Heavens to Hera
The wife of Zeus is widely known to have been a beautiful woman. In true Greek mythological form, she was also his sister. As I have mentioned before, I will not be retelling the same stories you have most likely studied and read. The mythologies of ancient Greece speak to the very core of humanity and reproduction, marriage, death, and the world after death are all common elements found in the stories. I will not be spending a great deal to time on those aspects of the tales because for one thing, to do so would be to write a post of judgement and that is not the intent of anything posted on this site. Additionally, those things are still very much a part of life today in our twenty-first century and quite frankly, I don’t think anyone needs instruction on the problems associated with such.
For all her power and beauty, however, Hera did not lead a charmed life. That might be the very best thing we should all learn from her. All too often, advertisements promise us a perfect life if we just look a certain way, have hair of a certain color, bear no marks on our face, or wear the latest trends in fashion. The truth is that perfection is itself a myth. It exists in the realm of make-believe. Wearing the trendiest of clothing guarantees no one a perfect life and neither does having the world’s largest bank account.
Hera, depending on what myth you read, was either Zeus’ sibling or his twin. She was wooed openly by Zeus and rejected him so the king of the gods resorted to trickery and changed his form into that of a bird, most often described as being a cuckoo bird. She was known to be a jealous wife and gave birth to one of her children alone, cast out because the child Hephaistos was crippled. Here was also said to have assisted the Argonauts with their leader Jason being a favorite of hers. During the Trojan War, Hera is said to have helped the Greeks. And yet, there is no myth that tells of her being content, happy with her life, or living a “perfect life”.
Everyone’s life has its moments of transition. Usually these come in the form of what we view as failures. And in those times when we are feeling defeated, having failed to accomplish a goal, it is nearly impossible to see the moment as a stepping stone to something greater. The truth is that we learn more from our mistakes and failures than we do from our successes.
Several months ago I received a comment that stated simply: “You are making an assumption.” I agreed. The writer never really stated what assumption but, in my opinion, it didn’t matter. The truth is that we all live based upon assumptions. We assume we will live through the night and so we plan what clothes to wear on the morrow. We assume we will be hungry so, hopefully, we stock up on food supplies. However, sometimes those assumptions do not bear fruit; they are wrong. Our expectations fail short and go unrealized and we are required to proceed in spite of dismal feelings.
Greek writers Panos Mourdoukoutas and Michael Soupios wrote a delightful and very insightful book entitled “The Ten Golden Rules”. I will only discuss three today but really, take the time to read it. It is wonderful! The first three are pertinent to our discussion of living a perfect life because they speak to the impossibility of it. Instead, they encourage living a successful life and that success if not so much about professional business but rather personal living, good health, and building a community.
The first of their golden rules is to examine and engage in the process of living. Look at what you are doing and then make sure you are fully engaged in those activities. Develop a renewed sense of pleasure as recommended by Socrates and Plato and your life will become more pleasurable. The second rule echoes the teachings of Epictetus and advises worrying only about those things over which you have some control. Getting depressed about a ferry running aground halfway around the world does not make much sense. Feel free to pray for any victims. After all, we all need the best of ourselves every day in every way possible. However, losing sleep over such an event is not practical nor does it accomplish anything. Perhaps a better course of action would be to do what you can to ensure local ferries have responsible rules and regulations that are being followed and inspected. Thirdly, these two Greek writers encourage that which Aristotle felt to be very important – the development and treasuring of friendships. Man is a social animal and we should not disengage from one another.
Most of us want to live as perfect a life as possible because we think that ensures a better life after death, whether it is in the Elysian Fields of Greek mythology or in heaven of more common religions. Hera was considered the goddess of the heavens, the sky, and of marriage. Many believe if their marriage is successful, they will go to heaven. It is not coincidental that those connections are made and they indeed might very well trace back to Hera herself and her believers.
The point of trying to find a perfect life meant something different to the Greeks who believed and lived these myths, however. Today people try to “earn” their way to heaven by leading a perfect life; by living as a perfect individual. The point of being charitable is seen as a ticket to such a place. As Mourdoukoutas and Soupios explain: “That’s not the case for the ancient Greeks, however, who saw kindness through the lens of reason, emphasizing the positive effects acts of kindness have not just on the receiver of kindness but to the giver of kindness as well, not for the salvation of the soul in the afterlife, but in this life. Simply put, kindness tends to return to those who do kind deeds, as Aesop demonstrated in his colourful fable of a little mouse cutting the net to free the big lion. Aesop lived in the 6th century B.C. and acquired a great reputation in antiquity for the instruction he offered in his delightful tales. Despite the passage of many centuries, Aesop’s counsels have stood the test of time because in truth, they are timeless observations on the human condition; as relevant and meaningful today as they were 2,500 years ago.”
We read and study the mythologies of the world because they can still teach us and provide examples of human nature and its consequences. Ask the owner of an old Victorian house if their house is perfect and they will probably laugh at you. As beautiful as they are, such houses are usually always needed updating and repairs. Strictly speaking, such houses are not perfect houses. Nonetheless, they may be perfect for their owners.
We may not have the ideal job but we can appreciate what about it makes is perfect for the moment. We need to realize what we need and not try to live someone else’s life. I am not the Perfect height of my mind’s eye but the height I am is not a bad height. I have had cousins who were much taller and despaired of finding clothes to fit them. I also have had shorter cousins with the same problems. I am an average height, of average appearance. I seldom have trouble finding clothes or shoes and neither am I hounded by the paparazzi seeking unauthorized pictures. My imperfect yet very ordinary appearance makes it easy to live. For me, that is ideal.
I personally am grateful I am not Hera or a Hera-like being. I would not like having to wonder if people liked me just for my status or beauty. Suddenly that face that looked to common is starting to sound pretty great! Find the beauty in yourself today and you will be taking steps to having a perfect time, living what is ideal for you. Remember the teachings of Aesop, Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle and yoyu will be living a life as glorious as that of any god or goddess.