The Son of Zeus and Hera
Zeus was a notoriously amorous god who was known for fathering many children, but do you know which of his sons was born within his marriage to Hera?
The marriage of Zeus and Hera was famously strained by the god’s many affairs and illegitimate children. Hera was constantly jealous of the women her husband loved and the children they gave birth to.
Hera was not just jealous because her husband was unfaithful, however. She was also angry that Zeus often seemed to prefer the children he had with other women, even the human ones, over her own children.
Zeus and Hera were the parents of a handful of minor goddesses. They had, according to different sources, either one or two sons.
Neither of these sons was well-liked by their father.
Hephaestus was lame and his deformity reflected poorly on the whole of Olympus. Ares was belligerent and warlike to the point that Zeus himself called him the most hateful of all the gods.
While Zeus had two sons with his lawful wife, neither was as well-loved or attended to as his other children.
Zeus and Hera’s Sons
Ancient writers disagreed on whether Hephaestus was Zeus’s son or had been born to Hera alone.
According to some legends Hera was so upset at the motherless birth of Athena that she endeavoured to have a child of her own without Zeus’s involvement. While her husband had brought one of the greatest goddesses of the pantheon out of his head, Hera’s son was born disfigured and lame.
Hera was so disgusted by this that she threw the child down from Olympus. Hephaestus was raised on earth by Thetis and Eurynome.
Hephaestus learned to be an exceptionally-skilled smith and got revenge on his mother by sending her the gift of a fine golden throne. When she sat on it, she was bound by unbreakable fetters that none of the gods could loosen.
Zeus was furious, but Hephaestus used the occasion to secure another victory. He presented himself before Zeus’s throne and, according to Zeus’s proclamation that whoever brought Hephaestus to Olympus would win the hand of Aphrodite, married the goddess of beauty.
The marriage was short-lived however, as Aphrodite continued an affair with Ares throughout it. Hephaestus trapped the couple under a fine net when he found out and invited the other gods to laugh at their humiliation.
He went on to marry Aglaea, one of the Graces, and had a much happier second marriage.
Hephaestus was most often depicted in his role as the gods’ smith. He crafted fine armor for them and for many of the mortal heroes they supported.
While Hephaestus’s parentage was sometimes in doubt, no one questioned that Zeus and Hera were the parents of Ares.
The god of war held an unusual place in the Greek pantheon. Although he was one of the major deities of Olympus, the people of Greece had little love for him.
The feeling was, according to some writers, shared by his father.
Ares was usually portrayed as having a dangerous and militaristic personality, enjoying the brutality of war under any circumstances. Zeus found this reprehensible and, according to Homer, referred to his son as the most hateful of all the gods.
Beyond his affair with Aphrodite there were few myths that centred around Ares. Like his father, the people of Greece preferred to keep their distance from the bloodthirsty god of war.
Ares had few temples within Greece and images of him were much more rare than those of other gods. Only in the militaristic society of Sparta was he held in high esteem.
In fact, many traditions in Greece sought to distance Ares from their own culture entirely. He was rarely mentioned on Olympus or within Greece, but instead made his home in the barbaric lands of Thrace to the north.
My Modern Interpretation
As the king and queen of the gods, it could be expected that Zeus and Hera together would produce exceptional children. This would be princes of Olympus and had the potential to achieve great status and power.
Their sons, however, were two of the least loved and respected gods of the pantheon.
Hephaestus’s physical shortcomings were seen as a stain on the entirety of Olympus. In a society that valued physical perfection and beauty, the lame smith was so antithetical to their ideals that he was banished from Olympus and preferred to spend his time on earth.
Ares was shunned by the people of Greece for the negative nature of his domain. The god of war offered no protection or promise of victory, but rather brought only destruction and death.
The focus, therefore, was shifted to Zeus’s other children.
The divine children of Zeus’s mistresses and his only daughter with his first wife were highly regarded by both the Greek people and their fellow gods. Athena, Apollo, Artemis, Dionysus, and Hermes were well-loved and featured prominently in mythology.
His human children were also more well-loved and famous than Ares or Hephaestus. Zeus was the father of renowned heroes like Heracles and Perseus and many of the world’s famous kings.
When the Greek people thought of Zeus’s sons, they thought of these figures before they thought of Hera’s children. The gods bestowed many gifts upon their followers and the heroes and kings helped to establish and protect the Greek world.
Zeus’s children were loved for the benefits they brought to mankind, not their lineage. Their father’s position could explain some of their attributes and strengths, but it was not the reason they were revered.
One of the reasons Zeus’s sons with Hera were of so little importance was because, unlike human kings, there was no emphasis on Zeus having an heir.
Zeus had married his sister specifically so that his rule as king would never be threatened by a son. His wife’s sons did not have to be particularly heroic, attractive, or good-natured because there was no chance they would ever rule.
The sons of Zeus and Hera were preordained by fate to be weaker and less capable than their father. The shortcomings of both Hephaestus and Ares reiterated the fact that the king of the gods would never lose his position.
There were no princes of Olympus because Zeus had ensured that his possible heirs would be too weak to ever claim that title.
Zeus had many sons, but few with his wife, Hera.
Sources differed on whether Hephaestus was the son of Zeus or had been born parthenogenetically. Some claimed that Hera, driven to jealousy by the miraculous birth of Athena, had tried to produce a similarly impressive god on her own and failed.
Hephaestus’s physical deformities and lameness made him despised by his mother. Greek culture valued perfection, so Hephaestus was thrown from Olympus as a baby.
He eventually returned and had a short-lived marriage to Aphrodite. Otherwise he served as the gods’ smith, crafting great treasures and impressive armor and weapons.
Ares was the most prominent son of Hera and Zeus, but that does not mean he was the most well-loved. The god of war was a figure to be feared and avoided to most people, not invoked.
The sentiment was apparently shared by Zeus himself. More than once in written legends he condemned his son’s hateful, violent nature and lack of concern for law or justice.
It may seem unusual that the sons of the king and queen of the gods were not among the most respected of Olympus, particularly because Zeus’s other children were prominent.
This was by design, however. Zeus had married Hera specifically to ensure that he would never have an heir who could take power from him.
The weak position of Ares and Hephaestus reiterated Zeus’s complete control of the universe. As long as he and Hera were married, none of their sons would be strong enough to seize power from him as he had done to his own father.