back-to-top

Mythagora Home Page

Leto

Λητώ

The Mother of Apollon and Artemis

Leto

The Birth of Apollon
The Birth of Artemis
Leto and Niobe
Leto and Tityos
Leto and Orion
The Protective Mother
The Trojan War
Immortals Index
Previous Page

Leto is the beautiful daughter of the Titans, Koios and Phoibe. The Titans were the first Immortals to have a human form but they were in no way humane. The children of the Titans were much more attuned to the realities of life on earth. Although they could be harsh and demanding, the children of the Titans showed great restraint towards the human population and sincere reverence for the ancient Immortals.

From the beginning, Leto was the most kind and gentle of the Immortals on Mount Olympos ... she drew the attention of Zeus and the two became lovers. Leto was one of the many consorts of Zeus and proudly bore him two children, Apollon and Artemis.

We know who Leto's parents are but little is said as to where on earth she was born. Her son Apollon made frequent trips and made many references to the land of the Hyperboreans ... it's obvious that they worshiped him but the origin of that reverence is vague. The "land of the Hyperboreans" has always been assumed to be somewhere north of Europe ... Hyper = above; Boreas = North Wind ... therefore the Hyperboreans lived somewhere above the abode of Boreas.

It's not mentioned in the early texts but the historian Diodorus Siculus made note that Leto was born on an island of the Hyperboreans. The island is unnamed but if Leto was indeed born there it would explain Apollon's frequent visits to the Hyperboreans as well as their devotion to him.

The Birth of Apollon

Zeus's sister/wife Hera was not pleased when she became aware that Leto was pregnant with twins. When it came time for her children to be born, Leto traveled far and wide to find a suitable birthplace. The Nymphs of the various islands and provinces were reluctant to allow their domains to be the home of Leto's twins because they knew that Hera was angry with Zeus for his association with Leto ... the Nymphs were justifiably afraid that Hera would vent her wrath on any Immortal who assisted Leto.

The goddess Delos had a rocky island in the southern Aegean Sea which Leto thought would be the perfect birthplace for Apollon. Delos was aware of the dangers she faced by helping Leto but she also knew that Leto's children would be honored by mortal and immortal alike. To protect herself, Delos made Leto swear a great oath on the river Styx that her new son would never abandon his birthplace and that he would always keep his temple on the humble island. Leto swore the oath and Apollon was soon to be born on the island of Delos.

The goddesses Rheia, Dione, Themis, Aphrodite [goddess of love] and two Hyperborean maidens went to Delos to attend Apollon's birth. Hera knew that she couldn't prevent the birth of Apollon but she was determined to make it as difficult as possible. Hera distracted her daughter Eileithyia [goddess of childbirth] so that Apollon's birth would be delayed and Leto would suffer for her presumed insult to the queen of the goddesses. Finally, the assembled goddesses dispatched Iris to bring Eileithyia to Delos ... Iris flew to Mount Olympos and waited until Hera was not looking and told Eileithyia of the situation ... the two goddesses returned to Delos where Apollon's birth proceeded without further delay. Leto had been in labor for nine days and nights before Apollon was born.

Apollon was born on the seventh day of the month and that day is considered to be holy. He did not nurse at his mother's breast because he was given ambrosia and nectar which are the food and drink of the Immortals. He burst from his crib and announced his intentions to play the lyre, carry the curved bow and declare the unfailing will of Zeus to the mortals of the earth.

The island of Delos became rich and beautiful with the presence of Apollon and Leto ... the mountains bloomed with flowers and people came from all regions to make generous donations to the shrine of Apollon. Games and dancing inspired the worshipers but the handmaidens of Apollon were the most amazing attraction on the island ... they had the ability to sing in such a way that each person heard them in his or her native tongue.

The Birth of Artemis

Although she was not born on Delos, Apollon's sister Artemis is considered to be his twin ... she is skillful with her silver bow and aids the people of the earth by giving comfort to the weak and unfortunate. Artemis is often called the Virgin Goddess of the Hunt or simply Goddess of the Hunt.

The birth of Artemis was less dramatic because it seems that Hera had vented her wrath on Apollon and was content that Leto suffered to give him birth. Artemis was born on the island of Ortygia in the harbor of Syracuse, Sicily. After her birth, the island of Ortygia was given to Artemis by the Immortals and the oracles verified the sanctity of her dominion. To honor Artemis, the Nymphs of the island caused a great spring to gush forth that they named Arethusa. The spring was filled with a large variety and quantity of fish that were considered to be sacred to the goddess. The fish were not eaten by sensible people but on certain occasions, desperate men would eat the spring's fish and Artemis would inflict appropriate punishment on the offenders.

The various Nymphs who refused to give Leto sanctuary eventually paid the price for their lack of hospitality. When Apollon and Artemis reached adulthood, they visited and punished all who had shunned their mother in her time of need.

Leto and Niobe

The story of Niobe is meant to be a lesson in humility as well as an injunction against blasphemy.

