Monday, September 12, 2011

Leto, Mother of Artemis

"And Leto was joined in love with Zeus who holds the aigis, and bare Apollon and Artemis delighting in arrows, children lovely above all the sons of Heaven." -- Hesios c.8th Century B.C.E.

Leto, Titan Goddess, daughter of Koios and Phoebe was a figure in myth associated with the celestial realm, with childhood, motherhood, and the protection of children. With her children, Apollo and Artemis, she was often invoked at times of need in child bearing and disease. Apollo, who is God of healing and healers, and Artemis, who is, among other things, goddess of childbirth who can also often be seen as the killer of women during childhood.

Leto, it is said, drew the attentions of Zeus, and with Zeus begat the children who would be worshipped in the new age by the people of Greece. Artemis, it is said, is born first, though the two deities are twins, and helped her mother birth her brother, Apollo. The two, it is said, were also born on different islands, because fearing the ire of Hera, Zeus' Queen, the islands of the Aegean refused her a place of respite, a place where she might birth her children. 

Myths about the divine mother's inability to find a place to birth her child, or children, are common. From Greek and Roman myths such as this one, to Babylonian and Hittite myths about the Great Mother, to the birth of the Christ child, this journey of the goddess, or in many cases a mortal woman bearing a divine child, she is refused and eventually it is some poor spot that grants her a place to give birth and is later rewarded with eternal fame or prosperity or some such.

Whether it is Ortygia, where Artemis is said to have been born (In the Mediterranean) or Delos, the islands are later given great renown and Artemis and Apollo both bless these islands with both their presence and protection.

But there are some things of interest and relevance to me in the story of the birth of Artemis, one of which seems to be that Leto was not a goddess to be taken lightly. Whether because of the ire of Artemis and Apollo, or because of her place as a beloved of Zeus, or her own innate divine power, the figure of Leto is one that must be properly attended to as would be any aspect of a God or Goddess. Among the Titans, Leto is one of the few who continued to receive proper honors and worship well into the Roman Age and even beyond, if one considers Leto as an aspect of the Mother Goddess, but that is a discussion for another time.

As you may have figured out by reading my site and blog, I do not believe that every mythic figure we see in the myths themselves is a unique divine figure, but in the case of Leto, as in the case of Helios, another Titan God (son of the Titan Hyperion), has to be accorded a certain level of respect and even worship because of her link to two of the most powerful forces in the Olympian pantheon, the Bringers and Healers of disease.

Leto, here, represents and embodies a facet of life, both human and animal, and in connection to her, so do Apollo and Artemis, and Artemis especially, has a reputation for harshness that is important to take note of.

Is she a figure to be feared? Yes, but in that respectful fear that one gives to anyone who has power over the very reality we live in.

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