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Lito/Leto/Latona:Mother of Artemis and Apollo

by by Ron Leadbetter

Leto, the daughter of the Titans Phoebe and Coeus. Known as the hidden one and bright one, her name came to be used for the moon Selene. Hera was jealous of Leto because Zeus, the husband of Hera, had fallen in love with her. From their union Leto bore the divine twins, Artemis and Apollo. Leto found this to be an arduous task, as Hera had refused Leto to give birth on either terra firma or on an island out at sea. The only place safe enough to give birth was Delos because Delos was a floating island. Therefore, Leto did not refute the wishes of Hera. In some versions, Leto was refused by other vicinities because they feared the great power of the god she would bear. To show her gratitude, Leto anchored Delos to the bottom of the Aegean with four columns, to aid its stability. A conflict of legends arises when in one version it says that Artemis was born one day before Apollo, and the birth took place on the island of Ortygia. Then the next day, Artemis helped Leto to cross to the island of Delos, and aided Leto with the delivery of Apollo.

Leto, being the mother of Artemis and Apollo, figured as the motive for the slaughter was Niobe's children was that Niobe had been bragging to Leto about bearing fourteen children (in some versions six or seven). Leto had only born two, and to make matters worse, Niobe then had the audacity to say, it must make her more significant than Leto. When the divine twins were told of this insult, they killed all Niobe's children with their deadly arrows. After which Niobe wept for her dead children so much that she turned into a pillar of stone. From one version of how Apollo slew the monster Python, it was said that while Leto was still pregnant with the divine twins, Python tried to molest her. As punishment, Apollo killed him and then took control of the oracle of Delphi.

Leto was worshiped throughout Greece, but principally in Lycia (Asia Minor). In Delos and Athens, there were temples dedicated to her, although in most regions she was worshiped in conjunction with her children, Artemis and Apollo. In Egypt there is the Temple of Leto (Wadjet) at Buto, which was described by Herodotus as being connected to an island which floated. On this island (Khemmis) stood a temple to Apollo, but Herodotus dismissed the claim that it floated as merely the legend of Delos brought to Egypt from Greek tradition. The Romans called Leto "Latona". "Copyright (c) 2000 Encyclopedia Mythica. All rights reserved."

From "Bullfinch's Mythology
Some thought the goddess in this instance more severe than was just, while others praised her conduct as strictly consistent with her virgin dignity. As usual, the recent event brought older ones to mind, and one of the bystanders told this story: "Some countrymen of Lycia once insulted the goddess Latona (Leto), but not with impunity. When I was young, my father, who had grown too old for active labours, sent me to Lycia to drive thence some choice oxen, and there I saw the very pond and marsh where the wonder happened. Near by stood an ancient altar, black with the smoke of sacrifice and almost buried among the reeds. I inquired whose altar it might be, whether of Faunus (Pan) or the Naiads, or some god of the neighbouring mountain, and one of the country people replied, 'No mountain or river god possesses this altar, but she whom royal Juno in her jealousy drove from land to land, denying her any spot of earth whereon to rear her twins. Bearing in her arms the infant deities [Apollo and Artemis], Latona reached this land, weary with her burden and parched with thirst. By chance she espied in the bottom of the valley this pond of clear water, where the country people were at work gathering willows and osiers. The goddess approached, and kneeling on the bank would have slaked her thirst in the cool stream, but the rustics forbade her. "Why do you refuse me water?" said she; "water is free to all. Nature allows no one to claim as property the sunshine, the air, or the water. I come to take my share of the common blessing. Yet I ask it of you as a favour. I have no intention of washing my limbs in it, weary though they be, but only to quench my thirst. My mouth is so dry that I can hardly speak. A draught of water would be nectar to me; it would revive me, and I would own myself indebted to you for life itself. Let these infants move your pity, who stretch out their little arms
as if to plead for me;" and the children, as it happened, were stretching out their arms. "'Who would not have been moved with these gentle words of the goddess? But these clowns persisted in their rudeness; they even added jeers and threats of violence if she did not leave the place. Nor was this all. They waded into the pond and stirred up the mud with their feet, so as to make the water unfit to drink. Latona was so angry that she ceased to mind her thirst. She no longer supplicated the clowns, but lifting her hands to heaven exclaimed, "May they never quit that pool, but pass their lives there!" And it came to pass accordingly. They now live in the water, sometimes totally submerged, then raising their heads above the surface or swimming upon it. Sometimes they come out upon the bank, but soon leap back again into the water. They still use their base voices in railing, and though they have the water all to themselves, are not ashamed to croak in the midst of it. Their voices are harsh, their throats bloated, their mouths have become stretched by constant railing, their necks have shrunk up and disappeared, and their heads are joined to their bodies. Their backs are green, their disproportioned bellies white, and in short they are now frogs, and dwell in the slimy pool.'" [see source: Ovid's Metamorphoses, Book VI, Agrestes Lycii (The Rustics of Lycia), lines 508 - 621]
This story explains the allusion in one of Milton's sonnets, "On the detraction which followed upon his writing certain treatises."

"I did but prompt the age to quit their clogs
By the known laws of ancient liberty,
When straight a barbarous noise environs me
Of owls and cuckoos, asses, apes and dogs.
As when those hinds that were transformed to frogs
Railed at Latona's twin-born progeny,
Which after held the sun and moon in fee."

The persecution which Latona experienced from Juno is alluded to in the story. The tradition was that the future mother of Apollo and Diana, flying from the wrath of Juno, besought all the islands of the AEgean to afford her a place of rest, but all feared too much the potent queen of heaven to assist her rival. Delos alone consented to become the birthplace of the future deities. Delos was then a floating island; but when Latona arrived there, Jupiter fastened it with adamantine chains to the bottom of the sea, that it might be a secure resting-place for his beloved. Byron alludes to Delos in his "Don Juan":

"The isles of Greece! the isles of Greece!
Where burning Sappho loved and sung,
Where grew the arts of war and peace,
Where Delos rose and Phoebus sprung!"
To read more go to Bulfinch's Mythology : THE AGE OF FABLE OR STORIES OF GODS AND HEROES
by Thomas Bulfinch
copyrighted 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999 by Bob Fisher.

Links to info on Leto

Leto:Daughter of the Titans
Info about the Letoya:Fesival to leto:
Leto: Mother of Apollo and Artemis: