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Argive Heraion

The Argive Heraion is reached by way of the village of Khónika. From Mycenaean times onwards this was the Heraion was the main Argive sanctuary. In its present form, laid out on terraces on the slopes of a hill (1,970ft/600m), it dates from the eighth to the fifth centuries B.C. On the south side a broad flight of steps leads up to a stoa and the foundations of the fifth century temple of Hera, which contained a chryselephantine (i.e. gold and ivory) statue of the goddess by Polykleitos. On the next terrace was the older (seventh century BC) temple which was destroyed by fire in 425 B.C. Beside this temple were other stoas. The impressiveness of this site is due not so much to the meagre remains as to its grandiose and solitary situation overlooking the Argive Plain.

History

‘Fifteen stades distant from Mycenae is on the left the Heraeum. Beside the road flows the brook called Water of Freedom. The priestesses use it in purifications and for such sacrifices as are secret. The sanctuary itself is on a lower part of Euboea. Euboea is the name they give to the hill here, saying that Asterion the river had three daughters, Euboea, Prosymna, and Acraea, and that they were nurses of Hera.

The hill opposite the Heraeum they name after Acraea, the environs of the sanctuary they name after Euboea, and the land beneath the Heraeum after Prosymna. This Asterion flows above the Heraeum, and falling into a cleft disappears. On its banks grows a plant, which also is called asterion. They offer the plant itself to Hera, and from its leaves weave her garlands.

It is said that the architect of the temple was Eupolemus, an Argive. The sculptures carved above the pillars refer either to the birth of Zeus and the battle between the gods and the giants, or to the Trojan war and the capture of Ilium.

The statue of Hera is seated on a throne; it is huge, made of gold and ivory, and is a work of Polycleitus. She is wearing a crown with Graces and Seasons worked upon it, and in one hand she carries a pomegranate and in the other a sceptre. About the pomegranate I must say nothing, for its story is somewhat of a holy mystery. The presence of a cuckoo seated on the sceptre they explain by the story that when Zeus was in love with Hera in her maidenhood he changed himself into this bird, and she caught it to be her pet.

By the side of Hera stands what is said to be an image of Hebe fashioned by Naucydes; it, too, is of ivory and gold. By its side is an old image of Hera on a pillar. The oldest image is made of wild-pear wood, and was dedicated in Tiryns by Peirasus, son of Argus, and when the Argives destroyed Tiryns they carried it away to the Heraeum. I myself saw it, a small, seated image.

Of the votive offerings the following are noteworthy. There is an altar upon which is wrought in relief the fabled marriage of Hebe and Heracles. This is of silver, but the peacock dedicated by the Emperor Hadrian is of gold and gleaming stones. He dedicated it because they hold the bird to be sacred to Hera. There lie here a golden crown and a purple robe, offerings of Nero.

Above this temple are the foundations of the earlier temple and such parts of it as were spared by the flames. It was burnt down because sleep overpowered Chryseis, the priestess of Hera, when the lamp before the wreaths set fire to them. Chryseis went to Tegea and supplicated Athena Alea. Although so great a disaster had befallen them the Argives did not take down the statue of Chryseis; it is still in position in front of the burnt temple.’

[Pausanias 2.17.1-2.17.5]

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