LETO was the goddess of motherhood and womany demure.
Her cult was fairly widespread but she was usually worshipped as an associate goddess in conjunction with her children Apollon and Artemis. Her main cult centres were the island of Delos, the shrine of Ortygia near Ephesos and the town of Phaistos in Krete.
CLASSICAL LITERATURE QUOTES
CULT IN ATTICA (SOUTHERN GREECE)
Simonides, Fragment 13 (from Plutarch, On the Malice of Herodotus) (trans. Campbell, Vol. Greek Lyric III) (C6th to 5th B.C.) :
"And this is the inscription of offerings dedicated in the temple of Leto by a Diodoros : ‘these weapons, taken from the hostile Medes [Persians], the sailors of Diodoros dedicated to Leto as a memorial of the sea-battle.’"
I. ZOSTER Village in Attica (Attika)
Pausanias, Description of Greece 1. 31. 1 (trans. Jones) (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.) :
"At Zoster [in Attika] is an altar . . . to Apollon, to Artemis and to Leto. The story is that Leto did not give birth to her children here, but loosened her girdle with a view to her delivery, and place received its name from this incident."
CULT IN MEGARIS (SOUTHERN GREECE)
I. MEGARA Main Town of Megaris
Pausanias, Description of Greece 1. 44. 2 :
"[In the sanctuary of Apollon at Megara] is a noteworthy Apollon, Artemis also, and Leto, and other statues made by Praxiteles."
CULT IN ARGOLIS (SOUTHERN GREECE)
I. ARGOS Main City of Argolis
Pausanias, Description of Greece 2. 21. 9 :
"[At Argos] is the sanctuary of Leto; the image is the work of Praxiteles. The statue of the maiden beside the goddess they call Khloris (Pale), saying that she was a daughter of Niobe, and that she was called Meliboia at the first. When the children of Amphion were destroyed by Apollon and Artemis, she alone of her sisters, along with Amyklas escaped; their escape was due to their prayers to Leto. Meliboia was struck so pale by her fright, not only at the time but also for the rest of her life, that even her name was changed Meliboia to Khloris. Now the Argives say that these two built originally the temple to Leto, but I think that none of Niobe's children survived."
Pausanias, Description of Greece 2. 34. 5 :
"[Near Argos] is built a sanctuary of Artemis Orthia, and there have been made white-marble images of Apollon, Leto and Artemis, which they say are works of Polykleitos."
CULT IN LACEDAEMONIA (SOUTHERN GREECE)
I. SPARTA Main City of Lacedaemonia (Lakedaimonia)
Pausanias, Description of Greece 3. 11. 9 :
"On their market-place the Spartans have images of Apollon Pythaios, of Artemis and of Leto."
II. THERAE (THERAI) Village in Lacedaemonia
Pausanias, Description of Greece 3. 20. 5 :
"Between Taleton and Euoras [in Lakedaimon] is a place they name Therai (of the Beasts), where they say Leto from the Peaks of Taygetos . ." [N.B. The rest of the text is lost. The Taygetos mountains were sacred to Artemis, so the cult myth may have been connected with her birth.]
Pausanias, Description of Greece 5. 17. 3 :
"Here [in the temple of Hera at Olympia] too have been dedicted [statues of] Leto, Tykhe, Dionysos and a winged Nike."
CULT IN ARCADIA (SOUTHERN GREECE)
I. MANTINEIA Town in Arcadia (Arkadia)
Pausanias, Description of Greece 8. 9. 1 :
"The Mantineans [of Mantineia, Arkadia] possess a temple composed of two parts, being divided almost exactly down the middle by a wall. In one part of the temple is an image of Asklepios . . . the other part is a sanctuary of Leto and her children, and their images were made by Praxiteles."
CULT IN BOEOTIA (CENTRAL GREECE)
I. TANAGRA Village in Boeotia (Boiotia)
Pausanias, Description of Greece 9. 20. 1 :
"[At Tanagra, Boiotia] are images of Artemis and Leto."
Pausanias, Description of Greece 9. 22. 1 :
"[At Tanagra, Boiotia] are three temples, one of Themis, another of Aphrodite, and the third of Apollon; with Apollon are joined Artemis and Leto."
CULT IN PHOCIS (SOUTHERN GREECE)
I. DELPHI (DELPHOI) Town & Sanctuary in Phocis (Phokis)
Pindar, Nemean Ode 9. 4 ff (trans. Conway) (Greek lyric C5th B.C.) :
"Leto and her twin children, who keep their joint watch over rocky Pytho."
Pausanias, Description of Greece 10. 19. 4 (trans. Jones) (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.) :
"The carvings in the pediments [at Delphoi, Phokis] are: Artemis, Leto, Apollon, the Mousai, setting Helios (Sun)."
Pausanias, Description of Greece 10. 35. 4 :
"The images [in the temple of Apollon at Abai, Phokis] are made of bronze, and all alike are standing, Apollon, Leto and Artemis."
II. CIRRHA (KIRRHA) Village in Phocis
Pausanias, Description of Greece 10. 37. 8 :
"Its [Kirrha, Phokis] notable sights include a temple of Apollon, Artemis and Leto, with very large images of Attic workmanship."
CULT IN DELOS (GREEK AEGEAN)
I. DELOS Main Town of Delos
Homeric Hymn 3 to Delian Apollo 158 ff (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic C7th to 4th B.C.) :
"The girls of Delos, hand-maidens of Hekatos (the Far-shooter); for when they have praised Apollon first, and also Leto and Artemis who delights in arrows."
Pindar, Paean 4 (trans. Sandys) (Greek lyric C5th B.C.) :
"I shall dance, O Delos, in honour of the unshorn god and Artemis, and in honour of Leto."
