Reflections of Womanhood: Hera, Athena

The principal female Olympians -- Hera, Athena, Artemis, and Aphrodite (together with Demeter, already examined) -- operate almost as though a meditation on the nature of womanhood. Each goddess speaks to a specific power of femaleness, and all sharply differentiate themselves from one another. Together, they seem both to describe and to analyze the many aspects of the feminine.

Hera (=Roman Juno). Special associations include matrons, marriage: wedded women, in particular, prayed to this goddess.

Attributes: no unique iconography, identified by context (the wife of Zeus) or inscription


Hera and Zeus. Relief, wood, from Samos. ca. 610 B.C.

Hera and Zeus. (version #2, in color).Relief, marble. Temple of Hera at Selinus. ca. 465 B.C.

Hera and Zeus. Relief, marble. East frieze of the Parthenon. Ca. 440.

Other images of Hera (from the Univ. of Victoria)

Hera, in literature and in cult: the woman-who-is-the-wife

Athena (Athene). (= Roman Minerva; sometimes called Tritogeneia; often called "Pallas Athena" or simply "Pallas")

Attributes: helmet, spear, aegis (a fringed half-cloak, often decorated with the Gorgon's head, and fringed with snakes); sometimes associated with snakes and owls.


Athena Lemnia (cult statue, original over-sized). Reconstruction in bronze, based on Roman copies of the original bronze statue by Pheidias. ca. 450 B.C.

Athena Lemnia, head. Roman copy of the original by Pheidias. ca. 450 B.C.

Heracles and Athena: Stymphalian birds. Metope from the Temple of Zeus at Olympia. ca. 470-455 B.C.

Heracles and Athena: Atlas brings the apples of the Hesperides. Metope from the Temple of Zeus at Olympia. ca. 470-455 B.C.

Mourning Athena. Relief, marble. ca. 460 B.C.

Other images of Athena (from the Univ. of Victoria)

Athena, the virgin and warrior goddess of the citadel (the maiden-who-is-not-desired, woman-as-stabilizing-force)

The elemental associations of Athena

How do we put these disparate elements together?

Reflections of Womanhood: Artemis & Aphrodite

Artemis (= Roman Diana). A virgin goddess, associated with the hunt, chastity, and childbirth (!)

Attributes: bow, fawn (or doe or stag); often appears with her brother, Apollo; usually a short dress (chiton) and a girl's hairstyle


Artemis (?) as Potnia Theron (Mistress of the Animals). Boeotian vase, ca. 680 B.C.

Artemis as protectress of animals (a much later image). Grave relief, ca. 350 B.C.

Artemis as deer hunter (also later). Attic pelike, ca. 380 B.C.

Artemis and Apollo: the killing of the children of Niobe. Niobid painter, ca. 455 B.C.

Artemis and the hunter Actaeon. ca. 475 B.C.

Artemis. Relief, marble. East frieze of the Parthenon. Ca. 440.

Other images of Artemis (from the Univ. of Victoria)

Artemis, the maiden-who-is-desired-but-cannot-be-touched

Aphrodite. (= Roman Venus; sometimes called Cytherea or Cypris).

Attributes: in early art, usually clothed and often impossible to distinguish from Hera or other goddesses, unless there is an inscription; from the 4th century onward, usually nude (after Praxiteles)

sometimes pictured with a sceptre or a mirror; often accompanied by Eros (=Roman Cupid) or several Erotes (Cupids); sometimes accompanied by a goose or swan.

Aphrodite with other goddesses: who is who and what event? Antimenes Painter, ca. 530 B.C.

Ludovisi Throne, ca. 465 B.C.: (close-up)

Aphrodite rides a goose. (color version) Pistoxenos Painter, ca. 460 B.C.

[Aphrodite coming out of a shell. Terracotta statue, 4th c. B.C.]

Aphrodite and Erotes. Apulian vase, ca. 380 B.C.

Aphrodite (Venus of Arles). Roman copy after original attributed to Praxiteles, ca. 360 B.C.

Aphrodite of Cnidos. Later copy of the cult statue by Praxiteles, ca. 350-340 B.C.

Crouching Aphrodite (Venus of Vienna). Roman copy of a 3rd c. B.C. original.

"Venus di Milo". = Aphrodite of Melos, ca. 150-100 B.C.

Venus in her shell, with Cupid alongside. Roman wall painting from Pompeii (Casa dei Venus), 1st c. A.D.

Other images of Aphrodite / Venus (from the Univ. of Victoria)

A definitive ideal of beauty, extremely influential then and now

Aphrodite, the woman-who-is-desired-and-CAN-be-touched (cf. Artemis), the woman-who-is-not-the-wife (cf. Hera), woman-as-destabilizing-force (cf. Athena)