Zeus and Leto: Apollo and Artemis

“Hera was still not finished; her rage knew no bounds.”

With his first wife, Metis, under permanent house arrest (her house being Zeus’ body), Zeus was single again.  But not for long.  A bit like Henry VIII, Zeus liked to throw himself back into the ring as quickly as he could.  This time his eyes fell on Themis – a primordial Titaness and Zeus’ auntie.

Themis was an unusual match for Zeus.  She presided over the ancient oracles (including the one that prophesised that Zeus’ mystery son with Metis would one day overthrow him).  She was wise and knew all about divine law, justice and morality.  Zeus was…well…Zeus, but they say opposites attract, don’t they?  She probably saw Zeus as a “fixer-upper”.

What can we say about Zeus and Themis?  Not a lot really.  They seemed to get on for a while, and the marriage was fruitful in that she bore him a few children who had important roles to play, but other than that no major events occurred.

So who were the children?  Three (Thallo, Auxo and Carpo) were the Horae and they were the goddesses of the seasons and the natural portions of time.  Quite how time worked before they came along we can only hazard a guess.  The other three were the Moirai, or the Fates.  They were responsible for the life of each mortal being from birth to death.  Clotho was responsible for spinning the thread of life from her distaff onto her spindle.  Lachesis was responsible for measuring the thread with her measuring rod, and Atropos was responsible for cutting the thread with her shears.  Atropos could also choose the manner of death and so – if you had to keep one of them sweet – you’d probably want to pick her.         

At some point Zeus and Themis underwent a conscious uncoupling and Zeus went on the hunt again.  He had brief flings with Eurynome, with whom he had the three Charites (minor goddesses of charm, fertility, beauty, nature and other generally nice things), and with his sister, Demeter, with whom he had the beautiful Persephone (whose story we shall hear about in due course), before spending nine days locked away with Mnemosyne.  Mnemosyne wanted nothing but to forget the whole experience, and cursed her bad luck at being the Titan goddess of memory.  She rarely appears in the Greek myths again and so perhaps went into hiding after her ordeal, but not before giving birth to the nine muses: Calliope, Clio, Erato, Euterpe, Melpomene, Polyhmnia, Terpsichore, Thalia and Urania.

Zeus continued to swipe right looking for his perfect match, but it didn’t help that he was starting to get a reputation.  The person he had his eye on was his sister, Hera, but she was playing hard to get.  So Zeus decided that he would play harder.  Caught in the cross-fire was poor Leto, who he’d been chatting to on “Plenty of Deities” and grown marginally fond of.

Leto was another Titaness and it didn’t take long before she became pregnant with Zeus’ children (the old dog).  In the meantime, Zeus continued his pursuit of Hera and he was starting to win her over.  So much so that when Hera found out that Leto was pregnant she was jealous.  Now one thing that you need to know about Hera is that you don’t mess with her.  If she was in Mean Girls she would be Regina George; the ultimate…well, I’m sure you know what I’m getting at.

Anyway, the first thing Hera did was push Leto out of Mount Olympus to wander the earth alone and banned her from giving birth on terra-firma.  No-one would speak to Leto or assist her for fear of upsetting Hera (such was Hera’s reputation).  She then sent a dragon snake (Python) to pursue Leto so she was constantly on the move and could not rest.  Where was Zeus during all of this?  He was no doubt cowering in fear, trying to think up elaborate ways to apologise to Hera for having impregnated yet another goddess, despite whispering words of loyalty into her ear.  He did, however, have enough of a conscience to send the North Wind, Boreas, to carry Leto out to the sea away from Python.  With Boreas behind her, Leto eventually landed on the floating island of Delos (technically not ‘terra-firma’) where she finally found refuge.

Hera then intervened once more.  She tricked Eileithyia, the goddess of childbirth (and a child of Zeus and Hera…don’t think about it too much), into thinking that her services were not required.  Leto managed to give birth to Artemis and then – for nine days and nights due Eileithyia’s absence – remained in labour with Apollo.  Eventually, with baby Artemis’ assistance, Leto managed to push him out. 

Hera was still not finished; her rage knew no bounds.  She continued to send creatures to harass Leto and her children, but luckily for Leto, Artemis and Apollo were badass babies.  When the giant, Tityus, was sent to abduct Leto, Apollo put his dummy in his nappy, grabbed his bow and arrow, and slew the giant before nap time.  Apollo also made short work of Python after hearing about the grief it had caused his mother.

Perhaps realising that taking on Artemis and Apollo was a formidable task, or perhaps having had her attention diverted by Zeus’ many other conquests, Hera stopped her pursuit of Leto and she could finally rest easy.  Leto would not, however, regain her seat on Mount Olympus (although her children had better luck) and she is largely sidelined throughout the rest of the Greek myths.

Hera’s story, however, has only just begun.

To be continued…         

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