George O’Connor continues his twelve-book epic Olympians piecing together the mythology of ancient Greece into a single narrative cycle from :01 Books. Hera the Queen of the Gods heads up the third book, though most readers might be left scratching their heads to think of myths focusing on her. Most of the famous use Hera as the villain or at least the enraged cuckqueen in Zeus’s adultery who seeks vengeance, rampaging anywhere she can.
O’Connor takes Hera in a very different direction and confesses in his author’s note that “Hera is my favorite goddess. Part of it’s because she’s the one person that Zeus well and truly fears. Part of it is that I really like her style.” He points out that Hera does in fact seem to be the jealous shrew-witch of a wife, but it is Zeus who is the one to blame as a terrible and unfaithful husband.
Book III integrates cleanly with Zeus’s Book I, carrying on the overall chronological narration back from the beginning of Zeus’s reign and even showing the same scenes from an opposite direction in clever panel-work by O’Connor. After the disappearance of Zeus’s first queen Metis, he pursues Hera, though Hera demands more: to be his wife. For three hundred years, their marriage is a happy one, but Zeus eventually wanders.
Hera discovers Zeus with the beautiful princess Io, whom Zeus has transformed into a cow in hopes Hera will not catch on. Clearly too clever for such a trick, Hera plays along, suggesting the cow is a gift for her. Zeus begins to protest, but Hera pressures him, even forcing him to admit the cow’s eyes are beautiful (a reference to Hera’s epithet “cow-eyed”). Finally Zeus gives up, and poor Io is dragged away, stuck in her transformed cow shape. Clearly Zeus is an awful boyfriend as well as husband. Hera’s other rivals are shown with similar dire ends, since she cannot truly punish Zeus. She is wrathful, but her wrath always follows injuries against her.
The majority of the book focuses on Heracles, practically giving Hera a backseat in the book meant for her. It shows Heracles the hero, always taking the dangerous path because of the great honor involved in overcoming struggle. Rather than out of lust, Zeus fathers Heracles to ensure the firstborn son of Alcmene, fated to rule all Mycenae, is his. Hera is immediately after Heracles, causing his half-brother to be born first and then attacking him with snakes. It is the first of waves of trouble she dispatches to Heracles, such as his Ten Labors, which become Twelve as two are judged not to count. Heracles kills a lion with invincible skin, slays the hydra, hunts a hallowed stag, cleans stables, journeys to the Underworld, and even holds up the sky.
Hera seems the enemy as Heracles must perform these tasks on her orders to vindicate himself and gain entrance to Olympus. Yet, we are reminded that Heracles is famous for his deeds. If Hera were a kind pushover of a “stepmother” and simply let him into Olympus, there would be no great tales of Heracles. Instead, she made him earn it, and so Heracles, and Hera, are remembered forever.
Four out of Five StarsPowered by Sidelines