It’s very hard for us now to reconcile the widespread worship of Hera in ancient Greece with her character as it comes down to us; she seems like the archetypal shrew. If you look her up, the entries focus on her persecution of Hercules and the women Zeus seduced or raped. These stories are well-known, so I want to focus on Hera’s actual cult in this post.
The Erinyes, to give them their Greek name, were avengers, who punished murders and other serious crimes, especially crimes against the family. Blood, both in the sense of blood spilled and kinship, was their concern.
Although it’s common in popular books on mythology to describe the Roman goddess Minerva as a simple copy of the Greek goddess Athena, Minerva evolved as a native Italian goddess, influenced by the Etruscan Menvra.
During my research for my post on Medusa and the Gorgon, I constantly ran into the idea that the Gorgon was a faint echo of an early Mycenean sun-goddess, depicted face-front with radiating (snaky) hair. I could see how that idea might arise, but Athena as sun-goddess struck me as a bit of a reach. After all, Athena wears the Gorgon on her breast as a symbol of the triumph of cunning (metis) over elemental powers. (Deacy: 47)
It must be tempting, though, to invert the Greek beliefs that shaped patriarchal culture, with its binary of sun/reason/male vs. night/emotion/female. Especially in the form of its most complicit goddess, Athena, who upheld father-right against the Furies’s desire to avenge a matricide. (Although kicking Bachofen and his followers comes about 150 years too late.) Feminizing the Greek sun, and connecting it to those elemental powers, may feel like sweet revenge.
I was originally going to call this piece Poseidon’s Scary Girlfriends, with Demeter the Furious and an unnamed Harpy joining Medusa. But when I began researching Medusa I found so many layers of interpretation that it seemed worth going back to the original sources and seeing what went into the myth.
In fact, it seems like there are almost two different myths, one involving a headless demon that terrified all who saw it, and another about the mortal Medusa, who either was a snaky-headed monster or became one.