Category Archives: Mythology

Leto, Goddess Mother of the moon and sun

Birth of Appolo

The birth of Artemis and Apollo.

Ancient Greek mother goddess worshipped between circa 800 BC, though most likely earlier, through to Christianisation around 400 AD. From the 4th century onwards Leto was identified as the local Lycian mother goddess during Hellenisation. Leto is called Latona by the Romans and Lato by the Dorian Greeks. The daughter of the Titans Coeus or Keos and Phoebe she was the mother by Zeus, perhaps his clandestine mistress, of the moon as Artemis and the sun as Apollo.

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Leto with twins Apollo and Artemis.

Artemis and Apollo were born on Delos as Leto escaped the powerful jealousy of Hera and to protect her offspring from the goddess. Hera had instructed all places not to allow Leto bear her children where the sun shone, or fear Hera’s reprisals. Leto is a local term for ‘lady’ and probably derived from an earlier Asiatic model.

Known cult centres were in Anatolian Lycia, where she was the principal goddess, at Phaistos in Crete, and the centre of an initiation myth. Her sanctuary was the Laotoon near Xanthos in the Lycian city state confederacy. Another sanctuary was found at Oenoanda in north Lycia. The people of Lycia adopted her and another sanctuary was at Delos. Leto was worshipped mainly in conjunction with, or as part of, her children.

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The Gorgons, maiden monsters of Greek myth

 Medusa

The Head of Medusa (1610-17).  Peter Paul Rubens.

The Gorgons were monsters in Greek mythology. They were hideous female creatures with golden wings, teeth or boar tusks protruding from a flat roundish face, claws of bronze, glaring eyes, and a head of live venomous snakes or serpents in place of hair. These monstrous maidens were later depicted as beautiful but terrifying. In Greek Gorgon or Gorgo means ‘terrible’ or ‘loud-roaring’. A vicious female monster with sharp fangs who, from earlier religious concepts was a protective deity. The Gorgons wore a belt of intertwined serpents.

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The Head of Medusa (1597).  Caravaggio.

There were three Gorgon sisters. One was called Medusa ‘the Queen’, the second was Stheno ‘the Mighty’, and the third was Euryale ‘the Wide-springer’. Only Medusa was mortal whereas Stheno and Euryale were immortal. They were the daughters of the sea-god Phorcys and his incestuous union with Leto. They lived in the farthest west, near Night and the Hesperides, but were located later in Libya. Medusa copulated with Poseidon in Athena’s temple so the goddess transformed her golden hair into snakes.

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Medusa (1878).  Arnold Bochlin.

As well as their horrific appearance they had the ability to turn to stone anyone who looked at them. The Gorgons head was called the Gorgoneion, often depicted on the shields of warriors or temple architecture as evil eye protection. Such motifs were believed to be apotropaic  as amulets capable of averting combating evil. The prototype of the Gorgonieon has been noted in Neolithic Art motifs. The iconography of the Gorgons was also borrowed from Lamashtu of Mesopotamia. An from earliest times as a vestige of the ancient powers that preceded the classical Greeks. Also Gorgons have been seen as personifications of the paralysing effect of the nightmare.

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Perseus and the Gorgon.  E. Burne-Jones.

Medusa was killed by Perseus using a mirrored shield and from the wound he inflicted on her neck Pegasus and Chrsaor sprouted, her two sons by Poseidon. Returning to the court of King Polydectes it is said Perseus turned them all to stone using the head of Medusa. In addition legends say he rescued Andromeda from the rocks while she awaited a sea monster that Perseus also turned to stone.

 

 

 

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The Horai, Greek goddesses of the seasons

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Horae Serenae.  Sir. E. J. Poynter.

