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The Lycian peasants deny water to Leto and her newborn twins Artemis and Apollo. villenave01201: Leto and the Lycian peasants. Drawing by Jean-Michel Moreau "le Jeune", 1741-1814 (Les Métamorphoses d'Ovide, Paris 1806).

Leto is said to have been always mild, gentlest among the OLYMPIANS, and kind to both mortals and immortals, for she is believed to grant whatever is asked of her. Although she is not Zeus' wife, she may be seen playing the lyre with him in the midst of the gods.


Zeus consorted with Leto before he married Hera, and because of their love affair, Leto was hunted over the whole earth by the jealousy of Hera, not being able to find a place where she could deliver her twins.

Leto's wanderings

In her wanderings, Leto came to Crete, to Athens, to the island of Aegina in the Saronic Gulf, to Athos in Thrace, to Mount Pelion in Thessaly, to the Aegean island of Samos off the western coast of Asia Minor, to the island of Peparethus north of Euboea, to Mount Ida, to the city of Phocaea in Asia Minor which is between the Elaitic and the Hermaean Gulfs, to the island of Imbros in northern Aegean Sea, to Lemnos, to the island of Lesbos in the Aegean Sea opposite the coast of Asia Minor, to the island of Chios off the coast of Ionia in Asia Minor, to Mount Mimas opposite Chios, to the rock Corycius on the coast of Asia Minor in Cilicia, to Clarus near Ephesus, to the promontory Mycale in Ionia on the mainland opposite Samos, to Miletus in Caria, to Cos off the southwestern coast of Asia Minor, to Cnidos, Naxos, Paros, and many other lands, looking for a place to give birth.


Having wandered through many countries, Leto came to the rocky island of Delos, which is one of the so called Cyclades Islands, and there she gave birth to her twins. About this island it has been said that when Zeus seduced Leto's sister Asteria 1, she flung herself into the sea in order to escape his amorous advances, being transformed into a quail by the god, who besides cast her into the sea. From her, a floating island sprang that was first called Ortygia, and later Delos. But others have said that Ortygia and Delos are two different islands, and that Artemis was born in Ortygia, and Apollo in Delos. It has also been told that Poseidon made an exchange with Leto, giving her the island of Delos for the island of Calauria, which is off Pogon, the harbor of Troezen, on the Saronic Gulf.


When Hera learned about Zeus' and Leto's love affair, she decreed that Leto should give birth at a place where the sun did not shine. At the same time, Python, the dragon that gave oracular responses and was fated to be killed by Leto's son, started to follow her in order to kill her. So Zeus let the North Wind (Boreas 1, see WINDS) carry her away, and the wind bore her to Poseidon, who protected her without violating Hera's decree, by taking her to the island of Ortygia, which he covered with waves. That is why Python could not find her; and when this dragon had returned to Mount Parnassus, Poseidon brought the island to the surface of the sea.


Several goddesses were present when Leto was about to give birth: among them Rhea 1, Themis and Amphitrite, Poseidon's wife. However, after nine days of travail, the goddess of childbirth Ilithyia had not yet arrived; for, they say, she was kept in heaven by the envy of Hera, although others say that Ilithyia came directly to Delos, not from heaven but from the land of the Hyperboreans in the far north. In any case, the godesses who kept Leto company bribed the heavenly messenger Iris 1 with a necklace strung with golden threads, and she brought Ilithyia to Delos.

Leto gives birth

On her arrival, Leto cast her arms around a palm tree (though some say she was clinging to an olive tree), and kneeling on the meadow, gave birth first to Artemis, and then with the help of this goddess' midwifery, to Apollo. After her travail, Leto bathed in the river Cenchrius. Yet, this river is near Ephesus in Asia Minor, traversing a grove with many cypresses called Ortygia, and some affirm that here, and not in Delos, is the olive tree and the place where Leto gave birth. Above the grove lies Mount Solmissus, where they say the CURETES made all kinds of noises with their arms in order to frighten the jealous Hera. Others have described what happened when Leto was about to give birth thus:

"When Leto in the frenzied pangs of childbirth set foot upon Delos, then did four pillars, resting on adamant, rise perpendicular from the roots of the earth, and on their capitals sustain the rock. And there she gave birth to, and beheld, her blessed offspring." (Pindar, quoted by Strabo, Geography 10.5.2).

The mean Lycian peasants

Her troubles did not stop after giving birth; for Leto, having arrived with her newborns to a certain place in Lycia, in Asia Minor, where there was a lake, was forbidden by the inhospitable locals to quench her thirst. No matter how much she begged them to let her drink, they would still forbid her to touch the water; and as Leto insisted, the Lycian peasants threatened her, and soiled the pool with their feet and hands, stirring up the mud from the bottom. And seeing them so tight-fisted and mean, and at the same time so in love with the pool, Leto turned them into frogs so that they could live in its depth for ever, enjoying the water and the mud.

The twins punish their mother's enemies

Among the first things the twin gods Apollo and Artemis did so soon they were born, was to punish all the men of that time, who refused to receive the pregnant wanderer Leto when she came to their land. Some say that only four days after his birth, Apollo went to Mount Parnassus and killed the dragon Python, thus avenging his mother.

Tityus' attack

Leto was once attacked by the giant Tityus, son of Gaia, or son of Zeus and Elare. Some say that Hera sent him against Leto, and that he attempted to rape the goddess. But the twins Artemis and Apollo killed him, or perhaps the thunderbolt of Zeus did. For having tried to violate Leto, Tityus is still being punished in the Underworld, where a couple of vultures, or as some say a serpent, eat his liver, which grows with the moon.


Leto was also insulted by Niobe 2, who boasted that she was more blessed with children than the goddess, or that her children were more beautiful. Leto then incited Artemis and Apollo against them, and Artemis shot down the females in the house, and Apollo killed all the males together as they were hunting on Mount Cithaeron (see NIOBIDS). But the Niobid Chloris 1 survived because of her prayers to Leto, which are, as they say, always granted.

Heals Aeneas

During the Trojan War, Leto sided, as her children, with the Trojans, and she, together with her daughter healed the wounded Aeneas in a sanctuary, while Apollo fashioned a wraith in his likeness to delude the warriors in the battlefield.


Parentage (two versions)



Coeus & Phoebe 1

Polus & unknown

See TITANS. Polus is otherwise unknown.






Related sections Leto in GROUPS: TITANS 

Apd.1.2.2, 1.4.1; Col.35; Hes.The.404, 918; Hom.Apo.3.15, 3.62; Hom.Od.11.580; Ov.Met.6.185ff., 6.339ff.; Hyg.Fab.140; Strab.10.5.2, 14.1.20.