Over the weekend, I somehow wound up party to a debate featuring a man claiming that Zeus was somehow not a Sky Father. Which, needless to say, is a contention that I strongly oppose. Zeus Pater is quite clearly one of the Greek expressions of the Indo-European Sky Father – as we can see via not only linguistic, but also mythic and theological analysis. But that is not the purpose of this piece. Which instead uses another claim that he had made as a springboard to discuss another.
One of the points he advanced in service of this .. peculiar perspective, concerned the figure of Hera. He appeared to be insinuating that as the Sky Father has as counterpart and consort an Earth Mother – the fact that Gaia is quite clearly an Earth Mother, would vitiate Hera occupying this position … and therefore similarly disqualify Zeus from being the Greek Dyaus Pitar.
Or, as he put it – “Shall I also be tasked to defend why Hera is not Prthivi with Gaia also sitting right there?”
My reply begins:
Now, as it happens .. you’re *partially* correct. I stress that it is partial.
Here’s the thing. The Greek (and broader Classical) mythology that we have is not really, as people often like to think, a fixed and monolithic thing. Rather, it’s the result of about a thousand years worth of texts that all present materials that were known and in circulation amidst the local communities of the writers (or attempt to bring together a patchwork of these from across a broader sphere).
This creates some interesting issues of exegesis and theology – because what one group of Greeks called a particular divinity might be slightly or well more than slightly different to what another group of Greeks or Greek-adjacent people called the figure. And may have not entirely coterminous attributes, mythology, and means of worship for same.
So, for example, if we are looking for an Earth Mother deific in the Greek mythology – there are a number of potential figures. Gaia is one. Rhea another. Demeter a third. Persephone is also valid. As is Cybele.
Now, you may say that that is absurd – as everybody knows that Persephone is the Daughter of Demeter, so how can these be the same. Except that’s just it. The mythologies are seriously inconsistent. Not so much about some of the occurrences in question – just Who was involved in these.
So some mythic occurrences featuring Zeus, we find Hades or Poseidon in the same role [which is understandable, there was a still-remembered belief in Classical times of all Three actually being One – and yes, we have scriptural attestations upon the matter]; and we have various of those Earth Mother deific candidates aforementioned in almost interchangeable manner occupying the same position in various tellings of the myths in question [and to this we should also make note of Semele, one of the Mother figures for Dionysus – because of course, this too is an ‘Earth’ name [c.f Russian ‘Zemyla’, or the ‘Zeme’ of Lithuanian ‘ZemePatis’], etc.]
As applies the matter under discussion, it is presumably important to not that various of the accounts I am thinking of are of a ‘romantic’ nature. Thus further demonstrating that Zeus as the Sky Father is a viable prospect – because of the linkage in these textual accounts to the Earth Mother(s).
In short – in the Greek mythology, we can often identify the same underlying deific ‘informing’ multiple perceptions and expressions simultaneously.
This is similar, but also different, to the comparable phenomenon within the Hindusphere – wherein we can observe that Rudra is Dyaus (not least because this is stated directly in scripture), Prithvi is Parvati, etc. … because whereas in the Hindu case, what we are often witnessing is a deliberate focus upon particular Aspects of the same deity, and known to be that – in the Greek cases, we not only have that occurring, but also these aforementioned endeavours to reconcile an array of local traditions where the essential unity of the underlying deifics in question may no longer be immediately obvious to the writers. Which doesn’t stop them, upon occasion, from making a stab at stating that that is what is happening, or simply mentioning that accounts differ as to which of two or more deifics was actually involved in the instance in question.
Now, why I have raised all of the above – is because it is necessary to note that just because there is a Gaia … this does NOT mean that the *only* Greek cognate for Prithvi is Gaia. Other deific figures known to the Greeks also are non-exclusively identifiable as the relevant Indo-European Goddess.
However, speaking of Her – it is worth noting that the situation is even more complex than that again. For you see, what we often conveniently and short-handedly label as the “Earth Mother” deific … is not only the Earth Mother – but also the Waters, and the Sky. And yes, we have the quite direct Vedic attestations for this.
Some IE descendant cultures have focused more upon particular understandings drawn from that suite – so, for instance, the Ju- of Juno is shared with Jupiter [Dyaus Pitar, again] – and denotes the ‘Sky Mother’ typology being referenced via the theonym. As we also see with Dione , and I have suspected may also explain the “De-” of “Demeter” (although I accept that this is somewhat contentious – there’s quite some academic back-and-forth about whether the “De-” in question can actually represent “Ge-” (as in “Gaia”) or whether this is linguistically impossible, and a “Grain-Mother” interpretation of the theonym is more warranted).
The clearest expression of this typology would likely be Vedic Aditi – and, of course, Her Scythian equivalent, Tabiti. The Radiant Queen of the Heavens.
The Danann of Tuatha De Danann fame, the Danu of the Vedic sphere, and the Scythian Dragon-Mother, are prominent expressions of this Waters-Mother understanding of the Goddess. As is, I would contend, the Danae that is Mother to Perseus.
Where am I going with this? Well, you pointed to Hera and said that this was not an equivalent for Prithvi, especially in light of Gaia; and sought to infer from this that the identification of Zeus as Sky Father was thusly problematic.
Except here’s the thing. As we have demonstrated [or, rather, as I can go off and dig up the literal litany of Vedic scriptural materials to bombard you with should this prove necessary – or, you can take my word for it] , the Same Goddess can be expressed and understood via these different ‘facings’. Sky, Earth, Water. Funnily enough, the same three ‘facings’ that we see with Zeus, Hades, Poseidon.
So the existence of Gaia does not, ipso facto, prove that Hera is not the same Goddess as Prithvi. Rather, it just demonstrates that the Earth facing (Prithvi) of the Goddess has a Greek equivalent Earth facing – one, as we have seen, of several that are non-mutually exclusive.
Further theological analysis, that I have not (yet) engaged in, would be necessary to determine just where Hera would best align in terms of this broad-spectra typology for the Goddess Whose Consort Is The Sky Father.
I would *tentatively* hypothesize that as we saw with “Ju-” of “Juno” or “Di-” of “Dione” , that the “He-” of “Hera” may have some degree of connexion to the “He-” of “Hemera” ; and would therefore connect, once again, to the Daylight Sky and to Warmth and Light (PIE: ‘Heh’ – ‘To Burn’ – like Heat); in a not entirely dissimilar manner to what we see where PIE ‘Tep’ (‘Warmth’ – like Tepid; also at the root of Sanskrit ‘Tapas’) informs the theonym for Tabiti of the Scythians (although obviously, the Greeks have … rather reduced in relative power terms this Radiant Queen of the Heavens in comparison to the Vedic and Scythian presentation of Her) .
What would this mean in terms of Hera? Well, it would set out a plausible Vedic equivalent of Prithvi … or, rather, the same Goddess that is Prithvi, but differently Aspected.
Now, it might be thought that I am making a bit much out of the various Vedic theological directives around the Goddess in question having these two (Heaven and Earth) or three (Heaven, Earth, Waters) expressions … but if we look at the relevant scriptural materials (and especially their post-Vedic continuances), we do find frequent strong coterminities of Aditi and Prithvi. The Motherhood of Indra, for instance – and the underpinning consort-linkage with the Sky Father (Dyaus Pitar) that results in same.
Or, to phrase it more directly:
The existence of Hera does not render Zeus a non-viable candidate for the Sky Father.
But rather – the existence of Hera would appear to support Him.