirely different take on the gods. I *HAVE* read The Winged Girl of Knossos, though, and I agree with Betsy...

Alkelda the Gleeful said...

TadMack: Though I don't have ambitious hopes, I have placed an ILL on The Winged Girl of Knossos. Miracles do happen.

Lone Star Ma said...

I, too, love Hera, Hestia and Demeter best...we used to have cats named Hera and Hestia. Hera is the goddess of childbirth as well as marriage - who could be better? And Zeus is a dog. But I haven't found books that feel the way I do. The Lone Star Girl loved Myth-O-Mania, thanks to you, and the Rick Riordan books. Her interest was originally caught by one of Bruce Coville's magic shop books - Juliette Dove, Queen of Love. She really loved a YA book called Goddess of Yesterday and has read a bunch of dinky myth translations. I liked that one you scorn by Marion Zimmer Bradley when I was a teen - Firebrand. I mostly read straight Edith Hamilton, though - there weren't all the chapter books when I was a kid.

Alkelda the Gleeful said...

LSM: I don't remember scorning Firebrand. The writing, yes, but I read it a number of times and enjoyed it. My memory is probably fuzzy, but I think it was all those Mists of Avalon prequels that I scorned. Goddess of Yesterday didn't thrill me either, but I had an "any port in a storm" mentality when I read it. I just remembered a book with Hermes as the romantic lead called When Half-Gods Go, by Hannelore Valencak.

Lone Star Ma said...

The writing is what I meant. I haven't read it recently enough to evaluate the writing myself - I'm sure you were right. Those prequels were bad but I had to read them(: Hermes as a romantic lead, hmm? Bet he's be worse than Zeus!