Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Eileithyia - Εἰλείθυια

Eileithyia (pronounced ay-lay-THWEE-uh) is the Greek Goddess of childbirth. A daughter of Zeus and Hera, she is also ruler of the pain and length of labor. It appears that there were originally two Eileithyiai—one to hasten birth and one to delay it—but they were eventually conflated into one Goddess. Two of the more important births involving Eileithyia (and her jealous mother Hera) are those of the twins Artemis and Apollo and of the hero Herakles. When the Goddess Leto was about to give birth to Zeus’s children Artemis and Apollo, Hera kept Eileithyia from hearing her cries and attending the birth. The Goddesses who were helping Leto eventually sent Iris, Goddess of rainbows, to find her, and when Eileithyia landed on the island of Delos where Leto was, the birth finally began. In the birth of Herakles, Hera had Eileithyia sit with her legs and arms crossed while his mother, Alkmene, was in labor. When Alkmene’s maid Galanthis noticed what Eileithyia was doing, she deceived the Goddess by declaring that Alkmene had already given birth to a fine son. Eileithyia jumped up and, with her binding actions ended, Alkmene was able to deliver Herakles. For her trick, Eileithyia turned Galanthis into a weasel. Due to her importance in the lives of everyday women, there were many temples erected in Eileithyia’s honor across the Greek world. Eileithyia’s name, which means “reliever,” is also seen as Ilithyia, Eleithyia, Eilethyia, Eleuthya, Eleusia, Eleiuthya, Eileitheia, and Eileioneia, and the epithets Genetyllis (procreating), Lysizona (loosening), and Eukoline (content) were used for her.

From: here
EILEITHYIA (or Ilithyia) was the goddess of childbirth and labour pains. According to some there were two Eileithyiai, one who furthered birth and one who protracted the labour. Her name means "she who comes to aid" or "relieve" from the Greek word elêluthyia. Her Roman counterpart was Natio ("Birth") or Lucina ("Light bringer").

When Alkmene was in labour with Herakles, Hera sent Eileithyia to stay the birth and so kill mother and child. However, Alkmene's handmaiden Galinthias spied the goddess seated before the door with her arms and legs crossed, and cried "a son is born." The goddess leapt up in surprise, releasing her magical grip on the womb, allowing the child to be born. Eileithyia was furious at being tricked by the woman and transformed Galinthias into a polecat.

Eileithyia was depicted as a woman wielding a torch, representing the burning pains of childbirth, or with her arms raised in the air to bring the child to the light. She was closely identified with the goddesses Hera and Artemis, both of whom bore epithets of her name.

From: Theoi
Ilithyia—the Latin spelling—or more usually Eileithyia, was the Cretan goddess whom Greek mythology adapted as the goddess of childbirth and midwiving, and whom the relentlessly patrilineal Hesiod even described as a daughter of Zeus and Hera (Theogony 921)—and Apollodorus and Diodorus Siculus (5.72.5) agreed. But Pausanias reported another early source (now lost): "The Lycian Olen, an earlier poet, who composed for the Delians, among other hymns, one to Eileithyia, styles her 'the clever spinner', clearly identifying her with fate, and makes her older than Cronos.” (Description of Greece 8.21.3). Pindar, a meticulously accurate mythographer, likewise makes no mention of Zeus:

Goddess of childbirth, Eileithyia, maid to the throne of the deep-thinking Moirai, child of all-powerful Hera, hear my song. —Seventh Nemean Ode.

For the Classical Greeks, "She is closely associated with Artemis and Hera," Burkert asserts (1985, p 1761) "but develops no character of her own." In the Orphic Hymn to Prothyraia, the association of a goddess of childbirth as an epithet of virginal Artemis, making the death-dealing huntress also "she who comes to the aid of women in childbirth," (Graves 1955 15.a.1), would be inexplicable in purely Olympian terms:

When racked with labour pangs, and sore distressed
the sex invoke thee, as the soul’s sure rest;
for thou Eileithyia alone canst give relief to pain,
which art attempts to ease, but tries in vain.
Artemis Eileithyia, venerable power,
who bringest relief in labour’s dreadful hour.” —Orphic Hymn 2, to Prothyraia

Thus Aelian in the 3rd century AD could refer to "Artemis of the child-bed" (On Animals 7.15)

Homer Iliad pictures Eileithyia alone, or sometimes multiplied, as the Eileithyiai:

" Just as a sharp spasm seizes women giving birth,
a piercing labour pain sent by the Eilithyiae,
Hera's daughters, who control keen pangs of childbirth.” —Iliad XI.270.

Vase-painters illustrating the birth of Athena from Zeus' head may show two assisting Eileithyiai, with their hands raised in the epiphany gesture.

