The stages of Hera: deconstructing the sacred marriage
Since the early 19th century, scholarship has been captivated by the idea of the hieros gamos, or ‘sacred marriage’, of Hera, the matrimonial goddess par excellence. Believed to constitute the principal aspect of the goddess’ cultic sphere, the hieros gamos not only refers to her mythological marriage to Zeus, but also its alleged ritual performance at several of Hera’s cult-sites. It is often thought that this ritual involved the traditional stages of the Greek marital ceremony, with Hera’s cult-statue being given a nuptial bath, veiled, conducted in bridal procession, and placed on a decorated marital couch; this is allegedly detectable in literary, iconographic, and archaeological sources. This thesis is a critical examination of the existence of the hieros gamos in Hera’s mythology and cultic sphere. It subjects both modern scholarship and primary evidence to scrutiny and alternate interpretations, focussing on the cult-sites that have traditionally been held to have hosted the hieros gamos ritual: Athens, Plataia, Argos, and Samos. Through the systematic assessment of each piece of evidence substantiating the hieros gamos, the concept is deconstructed into its constituent parts and questioned. I demonstrate that a hieros gamos cannot be justified in its traditional iteration at any of Hera’s cult-sites, nor in her mythology. Rather, the concept itself is received doctrine from 19th century thought, and has ‘matrimonialised’ many elements of the goddess’ cult-worship.