From the Leto entry in Wikipedia:

In ancient Greek mythology and religion, Leto is a goddess and the mother of Apollo and Artemis. She is the daughter of the Titans Coeus and Phoebe, and the sister of Asteria.

In the Olympian scheme, Zeus is the father of her twins, Apollo and Artemis, which Leto conceived after her hidden beauty accidentally caught the eye of Zeus. Classical Greek myths record little about Leto other than her pregnancy and search for a place where she could give birth to Apollo and Artemis, since Hera in her jealousy caused all lands to shun her. She eventually found an island that was not attached to the ocean floor, therefore it was not considered land and she could give birth. Once Apollo and Artemis are grown, Leto withdraws, to remain a matronly figure upon Olympus, her part already played.

Besides the myth of the birth of Artemis and Apollo, Leto appears in other notable myths, usually where she punishes mortals for their hubris. After some Lycian peasants prevented her and her infants from drinking from a fountain, Leto transformed them all into frogs inhabiting the fountain. In the story of Niobe, Niobe boasts of being a better mother than Leto due to having given birth to fourteen children, as opposed to only two. Leto asks her twin children to avenge her, and they respond by shooting all of Niobe's sons and daughters dead.

In antiquity, Leto was usually worshiped in conjunction with her twin children, as a kourotrophic deity, the goddess of motherhood; in Lycia she was a mother goddess. In Roman mythology, Leto's Roman equivalent is Latona, a Latinization of her name, influenced by Etruscan Letun.

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Leto Mythology

Goddess of Motherhood

Family and attributes

Leto is the daughter of the Titans Phoebe and Coeus. Her sister is Asteria, who is, by the Titan Perses, the mother of Hecate. Leto is also sometimes called the daughter of Coeus with no mother specified. The island of Kos, in the southeast Aegean, is claimed to be her birthplace. However, Diodorus Siculus states clearly that Leto was born in Hyperborea and not in Kos.

Hesiod describes Leto as "always mild, kind to men and to the deathless gods, mild from the beginning," the gentlest goddess in all Olympus. Plato also makes references to Leto's softness when trying to link etymologically her name to the word ἐθελήμονα ("willing", i.e. to assist those asking for her help), as well as λεῖον ("mild"). Next to Demeter, Leto was the most celebrated mother of the ancient world.

Hesiod describes Leto as "dark-gowned" and the Orphic Hymn 35 to Leto describes her as "dark-veiled" and "goddess who gave birth to twins". In the Homeric Hymn to Apollo, she is described as golden-haired.

Birth of Artemis and Apollo

Hesiod makes her the sixth out of the seven wives of Zeus, who bore his children before his marriage to Hera, however this element is absent in later accounts, all of which speak of a liaison between the two, that ended up in Leto falling pregnant. When Hera, the goddess of marriage and family, and the wife of Zeus, figured it out, she pursued her relentlessly.

The Homeric Hymn 3 to Apollo is the oldest extant account of Leto's wandering and birth of her children, but it is only concerned with the birth of Apollo, and treats Artemis as an afterthought; in fact the hymn does not even state that Leto's children are twins. The first to speak of Leto's children being twins is a slightly later poet, Pindar. The two earliest poets, Homer and Hesiod, confirm Artemis and Apollo's status as full siblings born to Leto by Zeus, but neither explicitly makes them twins.

According to the Homeric Hymn 3 to Delian Apollo, Leto traveled far and wide to find a place to give birth, but none of them dared be the birthplace of Apollo. After having arrived at Delos, she labored for nine nights and nine days, in the presence of Dione, Rhea, Ichnaea, Themis and the sea-goddess Amphitrite. Only Eileithyia, the goddess of childbirth, was not present; she, unaware of the situation, was with jealous Hera on Olympus. Her absence, which was preventing Leto from giving birth, kept her in labor for nine days. According to the Homeric hymn, the goddesses who assembled to witness the birth of Apollo were responding to a public occasion in the rites of a dynasty, where the authenticity of the child must be established beyond doubt from the first moment. The dynastic rite of the witnessed birth must have been familiar to the hymn's hearers. The dynasty that is so concerned about being authenticated in this myth is the new dynasty of Zeus and the Olympian Pantheon, and the goddesses at Delos who bear witness to the rightness of the birth are the great goddesses of the old order. Demeter was not present and Aphrodite was not either, but Rhea attended. The goddess Dione (her name simply means "divine" or "she-Zeus") is sometimes taken by later mythographers as a mere feminine form of Zeus (see entry Dodona). If that was the case, she would not have assembled there. Then, on the ninth day, Eileithyia was sent for by the messenger goddess Iris, who persuaded her with a necklace and brought her to Delos. As soon as Eileithyia arrived, Apollo was born, and was given ambrosia and nectar by Themis, rather than breast milk.

According to the Bibliotheca, "But Latona for her intrigue with Zeus was hunted by Hera over the whole earth, till she came to Delos and brought forth first Artemis, by the help of whose midwifery she afterwards gave birth to Apollo."

