Mamma Mia: Queen of Pomegranates

Thursday September 6th 2012
Two temples to Hera at Paestum and
one beautiful Persephone

A couple of weeks ago, I walked around the ancient city of Paestum under a bright, broiling southern Italian sun. It’s a beautiful place. Buttery yellow temple columns reach into a cerulean sky, graceful umbrella pines and silvery olive trees cast oases of shade, and that day, a breeze from the Tyrrhenean rustled the reeds that surround the site.

About 2500 years ago, it was a thriving mercantile centre, called Poseidonia after the god of the sea. It was an outpost of greater Greece. Later it was absorbed into the Roman Empire. For a thousand years or so it was hidden by malarial swamp.

Eighteenth century travellers, steeped in knowledge of the classics, assigned gods to the temples: this was Posiedon’s and that was Ceres’. But 20th century archaeologists have found hundreds of votive figurines which show that of the three main temples, two belong to the mother goddess Hera, and one is devoted to Athena, the goddess of wisdom.

The figurines they found at Hera’s temple looked like this. Familiar, eh?! Here is Hera suckling a baby. She doesn’t look anything like the bad mummy who threw her baby Hephaestus away because he was a cripple. She looks quite content, indeed she looks like the mother goddess we know so well, Mary.

Madonna del Granato in her sanctuary
Two votive figurines
from Paestum

Many figurines show Hera holding a
pomegranate, the fruit that was associated with her. Pomegranates grow in some profusion in this part of Italy. In August, when I visited, the fruit are small and green, but already they are distinctive, exotically beautiful like jewellery, with the spiky tops that some historians say influenced the shape of real crowns. The fruit is like a fruit womb with its soft thick walls protecting the baby seeds.

What’s interesting is how this image of Hera transmutes so easily to this one of the Madonna, who was often portrayed holding a pomegranate too – or holding a baby holding a pomegranate. And then into this one of the Queen holding her orb.

One of Mary’s titles is Queen of Heaven, and clearly temporal queens were thought to be acting out a divine role.

Detail of the Madonna of the
by Sandro Botticelli

But back to Hera, depicted here as a queen and mother on her throne. The tales we have of her are as a jealous wife of Zeus, and as the goddess who took revenge on Paris for choosing Aphrodite as the most beautiful goddess. But these are the stories we are left with, the ones that have filtered down through time. Clearly, Hera was far more than just a consort.

To the Romans, she was Juno consort of Jupiter, the captain of the gods of Olympus. But she was also the patroness of the Roman state, surely a pretty important role. She was the goddess of marriage and fertility, key concepts for any community. So why, when it came to naming the planets, did Juno – one of the three chief gods of the Romans – not get one?

I wondered about this as I looked up at that huge temple in Paestum.  How come astrology – both traditional and even more so, modern, left out the goddesses, who were so equally represented in the temples and homes of the classical world? And indeed wielded as much power as their husbands, brothers and sons on Olympus?

We have the asteroid Juno now – a small rock in the belt between Mars and Jupiter. And this does seem to have a correlation with marriage. Yet I still read astrologers who assume that marriage Juno-style is a kind of bondage.

I have found in charts, especially composite charts, that Juno shows a marriage (an equal partnership) good or bad. The value of marriage itself is something the planets don’t dictate; society does that.

For more on Juno see these posts.
Valentine’s Day and the Goddess of Marriage
Are You Really Ready to Commit?
Balancing the Masculine and the Feminine

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  1. MAH says:

    Yay, Juno! Thank you for speaking out in support of a much misunderstood goddess. For more Juno?hera friendly material, may I suggest the graphic novel Hera: The Goddess and Her Glory by George O’Connor? I originally bought it for my kids, but it is on my bookshelf now!

  2. Isy Aweigh says:

    Excellent questions 🙂 I so revel in your historical depth, something more astrologers could strive for. Humanity — and cosmic force — is a lot clearer through the lens of millennia.

    Breathtaking to see how Dora has grown. My gosh, what a young lady!

  3. Christina says:

    MAH – Thanks for the recommendation. One of the many great things about having kids around the place is that you get to read stuff you might ordinarily pass up.

    Isy -“cosmic force” – good phrase: mind if I borrow it some time?

  4. Sabrina says:

    Enjoyed this piece! Where I grew up, pomegranates were rare so we were lucky to have a small tree in our back yard. The other tree and fruit I love (also scarce while growing up) is the fig.
    p.s lovely, lovely photo.