In Greek mythology the goddesses of the hours, seasons and the order of nature, Daughters of Zeus and Themis they represent justice and orderliness in nature, and guarded the gates of Olympus as handmaidens of Hera. Their names were Dike or ‘Justice’, Eirene or ‘Peace’, and Eunomia or ‘Good Order’. According to Hesiod the Horae consisted of Acme as ‘Time and Order’, Eunomia was ‘Justice’, and Eirene was ‘Peace’. Additionally the first generation of the Horae were Thallo or Thalette, Auxo or Auxesia, and Carpo. According to Pausanias they were called Eunomia or ‘Good Order’, Dike or ‘Justice’, and Eirene for ‘Peace’.

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Statue of Eirene.

The first generation of the Horae, latinised as Horae, were the goddesses of the seasons and nature. Auxo meant ‘increaser’ as in plant growth and thus the goddess of growth and worshipped alongside Hegemone in Athens as one of their two Charites. Thallo the ‘one who brings blossoms’ was the goddess of spring, buds and blooms. who became the protector of youth. Carpo or Carpho and also Xarpo, was translated as the ‘one who brings food’ as well as ‘ripening’. Karpos in Greek means ‘crop’ or ‘fruit’. Carpo was in charge of autumn, ripening and harvesting. She was also an attendant of Persephone, Aphrodite and Hera, as well as associated with Dionysus, Pan, and Apollo. Commonly associated with the Graces or Charities and Demeter the ‘bringer of seasons’, as well as linked with the birth, upbringing, and marriage of gods and heroes.

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Statue of Dike.

The Horae were regarded as beneficent goddesses of the weather and donors of the spring and autumn season. The second generation were worshipped mainly in Athens and Argos being Eunomia, Eirene and Dike, and were the law and order goddesses. A third generation of the Horae was recognised by other ancient authors. They were Pherusa or Pherousa the goddess of farm extates, plus Euporie or Euporia the goddess of abundance, as well as Orthosie the goddess of prosperity. The Argive Horae were Damia and Auxesia and presumed to be summer and winter.  The seasonal Horae were often depicted as beautiful young women surrounded by vegetation and flowers and other fertility symbols.

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Hestia, virgin goddess of the fire

Hestia

Hestia.  Public domain.

In Greek mythology one of the oldest matriarchal goddesses. Virgin goddess of the hearth, the home. and domestic life. Eldest child of  Cronus and Rhea. Also known as Histie she was one of the three Great Goddesses of the Olympian pantheon with Demeter and Hera. Sister of Zeus, Poseidon and Hades. One of the original twelve Olympians but gave up her seat to Dionysus to tend the sacred fire on Mount Olympus.

Hestia goddess

Hestia represented the heart of the home, partook of all sacrifices and protected domestic life and virtue. As a minor goddess in the Greek pantheon she had importance in individual households. Representing the hearthside each home had a shrine where she was worshipped daily. Of all the Olympians she was the mildest, most upright and the most charitable. In the public domain each town had a public hearth where a perpetual fire burned to Hestia. These hearths were sacred to her. The first fruits, year-old cows, oil, and wine were sacred to her. Her known period of worship was from circa 500 BC until around 400 AD with Christianisation. Wooed by Apollo and Poseidon she refused marriage and on oath she remained virginal eternally as she was wedded to the sacred hearth fire. Traditionally Greek daughters tended the household fire. Hestia is closely related to Vesta in Roman mythology who was her approximate civic equivalent.

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Branwen, daughter of Llyr

Branwen

Branwen (1915).  C. Williams.

In British mythology Great Branwen, daughter of Llyr and sister of Bran and  Manawyddan, was the embodiment of sovereignty and chief goddess of Avalon. Her name is derived from the Welsh bran meaning ‘raven’ or ‘dark’ and gwen meaning ‘fair’ or ‘beauty’. Hence Branwen, who was famed for her beauty, was the white or sacred raven. She was the goddess of regeneration who kept the cauldron that brought back life, and her epithets include the ‘White Blossomed One’, the Welsh Love Goddess’, and ‘Venus of the Northern Sea’. As the ‘White Crow’ the crow is her animal and the Alder her tree. Branwen the ‘White Raven’ was the sister of Bran the Blessed, became Queen of Ireland while Bran was the King of the Isle of Britain.

