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Greek mythology could never be substituted for historical fact. This is easy to understand, and it is wise to follow this advice. This does not mean that Greek mythology is not important. It is a source of knowledge, especially with regards to how the ancients view life and the world they live in. Aside from informing modern readers about the intellectual and literary aspects of ancient civilization, Greek Mythology also plays an important role in communicating beliefs and values from the ancient world that has been passed down from generation to generation. In studying the life of Hebe one will realize that she is not as popular as Zeus, Poseidon, or even Hercules, but it does not mean that she did not play an important role in Mount Olympus, the mountain of the gods.
For the modern reader or researcher, a casual study of Greek mythology will lead him or her to the conclusion that Greek mythology is the byproduct of active imagination. The stories contained in mythology are similar to the dwarves, elves, fairies, and monster stories found in other civilizations and in other ancient cultures. But Greek mythology stands out from the crowd because most of the stories are intricately made. One has to admit that most of the stories can easily entertain people from all walks of life. These stories are also so endearing because it communicates to everyone and able to cut across language and cultural barriers.
The reason for its popularity can be attributed to the Greeks, who were able to understand human nature in a very sophisticated way. This should not come as a surprise considering that the Greek culture is the same culture that produced great thinkers and leaders such as Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and Alexander the Great. Greek mythology is an exaggeration of human qualities and human failures. It is this exaggeration that allows the ancient listeners as well as the 21st-century readers to easily understand as well as identify with the characters in Greek mythology.
The purpose of Greek mythology can be partially understood through the following generalized description of the gods and goddesses in Mount Olympus:
The gods are officials in a cosmic bureaucracy that covers all imaginable territory. Each deity has his or her own province, or focused sphere of influence, in the cosmic order, Zeus being in charge of the sky, Demeter in charge of the grains, Aphrodite in charge of erotic love, and so on. Many gods have multiple provinces. Poseidon is responsible not only for the waters but also for horses and earthquakes … a common epithet for him is Earthshaker (Hansen, 31).
In studying Greek mythology, there are many ways to begin. There are many great characters that can be studied. The researcher can focus on the most popular gods and goddesses. But this had been done in the past. A more interesting exercise is to study the minor gods and goddesses – those who are lesser-known and yet still play an important role in creating a mythological tale that will endure the test of time. One of the lesser-known goddesses is Hebe, the goddess of youth, and by studying her genealogy, one will be able not only to study Hebe but also the other great gods and goddesses of Greek mythology – hitting many birds with one stone, so to speak.
Reading Greek mythology is like watching soap operas on TV. Hebe’s family can be characterized by intrigue, power play, insecurities, unbridled desires, greed, and lust for power. The Greek gods came from a dysfunctional family of mythical figures. The first to rule the world were the Titans. But a power struggle ensued between the chief of the Titans – Kronos – and his son Zeus. The son was able to defeat the father and became the supreme ruler (GreekMythology.com, par. 1). A new group of gods inhabited mount Olympus, and from this time forth, they will be known as the Olympian gods.
In the new order, there were three major gods, Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades. They were all brothers. They drew lots to determine who will rule what part of the earth. Zeus became the ruler of the sky, Poseidon the sea, and Hades was assigned to rule the underworld. Zeus, the supreme ruler in Greek mythology, is also known as the rain god, and the most enduring image of him is the strong god with a thunderbolt, which he uses to terrorize his enemies and those who displease him. He is also known as the god of justice and mercy – the punisher of wickedness. He is married to a goddess named Hera, but he is known to have many affairs with other women (GreekMythology.com, par. 1). But it is his marriage to Hera that made a great impact in the continuance of the Greek myth.
Before Zeus married Hera, he was already married or had sexual relations with six different women (Hansen, 186). Hera was actually Zeus’ sister making the story even more complicated. It was dysfunctional marriage, to say the least. Husband and wife did not get along very well. But they were able to produce three children: Eileithyia, Hebe, Hephaestus, and Ares. Hebe was Zeus and Hera’s youngest daughter. Hebe played a minor but important role in Greek mythology not only because she was the daughter of Zeus but also because she is the symbol of youth. Moreover, she also played a part in the life of Hercules, her more popular husband.
