Hebe, the goddess of youth, was the daughter of Zeus and Hera and sister of Ares. Her name, like the Latin Juventas, means simply "Youth," including particularly the age between fifteen and eighteen years. This was the period which among the Greeks was fixed as the age of '' Hebe,'' and with this may be compared the teaching that
As goddess of eternal youth, it is she who greets the apotheosized heroes on their entrance into Olympus, presenting to them the cup of Nectar which immediately restores them to the first bloom of youthfulness and beauty, and endows them with immortality as the reward of victorious combats. And since we know that "growing old in Heaven is to grow young," (H. H. 414), we find that Hebe constantly waits upon all the gods at their Olympian banquets, pouring out for them that same elixir of eternal life, from which each day they quaff unending and ever-renewing youth.
By the artists Hebe is always represented as a charming young girl, her light garments adorned with roses, and on her head a wreath of flowers. In one hand she carries the amphora of nectar, and with the other she presents the cup of eternal youthfulness. Like Ganymede, she is often seen playing with the royal eagle of her father, a picture which brings to mind the beautiful words of the thanksgiving:'' Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits. Who satisfieth thy mouth with good things; who renewest as an eagle thy youth." (Ps, 103 : 2, 5.) For it is by the Nectar of Divine Truth that the angelic intelligence is daily advancing more and more into the innocence of wisdom.
Modern scholarship has established that Hebe is but another name for the original Greek conception of Aphrodite, a Venus, chaste, virginal, and heavenly, the ''Venus Ourania.'' For Hebe is the daughter of Zeus and Hera, as Aphrodite, in the most ancient legends, is the daughter of Zeus and Dione,'' but Dione is simply the feminine of ''Dios,'' or Jove, and thus identical with Hera. Moreover, like Aphrodite, Hebe is called "the most beautiful of the goddesses," (as by Pindar), and in many passages she is called ''Dia,'' the regular epithet of Aphrodite. The evergreen Ivy, also, was sacred to both goddesses, who are essentially one and the same.
This brings us nearer to the inmost significance of Hebe, and to the very fountain of eternal youth, the conjugial of good and truth, or the Heavenly Marriage. As in the mere natural sense, marriage is the source of a perpetually renewed and youthful mankind, so is the spiritual marriage the source of a never ending succession of new truths and new goods from the Lord,—new conceptions, perceptions, ideas, and affections to all eternity. Thus also in Heaven
There is a legend that Hebe at one time slipped in an awkward manner in the company of the gods and spilled her nectar, on which account she was dismissed from her service, and a beautiful youth, Ganymede, was carried from earth by the eagle of Zeus, to serve as cup-bearer in Olympus. It seems, however, from a later passage in the Iliad, that she was restored to her office. Ganymede seems to have been merely a male Hebe, and Hebe herself is sometimes called ''Ganymeda.'' Nevertheless, the myth seems significant, and calls to mind a similar story in the Eddas about Iduna, the goddess of youth among ancient Northmen, who "keeps in a box the apples which the gods, when they feel old age approaching, have only to taste of, to become young again. It is in this manner that they will be kept in renovated youth until Ragnarok."
Once it happened, however, that Iduna and her apples were carried away by Loki, the cunning and malignant spirit of mischief, who for a time was permitted to dwell among the gods in Valhalla. "The gods, being thus deprived of their renovating apples, soon became wrinkled and grey; old age was creeping fast upon them, when they discovered that Loki had been, as usual, the contriver of all the mischief that had befallen them.'' and so, under threats of condign punishment, they forced him to return Iduna and her apples. (Mallet, Northern Antiquities, pp. 421, 460.) Swedenborg, also, relates the following real occurrence in heaven:
One of the most beautiful myths of the ancients represents "blushing Hebe" as given in marriage to Hercules, after the latter has finished his twelve "herculean" labors and had immolated his tempted natural life upon the funeral pyre of self-sacrifice. The story of Hercules is the chief of the numerous legends from the Ancient Word which foretold the coming of the Messiah, the future Redeemer of mankind, and his marriage with
Hebe not only reveals the fact that the ancients possessed a knowledge of marriage after death, but also represents, in the supreme sense, the Divine and eternal marriage of the Church with her Divinely-Human and glorified Lord. This marriage became a favorite theme with the artists of the ancient world, who perceived, but did not yet clearly understand, the meaning of this noble legend.
Something needs to be said, in connection with Hebe, about the Nectar and Ambrosia which constituted the drink and food of the gods. The origin of the word Nectar is unknown, though some have compared it with naegateos, "new-made," which recalls the words of the Lord: "But I say unto you, I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom." (Matth.26 : 29.) By common consent the ancients regarded Nectar as being some kind of heavenly wine, unobtainable by ordinary mortals, of extraordinary fragrance and power to restore and preserve life forever with the fortunate few who were vouchsafed to taste it.
The name of Ambrosia, the food or meat of the gods, has been compared with the word ambrotos, immortal, and has been traced, without a shadow of uncertainty, to the Sanscrit a-mrita, the elixir of immortality, which again is derived from the privative a, not, and ran, (Latin mori), to die. What the ancients who knew correspondences, meant by this heavenly food, may be evident from the words of the Lord in John: "I am that bread of life. . . . This is the bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die. If any man eat of this bread, he shall live forever." (vi : 48-51.) And in the Apocalypse:
And, in general, we are told that the ancients "called the meats of the gods ambrosia, and their drink, nectar; for they knew that meats signify celestial things, and drinks spiritual things." (A. C. 4966.)