Glory of Hera, Eventually
by Amy Rose-Young

The wedding ceremony of Heracles and Hebe was a particularly jubilant gathering of the immortals. Zeus gleamed as he watched his newly mortal son put an end to an exhausting inner-family feud. Surely he was equally pleased to see his son in a marriage, his third ever but first as an immortal with a goddess, that can’t end in murder. Hera, patron goddess of marriage, seemed to be the happiest that afternoon. No trace of expected reluctance could be found as she blessed the union of her young daughter to the hero she tried to destroy so many times. Once you get used to hearing about the gods’ many incestuous and lusty relationships, nothing might surprise you. However, this marriage, like most of Heracles’ affairs, will surely be recounted for many generations.

Hera’s blessing of this marriage won’t come as a surprise if you didn’t know that since Heracles’ birth, Hera has made many a murder attempt of the originally mortal man. Heracles is the product of the lusty Zeus’ brief affair with the mortal woman Alcmene. Perhaps Hera would have destroyed Alcmene in a fit of jealous rage, as she is known to do with Zeus’ other lovers, if Zeus didn’t make the mistake of tricking her to feed the infant. One evening while Hera was sleeping, Zeus managed to get to her to feed the baby. Waking up to her husband’s adulterous love-child at her breast, she tossed Heracles away from her and thus spread the Milky Way across the sky (Harris and Platzner 314-315). The animosity was born. As Heracles put it before his death: ". . . and Zeus, whoever this Zeus may be, begot me as an enemy to Hera; . . . Then while I was being suckled, that bedfellow of Zeus foisted into my cradle fearsome snakes to cause my death" (Euripides 1225). Perhaps his legendary courage developed at an early age as a result of Hera’s murder attempts. Regardless, his wit, courage, and strength kept him after from dying by Hera’s will.

Hera didn’t stop once the infant grew to a man, a hero so torn by his dual nature that he went to Tartartos twice to seek truth but could often be found sating his desires in bed with princesses or drinking with centaurs. Apollodorus tells the story of the end of his first marriage vividly: ". . . after the battle with the Minyans Hercules was driven mad through the jealousy of Hera and flung his own children, whom he had by Megara [his wife], and two children of Iphicles into the first" (2.4.12). He also kills Megara in this rage. Hera didn’t just want him dead – she wanted him to be absolutely miserable. Heracles might be best known for the Twelve Labors. Depending on who you consult, he was only assigned ten. The total count doesn’t detract from the enormity of these labors. Each was designed to be impossible, and should have resulted in his death had he been short of immortal-like wit or animalistic strength. In one account, a Pythian princess gives the assignment: "And she told him to dwell in Tiryns, serving Eurystheus for twelve years to perform the ten labors imposed on him, and so she said, . . . he would be immortal" (Apollodorus 2.4.12). Hera’s involvement in this assignment is not certain, but she is suspected of conspiracy. Alcmene’s husband, Amphitryon, speculates:

" . . . so [Heracles], wishing to lighten my affliction and to find a home in his own land, offered Eurystheus a mighty price for my recall: to free the world of savage monsters, whether it was that Hera goaded him to submit to this, or that fate was leagued against him" (Euripides 1).

For all Hera’s attempts to destroy him, Heracles is unable to return the favor. In true heroic fashion, he actually assists in saving her. During the gods’ battle with the giants, one giant tries to rape Hera.

"But in the battle Porphyrion attacked Hercules and Hera. Nevertheless, Zeus inspired him with lust for her, and when he tore off her robes and would have forced her, she called for help, and Zeus smote him with a thunderbolt, and Hercules shot him dead with an arrow" (Apollodorus 1.6.2).

Whether or not Heracles was following his father’s direction, or if he was inspired by hatred for Porphyrion after he had been attacked, no one had commented on. It is also unclear whether or not Hera’s vendetta against Heracles was eased afterwards. Perhaps this event made her more willing to give him her daughter once he became immortal.

Finally at ease on Mount Olympus, Heracles is able to get along with his goddess-in-law. Odysseus, at the end of his great journey, tells us of Heracles’ posthumous situation: "After him [Sisyphus] I saw mighty Hercules, but it was his phantom only, for he is feasting ever with the immortal gods, and had lovely Hebe to wife, who is daughter of Jove and Juno" (Homer book 10). Hesiod confirms this marriage and ease in his Theogony: "And Herakles, Alkmene’s mighty son/ Finished with all his agonizing labors/ Made Hebe his bride on snowy Olympus, Daughter of Zeus and gold-sandalled Hera/ Happy at last, his great work done, he lives/ Agelessly and at ease among the Immortals" (lines 737-743). And until Zeus has another half-mortal child from an affair, Hera can rest easy as well.

Works Cited

Apollodorus. The Library. Trans. Sir James George Frazer. London: William Heinemann, 1921. http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/cache/perschool_Greco-Roman.html. 30 January 2007.

Euripides. "Heracles." Trans. E.P. Coleridge. The Complete Greek Drama. Ed. Whitney J. Oates and Eugene O’Neill, Jr. New York: Random House, 1938. http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/cache/perschool_Greco-Roman.html. 30 January 2007.

Harris, Stephen L. and Gloria Platzner. Classical Mythology: Images and Insights.. 4th ed. New York: McGraw Hill, 2004.

Hesiod. "Theogony." Trans. Stanley Lombardo. Classical Mythology: Images and Insights. Ed. Stephen L. Harris and Gloria Platzner. 4th ed. New York: McGraw Hill, 2004.

Homer. The Odyssey. Trans. Samual Butler. http://classics.mit.edu/Homer/odyssey.html. January 2007.

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