10 Most Famous Myths Featuring The Greek Goddess Hera

In Greek mythology, Hera was the goddess of women, marriage, family and childbirth. She was the sister and wife of Zeus, the king of the Gods. Zeus tricked her into marrying him and due to this, she even planned an uprising against him. There are numerous myths featuring Hera and many of them are regarding her jealousy against the scores of women with whom Zeus had affairs. In most of these myths, Hera plotted the demise or cursed these women. Hera also played a key role in the Trojan War doing her best to ensure that the Greeks would eventually win the war. Here are the 10 most famous myths featuring the Greek Goddess Hera including her marriage to Zeus; her rebellion against him; Hera and Hercules; the Golden Apple of Discord; and her role in the Trojan War.

#1 Hera And Zeus

Hera was one of the sisters of Zeus. Zeus fell in love with her but she refused his advances. Zeus knew that Hera had great love for animals and other beings. He transformed himself as a cuckoo, flew outside her window and pretended to be in distress due to the cold. Hera felt pity for the bird, took it inside and held it to her breast to warm it. Zeus then transformed back into himself and raped her. Hera, ashamed of being exploited, agreed to marriage with Zeus. By most accounts, Hera gave Zeus four children: Ares, the god of war; Eileithyia, the goddess of childbirth; Hebe, the goddess of eternal youth; and Hephaestus, the god of fire.

Statue of Zeus And Hera
Statue of Zeus And Hera

#2 Hera’s Rebellion Against Zeus

Though Hera remained faithful to Zeus, Zeus often betrayed her by sleeping with others. Also, she never forgot how Zeus had tricked her to marry him. So, when Zeus was harsh on the other gods, Hera talked them into a revolt against Zeus. Hera drugged Zeus and the other gods bound him on his bed and stole his thunderbolt. However, Briareus, who had been freed by Zeus from the prison Tartarus, overheard their conversation and realized that Zeus was tied. He sneaked in and untied the king of the gods. Zeus woke up and was furious. He hung Hera from the heavens with golden shackles. Hera cried all night but no one dared to help her. The next day Zeus showed her mercy and released her but only after he made her swear that she would never again plot and rebel against him.

Statue of Hera at Louvre
Statue of Hera at the Louvre, Paris

#3 Hera And Semele

Semele was a priestess of Zeus. Once, while flying in the form of an eagle, Zeus fell in love with her. They became lovers and soon Semele became pregnant with his child. As Semele started boasting that Zeus was her lover, Hera discovered his affair. She disguised herself as a human nurse and befriended Semele. When Semele confided in her that her lover was actually Zeus, she pretended not to believe and asked her to demand Zeus to reveal himself in all his glory. When Zeus visited Semele the next time, she asked him for a boom which he granted out of love. She then begged him to show her his true godly form. Unable to break a promise, Zeus revealed himself to Semele. She could not handle the glorious sight and was consequently burned to death. Zeus was however able to save her child by sewing the fetal into his thigh. This led to the birth of Dionysus a few months later.

Death of Semele
Death of Semele – Painting by Peter Paul Rubens

#4 Hera and Io

When her husband Zeus had just married Io, Hera tried to catch him with her. Watching her come, and afraid of her wrath, Zeus turned Io into a snow-white cow. However, Hera was not fooled and demanded Zeus to give her the cow as a present. Zeus could not refuse and as a result, Hera came into possession of the transformed Io. She tied the cow to a tree and sent her servant Argus to watch Io and keep her away from Zeus. Argus had a hundred eyes all over his body, and he only closed half of them at a time. This made it impossible for Io to escape his watch. Zeus asked Hermes to kill Argus and rescue Io, which he did by lulling all one hundred eyes into eternal sleep. Eventually, Io made it to Egypt where she was named Isis and was worshiped. Hera eventually permitted Zeus to turn Io back into her human form, but only on the condition that he would never look at her again.

Hera and Io
Hera and Io – Painting by Nicolaes Pietersz Berchem the Younger

#5 Hera and Hercules

Heracles or Hercules was Hera’s stepchild, and her nemesis in many ways. While Hercules was an infant, Hera sent two snakes to kill him while he was lying in his cot. Hercules, however, was born with extraordinary strength and throttled the snakes with his bare hands. When Hercules became an adult, it was Hera who drove him to insanity which caused him to murder his entire family and then undertake the famous “Labor of Hercules”. Once again, Hera tried to make his 12 labors as difficult as possible. After Hercules death, all that remained was his immortal spirit and he finally became a full god and joined his father Zeus on Mount Olympus, where he married his fourth and final wife, Hebe. It was only after Hercules died and came to live atop Mount Olympus that Hera finally reconciled with him.

