Sunday, August 23, 2015

TFBT: The Transformation of Hera


 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

 

26 comments:

  1. I don't think Hera just boasted of nursing Thetis. That Thetis was brought up by Hera, is a consistent motif in many ancient texts. It is not necessary for the general Thetis myth, at least not at first glance. It could explain why Thetis did not want to lay with Zeus. However, as my statistics showed, unwillingness to lay with Zeus was a general phenomenon among goddesses, nymphs and mortals alike. Given that most of them had some reason not to wish Zeus' advances, we hardly need special "I won't dishonor my foster mother" motivation in the case of Thetis. Moreover, in all but one versions, it is the succession prophecy and not Thetis' resistance that saves her from being the next temporary concubine of Zeus. There are very few cases in which the female's unwillingness has prevented her from being raped by Zeus or deceived into having sex with him.
    This, combined with the fact that Thetis has living parents in good condition, and that Hera isn't known to raise anyone except some of her own children and some monsters, could indicate that there is something important behind the raising of Thetis by Hera.

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  2. In his book "Becoming Achilles", Holway clarifies what we (and not only we) asked ourselves before - why the Apple of discord was not given to Thetis. It was unthinkable, because the entire wedding was an effort to control the damage of Zeus finding his foster daughter Thetis more beautiful than his wife Hera.
    According to Holway, there was no true succession prophecy; it was introduced as an inversion of cause and effect so that to obscure the family aspect of the Thetis - Zeus - Achilles myth. As a foster daughter, Thetis was not beyond Zeus' ability to "marry" her (as a true daughter would be) yet his "marriage" to her would cause a family disaster more than any other Zeus' affair. For that reason, Thetis is married off to Peleus. Her feeling of humiliation as a result of this strategic marriage will make her to mold her son into a mighty avenger.

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  3. Maya,

    I can't say I disagree with too much of what you say here. Holway saying there is "no true succession myth" sounds a little odd since Zeus' family history makes succession a real issue. The choice made of the free will of Athena, Artemis and Hestia seems further telling details that someone was concerned with succession.

    Did I mention that Olympians don't bed Nereids? Fifty beauties to chose from and no Olympian god takes a row in the kelp beds. Naturally Poseidon had to do the dirty deed with a couple of them for political reasons.

    Bill

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  4. Actually, Zeus' predecessors by their efforts to prevent their overthrow may have caused it. Their children had to overthrow them in order to get a life. We also see that Uranus and Cronus would not benefit from any prophecy about the identity of their dangerous sons, because they were already acting with full force against all of their sons.
    Zeus preserved his throne by acting against mothers rather than sons and by letting his sons get a life. (Of course, he may have limited the number of his dangerous descendants by his preference to virgin daughters, but he nevertheless created enough immortal sons to be in danger.)
    When was Zeus in clear danger? There is the story of Zagreus, where Hera did the dirty job, as usual. Regardless of whether we'll accept the story of Persephone conceiving Zagreus from Zeus or not, it is a fact that Zeus married off this particular daughter to a husband who, while immortal, was considered inferior and who was not expected to conceive a son of his own.
    There is the story of Metis, which seems to have been invented by Hesiod using Thetis as a model.
    Then, there is the story of Thetis...

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    1. Maya,

      Wedding Persephne off to Hades seemed a ssure way to guarrent no descendants. Chthonic deities didnt seem to reproduce too well after Nyx.

      Bill

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  5. Thetis is exceptional in many respects. She is born to the deep-sea god Nereus but is brought up on Olympus, about as far from the sea as you can go. Why? As far as I know, ancient sources give no explanation, just report the fact. My Thetis says, "When I was born, my mother wanted to get to know herself or to work on herself or something on this sort, so she didn't want to be occupied with an ever-crying baby. So Hera took me to Olympus and brought me up like a mother." This is of course a very modern-sounding explanation, almost like "my mother wanted to pursue her career". As I've said before, when you have to introduce major inventions to connect the dots of the plot, this is a sure sign that you are missing something important in the original myth. Either you don't understand it or you cannot understand it because the mythological facts themselves have been lost through the ages.
    Is the Thetis we know a blend of two original personalities, one Nereid and one terrestrial?
    What is sure, however, is that Thetis' early life on Olympus and her later exceptional fate is no coincidence. There is no such thing as coincidence in myth! Her presence on Olympus may indeed had the purpose to explain why Zeus wanted her (after all, to be sexually attracted by someone, you generally must have seen her). However, we still need a coherent explanation why she was there in the first place.

