A review of "The Transformation of Hera" by Joan V. O’Brien. The first time I read this definitive book on Hera the scholarship and dense writing overwhelmed me. Discovering that the work colored my thinking on Hera to this day, I thought it well worth another read. And a great read it is. O’Brien leads the reader along a trail of evidence showing the affects of PanHellenism on the character of the goddess Hera. I offer here some interesting excerpts and minimal comments on my part.
“Herodotus called the temple (of Hera of Samos) the greatest of all he had seen.”
“The changes in the Samian cult around 600 BC…suggest that this goddess (Hera) underwent a redefinition from a goddess of general fertility to the “wife and sister” of Zeus.”
She let’s us know about Hera’s first husband. “Bathing in the water near the confluence of the river Imbrasos signified the goddess’ union with a river god.” “Imbrasos may have been considered her early Samian spouse.”
“The goddess Hera, who alone shares Helen’s epithet Argeia (in the Iliad. It means); Argive or, of Argos.” “Zeus possess remarkable epithets as suggesting a period in which Hera was the dominate deity of the Argolid (that is the land of Argos a narrow plain commanding the Peloponnesian peninsula in southwestern Greece). As Zeus is spouse of fair-haired Hera, so Paris is spouse of the fair-haired Helen. Each is posis of an Argeia”
“marriage was early viewed as a yoking by a horse-taming goddess.” “Early rites presumably understood marriage as the taming of young “horses” both male and female.” I wondered if this point of view could offer us any insights into Nestor’s advice on chariot races or Admetus misyoked wedding chariot.
Speaking of Samian Hera’s little-known male babysitters, O’Brien states “An intriguing question remains. Did the Samians import these “daemons” in the first place because Hera was already perceived as an aloof mother? She must have been a birth goddess given her associations with Eileithyia and her action as a birth goddess in the Iliad. She must have been a “kourotrophos”, given her nursing of monsters and her boast of nursing Thetis. But the Iliadic stories of her relationships with her two sons Hephaistos and Ares and her stepson Heracles would have done little to inspire confidence in her maternal instincts. The crippled Hephaestus finds a mother’s concern not in Iliadic Hera, but in Thetis. The belligerent Ares serves his mother all too well. The popularity of Heracles in the eighth century must have led to a popular view of Hera not as a champion of the young but as their tormenter. “
“The lust for raw-eating or omophagia is the epic’s primary image of moral degeneration, just as a meal roasted and shared with others it the primary metaphor for the best of human behavior.” “Hera-like colos and menos (lust for vengeance and rage) on the one hand and Zeus-inspired menis (wrath) on the other. The sacral menis of Achilles identified with the will of Zeus is suspended in Book 19… (until) Achilles subsequent renunciation of omophagia, signaled at an authentically human meal with his archenemy Priam. “
“the river god (Xanthus) seeks to bury the hero (Achilles) under mud to prevent proper burial. For the first time in the epic, Achilles is afraid.” I found the last sentence an interesting observation.
“By depicting Hera and her menos-filled son (Ares) as those who answer Achilles call to Zeus (for aid against the rising river) Homer is characterizing Hera with a savagery not to be associated with Zeus. There are several reasons why Hera and not Zeus helps the hero here;
- First, Achilles’ mutilation of corpses is inconsistent with the restraint to which Zeus’ example later draws him. Suggesting that Zeus does not support Achilles in his demonic rages …
- Second, although the hero boasts of his lineage from Zeus, his acts suggest the omophaigia of Hera and the menos of her divine sons, Ares and Hephaestus. (O’Brien suggests throughout the work that the savagery of Hera is something Achilles inherited through the milk of Thetis, who in turn got of dose of savagery when she was nursed by Hera.)
- And third, Homer had prepared for her intervention by her earlier plea that Athena and Poseidon stand by Achilles in his terror, when a god, that is Xanthus, pits his strength against him in the fighting:
At this moment Hera is clearly the deity for Achilles
“Otherwise Achilles should beware, lest our just anger strike him.” This is the sole instance in the epic in which nemesis is used of the attitude of the gods toward one who has broken the moral code.”
“Typhon is known to both Homer and Hesiod as a traditional character, as the use of the word pasi “people say” indicates.”
“Hera is the only Iliadic figure to swear by the Styx.”
“She (Hera) is also the only one to invoke the Titans or even mentions (them by name.)”
“The only two characters whom Iliadic Zeus smites or threatens to smite are Typhon and his own wife.”
“Tradition gave Hera two parthenogenetic sons, each of whom was a fire-god, Typhon and Hephaestus. Homer replaced monstrous Typhon with the civilized Hephaestus.”
Hence (Hera) soaring down to the Argolid is an adroit deceiver who’s agenda delays Heracles’’ birth in favor of her own heir’s. The episode virtually identifies her not with the timid dove Eileithyia, but with deceitful Ate1. The similarity in their titles; one the eldest daughter of Kronos and the other the eldest daughter of Zeus, and the emphasis on their dangerously disruptive feminine agility are hardly coincidental. With help from infamous Ate, Hera establishes cultic hegemony over the Argolid thereby rationalizing to a Panhellenic audience why Zeus was not always considered supreme in Argolic myth. “
“The Seduction of Zeus depicts an atypical female, a wife who tames her spouse.
- The first part of the episode finds Hera completing her elaborate toilet by borrowing the magic charm with which Aphrodite tames all immortals and mortals alike.
- The mid-point of the episode foreshadows the climax with reference to Night, the tamer of gods and mortal males. On Mt. Ida, Zeus acknowledges that Eros has never before so tamed him.
- And after the enthralled spouse is tamed by sleep and sex, Night’s son Sleep leaves his perch to spread the good news to Poseidon on the battlefield below.
The humorously intertwined pre-Olympian motifs recalls a potnian religion in which the female tames all.” “Hera, Night and Sleep come from the old divine order in which nature gods tamed all else”
Just a beautiful phrase I wanted to share, “the Argolic motifs are so magnificently woven into the very fabric of the epic that the stitching is discernible only by careful scrutiny of the language and themes.
1. Ate, according to Homer was a daughterof Zeus, was an ancient Greek divinity, who led both gods and men to rash and inconsiderate actions and to suffering (Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology) I myself find her easier to envision her as a daemon tempting men (and male gods) to folly