Explaining the Cuckoo: Women Know Everything

Scholion on Theokritos, Idylls 15.64

“Women know everything, even how Zeus married Hera.”

Homer has, “They traveled together to bed, avoiding their parents’ notice”. Aristokles in his work “On the Cults of Hermione”, provides something of an odd tale about the marriage of Zeus and Hera. For, as the story goes, Zeus was planning on having sex with Hera when he noticed that she was separated from the other gods. Because he did not want to be obvious and did not want to be seen by her, he changed his appearance into a cuckoo and was waiting on a mountain which was first called Thornax but is now just called Cuckoo.

Zeus made a terrible storm on that day and when Hera was going toward the mountain alone, she stopped at the very place where there is currently a temple to Hera Teleia. The cuckoo, flew down and sat on her lap when he saw her, shivering and freezing because of the weather. Hera saw the bird and pitied him and covered him with her cloak. Then Zeus suddenly transformed his appearance and grabbed a hold of Hera. Because she was refusing him due to their mother, he promised that he would marry her.

Among the Argives, who honor the goddess the most of all the Greeks, the cult image of Hera sits in the temple on a throne holding a scepter in one hand on which a cuckoo is seated.”

πάντα γυναῖκες ἴσαντι, καὶ ὡς Ζεὺς ἀγάγεθ᾽ ῞Ηραν] … ῞Ομηρος «εἰς εὐνὴν φοιτῶντε φίλους λήθοντο τοκῆας.» ᾽Αριστοκλῆς δὲ ἐν τῶι Περὶ τῶν ῾Ερμιόνης ἱερῶν ἰδιωτέρως ἱστορεῖ περὶ τοῦ Διὸς καὶ [τοῦ τῆς] ῞Ηρας γάμου. τὸν γὰρ Δία μυθολογεῖται ἐπιβουλεύειν τῆι ῞Ηραι μιγῆναι, ὅτε αὐτὴν ἴδοι χωρισθεῖσαν ἀπὸ τῶν ἄλλων θεῶν. βουλόμενος δὲ ἀφανὴς γενέσθαι καὶ μὴ ὀφθῆναι ὑπ᾽ αὐτῆς τὴν ὄψιν μεταβάλλει εἰς κόκκυγα καὶ καθέζεται εἰς ὄρος, ὃ πρῶτον μὲν Θόρναξ ἐκαλεῖτο, νῦν δὲ Κόκκυξ. τὸν δὲ Δία χειμῶνα δεινὸν ποιῆσαι τῆι ἡμέραι ἐκείνηι· τὴν δὲ ῞Ηραν πορευομένην μόνην ἀφικέσθαι πρὸς τὸ ὄρος καὶ καθέζεσθαι εἰς αὐτό, ὅπου νῦν ἐστιν ἱερὸν ῞Ηρας Τελείας. τὸν δὲ κόκκυγα ἰδόντα καταπετασθῆναι καὶ καθεσθῆναι ἐπὶ τὰ γόνατα αὐτῆς πεφρικότα καὶ ῥιγῶντα ὑπὸ τοῦ χειμῶνος. τὴν δὲ ῞Ηραν ἰδοῦσαν αὐτὸν οἰκτεῖραι καὶ περιβαλεῖν τῆι ἀμπεχόνηι. τὸν δὲ Δία εὐθέως μεταβαλεῖν τὴν ὄψιν καὶ ἐπιλαβέσθαι τῆς ῞Ηρας. τῆς δὲ τὴν μίξιν παραιτουμένης διὰ τὴν μητέρα, αὐτὸν ὑποσχέσθαι γυναῖκα αὐτὴν ποιήσασθαι. καὶ παρ᾽ ᾽Αργείοις δέ, οἳ μέγιστα τῶν ῾Ελλήνων τιμῶσι τὴν θεόν, τὸ [δὲ] ἄγαλμα τῆς ῞Ηρας ἐν τῶι ναῶι καθήμενον ἐν τῶι θρόνωι τῆι χειρὶ ἔχει σκῆπτρον, καὶ ἐπ᾽ αὐτῶι τῶι σκήπτρωι κόκκυξ.

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.

 

Jupiter and Juno on Mt. Ida, by James Barry (1773)

 

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