EILEITHYIA was the goddess of childbirth. She was sometimes worshipped as twin Eileithyiai.
She was an important cult goddess with a number of shrines around Greece. Her cult centre was the town of Amnisos in Krete (Crete), the reputed place of her birth.
CLASSICAL LITERATURE QUOTES
Eileithyia was invoked by women in labour, to further the birth and ease the pain of labour.
Callimachus, Epigrams 54 (from A.P. 6. 146) (trans. Mair) (Greek poet C3rd B.C.) :
"Even so again, Eileithyia, come thou when Kykainis calls, to bless her pains with easy birth; so may thy fragrant shrine have, as now this offering for a girl, some other offering hereafter for a boy."
CULT IN ATTICA (SOUTHERN GREECE)
I. ATHENS (ATHENAI) Main City of Attica (Attika)
Pausanias, Description of Greece 1. 18. 5 (trans. Jones) (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.) :
"[Near the Prytaneion or Town Hall of Athens] is a temple of Eileithyia, who they say came from the Hyperboreans to Delos and helped Leto in her labour; and from Delos the name spread to other peoples. The Delians sacrifice to Eileithyia and sing a hymn of Olen. But the Kretans suppose that Eileithyia was born at Amnisos in the Knossian territory [in Krete], and that Hera was her mother. Only among the Athenians are the wooden figures of Eileithyia draped to the feet. The women told me that two are Kretan, being offerings of Phaidra [daughter of the mythical King Minos of Krete], and that the third, which is the oldest, Erysikhthon [an early king of Athens] brought from Delos."
II. COLIAS (KOLIAS) Promontory in Attica
Pausanias, Description of Greece 1. 1. 5 :
"Twenty stades away [from Pieraios] is the promontory Kolias . . . There is here an image of the Aphrodite Koliados, with the goddesses Genetyllides (Goddesses of birth), as they are called. And I am of opinion that the goddesses of the Phokaians in Ionia, whom they call Gennaides are the same as those at Kolias."
CULT IN MEGARIS (SOUTHERN GREECE)
I. MEGARA Main Town of Megaris
Pausanias, Description of Greece 1. 44. 2 :
"[At Megara] there is a sanctuary of the Eileithyiai."
CULT IN CORINTHIA (SOUTHERN GREECE)
I. CORINTH (KORINTHOS) Main City of Corinthia (Korinthia)
Pausanias, Description of Greece 2. 5. 4 :
"When you have turned from the Akrokorinthos [at Korinthos] into the mountain road you see the Teneatic gate and a sanctuary of Eileithyia."
CULT IN ARGOLIS (SOUTHERN GREECE)
I. ARGOS Main City of Argolis
Pausanias, Description of Greece 2. 22. 6 :
"Near the Lords [sanctuary of the Dioskouroi at Argos] is a sanctuary of Eilethyia, dedicated by Helene when, Theseus having gone away with Peirithous to Thesprotia, Aphidna had been captured by the Dioskouroi and Helen was being brought to Lakedaimon. For it is said that she was with child, was delivered in Argos, and founded the sanctuary of Eilethyia, giving the daughter she bore to Klytaimnestra, who was already wedded to Agamemnon."
II. MYCENAE (MYKENAI) Town in Argolis
Pausanias, Description of Greece 2. 18. 3 :
"Farther on [a road leading from the town of Mykenai] is a river called Inakhos, and on the other side of it an altar of Helios (the Sun). After this you will come to a gate named after the sanctuary near it. This sanctuary belongs to Eileithyia."
III. MASES Village in Argolis
Pausanias, Description of Greece 2. 35. 11 :
"[At Mases, Argos] there is a sanctuary of Eileithyia within the wall. Every day, both with sacrifices and with incense, they magnificently propitiate the goddess, and, moreover, there is a vast number of votive gifts offered to Eileithyia. But the image no one may see, except, perhaps, the priestesses."
CULT IN LACEDAEMONIA (SOUTHERN GREECE)
I. SPARTA Main City of Lacedaemonia (Lakedaimonia)
Pausanias, Description of Greece 3. 14. 6 :
"[At Sparta, Lakedaimon] are sanctuaries of the Dioskouroi, of the Kharites, of Eileithyia."
Pausanias, Description of Greece 3. 17. 1 :
"Not far from Orthia [the temple of Artemis in Sparta, Lakedaimon] is a sanctuary of Eileithyia. They say that they built it, and came to worship Eileithyia as a goddess, because of an oracle from Delphoi."