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    1. Maya,

      Many mythologists suspect Homer made up Thetis' rescue of Zeus because there are no other accounts. I suspect Thetis was on Olympus because Homer had to put her there. Hesiod wasn't the only one that wrote a theogony. Spartan poet Alkman. Wrote one proclaiming Thetis as Creatrix of the world. Orphic mysteries make Eurynome, (Thetis' best friend) a promordial goddess. Homer calls Nyx mother of gods and men. Oceanus and Tethys are mother and father of the gods. Thetis was a powerful goddess as witnessed by the sacrifices made by the Oersian invaders. If you are singing before a panhellenic audience you got to find a way to introduce everyones favorite diety and do full honors to these primordial gods abd goddesses, homer needed some excuse to get Thetis up there!

      Bill

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    2. You are right that Homer needed an excuse to have Thetis on Olympus to quash the attempted revolution. Still, the particular excuse he invented - having Hera (and presumably also Zeus) in loco parentis - seems strange to me.

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  6. As you mentioned, Olympians generally don't bed Nereids. Poseidon did... and what son did he conceive? The merman Triton with a fish tail. Is this environmental or a result of Amphitrite's Pontus-derived, monster-producing genes?
    (My Poseidon after Triton's birth muses that "the child has the same malaise as my wife's brother (i.e. Glaucus), so it seems that one of those things that are transmitted to boys from healthy mothers is running in her family." Prometheus replies - not too wisely - that, given the fact that Poseidon has a Cyclops son from another woman, it is equally likely that his children are predisposed to have fusions of normally paired structures.)
    Anyway, regardless of whether Triton's tail is a Pontus-derived malformation or adaptation for aquatic environment, it makes Triton unable to challenge Zeus' throne. Zeus has neutralized both of his brothers by sending them to their respective domains.

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    1. Maya,

      That last line is brillant! It explains the long held aversion to interbreeding with the Pontides and aversion to even being in the same room with the children of Night! Thanks

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    2. Thank you! We share interest in divine genetics :-).

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  7. Besides the Olympians, heroes also don't bed Nereids. While many other minor water deities married heroes, I know only of the Thetis-Peleus and Psamathe-Aeacus couples between a hero and a Nereid.
    The case of Psamathe and Aeacus puzzles me. You don't expect a goddess to let a mortal, even a great hero, rape her, or if this happens after all, to leave it unpunished. Well, Thetis did it, but this was because Zeus ordered her. What about Psamathe? A cynic would say that if her encounter with Aeacus was a rape, she apparently began to like it. Possibly the transformations were not an attempt to escape but some trial to select those worthy to mate with a shape-shifting goddess.
    To me, Psamathe's story seems either a late and poorly narrated imitation of Thetis' story or, on the contrary, a very ancient myth from which so much has been lost that what remains does not make much sense anymore.

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  8. Maya,

    Aeacus and Peleus both having Nereis wives is exceptional, and mythically unconnected as far as I can find. Makes me wonder who Achilles might have wed in a better world.

    But the short of it is both accounts follow the standard fairy wife motif. Generally the wedding vows include some odd promise from the groom. Peleus interrupting Thetis nursing Achilles with ambrosia and nectar ended tha marriage
    Bill

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  9. The author is nor right that only Hera calls the Titans by name. Zeus once says that if Ares had not been his son, he (Zeus) would have cast him (Ares) beneath all of the Titans. He also mentions Iapetos and Cronus in a threat to Hera.

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  10. It seems to me that Hera's breastmilk brings strength rather than savagery. Not to her own children of course: her daughters have little significance and Ares, the god of war, is a weakling easily defeated by Athena and by a couple of obscure giants. (Hephaestus is not counted because he was not breastfed.) However, in a version of Heracles' myth, his strength is based on being briefly breastfed by Hera. And Thetis, the only goddess nursed by Hera (other than her daughters), is the one destined to produce a son mightier than his father.
    Mythical and folklore characters gain strength more often from environmental and epigenetic than from genetic factors. Diti, the Vedic goddess wishing to produce a son mightier than Indra, tries to do so by prolonging her pregnancy. Many folklore heroes are exceptionally strong as a result of prolonged breastfeeding.