Niobe was the daughter of Tantalos and the sister Pelops, eponymous founder of the Peloponnesian Peninsula. She was the mother of seven sons and seven daughters, of which she was very proud ... perhaps, too proud. She would frequently boast that she was more blessed with children than the goddess Leto ... after all, Niobe had fourteen children and Leto had only two.

Leto became weary of Niobe's arrogant boasting and sent Apollon and Artemis to kill Niobe's children. Apollon and Artemis did as their mother commanded but it seems that only twelve of the children were slain. One daughter and one son survived because of their prayers to Leto ... their names were Meliboea and Amyklas ... Meliboea was struck ghostly white from the frightening experience and was afterwards called Chloris [Pale].

Niobe was supposedly turned to stone and placed on Mount Sipylos to eternally weep for her children. When the traveler/historian Pausanias was on Mount Sipylos, he observed, "When you are near, it is a beetling crag with not the slightest resemblance to a woman, mourning or otherwise; but if you go further away you will think you see a woman in tears, with head bowed down."

Niobe's husband was also punished for his participation in the mockery of Leto ... after his death, he was given a harsh but unelaborated treatment in the House of Hades ... knowing Zeus's affection for Leto, we can be assured that his punishment was appropriate for his crime.

Artemis and Niobe

Artemis and Apollon killing the children of Niobe

Leto and Tityos

Tityos was a son of Gaia [Earth] but his exalted birthright could not mitigate his punishment for trying to rape Leto.

As she was traveling towards Apollon's shrine at Delphi, Leto passed through an area called Panopeus, noted for its dancing floors and beautiful lawns. Tityos encountered Leto and tried to manhandle her ... he was either killed or severely wounded by arrows from Apollon and Artemis.

For his dastardly crime, Tityos was sent to the Underworld and stretched over a field to be tortured ... two vultures sit, one on either side, and tear at his liver ... they plunge their beaks into his flesh but he is positioned in such a way that he cannot fend them off ... thus his punishment continues to this day.

Leto and Orion

The hunter Orion was placed in the heavens as the most recognizable constellation in the night sky. His elevation to such an honored position was due to the intervention of Leto and Artemis even though it's very possible that Artemis killed him.

Orion had a history for indulgent behavior and suffered the punishments for his extravagant lifestyle. After being blinded by Poseidon [lord of the sea] and healed by Helios [Sun], it seems that Orion learned nothing from the experience ... vanity and brutality remained his trademark. One of two things happened at that point:

1) He became the consort of Eos [Dawn] and incurred the ill will of some of the Immortals ... Artemis was called upon to kill him; or

2) While hunting with Leto and Artemis on the island of Crete, Orion threatened to kill every wild beast on the earth. Gaia [Earth] was so annoyed at Orion that she sent a giant scorpion to sting and kill him.

After his death, regardless of how it happened, Artemis and Leto persuaded Zeus to place Orion in the heavens as a constellation.

Leto

Leto, Apollon and Artemis

The Protective Mother

Leto has always been interested in the activities of her children but it's rarely necessary for her to become directly involved in their affairs. In her role as the protective mother, Leto stepped in to save Apollon from being cast into Tartaros [the Pit] when he defied Zeus.

Apollon's son Asklepios was a phenomenal healer ... he was without doubt the most gifted healer who ever lived but his skill and reputation blinded him to his humble mission in life. Asklepios incurred the wrath of Zeus when he took money to restore a dead man to life ... he had clearly crossed the line of propriety ... punishment was swift and deadly. Zeus struck Asklepios and the man he had restored to life with a lightning bolt ... both died in a fiery flash.

Strangely, Apollon was angry with Zeus for killing Asklepios and not necessarily angry with Asklepios for his self-serving, egotistical behavior. Apollon became so enraged that he lost sight of his place in the hierarchy of the Immortals ... in his rage, Apollon killed the Cyclopes who forged the thunderbolts for Zeus. As you can imagine, Zeus was not going to let such blatant disrespect go unpunished ... he condemned Apollon to Tartaros, but Leto intervened and Zeus agreed to forgive Apollon if he would serve as a bondsman for a mortal ... Apollon wisely agreed, otherwise he would have been imprisoned with the Titans in the depths of the Underworld.

This incident took place before the Trojan War ... Asklepios had two sons who participated in the war as healers, their names were Machaon and Podaleirios.

The Trojan War

Leto, Apollon and Artemis fought on the side of the Trojans during the Trojan War. We are only told of one instance where Leto actually took part in the combat but she did not shirk from fighting in the front lines.

When she came face to face with Hermes, the messenger god backed away ... he said that he had no desire to fight with a bride of Zeus ... he then told Leto that she should boast to the other Immortals that she had bested him in combat ... he was quite sincere in his humility. Hera was not so shy ... she showed no sympathy for Artemis when the two goddesses met in battle ... Hera scolded the younger goddess and casually knocked her to the ground, scattering her bow and arrows in the dust. Leto helped Artemis to her feet and sent her back to Mount Olympos ... Leto returned to the brutal warfare.

Leto is often confused with the Roman goddess, Latona.

Immortals Index   Mythagora Home Page
Copyrighted Material—All Rights Reserved