Athena's Web Weekly Column

Week of February 15th, - February 21st, 2008

The Glory of Hera

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Heracles (Hercules)


Hera (Juno)

  Most people today think of him as Hercules, but the Greeks called him Heracles, a muscle bound figure whose name translates as 'The Glory of Hera.' How is it that these two personalities, who seemed to hold such animosity towards each other, should be bound by a name which seems to imply just the reverse?

  Heracles is the bastard child of Zeus, therefore automatically incurring Hera's wrath. Hera is the legal wife of Zeus, the goddess of wives everywhere. The mere mention of Heracles is an insult to Hera and all she stands for. Throughout their 'relationship', Hera drives Heracles mad, and if a fit of blindness, his unleashed size and power lash out to devestating effect. Life will drive you nuts. Zeus is King of Heaven, Hera his queen. Her roots are as the wisdom and power that accompanies knowledge of the rotation of the night sky and all the children that ride along with her.

  Zeus is very proud of his son, and wants the best for Heracles. While still a child, Zeus placed him at Hera's breast while she slept. The child sucked at the divine milk, but he was so rough (one illustration showed a bearded baby Heracles at her breast) he woke Hera up and she quickly pushed him away, spilling the stars of the Milky Way all across the sky. She can do that because she is the Queen of Heaven. The Milky Way is but one small part of her power and glory.

L'enfant Hercules eyeing the serpent

L'enfant Hercules eyeing the serpent

  Hercules is a child of the sky. He is one of the oldest constellational figures. If we examine the clues around his birth, we are being told the story of Heracles origins.

  He was born of the sky as one of fraternal twins. He was born as Spring moved through the constellation of the Twins. While still a child, Hera (the Night Sky) sent two serpents into his crib where he and his brother were sleeping. They woke up. The mortal brother started to cry and climb out of the crib, while Heracles simply grabbed the two serpents by the neck and throttled them. The constellation of Hercules is right between the great serpent (Draco) and another serpent (Serpens). If he reached out in either direction, he could grab the head of a serpent. And all of this while standing on his head.

  The image of the infant Heracles in his crib, with a live serpent in either hand is repeated in the image of the bare-breasted Minoan goddess holding aloft a serpent in each hand. Think of it as Hera holding aloft the serpents. They are metaphors for the stars of the night sky, which is often cloaked in cloud.

  Once again we are seeing our 'center and circle' analogy in heaven, told in the stories of their time. Heracles is born of twins as Spring moves through the constellation Gemini while the North Celestial Pole aligns with Draco, the great serpent. He is the child of Zeus,

Hera's La Via Lactea

Hera's La Via Lactea

being put to the test by Hera, the night sky. It is Hera who sets up the need for the 12 labors (related to the 12 constellations or months of the year) as marked by the night sky. He triumphs over each, becoming her Glory.

  We know that after his death and ascension, he and Hera are reconciled, and she even gives him Hebe, the goddess of youth, as a bride. He has passed the test. All the tests, actually.

  In a time when duality was held in reverence, when the Twins were rising in Spring, the number two was sacred. It was heaven's will. These Twins are so attached to each other that when one rises, the other is close behind; when one sets (or dies in classical thinking), the other follows. Myths say the same of the Dioscuri (the Roman Twins).

  In a time when two was sacred. Time was divided into two; there were two new years. In Celtic tradition, we see this as May Day and Halloween. In later Judaic tradition, we see this as Passover and Rosh Hashana. While neither of these cultures extend back to the Spring of the Twins, the calendrical systems they use is an older one reflecting this heavenly sentiment. Two years in one. Time, the calendar and the year were to be divided in two.


Heracles (Hercules)
Note his head beside the Milky Way (La Voye Lactee)
The head of Draco is under the non-kneeling foot
The head of the serpent (Serpens) is under the arm holding the club

  For the peoples living between 6300 and 4800 BC, the constellation Hercules (it was not called by that name at the time) marked the half-way point as a constellation. It divided the year in two.

  If we examine the myth of Heracles and his battle with the river god Achelous in this new light, the story starts to make some sense. Achelous is the largest fresh water river in Greece, located in Aitolia in the central part of the country. Taken metaphorically, he was sometimes thought of as representing all the rivers in Greece. According to myth, Achelous had the ability to change his shape. Both Achelous and Heracles vied for the hand of Deianeira, who lamented:

'My suitor was the river Achelous,
who took three forms to ask me of my father:
a rambling bull once, then a writhing snake
of gleaming colors, then again a man
with ox-like face:
and from his beard's dark shadows
stream upon stream of water tumbled down.
Such was my suitor.'
(Sophocles, Trachiniae)

  Heracles is born of the Time of the Twins, (c. 6300 BC to 4800 BC). Achelous is part of a later epoch. Both the rambling bull and man with an ox-like face are part of this Spring time clock. The bull themes suggest a contest taking place sometime between 4200 and 2300 BC during Spring's passage through the stars of the Bull. Since the face and horn are specifically referenced (say where the horn was broken off) the myth seems to be suggesting a period around 3100 BC. The writhing snake, of course, is the return of our Center (North Celestial Pole) and Circle (Equator) themes.

  To simply translate; the use of the calendar brought a new system of agricultural development to the Achelous river valley (or to the rivers of Greece) which blossomed into a cornucopia of earthly foods and delights. Whether it was using the stars and the calendar to help plan the agricultural year in a coordinated effort, or whether they had learned to deal with the annual flooding and harvest, a problem had been overcome, and a cornucopia left in its wake.

Akheloos, the largest fresh water river in Greece

The river Achelous

Perhaps it was the coordination of a spring and fall planting, each at opposite ends of the year. These, at any rate seem to be some of the notions encoded into a seasonal look at this tale.

  Unlike the constellations Sagittarius or Ophiuchus, which also marked the autumnal equinox from 6300 to 4800 BC, Hercules was circumpolar, and could be observed all year long. He is, therefore, of much better use as a seasonal timekeeper. Due to precessional motion, he was much higher in the sky, and therefore closer to the pole than he is now.

  When Hera, Queen of the Night sent those serpents, she was enlisting the aid of a number of stars of various constellations.

  And he split those serpents right down the middle.

  The glory of the night sky guy.


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