By Kriti Rana
Demystifier: An ED Original where we take a complex topic but the content is written in such a way that it is knowledgeable and easy to comprehend at the same time.
I was introduced to Greek Mythology when I first read the famed Percy Jackson series. Upon this introduction to the Greek mythology and the Olympian pantheon, I quickly made up my mind about the different Greek gods declaring some of them as my favourites, and disliking the others.
Among the list of gods and goddesses that I took a disliking to was Goddess Hera, the wife of Zeus, a part of the Olympian pantheon and the “queen” of gods. While she has been accorded the status of the queen of the Olympian pantheon by virtue of being the wife of the head of the Olympian pantheon, her authority has always been questioned, directly or indirectly.
Not only has her authority been questioned but her portrayal via myths and their adaptations has largely been negative, representing her as an unnecessarily interfering and conniving goddess.
The Nature of Myths
If one takes these myths at their face value, then the natural reaction is to take a quick disliking towards Goddess Hera. However, the thing about myths is that they should never be taken at their face value.
Different societies at different times have come up with various myths and have modified these myths to suit and to propagate a particular set of ideas. Thus while going through myths, it becomes essential to constantly question yourself “who benefits by this myth?”
Inclusion of Hera in the Olympian Pantheon
But before coming to this question, it is essential to understand why and how Hera became a part of the Olympian Pantheon.
The dominant Greek myths state that Hera was the daughter of Cronos and Rhea (pre- Olympian gods). Zeus, also the son of Cronos and Rhea, pursued Hera constantly but when Hera refused his advances, he transformed himself into a cuckoo bird to get close to Hera and raped her for 300 years after which Hera and Zeus got married.
Now instead of accepting this myth at its face value, we need to question what it represents. The probable explanation states that there existed several cults who worshiped different deities and that the three hundred years of rape and the ultimate marriage exert the victory of the cult following Zeus over that following Hera.
The reason Hera was accorded a status of a goddess and not neglected completely was to “integrate her cult” with the one that worshipped Zeus.
Parallels in the Indian society
Parallels to this can be seen in the Indian Society and the integration of cults which worshipped female goddesses such as Laxmi by making these goddesses the wives or consorts of male Hindu Gods.
Historical evidence suggests that Goddesses such as Laxmi and Parvati were not initially a part of Brahmanical Hinduism. They were given the status of wives of male brahmanical deities to include the cults that worshipped them into the ambit of brahmanical Hinduism. Over generations the power exercised by these goddesses was shifted towards their male counterparts according these male gods greater power and status.
Reasons behind the negative representation of Hera
Now, even after Hera was included in the Olympian Pantheon, her representation has largely been negative. This served two main purposes:
One was that it exerted the power of the worshippers of Zeus over the worshippers of Goddess Hera. By portraying her negatively and diminishing her powers through myths and legends, the influence held by her cult was also significantly reduced and in the end, the role of Hera as a powerful and independent Goddess forgotten.
The other reason is that when a society worships a female deity as the sole goddess without affiliating her to a male god, it shows traces of a non-patriarchal social order. The portrayal of the pillar of this “non-patriarchal” world negatively shows a shift from a non-patriarchal society to an increasingly patriarchal one.
In fact, residuals of this non-patriarchal society can still be seen in Hera when she constantly questions, fights with and disobeys Zeus, which an “ideal wife” according to the standards set by this new patriarchal society wasn’t supposed to do.
So, coming back to the question of who benefits by these myths and the negative representation of Goddess Hera, the answer would be an increasingly patriarchal society trying to drown the voices of powerful female figures.
Thus, contrary to the popular perceptions, Hera is not a “bad” goddess. Her negative portrayal is an outcome of vested interests and the rise of a patriarchal society and if you look hard enough, in Hera you can find residual traces of a non-patriarchal social order.
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