CULT IN MESSENIA (SOUTHERN GREECE)
I. MESSENE Main Town of Messenia
Pausanias, Description of Greece 4. 31. 9 :
"The Messenians have a temple erected to Eileithyia [at Messene, Messenia] with a stone statue."
CULT IN ELIS (SOUTHERN GREECE)
I. PYRGUS (PYRGOS) Town in Elis
Strabo, Geography 5. 2. 8 (trans. Jones) (Greek geographer C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"And Pyrgos [in Elis] has a temple of Eilethyia, an establishment of the Pelasgoi; it was once rich, but it was robbed by Dionysios, the tyrant of the Sikeloi (Sicilians), on his expedition to Kyrnos."
II. OLYMPIA Village & Sanctuary in Elis
Pausanias, Description of Greece 6. 20. 2 (trans. Jones) (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.) :
"At the foot of Mount Kronios [at Olympia, Elis], on the north, between the treasuries and the mountain, is a sanctuary of Eileithyia, and in it Sosipolis (Saviour of the State), a native Elean deity, is worshipped. Now they surname Eileithyia Olympian, and choose a priestess for the goddess every year. The old woman who tends Sosipolis herself too by an Elean custom lives in chastity, brining water for the god's bath and setting before him barley cakes kneaded with honey. In the front part of the temple, for it is built in two parts, is an altar of Eileithyia and an entrance for the public; in the inner part Sosipolis is worshipped, and no one may enter it except the woman who tends the god, and she must wrap her head and face in a white veil. Maidens and matrons wait in the sanctuary of Eileithyia chanting a hymn; they burn all manner of incense to the god, but it is not the custom to pour libations of wine. An oath is taken by Sosipolis on the most important occasions. The story is that when the Arkadians had invaded the land of Elis, and the Eleans were set in array against them, a woman came to the Elean generals, holding a baby to her breast, who said that she was the mother of the child but that she gave him, because of dreams, to fight for the Eleans. The Elean officers believed that the woman was to be trusted, and placed the child before the army naked. When the Arkadians came on, the child turned at once into a Drakon. Thrown into disorder at the sight, the Arkadians turned and fled, and were attacked by the Eleans, who won a very famous victory, and so call the god Sosipolis. On the spot where after the battle the snake seemed to them to go into the ground they made the sanctuary. With him the Eleans resolved to worship Eileithyia also, because this goddess to help them brought her son forth unto men."
CULT IN ACHAEA (SOUTHERN GREECE)
I. AEGIUM (AIGION) Town in Achaea (Akhaia)
Pausanias, Description of Greece 7. 23. 5 :
"At Aigion [in Akhaia] is an ancient sanctuary of Eileithyia, and her image is covered from head to foot with finely-woven drapery; it is of wood except the face, hands and feet, which are made of Pentelic marble. One hand is stretched out straight; the other holds up a torch. One might conjecture that torches are an attribute of Eileithyia because the pangs of women are just like fire. The torches might also be explained by the fact that it is Eileithyia who brings children to the light."
II. BURA (BOURA) Town in Achaea
Pausanias, Description of Greece 7. 25. 9 :
"There is a temple here [Boura, Akhaia] of . . . Eileithyia. The images are of Pentelic marble."
III. PELLENE Town in Achaea
Pausanias, Description of Greece 7. 27. 7 :
"[Pellene, Akhaia] has also a sanctuary of Eileithyia, which is situated in the lesser portion of the city."
CULT IN ARCADIA (SOUTHERN GREECE)
I. CLEITOR (KLEITOR) Town in Arcadia (Arkadia)
Pausanias, Description of Greece 8. 21. 3 :
"[At Kleitor, Arkadia] the most celebrated sanctuaries of the Kleitorians are those of Demeter, Asklepios and, thirdly, Eileithyia . . . The Lykian Olen, and 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 Kronos."
II. TEGEA Town in Arcadia
Pausanias, Description of Greece 8. 48. 7 :
"The Tegeans [of Arkadia] surname Eileithyia, a temple of whom, which an image, they have in their market-place, ‘Auge on her knees’ (Auge Eponomazousin), saying that Aleus handed his daughter to Nauplius with the order to take and drown her in the sea. As she was being carried along, they say, she fell on her knees and so gave birth to her son, at the place where is the sanctuary of Eileithyia."