Hercules Hera snakes
Hercules strangling the snakes sent by Hera

#6 Hera and Leto

In ancient Greek myths, Leto was the representation of motherhood. She had a relationship with Hera’s husband Zeus. Hera became extremely jealous when she discovered that Leto was pregnant with the child of Zeus. She managed to persuade the nature spirits to prevent Leto from giving birth on the mainland, any island at sea, or any place under the sun. However, Poseidon pitied Leto and sent her to Delos; a floating island that was neither mainland nor a real island. It was at Delos that Leto gave birth to twins, Artemis and Apollo. According to legend Artemis was born first and helped her mother give birth to Apollo. After this, Hera convinced Tityos, an earth-born giant, to try and rape Leto but he was killed by Apollo.

#7 Hera and Tiresias

Hera’s wrath was infamous, and it sometimes didn’t spare even those she was ordinarily fond of. The story of Tiresias is one such example. Tiresias was the son of the shepherd Everes and the nymph Chariclo. While he was a young man, he saw two snakes mating and decided to hit them with a stick. Hera cursed him as a result and transformed him into a woman. As a woman, Tiresias became a priestess of Hera. After seven years as a woman, he found a pair of snakes mating again. This time he left them alone, and became a man again. Since Tiresias had experienced life both as a man and a woman, Zeus and Hera asked him to decide which gender experienced more pleasure during sexual intercourse. Zeus claimed it was women while Hera said it was men. When Tiresias said it was women, Hera got so angry that she struck him blind. Zeus couldn’t undo the curse but he decided to give him the gift of prophecy instead.

Tiresias striking snakes
Engraving of Tiresias striking two snakes with a stick

#8 Hera and Lamia

Lamia was a Libyan queen, who was the daughter of King Belus of Egypt and Lybie. Zeus was strongly infatuated with her and according to some sources, even took her to Italy as a result of which the city of Lamos was named after her. Naturally, this provoked Hera’s wrath and she ended up murdering Lamia’s children. Lamia was so grief-stricken that she turned into a monster who was envious of other women’s children and started hunting and eating them up. It is also said that Hera cursed Lamia with the inability to close her eyes so that she would always obsess over the image of her dead children. Taking pity on her, Zeus gave her the ability to take her eyes out to rest and put them back in afterwards.

Lamia - Herbert James Draper
Lamia – Painting by Herbert James Draper

#9 Golden Apple of Discord

Eris, the Goddess of Discord, was prevented from attending the wedding of Peleus and Thetis. Being insulted like this, she threw her wedding gift from outside the door. This gift was a golden apple and had the engraving “To the fairest of them all”. The three goddesses Aphrodite, Hera and Athena all fought over this “Golden Apple of Discord”, each claiming to be the fairest and thereby the rightful recipient of the apple. They asked Zeus to decide who the rightful owner of the apple. However, sensibly, he decided not to interfere and asked Paris, the Trojan prince, to make the decision instead. Aphrodite bribed Paris by promising him that he would marry the most beautiful mortal woman in the world, and he ended up giving the Golden Apple to her. This made Hera begrudge Paris in a big way, which ended up affecting the outcome of the Trojan War.

The Judgement of Paris - Peter Paul Rubens
The Judgement of Paris – Painting by Peter Paul Rubens

#10 Hera In The Trojan War

Hera never forgave Paris for choosing Aphrodite over her so when the Trojan War took place, she did everything in her power to prevent the Trojans from winning. Her husband Zeus sided with the Trojans so she distracted and even deceived him while the War was on, enabling the Greeks to get the upper hand. When Zeus declared that the Gods shouldn’t interfere in the Trojan War, Hera seduced him with the help of Aphrodite and then tricked him into a deep sleep with the help of Hypnos. This meant that the Gods could now interfere in the War without any fear of Zeus, which tipped the balance in favor of the Greeks. What’s more, when her son Ares, the God of War, was fighting on behalf of the Trojan army, she drove him off the battlefield herself. Through her indirect deceptions as well as direct intervention, Hera did her best to ensure that the Greeks would eventually win the Trojan War.

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