Strabo, Geography 10. 5. 2 (trans. Jones) (Greek geographer C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"Now the city which belongs to Delos, as also the temple of Apollon, and the Letoion (Temple of Leto), are situated in a plain; and above the city lies Kynthos, a bare and rugged mountain; and a river named Inopos flows through the island--not a large river, for the island itself is small. From olden times, beginning with the times of the heroes, Delos has been revered because of its gods, for the myth is told that there Leto was delivered of her travail by the birth of Apollon and Artemis . . .
The neighboring islands, called the Kyklades, made it famous, since in its honor they would send at public expense sacred envoys, sacrifices, and choruses composed of virgins, and would celebrate great general festivals there [in honour of Apollon, Artemis and Leto]."
Strabo, Geography 8. 6. 14 :
"Here [the island of Kalauria, off the coast of Troizenos,] was an asylum sacred to Poseidon; and they say that this god made an exchange with Leto, giving her Delos for Kalauria."
CULT IN LESBOS (GREEK AEGEAN)
I. UNKNOWN Location in Lesbos
Arctinus of Miletus, The Aethiopis Fragment 1 (from Proclus Chrestomathia 2) (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic C8th B.C.) :
"Akhilleus sails to Lesbos and after sacrificing to Apollon, Artemis, and Leto, is purified by Odysseus from bloodshed [for killing Thersites]."
CULT IN RHODES (GREEK AEGEAN)
I). ARTEMISIUM (ARTEMISION) Promontory of Rhodes (Rhodos)
Strabo, Geography 14. 2. 2 (trans. Jones) (Greek geographer C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"The Artemision, a promontory and temple [of Rhodes]; then to the sacred precinct of Leto."
II. PYSCUS (PYSKOS) Village in Rhodes
Strabo, Geography 14. 2. 4 :
"Physkos, a small town [in Rhodes], which has a harbor and a sacred precinct of Leto."
CULT IN CRETE (GREEK AEGEAN)
I. PHAESTUS (PHAISTOS) Town in Crete (Krete)
Antoninus Liberalis, Metamorphoses 17 (trans. Celoria) (Greek mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"Leto took pity on [the mother] Galateia because of her unremitting and distressing prayers and changed the sex of the child [Leukippos] into a boy's [in order to save the life of the child from its father]. In memory of this change the citizens of Phaistos still sacrifice to Leto Phytie (the Grafter) because she had grafted organs on the girl and they give her festival the name of Ekdysia (Stripping) because the girl had stripped off her maidenly peplos. It is now an observance in marriages to lie down beforehand beside the statue of Leukippos." [N.B. The story of Leukippe also appears in Ovid's Metamorphoses but Isis is the agent of the transformation in place of Leto.]
CULT IN LYDIA (ASIA MINOR)
I. ORTYGIA Sanctuary near Ephesus in Ionia - Lydia
Strabo, Geography 14. 1. 20 (trans. Jones) (Greek geographer C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"On the same coast [near the city of Ephesos], slightly above the sea, is also Ortygia, which is a magnificent grove of all kinds of trees, of the cypress most of all. It is traversed by the Kenkhrios River, where Leto is said to have bathed herself after her travail. For here is the mythical scene of the birth, and of the nurse Ortygia, and of the holy place where the birth took place, and of the olive tree near by, where the goddess is said first to have taken a rest after she was relieved from her travail. Above the grove lies Mt. Solmissos, where, it is said, the Kouretes stationed themselves, and with the din of their arms frightened Hera out of her wits when she was jealously spying on Leto, and when they helped Leto to conceal from Hera the birth of her children. There are several temples in the place, some ancient and others built in later times; and in the ancient temples are many ancient wooden images, but in those of later times there are works of Skopas; for example, Leto holding a sceptre and Ortygia standing beside her with a child in each arm. A general festival is held there annually; and by a certain custom the youths vie for honor, particularly in the splendor of their banquets there. At that time, also, a special college of the Kouretes holds symposiums and performs certain mystic sacrifices."
II. LATOREIA Village near Ephesus in Ionia - Lydia
Athenaeus, Deipnosophistae 1. 31d (trans. Gullick) (Greek rhetorician C2nd to 3rd A.D.) :
"Alkiphron of Maiandros says there is a mountain village near Ephesos, formerly called Leto's village (Letous), but now Latoreia from an Amazon of that name."
CULT IN LYCIA (ASIA MINOR)
I. PHYSCUS (PHYSKOS) Village in Lycia (Lykia)
Strabo, Geography 14. 2. 4 (trans. Jones) (Greek geographer C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"[After Kaunos in Lykia or Karia] one comes to Physkos, a small town, which has a harbor and a sacred precinct of Leto."
II. XANTHUS R. (XANTHOS) River in Lycia
Strabo, Geography 14. 3. 6 :
"The Xanthos River [in Lykia] . . . sailing up this river by rowboat for ten stadia one comes to the Letoion (Temple of Leto); and proceeding sixty stadia beyond the temple one comes to the city of the Xanthians."
TITLES & EPITHETS
Leto's most common epithet was the patronym "daughter of Koios." The title Phystia and the Ekdusia festival were both associated with her cult in Krete.
Daughter of Koios
Born of Koios
Born of Koios
Temple of Leto
- The Homeric Hymns - Greek Epic C8th - 4th B.C.
- Epic Cycle, The Aethiopis Fragments - Greek Epic C8th B.C.
- Greek Lyric III Simonides, Fragments - Greek Lyric C6th - 5th B.C.
- Strabo, Geography - Greek Geography C1st B.C. - C1st A.D.
- Pausanias, Description of Greece - Greek Travelogue C2nd A.D.
- Antoninus Liberalis, Metamorphoses - Greek Mythography C2nd A.D.
- Athenaeus, Deipnosophistae - Greek Rhetoric C3rd A.D.