Antoninus Liberalis hints that Leto came down from Hyperborea in the guise of a she-wolf, or that she sought out the "wolf-country" of Lycia, formerly called Tremilis, which she renamed to honor wolves that had befriended her. Another late source, Aelian, also links Leto with wolves and Hyperboreans:

Wolves are not easily delivered of their young, only after twelve days and twelve nights, for the people of Delos maintain that this was the length of time that it took Leto to travel from the Hyperboreoi to Delos.

Leto found the barren floating island of Delos, still bearing its archaic name of Asterios, which was neither mainland nor a real island and gave birth there, promising the island wealth from the worshipers who would flock to the obscure birthplace of the splendid god who was to come. As a gesture of gratitude, Delos was secured with four pillars and later became sacred to Apollo.

Callimachus states that not only did every place on earth refuse to give sanctuary to Leto out of fear of Hera, but the queen of gods had also deployed Ares and Iris to drive Leto away from anywhere she tried to settle in, so she would not give birth to her twins. He wrote that it is remarkable that Leto brought forth Artemis, the elder twin, without travail.

Libanius wrote that neither land nor visible islands would receive Leto, but by the will of Zeus Delos then became visible, and thus received Leto and the children.

According to Hyginus, when Hera discovered that Leto was pregnant by Zeus, she banned Leto from giving birth on "terra firma", the mainland, any island at sea, or any place under the sun. But Zeus then sent Boreas, the god of the north wind, to Leto, who brought her to Poseidon. Poseidon then raised high waves above Ortygia, shielding it from the light of the sun with a water dome; it was later called the island of Delos. There Leto, clinging to an olive tree, bore Apollo and Artemis after four days.

According to the Homeric Hymn and the Orphic Hymn 35 to Leto, Artemis was born on the island of Ortygia before Apollo was on Delos. Stephanus of Byzantium also states that Artemis was born before Apollo, however he claims that she was born at Coressus.

According to a local tradition, Apollo was not born on Delos at all, but in Tegyra, a town in Boeotia, where he was worshiped as Apollo Tegyraeus.

Servius, a grammarian who lived during the late 300s CE and early 400s CE, wrote that Artemis was born first because first came the night, whose instrument is the moon, which Artemis represents, and then the day, whose instrument is the sun, which Apollo represents. Pindar however writes that both twins shone like the sun when they came into the bright light.

Chthonic assailants

Leto was threatened and assailed in her wanderings by ancient earth creatures that had to be overcome, chthonic monsters of the ancient earth and old ways, and these became the enemies of Apollo and Artemis.

One of the monsters that came across Leto was the dragon Python, which lived in a cleft of the mother-rock beneath Delphi and beside the Castalian Spring. Once Python knew that Leto was pregnant to Zeus, he hunted her down with the intention to harm her, and once he could not find her, he returned to Parnassus. According to some, Python was sent by Hera herself to attack Leto, out of jealousy for having been preferred by Zeus and he knew of a prophecy that he would find death at the hands of Leto's unborn son. Apollo slew it but had to do penance and be cleansed afterward, since though Python was a child of Gaia, it was necessary that the ancient Delphic Oracle passed to the protection of the new god.

Another one was the giant Tityos, a phallic being who grew so vast that he split his mother's womb and had to be carried to term by Gaia herself. He attempted to rape Leto near Delphi under the orders of Hera, like Python was, for having slept with Zeus, or alternatively he was simply overwhelmed with lust when he saw her. Tityos took hold of Leto, but she called out for her children, and Tityos was laid low by the arrows of Apollo and/or Artemis, as Pindar recalled in a Pythian ode. As he laid dying, his mother Gaia moaned over her slain son; Leto only laughed. For the crime of trying to rape Leto, one of Zeus' mistresses, he was punished by having his liver being constantly eaten by two vultures in the Underworld.

Involvement in wars

Leto took part in the Trojan War, on the Trojans' side, along with her children Apollo and Artemis. When Apollo saved Aeneas, he brought him to one of his own temples in Pergamus, where he was healed by Artemis and Leto. Later, when the gods battle each other, Leto supports the Trojans, standing opposite of Hermes. After witnessing Hera beat Artemis with her own bow, and Artemis fleeing in tears, Hermes refuses to challenge Leto, encouraging her to simply tell everyone she beat him fair and square. Leto picks up Artemis' bow and arrows and runs after her crying daughter. A scholium on the Iliad claims to report Theagenes' interpretation of the gods' battle. According to the scholium, Hermes here represents reason, rationality (λόγος, "logos") as opposed to Leto, who stands in for forgetfulness (λήθη, "lethe", perhaps a wordplay on Leto's name).

Leto fought alongside the other gods during the Gigantomachy, as evidenced from her depiction on the east frieze of the Pergamon Altar, fighting a Giant between her children Artemis and Apollo; None of the other Gigantomachy depictions includes Leto, although her presence is conjectured in a missing section of the Siphnian frieze.

