Category: Gods > The “Twelve” Gods
Hera (gr. Hḗrā, or Hḗrē in the Ionic dialect) is referred to by some beautiful stock phrases in the poems attributed to Homer and Hesiod, which may allows us to form a first image of her. In the Iliad, Odyssey and Homeric Hymns, she is named as:
- “the white-armed goddess (theà leukṓlenos) Hera” (Iliad 1.55, etc.),
- “the cow-eyed lady (boôpis pótnia) Hera” (Iliad 1.551, etc.) or simply “lady Hera” (Iliad 8.198, etc.),
- “golden-throned Hera” (Iliad 1.611, etc.),
- “Hera the august (présba) goddess, the daughter of great Kronos” (Iliad 5.721, etc.)
- “Hera the Argive” (Iliad 5.908), i.e., of the city of Argos, and
- “Hera the gold-sandalled” (Odyssey 11.604, etc.).
In Hesiod, she is called, in addition:
- “Hera, Zeus’ renowned wife (kudrḕ parákoitis)” (Theogony 328), just as “Zeus” is “the loud-thundering spouse of Hera” (Iliad 7.411, etc.).
From these recurrent attributes alone, we can see that the goddess was perceived as powerful, revered and beautiful (in a unique way), and expanding on them only slightly, that she was the daughter of Kronos and Rhea, and the sister and wife of the king of gods, Zeus, with whom she had several children (Hephaestus, Hebe and Eileithyia among them). Besides, we are reminded that even deities worshipped in all ancient Greek regions had special connections to some of these places over others.
Later poets are much less inclined to use the stock titles of early poetry (a shift that is interpreted today as a sign of the transition from oral composition to composition in writing), but still, they sometimes repeat them, sometimes vary them, sometimes add new ones on the same pattern. Apollonius of Rhodes, for instance, calls her “Hera the Pelasgian” (Argonautica 1.14), which as the scholia (ancient explanatory comments) recognise, is only a more learned way to say “Argive”, as Argos was a Pelasgian city. He also calls her “Imbrasian Hera” (Argonautica 1.187), i.e., Hera of Samos, since the island of Samos, like the city of Argos, was sacred to her.
In Latin, where the goddess is called Juno (lat. Iūnō, later Iūno), the same pattern as in later Greek poetry holds: stock phrases are significantly rarer than in the early Greek epics, but they do occur, and sometimes correspond to or resemble the Homeric ones. Vergil, for instance, also calls her “Juno the Argive” (Aeneid 3.547) or, by learned variation, “Inachian Juno” (Georgics 3.153), which means the same thing. Similarly, in abbreviation of “the daughter of great Kronos”, he regularly calls her “Saturnian Juno” (Aeneid 3.380, etc.), since Saturn is the Latin for Kronos.
As in these three examples, the recurrent attributes Vergil gives to the goddess generally consist in a single word; in other words, they are adjectives (or ‘epithets’, to use the original Greek term) rather than whole phrases. The most common epithets stress either her power or greatness (magna, maxima, etc.) or her wrath (saeva, etc.). The last is again a point shared with later Greek epic poetry, where Hera often plays an important role, sometimes positive (as in the Argonautica), but at other times antagonistic.
Before passing from these relatively superficial notes on how the goddess was described in poetry to how that poetry was understood in antiquity, I wish to briefly address something I have so far taken for granted, and will continue to do so throughout the rest of the article; namely that Hera/Juno is one goddess, not a Greek goddess Hera and a Roman goddess Juno.
There will have been a time, one has to suppose, where no one worshipping Hera knew of Juno, and vice versa. This, however, was also a time long before anyone was writing about Juno at all, and in the existing ancient literature from or about Rome, be it written in Latin or Greek, their identity is simply a given. So much so that the Latin name does not even appear in Greek, except as a markedly foreign word, such as when Plutarch writes that “they name Hera Iunonem (Ἰουνῶνεμ)” – where he declines Juno as a Latin word, with a final m that is impermissible in Greek. Likewise, the Greek name only appears in Latin as a foreign word, taken to have the same meaning as the Latin Juno, e.g. Graece Iuno Ἥρα appellatur (“Juno is named Hera in Greek”, Augustine, City of God 10.21).
That there were nevertheless differences between her Greek and Roman worship does not constitute a counterargument, as there were a great variety of bynames and rituals even in individual cities, like Athens or Rome, and divergences in cult between any two Ancient Mediterranean cities, whether they shared language and gods or not. In other words, Juno and Hera are only as different from each other as Juno is from Juno and Hera from Hera. The Punic goddess Caelestis, by contrast, is sometimes identified with Juno, sometimes with other goddesses. Each example of “syncretism” works differently, and has to be considered separately, rather than through some overarching theory.
2 Interpreting Hera/Juno inHomer and Vergil
While it is easy to point out differences between Homer and Vergil, they also throw much light on each other: Homer on Vergil because the Roman poet used Homer as a model, Vergil on Homer because he shows us, indirectly, how Homer was read at the time. By “the time”, I do not mean antiquity as a whole, because of course Vergil’s time was very different from Homer’s. But I would argue that the search for Homer’s original meaning, even granting there is such a thing in poetry to begin with, misses the point. The importance of the Iliad and Odyssey to Greco-Roman culture lay in the fact that these works continued to generate meaning for their readers, in large part due to the efforts of their commentators rather than the qualities of the poetry itself.
