Myths of Greece and Rome, by Jane Harrison, , at sacred-texts.com
We pass to Hera, wife of Zeus. At first Hera seems all wife, the great typical bride, and the sacred marriage of Zeus and Hera seems the prototype of human wedlock. So Homer, no doubt, intended us to think, but, if this is really the case what means the ceaseless, turbulent, hostility between Zeus and Hera, the unending, unseemly strife between the Father of gods and men and the woman whom he cannot even beat into submission? Is this tyrannous mistress really made by the Greek housewife even of the Homeric days in her own image? Moreover, at Olympia, where, in historic days, Zeus ruled supreme, Hera had her ancient separate sanctuary, the Heraion, the building of which long predated that of Zeus. At Argos, too, there was an ancient Heraion sacred to the ox-eyed goddess. In Thessaly, in the ancient Argonautic legend, Hera is queen and patron of the hero Jason. Of Zeus we hear nothing. What does it all mean? The answer is clear enough: Hera has been forcibly married, she is an ancient Pelasgian divinity, and when Zeus, the god of the immigrant Achaians, conquers her land, he marries the native princess. But she is never really subject to him. She leaves a wife's submission to the shadowy double of Zeus, Dione. In a word, the unseemly squabblings between Zeus and Hera are
the outcome, not of conjugal jealousy, but of racial rivalry. Hera remains always the turbulent, native princess, coerced, but never really subdued by the alien conqueror.
Hera, then, was Queen in Greece long before the coming of the Achaian Zeus. In those early Pelasgian days, who and what was she? Her name tells us. Hera is Yār-a, the year. Hera is the spirit of the year, the daimon who brings the fruits of the year in their season. As such she has a threefold seasonal aspect. As Stymphalos, in remote Arcadia, Pausanias tells us, Hera had three sanctuaries and three surnames. While yet a girl she was called Child or Maiden, when married she was called Fullgrown, and, separated from her husband, she was called Chera, the desolate one, the Widow. She reflects, then, the three stages of a woman's life, but she reflects also the three seasons, for in antiquity the seasons were three, not four: spring, summer, winter; summer and autumn being regarded together as one season of fruit bearing. In the spring she is Child or Maiden, in summer and autumn she is Fullgrown, and in winter she is a Widow. Her winter desolation reminds us of the mourning of Demeter. This three-seasoned year is dependent on the earlier moon calendar, with its waxing, full, and waning moon.
Of all this nature-aspect of Hera as goddess of the seasons there is in Homer little trace, she has become wholly a human queen. Once only, and that in very beautiful fashion, does the old nature-aspect break through. Zeus the Cloud-gatherer is seated on the topmost peak of Mount Ida, and Hera, clad in all her splendour and girt with the cestus of Aphrodite, approaches him. "And as he saw her, love come over his deep heart." He cast about her a great golden cloud and clasped her as his bride within his arms. "And beneath them the divine earth sent forth fresh, new grass, and
dewy lotus and crocus and hyacinth, thick and soft that raised them aloft from the ground. Therein they lay, and were clad on with a fair golden cloud, whence fell drops of glittering dew." Here manifestly we have the sacred marriage which wakens anew the blossoming earth in a magical spring. Hebe, it may here be noted, the cup-bearer of Olympus, and the daughter of Hera, is but her younger aspect as maiden.