Today’s topic is one that I enjoy quite a bit because it is one that helps me discover more about Hera and how people actually viewed her in the past. It is about the epithets that are used about her. There were a good many of them, including one that I had used in personal worship before finding out that it was one of her ancient titles as well. These epithets tend to be able to be sorted into categories.
The first category is one where the titles are based on womanhood and her status as a “woman”. These include titles that SEEM to actually conform to the common trope of a Goddess being “Maiden, Mother, Crone” but as there are more titles than simply those in this category, I still hold that trope to be more of an artistic invention than anything else. Hera is called Pais, “Child”; Nympheuomene, “Betrothed Bride”; Teleia, “Adult Woman”; and Chera, “Widow” (referring to Her separation from Zeus in some of the myths). She is also known as Gamelia, “of Marriage”; Ataurote, “Unbulled” or “Virginal” (this is due to the male genitals being compared to a bull); and Zygia, “Yoked”.
The second category could be considered to be titles based on cult centers such as Argos. They include: Argeia, Samia, Olympia, and Pharygaia. As you can see, these epithets are more easily “translated” by modern standards. They are still important to the modern study of this Goddess as they show how widely her cult in Greece actually was. In point of fact, during the battle of Platea (Persian war against Xerxes), Pausanias is said to have prayed to Kithaironion Hera that if the Greeks were not victorious, that at least She allow them to do great deeds. Shortly afterwards, the Greeks were victorious.
The next category are more based on either divine functions or patronage. They include Henioche, “of the chariot” which suggests that Hera protected charioteers. This is interesting in light of the myth in which Hera was Athena’s charioteer during the Trojan war. Hera is called Antheia, “of the flowers”, which seems to tie into her titles of Pais and Nympheuomene, but also is mirrored in one of the cult titles of Persephone where that goddess is referred to as the Chthonic version of Hera. It should not be a surprise that she was referred to as Argoia, “of the ship Argo” due to her patronage of the Thessalian hero Jason in his quest for the Golden Fleece. And, in Sparta specifically, Hera was known as Hyperkheiria, “whose hand is above” in reference to an oracle telling the Spartans that Hera had protected them during a flood — and that they should build a temple in Her honor.
The last category is one that seems to be derived from more widely based things, such as the location of some of Hera’s temples on hills. The title of Acreie, (0r Acreia) “of the Heights” — which incidentally is the title that I referred to at the beginning of this entry — is a good example of this. Other titles include: Prodromia, “of the Pioneer”, which I interpret as potentially the title of Hera insofar as she guided explorers to the sites where they were to found new cities; and Aigophagos, “goat-eater”, for which I have no explanation except that perhaps in some of her cult centers goats may have been a preferred sacrifice.
The wide variety of cult titles and the various things that these epithets refer to is breathtaking. It is also an indication that contrary to more modern two-dimensional portrayals of Hera, she was a goddess that was honored for her positive aspects in many places throughout Greece (and indeed throughout much of the Mediterranean, both before and during the Roman Imperial era).