The cave of Eileithyia near Amnisos, the harbor of Knossos, which the Odyssey (xix.19 mentions in connection with her cult, was accounted the birthplace of Eileithyia. It has stalactites suggestive of the goddess' double form (Kerenyi 1976 fig. 6), of bringing labor on and of delaying it, and votive offerings to her have been found. Here she was probably being worshipped before Zeus arrived in the Aegean, but certainly in Minoan-Mycenaean times (Burkert 1985 p 171). The goddess is mentioned as Eleuthia in a Linear B fragment from Knossos [1] ( In Classical times there were shrines to Eileithyia in the Cretan cities of Lato and Eleutherna and a sacred cave at Inatos. On the Greek mainland, at Olympia, an archaic shrine with an inner cella sacred to the serpent-savior of the city (Sosipolis) and to Eileithyia was seen by the traveller Pausanias in the 2nd century AD (Greece vi.20.1-3); in it a virgin-priestess cared for a serpent that was fed on honeyed barley-cakes and water. The shrine memorialized the appearance of a crone with a babe in arms, at a crucial moment when Elians were threatened by forces from Arcadia. The child, placed on the ground between the contending forces, changed into a serpent, driving the Arcadians away in flight, before it disappeared into the hill. There were ancient icons of Eileithyia at Athens, one said to have been brought from Crete, according to Pausanias, who mentioned shrines to Ilithyia in Tenea and Argos, with an extremely important shrine in Aigion. Ilithyia, along with Artemis and Persephone, is often shown carrying torches to bring children out of darkness and into light: in Roman mythology her counterpart in easing labor is 'Lucina ("of the light").

Such is the account I heard of the Asopus. When you have turned from the Acrocorinthus into the mountain road you see the Teneatic gate and a sanctuary of Eilethyia. [Pausanias 2.5.4]

In Greek shrines, small, terracotta votive figures (kourotrophos) depicted an immortal nurse who took care of divine infants, who may be connected with Eileithyia.

According to the Homeric Hymn III to Delian Apollo, Hera detained Eileithyia, who was coming from the Hyperboreans in the far north, to prevent Leto from going into labor with Artemis and Apollo, because the father was Zeus. The other goddesses present at the birthing on Delos sent Iris to bring her. As she stepped upon the island, the birth began.

She was especially worshipped in Crete, in the cities Lato and Eleuthernia. Caves were believed to be sacred to her (perhaps a reference to the birth canal). In Amnisos, a stalagmite in one cave was probably an icon of Ilithyia.

Alternative: Eilithia, Eilythia, Ilithia, Eileithyia, Eileithyiai, Eleuthia (Cretan dialect)

From: here
According Homer Eileithyia was the goddess of birth-pain, but Homer was often thinking about a few Eileithyiai, the daughters of Hera. Also Hesiod presented Eileithyia as the daughter of Zeus and Hera. Hera, but Artemis too were sometimes taking a role of this goddess and her title. Pausanias is describing two versions about the deity's origin. (1) In the first story Eleithyia came from the Hyperboreans (from the legendary north) to Delos to help Leto, when she was giving birth to Artemis and Apollo. In the second case Eileithyia was born in a Cretan cave at Amnisos.

There was a strong cult of the goddess Eileithyia in Crete, especially in the cities Lato and Eleutherna. The goddess is mentioned in Linear script B from Knossos as Eleuthia, which is a dialect form of her name, variously written in Greek language.(2) The offerings of different sorts found from her caves at Amnisos and at Inatos confirm that her cult was very popular in Crete. One stalagmite in Amnisos cave was perhaps treated as an aniconic religious image of the goddess. The cult in Crete continued from the Minoan period throughout the Hellenistic and Roman times.

We have not any prove about worshipping the goddess Eileithyia in the Greek mainland during Mycenaean period. In tablets with Linear script B from Pylos she is not mentioned too. But many small terracotta figures (kourotrophos), are demonstrating, that a sacred nurse, taking care about children, existed.

In Greek mythological iconography Eileithyia took a place probably under the Homeric tradition. One, but mostly two women - Eileithyiai attend Zeus during the birth of Athena on the decoration of some black figured vases from the 6th century BCE. Evidently, they are sisters, -daughters of Hera-, their type and clothes are similar.

The sanctuaries and shrines of the goddess Eileithyia in the Greek mainland during Hellenistic and Roman time are mentioned by Pausanias in Athens, Tenea and Argos, but mainly in Aigion, where existed a cult statue of the goddess from Damophon.(3) The wooden statue with the face, hands and feet from Pentelic marmor was dressed with fine cloths. Eileithyia was holding in both of her hands torches, because she was bringing children into light, out of darkness. With this attribute - torch - sometimes Artemis is depicted as well as Persephone.

From: here
Eileiyhyia, the coming, is the Greek, previously Mycenaean, goddess of birth; primarily worshipped by women and invoked to to ease the pain and danger of childbirth. The cries of labor summoned her presence. She is the daughter of Zeus and Hera, sibling of Hebe and Ares, and assisted at the birth of Apollo. Her role later is largely assumed by Artemis. Also, the name is used in a plural collective sense which reflected the practice of neighborhood women gathering together to help in childbirth. A tablet from Knossos records reads, "Amnisos, for Eleuthia, one amphora for honey." The cave at Amnisos, near Knossos, has a sacred stalagmite surrounded by a wall and involving an altar. In Sparta there was allegedly a running track at the end of which was a temple to Eileithyia.

From: here
Also see:
CULT & TITLES OF EILEITHYIA-- See the Cult of Eileithyia page (
Wiki Article
Free Ebook: Eileithyia By Paul Victor Christopher Baur -- Many formats.

MW thread about Roman Lucina
Article about Lucina

No comments:

Post a Comment