While Ares was the most well-known child of Zeus and Hera, and their only son, they had daughters as well. The youngest of these was Hebe who was, appropriately, the goddess of youth.
In her early myths, Hebe fulfilled the role of a young person in the noble society that was shown on Mount Olympus. She was the cupbearer of the gods who served them the ambrosia that kept them young and energetic.
Unlike many goddesses, Hebe’s status changed in time, however. When Hercules came to Olympus as a god Hebe left behind the status of maiden and took up the mantle of a married woman.
Her marriage to Hercules, however, retained the idealism of youth. Unlike her parents, Hebe enjoyed the type of marriage that young people hoped for that was unmarried by infidelity, arguments, or other stressors.
Hebe was the youngest of the Olympian gods, the last daughter born to Hera and Zeus.
Hebe served as Hera’s lady in waiting or handmaiden, both performing services to help her and being a constant companion. Many myths describe her fulfilling the normal duties of an unmarried young woman in the Greek world, and service to her mother would train such a maiden for her own eventual married life.
One of Hebe’s primary jobs as the youngest of the gods was to serve as their cupbearer. During feasts and meals she served them drinks and assisted them however they required.
This was an honorable role for a young person in Greek society, held by high-ranking young nobles rather than servants or slaves. They were in service to their elders, but in a position that put them at the center of feasts and meetings.
Serving in this position was how the young learned the etiquette of the upper classes. Not only would they learn etiquette, but they also formed relationships with their elders and gained insight into the political and social landscape.
Hebe’s position as cupbearer was not only given to her because she was the youngest of the Olympians, however. It was also because of what she served in those cups.
Hebe was the goddess of youth, and at the feasts of the gods she poured ambrosia into their glasses. This magical drink was what granted the Olympians their eternal youth, vigor, and perfect beauty.
Zeus and Hera’s daughter did more than personify youth. By serving at feasts, she literally gave this gift to every other god on Olympus.
Hebe’s time as cupbearer was not eternal, however. Unlike most Olympians, her status in life changed in time.
When Hercules was brought to Mount Olympus as a god, he married his half-sister. Hebe became a married woman rather than a maiden and her duties as cupbearer passed to Ganymede.
While she remained the goddess of youth, she now handed it out as an equal of the older goddesses rather than in service to them.
When she married Hercules, Hebe also became the goddess of brides. While her mother was the goddess of marriage and the family, Hebe represented a younger form of this.
Although Hebe settled into married life and, according to some stories, became a mother herself, she never took on a matronly appearance or demeanor. As the goddess of youth, she remained eternally fresh-faced and hopeful.
Hera’s role as a wife was marked but frequent jealousy and betrayal. She and Zeus were often at odds due to his infidelities.
While Hercules had acted similarly to his father in this respect during his mortal life, however, he and Hebe remained devoted to each other. Descriptions of them on Mount Olympus emphasized their happiness and love for each other.
Their marriage was never marred by disputes, infidelity, or distrust. In essence, they remained eternally young newlyweds.
Hebe’s duties before her marriage to Hercules had reflected a reality of youth in the Greek world. She remained in the company of her mother, serving her elders as a way to learn her duties for the future.
Hera’s role as the goddess of marriage also reflected a reality. Greek men were not under the same obligations of fidelity as their wives, so Hera’s marriage would have been familiar to many women among the higher classes.
In married life, however, Hebe represented the youthful hopefulness of a new bride. While she left behind the duties of youth, she did not yet feel the pressures of marriage that her mother did.
Hebe was often shown in art during the moment at which a bride would be most joyous and free of mundane responsibilities. The most common image of her was on her wedding day, seated between her mother and father before her groom’s arrival in the moment between youth and married life.
Hebe was relatable to young women because she had progressed from a young woman training for her future to the status of bride. While many real women would find disappointment in the stresses and responsibilities of married life, however, Hebe retained the optimism of youth.
The marriage of Hebe was not realistic, particularly given the social structure of ancient Greece, but it was still what new brides hoped for when they were married. For a brief period in their youth, women could emulate Hebe and be filled with hope for a perfectly peaceful and happy married life.
Hebe, the youngest of the gods born on Olympus, was the goddess of youth.
The daughter of Zeus and Hera was the cupbearer of the gods. At their feasts, she served them the ambrosia that kept them young.
She also served as her mother’s handmaiden and companion. She assisted her family members with their needs, from drawing baths to preparing their chariots.
These duties would have been similar to those performed by real young women in the Greek world. Before marriage, such household duties would have been preparation for eventually running one’s own home.
While other virgin goddesses retained this status, however, Hebe eventually gave up her status as an unmarried young woman. She became the wife of Hercules after he ascended to Olympus as a god.
While Hercules had shared their father’s propensity for adultery in life, his marriage to Hebe had no such problems. The couple were described as perpetual newlyweds who remained committed, happy, and very much in love with one another.
As the goddess of new brides, Hebe represented the optimism of young women in that position. While most marriages would eventually end up more like that of Hera and Zeus, Hebe’s marriage reflected the idealism and hopefulness of young women who were just transitioning from the duties of childhood to the responsibilities of married life.