A Nice Story About Zeus and Hera?

Pausanias (2.17.4) describes a statue in a temple to Hera outside of Corinth:


“The statue of Hera—extraordinarily huge—sits on a throne made of gold and ivory, a work of Polykleitos. She has a crown embossed with Graces and the Seasons and carries in one hand a pomegranate fruit and in the other a scepter. I must pass over the reason for the pomegranate, since the tale is protected by sacred rite. But people say that the cuckoo bird sitting on the scepter is Zeus: because he was in love with Hera when she was a maiden and turned himself into this bird which she hunted to have as a pet. I record this story as much as the others of the gods which I offer incredulously—but I record them still.”


τὸ δὲ ἄγαλμα τῆς ῞Ηρας ἐπὶ θρόνου κάθηται μεγέθει μέγα, χρυσοῦ μὲν καὶ ἐλέφαντος, Πολυκλείτου δὲ ἔργον· ἔπεστι δέ οἱ στέφανος Χάριτας ἔχων καὶ ῞Ωρας ἐπειργασμένας, καὶ τῶν χειρῶν τῇ μὲν καρπὸν φέρει ῥοιᾶς, τῇ δὲ σκῆπτρον. τὰ μὲν οὖν ἐς τὴν ῥοιὰν—ἀπορρητότερος γάρ ἐστιν ὁ λόγος—ἀφείσθω μοι· κόκκυγα δὲ ἐπὶ τῷ σκήπτρῳ καθῆσθαί φασι λέγοντες τὸν Δία, ὅτε ἤρα παρθένου τῆς ῞Ηρας, ἐς τοῦτον τὸν ὄρνιθα ἀλλαγῆναι, τὴν δὲ ἅτε παίγνιον θηρᾶσαι. τοῦτον τὸν λόγον καὶ ὅσα ἐοικότα εἴρηται περὶ θεῶν οὐκ ἀποδεχόμενος γράφω, γράφω δὲ οὐδὲν ἧσσον.

There is likely etymological play here with the pomegranate and the cuckoo bird.  Greek for pomegranate seed is κόκκων, κόκκωνος  whereas the cuckoo bird is κόκκυξ, κόκκυγος.

Both words have some antiquity. “Cuckoo” appears in Hes. Works and Days, 486: “when the cuckoo cuckoos on the oak tree’s leaves…” (ἦμος κόκκυξ κοκκύζει δρυὸς ἐν πετάλοισι). For pomegranate seeds we also have the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, where Persephone relays the fact that Hades gave her “a pomegranate seed, a honey-sweet  food…” (ἔμβαλέ μοι ῥοιῆς κόκκον, μελιηδέ’ ἐδωδήν, 412). And, although the passage is in doubt, pomegranate seeds appear in Solon fr. 40 (†κόκκωνας δὲ† ἄλλος, †ἕτερος δὲ σήσαμα). The line is problematic, but Hesychius reads it as “pomegranate seeds”: κόκκωνες: The seeds of the pomegranate. And also from this the misseltoe.” [κόκκωνες· οἱ κόκκοι τῆς ῥοιᾶς. καὶ ὅθεν ἰξός (Solo fr. 40 B.)]

Hera cotta
Hera With Fruit, but no Bird.

3 thoughts on “A Nice Story About Zeus and Hera?

  1. It’s a pity that so much of the true religion of the ancient Greeks was secret (or too sacred) and thus forbidden to be written down. So many people these days don’t understand the difference between the mythic and cultic personae of the Greek gods, and because so little was written down, even those of us looking for the differences…it’s like we’re trying to find things while blindfolded and tied up.

    (Not that I’ve yet actually read much scholarship on the subject, but I know that pretty much every Greek author refused to violate the sacred silence, and wouldn’t write anything down. Except some say Aischylos did once, but the play in question is lost, so that’s neither here nor there. Therefore, everything’s based on archaeological evidence, so…we pretty much *have* to be flying blind…)

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