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  11. Maya,

    Zeus put three days effort into the siring of Heracles. As to Hera not nursing Hephaestus, Thetis did, so Hephaestus and Hephaestus both experienced Hera's second milk. Oh wait , there is a theory that it depended which breast Hera gave a child. The left was poisoned. I wonder if beng nursed bt Thetis gave H&A milder personalities than the would have had otherwise?

    Bill

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  12. I also thought of Zeus' long night with Alcmene as an example of epigenetics (though Alcmene was apparently selected, so there was genetics as well).
    Do you think Thetis nursed Hephaestus? She was still a virgin when she cared for him. Can goddesses turn on their lactation when they wish? Demeter didn't nurse Demophoon, she supplied him just with air and fire. Leto didn't nurse even her own children. Holway cites this to claim that goddesses raising glorious sons do so by withdrawing normal maternal care and nurture.
    About the nursing of Achilles - did you mention how in the Argonautica Hera, trying to awaken Thetis' conscience, says that Achilles still craves her milk and should be at her breast?
    Hephaestus indeed is the most good-hearted of all Olympians. As for Achilles - I fear that whatever beneficial effect Thetis' nursing had on him, it was lost when she left him and he was given to Chiron to be fed "entrails of lions and wild boars and marrow of bears" and "bowels of a half-slain she-wolf".

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  13. So we see that popular ways to engineer a strong individual is to prolong conception (Greek myth), pregnancy (Vedic myth) or breastfeeding (folklore).
    A funny coincidence is that, when some lab method should be working but doesn't and the lab isn't funded enough, researchers try to solve the problem by doing the only thing that can be done without funds - prolonging incubation times.

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    1. I forgot an example of prolonged growth (childhood): the Silver generation. However, it was apparently a non-success. In my text: "Athena correctly figured out that the long childhood is one of the preconditions for reasoning ability. So she thought - but this wasn't quite correct - that prolonging childhood will be enough to produce true reasoning. As a result, the "silver" humans remained children, powerless and clueless, for almost a hundred years. Their brains began to degenerate before being fully developed... The next generation of humans had a shorter but better balanced development."
      My Bronze humans develop faster than gods: a 6-yr-old human corresponds to a 10-yr-old god.

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    2. Maya,

      Ten years might not be right. Athena was born fully-armed and fully-grown. Artemis assisted with the birth of her twin brother. Oh wait, girls always mature sooner than boys.

      Bill

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    3. Unfortunately, mythographers rarely give definite time intervals. The version in which Zeus devours Metis is most likely invented by Hesiod. We do not know the normal gestation length for gods (at least I do not), and anyway it would be rush to conclude that the pregnancy that produced Athena would proceed normally after Zeus swallowed her mother. From Hesiod's narrative, it seems that Zeus lays with a lot of females and fathers a lot of other children, including Hebe, Eilethiya and Ares, before Athena is finally born. This makes many years. Athena may have reached term development and then proceeded to adulthood within Zeus' body, like his siblings in Cronus' body.

      As for precocious development in boys, we have Hermes and maybe also Apollo. I say "maybe", because we do not know when Leto returned to Olympus with her children. If this was soon after their birth, then in some versions Apollo killed Python while still in infancy.

      My Artemis uses this episode to prove that her mother was temporarily insane at her time of birth: "Among other things, she says that as she was fleeing, a giant snake named Python was pursuing her. And when I asked where this snake has disappeared later, she said that my brother - the newborn one! - had killed it on the return journey. She also says that, as she landed on that sinister little island with the many names (where her sister Asteria had died), it greeted her with her sister's voice."

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    4. Maya,

      When Hera was "reborn" she was brought up by Oceanus and Tethys. You are probably right. Mythical timelines are always iffy

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  14. Maya,

    I will have to think about this but how about the nature of the conception? Animal form, shoer of gold,etc, etc. or manner of birth; mom's head fut off, hatched frim eggs, etc?
    Bill

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  15. I don't know what to think of Zeus' shape-shifting, because it is associated only with reproduction. When Zeus was captured by Typhon (in one of the versions of their struggle) or bound by conspirators (in the Iliad), it never comes to his head to transform into a bird or a shower of gold and so to escape.

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  16. Maya,

    Maybe that's because Zeus doesnt have the power to do such things. But Eros does! "he is purely the god of sensual love, who bears sway over the inhabitants of Olympus as well as over men and all living creatures: he tames lions and tigers, breaks the thunderbolts of Zeus, deprives Heracles of his arms, and carries on his sport with the monsters of sea."

    Source: Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology

    Bill

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    1. You are right! I hadn't thought of this.

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