Because modern translations of the Iliad or Odyssey are in more or less contemporary English, with a few footnotes at most, it may surprise many to learn that these poems were read and taught in antiquity through the use of voluminous commentaries, or at the very least marginal notations and glossaries. But the Greek used in epic poetry was never anyone’s spoken language, but rather an archaizing artistic mixture of different dialects, and we have abundant evidence that its recitation and reading went hand in hand with oral and written exegesis from early on.
It is through these commentaries that Vergil read Homer, and from them that readers of Vergil began their own parallel tradition of exegesis. Accordingly, it is in the commentaries on Homer and Vergil that we can see the response of readers over the centuries, what they found important, interesting or odd, what they debated and what arguments they used – in short, what the ancients thought their poems meant, which is rather different from what the words on the page of a modern translation mean to a modern reader. Most importantly, for our purposes, they show us that the ancients understood the mythical depictions of the gods in a rather different way from what we might assume. In a word, they did not take the stories literally, but had nuanced ways of referring the different layers of a narrative to different intellectual areas. Some things were taken as fact, others as pure fiction, some taken as straightforwardly meant, others as embellished or purely symbolic.
So it is with Hera/Juno, and (to return to our opening) the interpretation of her epithets and attributes. Some explanations are very straightforward, simply explaining the meanings and connotations of uncommon words, treating the gods as human- or body-shaped (sōmatoeidḗs) just as the expressions of the poets suggest.
presba: Il. 14.194, 14.243, 19.91?
D-Scholia: 5.721.1 <Πρέσβα.> Πρες- βυτάτη. ἔντιμος.
14.194.1 <Πρέσβα.> Ἐντιμοτάτη. Συγκοπὴ τοῦ πρέσβειρα.
19.91.1 <Πρέσβα.> Ἔντιμος.
D-Scholia Il. 1.551: <Βοῶπις.> Εὐόφθαλμος, καλή. <Πότνια.> Σεβασμία, ἔντιμος.
4.50: <Βοῶπις.> Μελανόφθαλμος, καλή.
Σ Il. 1.53 (leuk-, boôp-), 1.55, 4.19; 8.350? 8.484? 19.418?
Il. 14.153; 15.5
D-Scholia 1.55: <Λευκώλενος.> Λευκοβραχίων, ἀπὸ μέρους, καλή. ὁ δὲ τρόπος, 1.55.5 σωματοποιΐα· ὠλέναι γὰρ αἱ χεῖρες.
D-Scholia 1.572: <Λευκωλένῳ.> Λευκοβραχίονι, εὐπρεπεστάτῃ.
D-Scholia 1.611: <Χρυσόθρονος.> Χρυσοῦν θρόνον ἔχουσα, βασιλίς. μᾶλλον δὲ, ἐπειδὴ τὰ πρὸς τῷ αἰθέρι μέρη τοῦ ἀέρος γειτνιῶντα τῷ ἡλίῳ πυρώδη ἐστίν· ὁ γὰρ Ποιητὴς ἀλληγορῶν, τὸν χρυσὸν λαμβάνει ἀντὶ πυρός. <Ἥρη.> Ἥρα. Ἰστέον, ὅτι ἡ ῥαψῳδία αὕτη μόνη παραβολὴν οὐκ ἔχει.
Quote from De Homero.
Anyone who has read Sallustius will know that Hera was associated with the air (as Hephaestus is with fire, Poseidon with water and Hestia, in that instance, with the earth).
because the latter constantly alludes to the former
latter was much influenced by the former, Vergil on Homer because the interpretations of Homer that guide his own writing reflect the way Greco-Roman culture at large understood Homer.
Happily, we are not left to tease all of this out of the poetic texts by ourselves. A substantial body of writing about both Homer and Vergil survives from antiquity, and while it is not always reliable as a guide to the original meaning (if there even is such a thing in poetry), the ancient commentaries on the Iliad and Odyssey were the lense through which Vergil and his contemporaries viewed Homer, and likewise, the ancient tradition of Vergilian exegesis owes a great deal to the Homeric scholarship of its time.
As such, by studying the scholia on Homer and Vergil together, we can gain a much broader understanding of how (for instance) Hera/Juno was understood in Greco-Roman culture than simply by taking the Iliad or Aeneid as texts that explain themselves.
hymns: Homeric, Orphic, Anthologia Latina, Martianus Capella
That is, respectively,
Was often explained by ancient writers as the air or the overseer of air, one of the four classical elements (alongside fire, water and earth).
Is a venerable goddess even just by genealogy, being the daughter of Kronos and Rhea, sister and wife of Zeus – the king of the gods –, and mother of Ares, Hephaestus and several other deities.
And whom Vergil calls:
- “regal (regia) Juno” (Aeneid 1.443, etc.),
- “Saturnian Juno” (Aeneid 3.380, etc.),
- “Juno the great (magna)” (Aeneid 3.437),
- “pronuba Iuno” (A 4.166)
- maxima Iuno (4.371, etc.)
- Iuno omnipotens (4.693)
- ? Iuno victrix (7.544)
bona; saeva, acerba?
caelestum vis (Ausonius)
Servius, Macrobius, others(?) on the numina of Juno
saeva: A 1.4
numina: 1.8 (1.666)
(?) 1.32, 1.42
soror et coniunx: 1.47
aer: 1.71 (also Lact. Plac.!), 1.78
1.75 mentions Iuno Lucina
magna, bona: 1.378
1.734: bona vs. inferna(!)
2.296: Iov. Iun. elsewhere? (Also 2.610?)
magna?: 2.623, 3.12
3.73: Diana, Iuno, Proserpina
magna: supern. 3.437
3.438 loves hymns and prayer
5.679: furoris causa
5.706: magna ira deum
Arg. in Homer scholia
Horace? Donatus? etc?