The literal meaning of Hebe’s name is “…the goddess of youthful bloom” (Morford, 76). Her name also means the prime of life. In Greek mythology, Hebe is the personification of youth and immortality (Goddess-Guide.com, par. 1). She does not grow old, and in her many images, she was depicted as wearing clothes that emphasize her youth and vitality. But she was unlike most of the gods who had major flaws in character. For instance, Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades are mighty gods, but they are also prone to arrogance, lust, and violence.
Hebe, on the other hand, is a servant. She is the cupbearer who served nectar to the Olympian gods. One has to wonder why the gods could not create people or other creatures that will serve them and why is it that they need to have one of their own to serve them? The answer perhaps lies in the fact that the purpose of Hebe in Greek mythology is to provide a role model or a good quality that must be emulated by the people. In her case, it is her humility that allowed her to serve.
Hebe is a servant of the gods, and she is not only limited to serving nectar, but she is also working as the handmaiden of Hera, her mother. Her specific responsibility was to prepare the royal chariot. She was also known as the bridal attendant of Aphrodite. Her story is about to change forever, for she will marry Hercules or Heracles. Hercules is not really part of the illustrious list of Olympian gods. His father may have been Zeus, the supreme ruler but his mother was a mortal. But Hercules deserved to be married to Hebe. Hercules was a “…man of extraordinary strength, he accomplished twelve great labors, or tasks, in addition to many other deeds…” (Hansen, 30). Although it was beneficial for Hercules to marry Hebe it is questionable if Hebe benefited from marrying him.
Since Hebe was the servant to the gods, one has to wonder what will happen to her role now that she is married. Her being a servant was made possible by her youth. Her childlike demeanor also played in part to why the gods wanted her to serve them. But now that she is married, she could no longer be considered a child. Thus, there are those who assert that she resigned from her position when she married Hercules, while others contend that she was discharged for her clumsiness (Morford, 76). Regardless of what happened, her role was forever altered after her marriage to Greek hero Hercules.
It has been made clear why Hebe is not very well known in the study of Greek mythology. She played a minor part in the whole of Greek mythical tales. Still, she played an important part, especially concerning her being the symbol of youth. She also played a role in providing contrast to the vain and arrogant gods that can be found in Mount Olympus. Aside from that, she played an important role in becoming the wife of Hercules. Her marriage to Hercules allowed the half-man, half-god Hercules to ascend to Olympus and be accepted as one of the Olympian gods.
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Appearing in a Play
Hebe appeared in one of the surviving plays of the great Greek dramatist Euripides. The title of the play is Heracleidae. It was written in 429 B.C. It is about the story of the children of Hercules who suffered after his death. When Hercules died, his children were persecuted by Eurystheus, king of Mycenae. Iolaus, the friend of Hercules, swore to protect his children from Eurystheus. But he Iolaus body could not sustain the incessant struggle against Eurysteus; upon the request of Hercules, Hebe, his wife, went to restore youth and vitality to Iolaus. This is how Hebe took part in the play.
It was mentioned earlier that Hebe is not as popular as the other gods. She seems to have a minor role, being a servant and cupbearer to the gods. But she played an important role in Mount Olympus, especially when she married Hercules. But upon closer inspection, especially using the play written by Euripides, it turns out that Hebe is more than a servant and more than a cupbearer. She can actually restore the vitality of youth in old people. The only problem is that the gods in Olympus need no help from her because they are all immortals.
Atsma, Aaron. “Hebe.” Theoi Project. 2008. Web.
Hebe the Goddess of Youth. 2008. Web.
The Olympians. 2008. Web.
Hansen, William. Classical Mythology: A Guide to the Mythical World of the Greeks and Romans. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.
Morford, Mark. Classical Mythology. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.