Compare and Contrast the persona of Goddeses Hera and Athena
Comparison and Contrast: Hera and Athena
Greek mythology is a rich and broad subject, encompassing both men and gods in a mélange that makes up a sizeable part of the ancient Greek society. Hence, these series of stories and tales about deities were considered as history by the Greek population, rendering these figures sacred and honoring them in temples and shrines. Consequently, it is safe to say that the ancient Greek religion was not an isolated part of the society. Instead, it was closely intertwined with the lives of men, as they believed that gods were capable of directly influencing their decisions. However, these influences were not otherworldly as those of the current monotheistic religions. Instead, Gods could take human form and meddle in the mortals’ conflicts and lives to favor or disgrace them. For this reason, Greek gods serve as deities tailored to fit their believers. This means that the gods not only have a clear and delimitated function in the polis, but they are also terrene and understandable by the average denizen. Thus, Greeks did not have an almighty, all-seeing God that is clearly superior and sees men as a creation. On the contrary, they had a vast pantheon of gods with particular functions that shared qualities and emotions with them and whose inner politics were close to those of the Greek city-states. Therefore, given the living nature of the ancient Greek mythology and the lack of written records of the gods’ deeds, most of the knowledge regarding mythology comes from the spoken word and a few recounts of ancient writers such as Homer and Hesiod, who narrated the actions of the heroes and men, establishing a pattern of the relation between men and gods (Fowler 21). Now, given the anthropomorphic nature of the Greek deities, each one of them had a role. This essay is centered in two goddesses, Athena, and Hera, aiming to compare and contrast both goddesses regarding their behavior and their duties.
On one hand, Hera, the goddess of family, marriage and childbirth serves as the archetype of the faithful woman who relinquishes everything to keep its family (e.g. the Olympians) together and while suffers from the continuous Zeus’ infidelities, she punishes the God for his behavior by interfering with his plans and managing to outwit him often with the help of other gods. This is particularly interesting as it shows that the Olympians are not as united as most people would believe and despite their great family bonds, wars and fights ensued among their ranks. Hence, the need for a family figure that kept them together as a united front. The origins of Hera as a goddess are varied, but according to Graves, she was a daughter of Cronus and Rhea, like Zeus, who eventually attempted to court her and ravished her when she refused his advances (Graves 32). After the event, the gods shamed Hera into marrying Zeus, and they fathered Ares, Hephaestus, and Hebe. While it is possible that Hera did not want to marry Zeus, she did, and their marriage was often tumultuous with Hera attempting to trump Zeus’ plans and shaming him in front of the other gods for his continuous infidelities. Therefore, when Hera failed to capture Zeus, and he punished her by hanging her up from the sky, this marks the last female attempt to defeat a male god and the terminal strip of the divine power of the goddess who had to swear she would not rebel again against the god of the skies. This presents a fascinating aspect of the Greek mythology as it shows how the balance of power changed from a gynocentric religion to a phallocentric one, with Zeus at the premier spot.
On the other hand, Athena represents a sort of revival of the women in the power balance between the Olympians. Representing wisdom, courage, law and war, the goddess was among the most important deities of the Greek pantheon. Also, given her calm and just behavior, she was also regarded as the patron of heroes and heroic deeds, often fighting alongside his favorites in their confrontations. Likewise, she is portrayed as a multifaceted goddess capable of war, but at the same time of peace, exerting justice and might in equal parts. The recounts of Athena’s born are varied as well, but Hesiod said that she was born of Zeus and Metis, his first wife, whom Zeus swallowed instigated by Gaea and Uranus, given a prophecy that said that the child Metis bore in her womb was going to be crowned as the king of heavens. Hence, to trump the fate Zeus decided to father Athena on his own (Hesiod 889). Also, another set of recounts places Hephaestus in the scene, cutting Athena out of his father’s head with a double-edged ax. It is clear that the nature of Athena’s birth put her among the favorites of Zeus and gave her many of the characteristics we have known her for, such as her prowess, wisdom, and masculinity (Morford & Lenardon 158). Hence, it becomes clearer how his feminine nature tries to be covered by her manly antics and traits. However, she is still regarded as a female in the mythology, and although cunning and intelligent she still possess female characteristics such as kindness and justice.
Therefore, both goddesses although different in characteristics, lore and traits, share features that make them similar. For instance, both represent strong female figures in the Greek mythology that although highly phallocentric, allowed two goddesses to have a prominent role in the lives of the Olympians and men alike. For this reason, Hera and Athena are often depicted as patrons of cities, as their feminine nature made them more suitable for the task of guarding a city, a situation that most male gods would have considered inferior. In addition, the Athena was a virgin and Hera was the goddess of marriage and family, which means that she maintained the traditions of monogamy and the sacred nature of marriage as a way to keep the society, something that Athena, given his virginal nature, was likely to agree and uphold (Graves 33). In the end, both women represent the values that women are supposed to follow and believe. On one hand we have Athena, a war goddess meant to serve as a counterweight to the hot-headed Ares. A deity capable of helping her favorites and favor them without meddling and destroying their lives. On the other, we have Hera, the goddess of marriage and family. While they represent different values, these values can be combined and contrasted to offer Zeus, the god of the skies, sound advice that is likely to work against the plots of the rest of the gods. Without courage and wisdom, no battle can be won, but without a force that keeps all the Olympians together, there would be no gods either.
Fowler, R.L. “Thoughts on Myth and Religion in Early Greek Historiography.” University of Valladolid, 2009. Web. <http://dialnet.unirioja.es/descarga/articulo/3095199.pdf.>.
Graves, Robert. The Greek Myths. Baltimore: Penguin, 1955. Print.
Morford, Mark P. O., and Robert J. Lenardon. Classical Mythology. 7th ed. New York: Longman, 2003. Print.
Hesiod, and West, M. L., trans. Theogony. Special ed. Oxford:Clarendon, 1997. Print.