MythBlast | Juno: Not Everyone Knows How to Love the Terrifying, Strange, or Beautiful
As we enter the month of June remember that this month, her birth month, is named for Juno, the Roman goddess married to Jupiter (who is also her brother), and who has traditionally been concerned with all aspects of women’s lives—no easy responsibility in the ancient world. Juno was also a powerful military goddess, and seems to have had oracular powers as suggested by one of her names, Juno Moneta (the verb monere means to warn, hence Juno the Warner). She is a tremendously complex figure, and this complexity coupled with the great accumulation of epithets she bears suggests to me a goddess of great age and power. For example, she is mentioned with Hercules in an inscription consecrating the Temple of Hercules at Lanuvium, a very ancient site, and it appears the two of them together assisted women and infants in the perilous proposition of childbirth. In the Greek tradition they are bound together in a difficult, contentious relationship.
One epithet I find particularly compelling is Juno Lucina who in her relationship to the moon—generally speaking it’s safe to say that goddesses who are associated with the moon are also associated with some aspect of childbirth—represents the cyclical, renewing nature of cosmic time, just as the menstrual cycle articulates cycles of biological time. Her role in renewing time puts her in relationship with Janus; he presides over the passage of time from the previous to the subsequent month while she helps the month thrive by lending it the strength of her vitality. Some scholars suggest that Juno’s original spouse was Janus, not Jupiter. Juno and Janus seem to have much more in common and, perhaps, if that “relationship” had survived Juno would have been a much more happily married goddess.
Once again, in Juno/Hera’s mirthless, troubled marriage, one finds the mythic mirror reflecting contemporary truths about gender roles and relationships between wives and husbands. She would have been, I’m sure, among the first in line to buy and read Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique when it first became available:
The problem lay buried, unspoken, for many years in the minds of […] women. It was a strange stirring, a sense of dissatisfaction, a yearning […]. Each [woman] struggled with it alone. As she [went about the mundane tasks of her daily existence] she was afraid to ask even of herself the silent question— “Is this all?”
Hera seems to me the most human-like of the gods in her frustrations, her regrets, in her deep longing and aspiration. Unlike her profligately promiscuous husband she was scrupulous in her refusal to dishonor marital fidelity and she’s repaid by living in myth as a harridan or a shrew, a competitive battle-ax who wants nothing more than to control her hard working and hard playing husband. We tend to be unable to see behind her frustration to the deep wound she bears, a wound that contemporary human beings should recognize as a metaphor for human existence.
Hera received her wound, Homer tells us in the Iliad, when Herakles struck her in the right breast with an arrow. If we can read mythically, the wound in her breast and its periodic relationship to the moon suggests an incurable wound to the feminine that seems at times to be non-existent and at others to inflict unimaginable agony, an apt description of Juno’s psychological suffering. She was admired, envied, lusted after, betrayed, humiliated, and abused until she was sick of it and lashed out in a bitter, all too human way. Juno’s wound is entwined with her existence, existential and incurable, just as human beings cannot be cured from an existence that ends in death, and sharing with Her the existential dread of the incurable wound forges a deep bond indeed between the goddess and human beings.
Thanks for taking the time to read this MythBlast.
Want to read more about Juno and themes in art, religion, and literature in the Western World? Check out Campbell’s work, Occidental Mythology.
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