Aug 25, 2014 I Tom Head

The Glory of Hera

This delightful ten-minute bit, sponsored by Jameson’s short film competition, features Uma Thurman as Hera (after a fashion). And it raises some interesting questions about who Hera is, culturally, in a time when reimaginings of Zeus, Hades, and Apollo are pretty common. 


If you read the Greek mythological canon, you’ll come away with two impressions of Hera: either she’s a vindictive “shrew” who irrationally punishes Zeus’ sons because she’s (understandably) upset about the sexual liaisons that produced them, or, if you disregard these sources as transparently misogynistic, she’s a passive, insipid Stepford goddess who tolerates an immense amount of crap from Zeus with very little complaint while doing very little to exercise power on her own behalf. There’s not much of a third option; Zeus was both the central figure in Greek mythology and an objectively terrible husband, and Hera is not given much of an identity independent of her role as his disgruntled consort. 

Take book four of Hesiod’s Theogony, for example, which tells you exactly five things about Hera:

  • She’s Zeus’ wife.
  • She doesn’t like the fact that he cheats on her.
  • She particularly resents the half-god Heracles (Hercules), who is the product of one of these affairs.
  • She created the Hydra and the Nemean lion out of jealous resentment.
  • She has white arms.

This portrayal doesn’t exactly pass the Bechdel test, and most portrayals of Hera fall into this category. And while Hera is technically the goddess of women and brides, Aphrodite is the goddess of beauty and love, Athena the goddess of wisdom and ethics, and Hestia the goddess of the hearth and childbearing; that doesn’t leave much of a domain for Hera, other than griping about her husband’s sexual appetite and acting as a foil for the various innocent bastard demigods produced by same. Even the single Homeric hymn dedicated to Hera mentions only her golden throne and the degree to which she is revered, without suggesting that she in any way earned a golden throne or is revered for any particular reason, other than being married to Zeus. 

But the number of statues and temples dedicated to Hera suggest that the jealousy and marginal villainy of Hera was, in and of itself, seen as something valuable. Maybe Hera is not so much the goddess of brides as the goddess of the right to be indignant, not so much the goddess of marriage as the goddess of not cheating on your wife, and so on. And if that’s the case, Uma Thurman’s comic ten-minute piece on Hera might be a more accurate portrayal than any others we’ve seen in recent years—inasmuch as it celebrates Hera’s messiness, as the Greeks apparently did, rather than trying to make it something else.

Tom Head

Tom Head is an author or coauthor of 29 nonfiction books, columnist, scriptwriter, research paralegal, occasional hellraiser, and proud Jackson native. His book Possessions and Exorcisms (Fact or Fiction?) covers the recent demand for exorcists over the past 30 years and demonic possession.

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