Harmonia: most ironically-named Goddess ever

This article first appeared in the Summer 2010 issue of Immanence — according to the Immanence site. I actually think it appeared earlier.

Greek mythology is full of lulz, and the myth of Harmonia is no different. This goddess of harmony was born of one of Aphrodite’s illicit affairs—with Ares, god of war. Blend of war and love sex creates…harmony? I always thought it created tragedy, but whatever. According to the myths, Harmonia presided over marital harmony, as daughter of Aphrodite, and over harmony in war, as daughter of Ares, which still doesn’t make any sense to me but maybe that’s because I’m an anti-war activist.

When Harmonia is born, Hephaestus, Aphrodite’s husband, is really pissed off that his wife cheated; so he decides to curse any children She and Ares produce. That’s totally fair, right? Your mom was unfaithful to me, so I’m going to make you kids’ lives a living hell, because obviously it’s your fault.

Hephaestus, being the god of the forge and stuff, makes Harmonia a beautiful necklace that’s never consistently described in the legends but, so far as we can tell, was made of gold, in the shape of two serpents, whose mouths formed the clasp. That is rather apropos, considering the end of Harmonia and her husband. The necklace is cursed: it brings the woman who wears it endless beauty and youth but also terrible misfortune.

Hephaestus presents this necklace to stepdaughter Harmonia as a wedding gift upon her marriage to Cadmus of Thebes. Cue: many problems lead to their need to relocate, and eventually they both get turned into serpents, and the gods then take pity on them and put them in Paradise. But they’re still serpents. Which could be kind of cool, I guess, but not forever.

Harmonia did have kids before getting snake-ified, however, and her necklace was passed on down the line, creating problem after problem in this family until finally creating the ones we modern-day Westerners are most familiar with: Oedipus Rex.

Jocasta, you see, was Harmonia’s descendant, and her wearing of the necklace allowed her to stay young enough to marry her own son (ew!) after he’d murdered his father (albeit unknowingly). That did not go so well.

Harmonia’s counterpart, Eris, goddess of strife and discord, has a relatively good time according to the myths, going around and causing strife and then laughing evilly about it. The worst thing that happened to her was not being invited to a party, which she crashed anyway, flung an apple at some goddesses, and started the Trojan War—but that’s another story.