Hera (/ˈhɛrə/; Greek Ἥρα, Hēra, equivalently Ἥρη, Hērē, in Ionic and Homer) was the wife and one of three sisters of Zeus in the Olympian pantheon of Greek mythology and religion. Her chief function was as the goddess of women and marriage. Her counterpart in the religion of ancient Rome was Juno. The cow and the peacock were sacred to her. Hera's mother was Rhea and her father Cronus.
Portrayed as majestic and solemn, often enthroned, and crowned with the polos (a high cylindrical crown worn by several of the Great Goddesses), Hera may bear a pomegranate in her hand, emblem of fertile blood and death and a substitute for the narcotic capsule of the opium poppy. A scholar of Greek mythology Walter Burkert writes in Greek Religion, "Nevertheless, there are memories of an earlier aniconic representation, as a pillar in Argos and as a plank in Samos."
Hera was known for her jealous and vengeful nature, most notably against Zeus's lovers and offspring, but also against mortals who crossed her, such as Pelias. Paris offended her by choosing Aphrodite as the most beautiful goddess, earning Hera's hatred.
Hera may have been the first to whom the Greeks dedicated an enclosed roofed temple sanctuary, at Samos about 800 BC. It was replaced later by the Heraion, one of the largest Greek temples anywhere (Greek altars were in front of the temples, under the open sky). There were many temples built on this site so evidence is somewhat confusing and archaeological dates are uncertain. We know that the temple created by the Rhoecus sculptors and architects was destroyed between 570- 60 BC. This was replaced by the Polycratean temple 540-530 BC. In one of these temples we see a forest of 155 columns. There is also no evidence of tiles on this temple suggesting either the temple was never finished or that the temple was open to the sky.
Earlier sanctuaries, whose dedication to Hera is less secure, were of the Mycenaean type called "house sanctuaries". Samos excavations have revealed votive offerings, many of them late 8th and 7th centuries BC, which show that Hera at Samos was not merely a local Greek goddess of the Aegean: the museum there contains figures of gods and suppliants and other votive offerings from Armenia, Babylon, Iran, Assyria, Egypt, testimony to the reputation which this sanctuary of Hera enjoyed and to the large influx of pilgrims. Compared to this mighty goddess, who also possessed the earliest temple at Olympia and two of the great fifth and sixth century temples of Paestum, the termagant of Homer and the myths is an "almost...comic figure" according to Burkert
Though greatest and earliest free-standing temple to Hera was the Heraion of Samos, in the Greek mainland Hera was especially worshipped as "Argive Hera" (Hera Argeia) at her sanctuary that stood between the former Mycenaean city-states of Argos and Mycenae, where the festivals in her honor called Heraia were celebrated. "The three cities I love best," the ox-eyed Queen of Heaven declares (Iliad, book iv) "are Argos, Sparta and Mycenae of the broad streets." There were also temples to Hera in Olympia, Corinth, Tiryns, Perachora and the sacred island of Delos. In Magna Graecia, two Doric temples to Hera were constructed at Paestum, about 550 BC and about 450 BC. One of them, long called the Temple of Poseidon was identified in the 1950s as a second temple there of Hera.
In Euboea the festival of the Great Daedala, sacred to Hera, was celebrated on a sixty-year cycle.
Hera's importance in the early archaic period is attested by the large building projects undertaken in her honor. The temples of Hera in the two main centers of her cult, the Heraion of Samos and the Heraion of Argos in the Argolid, were the very earliest monumental Greek temples constructed, in the 8th century BC.
In Hellenistic imagery, Hera's chariot was pulled by peacocks, birds not known to Greeks before the conquests of Alexander. Alexander's tutor, Aristotle, refers to it as "the Persian bird." The peacock motif was revived in the Renaissance iconography that unified Hera and Juno, and which European painters focused on. A bird that had been associated with Hera on an archaic level, where most of the Aegean goddesses were associated with "their" bird, was the cuckoo, which appears in mythic fragments concerning the first wooing of a virginal Hera by Zeus.
Her archaic association was primarily with cattle, as a Cow Goddess, who was especially venerated in "cattle-rich" Euboea. On Cyprus, very early archaeological sites contain bull skulls that have been adapted for use as masks (see Bull (mythology)). Her familiar Homeric epithet Boôpis, is always translated "cow-eyed", for, like the Greeks of Classical times, its other natural translation "cow-faced" or at least "of cow aspect" is rejected. A cow-headed Hera, like a Minotaur would be at odds with the maternal image of the later classical period. In this respect, Hera bears some resemblance to the Ancient Egyptian deity Hathor, a maternal goddess associated with cattle.
The pomegranate, an ancient emblem of the Great Goddess, remained an emblem of Hera: many of the votive pomegranates and poppy capsules recovered at Samos are made of ivory, which survived burial better than the wooden ones that must have been more common. Like all goddesses, images of Hera might show her wearing a diadem and a veil