This is one the of the reasons I love Classics: the jokes. Zeus and Hera / Jupiter and Juno are known to have a pretty terrible relationship (and yet she’s the goddess of marriage?) and while Zeus/Jupiter has a LOT of children by other mortal and divine women (see here for a pretty full list on Theoi.com), together they only have one child (Ares/Mars – the god of violence in warfare) or possibly two (if you count Hephaestus/Vulcan, whom is either said to be the child of both of them, or the child of just Hera/Juno, whom she had on her own to spite Jupiter having so many kids without her, which is why he came out somehow disfigured, causing her to throw him off Olympus, causing him to become…more disfigured? Bit of a chicken/egg situation there. There’s also the story that Hephaestus intervened in a fight between Hera and Zeus and Zeus threw him off Olympus for it. Again, another symbol of their unhappy marriage).
So, the joke: Jupiter is surrounded by his lovers and the filial evidence of those unions, so NASA decided to call the probe that would ‘uncover the secrets of Jupiter’ Juno. Thus, his nosy wife is checking up on him. Ha!
Whereas this is, on the surface, quite funny, and thus a great way of bringing it to the attention of students, it’s actually more interesting as a jumping-off point for discussing the relationships of men and women from Ancient Greek times (through til now in fact, after all, the planets and their moons were named by us (well, mostly men), and while it was Galileo that kicked off the ‘hey, let’s name the moons after his lovers!’ funtimes in 1610, it’s a tradition that has continued into the present day), as well as the nature of the gods.
Ideas to consider:
The stories of the gods can be thought of as an instruction manual for mortals, along the lines of ‘Zeus did this (married sister, raped a lot of women, throws thunderbolts in anger), and it’s ok because he’s an immortal with no consequences, but don’t you, a mortal, go getting any similar ideas because that’s hubris and there are actually consequences for you’.
There’s an interesting theory that the earliest Greeks worshipped a benevolent, female earth and fertility goddess, and were then invaded by a mainland tribe that worshipped a violent, male sky and lightning god, and that the violent, apparently loveless marriage of Zeus and Hera is an allegory for that unhappy union.
There’s also the fact that women were somewhat treated as objects and were expected to do as they were told, so that Hera’s constant ‘nagging’ of Zeus about his frequent affairs (obviously how dare she) gets her threatened with harm, despite her being Queen of the Gods, in a kind of object-lesson for any women hearing the stories. There’s a very awkward-for-any-modern-reader bit in the Iliad where Hera dares to question Zeus about his doings with other women and he makes a threat of physical violence (Iliad 1.531-567), the atmosphere of which is only broken by Hephaestus intervening ‘in a fun way’ by serving them all drinks *despite the fact he can’t walk* (Iliad 1.568-611). Yes, it’s not exactly PC. And, there’s a section in the Aeneid (Roman epic informed by the Greek Homeric epics) where Venus even preys on the knowledge of Juno’s lack of closeness with her husband to get Juno to agree with her plan (Aeneid 4.90-128).
Anyway, here’s some more scholarly reading on the topic of women and marriage in ancient Greece and relationships in the Aeneid:
- Gutting, Edward. “Marriage in the Aeneid: Venus, Vulcan, and Dido.” Classical Philology, vol. 101, no. 3, 2006, pp. 263–279. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/511017.
- Walcot, P. “Greek Attitudes towards Women: The Mythological Evidence.” Greece & Rome, vol. 31, no. 1, 1984, pp. 37–47. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/642368.
- Minchin, Elizabeth. “MEN’S TALK AND WOMEN’S TALK IN HOMER: REBUKES AND PROTESTS.” Mediterranean Archaeology, 19/20, 2006, pp. 213–224. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/24668203.
You can also discuss the NASA Juno probe itself, and even download an app that shows you the Juno probe in action!