CULT IN DELOS (GREEK AEGEAN)
I. DELOS Main Town of Delos
Herodotus, Histories 4. 35. 1 (trans. Godley) (Greek historian C5th B.C.) :
"The Delians relate that two virgins, Arge and Opis, came from the Hyperboreans by way of the aforesaid peoples to Delos earlier than Hyperokhe and Laodike; these latter came to bring to Eileithyia the tribute which they had agreed to pay for easing child-bearing."
Pausanias, Description of Greece 8. 21. 3 (trans. Jones) (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.) :
"The Lykian Olen, and 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 Kronos."
Pausanias, Description of Greece 1. 18. 5 :
"Eileithyia, who they say came from the Hyperboreans to Delos and helped Leto in her labour; and from Delos the name spread to other peoples. The Delians sacrfice to Eileithyia and sing a hymn of Olen . . . the third [wooden statue in the temple of Eileithyia in Athens], which is the oldest, [they say] Erysikhthon [an early king of Athens] brought from Delos."
CULT IN CRETE (GREEK AEGEAN)
I. AMNISUS (AMNISOS) Town in Crete (Krete)
Homer, Odyssey 19. 188 ff (trans. Shewring) (Greek epic C8th B.C.) :
"He [Odysseus] anchored in Amnisos [in Krete], by the cave of Eileithyia."
Strabo, Geography 10. 4. 8 (trans. Jones) (Greek geographer C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"The seaport Amnisos [in Krete], where [there] is the temple of Eileithuia."
Pausanias, Description of Greece 1. 18. 5 (trans. Jones) (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.) :
"The Kretans suppose that Eileithyia was born at Amnisos in the Knossian territory [in Krete], and that Hera was her mother . . . The women [of the temple of Eileithyia in Athens] told me that two [of the wooden statues] are Kretan, being offerings of Phaidra [daughter of mythical King Minos of Krete]."
CULT IN LYDIA (ASIA MINOR)
I. PHOCAEA (PHOKAIA) Town in Ionia - Lydia
Pausanias, Description of Greece 1. 1. 5 (trans. Jones) (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.) :
"The goddesses of the Phokaians in Ionia, whom they call Gennaides."
CULT OF NATIO IN LATIUM (CENTRAL ITALY)
I. ARDEA Town in Latium
Natio the Latin goddess of birth was worshipped in the region of Ardea.
Cicero, De Natura Deorum 3. 18 (trans. Rackham) (Roman rhetorician C1st B.C.) :
"If it is the nature of the gods to intervene in man's affair, Natio (the Birth-Spirit) also must be deemed divine, to whom it is our custom to offer sacrifice when we make the round of the shrines in the Territory of Ardea: she is named Natio from the word for being born (nasci), because she is believed to watch over married women in travail."
CULT TITLES & EPITHETS
The goddess had several alternative names and epithets:--
ENCYCLOPEDIA EILEITHYIA TITLES
GENETYLLIS (Genetullis), the protectress of births, occurs both as a surname of Aphrodite (Aristoph. Nub. 52, with the Schol.), and as a distinct divinity and a companion of Aphrodite. (Suidas.) (Genetyllis was also considered as a surname of Artemis, to whom women sacrificed dogs. (Hesych. s. v. Genetulis; Aristoph. Lys. 2.) We also find the plural, Genetullides, or Gennaïdes, as a class of divinities presiding over generation and birth, and as companions of Aphrodite Colias. (Aristoph. Thesmoph. 130; Paus. i. § 4; Alciph. iii. 2; comp. Bentley ad Hor. Carm. Saec. 16.)
LYSIZO′NA (Lusizônê), i. e. the goddess who loosens the girdle, is a surname of Artemis and Eileithyia, who were worshipped under this name at Athens. (Theocrit. xvii. 60; Schol. ad Apollon. Rhod. i. 287.)
Source: Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology.
- Homer, The Odyssey - Greek Epic C8th B.C.
- Herodotus, Histories - Greek History C5th B.C.
- Callimachus, Fragments - Greek Poetry C3rd B.C.
- Strabo, Geography - Greek Geography C1st B.C. - C1st A.D.
- Pausanias, Description of Greece - Greek Travelogue C2nd A.D.
- Aelian, On Animals - Greek Natural History C2nd - 3rd A.D.
- Cicero, De Natura Deorum - Latin Rhetoric C1st B.C.