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 nymphs, spirits of woods and wild places, are among the minor figures of Greek myth. They lived in caves or trees, where wild bees and honey were also to be found, so it’s no surprise that a lot of bee lore relates to them.
Human rulers die, and the next generation takes over. Sometimes the older generation gets “helped” off the throne, either by assassination or war. So it’s not surprising that mythology has many versions of this succession story, which rarely involve peaceful inheritance.
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.
Poseidon has three main aspects: sea-god, earth-shaker, and giver of horses. As sea-god he could stir up the waves or calm them, while as the earth-shaker his power was terrifying. Only as the god of horses was Poseidon a clear friend to humans.
There was a discussion recently on the Mythology Stack Exchange about whether Poseidon had been the first head of the Greek pantheon. It’s an interesting question….
You can argue this one in a number of ways. While the name Zeus is clearly Indo-European (one of the very few that is), the name Poseidon, along with his title Earth-Shaker, appears in Mycenean texts from very early times. On the Messenian coast, at least, he seems to have kept his status, and like Zeus he is the father of kings and heroes. (Indeed, the number of his offspring is second only to Zeus’.)
Eagles and thunder-gods often appear together, but in Greek myth the eagle was Zeus’ accomplice as well as his emblem. It stole the beautiful youth Ganymede from his fields and carried him to Olympos to be Zeus’ cupbearer. (Ganymede is also in the heavens, as the constellation Aquarius.)
The eagle also carried out Zeus’ punishment of Prometheus, who stole fire to give to the humans. Zeus had him chained to a cliff face, and the eagle came every day and tore out his liver. Hercules rescued Prometheus as part of his 11th Labour and killed the eagle. Zeus then put it in the sky to reward its faithful service.
The Norse sea-god – if he reminded you of anyone in the Graeco-Roman pantheon, wouldn’t it be Neptune/Poseidon? And yet, when the medieval Icelanders were copying out Greek myths, they explained the god Saturn/Kronos to their readers as “Njord”. What did the two have in common, that Njord would stand for Saturn to an Icelander?