When the giant Typhon attacked Olympus, all the gods transformed into animals and fled to Egypt terrified, or alternatively Typhon attacked them once they had assembled in Egypt in great numbers. Leto turned into a shrew mouse.

Favor myths

After Orion's sight was restored, he met with Artemis and Leto and joined them in hunting, where he bragged about being such a great hunter he could kill every animal on earth, angering Gaia who sent a giant scorpion to kill him. In one version, Orion dies after pushing Leto out of the scorpion's way. Afterwards, Leto (and Artemis) placed Orion among the stars (the constellation Orion).

Clinis was a rich Babylonian man who deeply respected Apollo. Having witnessed the Hyperboreans sacrifice donkeys to Apollo, he meant to do the same, only to be prohibited by the god himself under pain of death. Clinis obeyed and sent the donkeys away, but two of his sons proceeded with the sacrifice. Apollo, enraged, drove the donkeys mad which then began to devour the entire family. Leto and Artemis felt sorry for Clinis, his third son and his daughter, who had done nothing to deserve that. Apollo allowed his mother and sister to save those three by changing them into birds before they could be killed.

In Crete lived a couple, Galatea and Lamprus. When Galatea fell pregnant, Lamprus warned her that if the child turned out to be female, he would expose it. When Galatea gave birth, it proved indeed to be a girl. Galatea, fearing her husband, lied to him, telling him it was a boy she named Leucippus ("white horse"). But as years passed, Leucippus grew to be an exceptional beautiful girl, and her true sex could not be concealed. Galatea fled to the temple of Leto, and prayed to the goddess. Leto took pity in mother and child, and changed Leucippus into a boy. To celebrate this, the people at Phaestus sacrificed to Leto Phytia during the Ecdysia festival in her honor.

In one version, Leto, along with her daughter Artemis, stood before Zeus with tearful eyes while her son Apollo pleaded with him to release Prometheus (the god who had stolen fire from the gods, give them to humans, and was subsequently chained in the Caucasus with an eagle feasting on his liver each day for punishment) from his eternal torment. Zeus, moved by Artemis and Leto's tears and Apollo's words, agreed instantly and commanded Heracles to free Prometheus.

When Apollo killed the Cyclopes in revenge for Zeus slaying his son Asclepius, a gifted healer who could bring the dead back to life, with a thunderbolt, Zeus was about to punish Apollo by throwing him into Tartarus, but Leto interceded for him, and Apollo became bondman to a mortal king named Admetus instead. Apollo happily served Admetus, and enthusiastically undertook several domestic chores during his servitude with him. Leto is said to have despaired at the sight of his unkempt and disheveled locks, which had been admired by even Hera. Praxilla wrote that Carneus was a son of Zeus and Europa, and that he was brought up by Apollo and Leto.

Wrath myths

Leto's introduction into Lycia was met with resistance. There, according to Ovid's Metamorphoses, when Leto was wandering the earth after giving birth to Apollo and Artemis, she attempted to drink water from a pond in Lycia. The peasants there refused to allow her to do so by stirring the mud at the bottom of the pond. Leto turned them into frogs for their inhospitality, forever doomed to swim in the murky waters of ponds and rivers.

Niobe was a queen of Thebes and wife of Amphion of whom Sappho wrote that "Lato and Niobe were most dear friends", although she is most famous for boasting of her superiority to Leto because she had fourteen children (Niobids), seven sons and seven daughters, while Leto had only two. For her hubris, Apollo killed her sons as they practiced athletics, and Artemis killed her daughters. Apollo and Artemis used poisoned arrows to kill them, though according to some versions a number of the Niobids were spared. Other sources say that Artemis spared one of the girls (Chloris, usually). Amphion, at the sight of his dead sons, either killed himself or was killed by Zeus after swearing revenge. A devastated Niobe fled to Mount Sipylus in Asia Minor and either turned to stone as she wept or killed herself. Her tears formed the river Achelous. Zeus had turned all the people of Thebes to stone so no one buried the Niobids until the ninth day after their death when the gods themselves entombed them.

The Niobe narrative appears in Ovid's Metamorphoses where Leto has demanded the women of Thebes to go to her temple and burn incense. Niobe, queen of Thebes, enters in the midst of the worship and insults the goddess, claiming that having beauty, better parentage and more children than Leto, she is more fit to be worshiped than the goddess. To punish this insolence, Leto begs Apollo and Artemis to avenge her against Niobe and to uphold her honor. Obedient to their mother, the twins slay Niobe's seven sons and seven daughters, leaving her childless, and her husband Amphion kills himself. Niobe is unable to move from grief and seemingly turns to marble, though she continues to weep, and her body is transported to a high mountain peak in her native land.

Leto Pictures

Semicircular Marble Base Depictions
Semicircular marble base with depictions of ten Gods and Heroes of the Greek Pantheon, from Nikopolis, Greece. Leto is second from left. (1056k)
Closer View Leto Nikopolis
Closer view of Leto, from Nikopolis, Greece. (834k)

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