Branwen was given in marriage to Mathowch the king of Ireland, which temporarily united Ireland and Britain, by her brother Bendigeidfran. Badly maltreated by her husband and, made to suffer at the hands of her husband’s countrymen, after her half-brother Efinissien who insulted the Irishmen. She calls on her brother who is King of the Isle of Britain for help. Bran makes war on Ireland and is beheaded and killed. Efinissien (or Evnissien) killed the son of Branwen (called Gwern) and Mathowch. Branwen dies of grief and sorrow after returning to Britain.

Branwen has been compared to Rhiannon because she gives bracelets as gifts. Branwen seems to be related to the Arhurian figures Brangwaine, Brangoene, and Bringvain. As a goddess Branwen was very concerned about her realm and its well-being and thus a deity of great depth and complexity.

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Britomartis, the Great Goddess of Minoan Crete

Snake Goddess

Minoan Snake Goddess.

Britomartis was the Cretan labrys goddess of nature, hunters and fishermen. Worshipped as the Minoan moon-goddess of the mountains in Mycenaean times who represented the female spirit of nature. Britomartis was the name of the Great Goddess of life, death and resurrection. She is an archaic aspect of the Cretan goddess ‘Mother of the Mountains’ and Potnia the ‘mistress’. Cults of Britomartis were situated mainly in north-east Crete  with a festival at Olous. The Festival of Britomarpeia was held in her honour. There were temples to her at Athens, Sparta, Massalia, and Anticyra in Phocis. Britomartis in western Crete was primarily a goddess of local importance. In addition she was worshipped as Aphaea on the island of Aegina.

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Britomartis (1861).  E. W. Wyon.

In myth Minos fell in love with Britomartis and for nine months chased after her until she jumped into the sea to escape him. She was rescued by fishermen after falling into their fishing nets. Her later name Diktynna is from the Greek word diktyon meaning a ‘net’ or dyktyna meaning ‘hunting nets’. Diktyanna also means mountain nymph or an Oread. Britomartis was deified after the intervention of Artemis thus among those Minoan goddess figures who passed from Mycenean culture into Greek mythology.

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Statue of Dyktynna.  Public domain.

Britomartis survived as Dyktynna as Mount Dikte, the birthplace of Zeus. As a Mountain Mother she appeared with Gorgon-like features, and in Minoan art was portrayed with demonic features accompanied by feral animals. Depictions show her holding the double-axes of power, holding her symbols the divine snakes. Her sacred flower was the lily.

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06/03/2015 · 3:44 pm

Nemesis, the goddess of divine retribution

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Nemesis (1837).  Alfred Rethel.

Nemesis was the Graeco-Roman goddess of justice, revenge, right measure, destiny and divine retribution, and the deification of indignation. In origin Nemesis meant the distributor of fortune, either good or bad, in due proportion. In modern use she is used to describe one’s worst enemy. Her name is cognate with the Greek word meaning ‘give what is due’. As the personification of divine vengeance and retribution she was a remorseless goddess and vengeful executrix of justice. Nemesis measured out happiness and unhappiness, gave earthly luck, acted against those who succumbed to hubris, and punished sacrilege. In addition she was a goddess who, with the Furies, shared the dreaded responsibility of transporting guilty souls to Tartarus.

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Nemesis (1853).  G. Tatterescu.

The origin of the cult of Nemesis may have been at Smyrna with cults there and in Attica. Nemesis was worshipped in an archaic sanctuary at Rhamnus in north east Attica during the 5th century BC. Therefore she is also known as the goddess of Rhamnus or Rhamnusia. The sanctuary at Rhamnus was north of Marathon, and her cult became a morality cult with a temple at Iconium in Asia Minor. The Festival of Nemesia at Athens was intended to avert the nemesis of the dead.

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Justice and Divine Vengeance Pursuing Crime (1808).  P. Prud’hon.

Nemesis, as the daughter of Erebus and Nyx was also ascribed as being the offspring of Oceanus or Zeus. She became the nymph goddess of the apple-bough. As the nymph goddess her name was Adastreia, meaning ‘inescapable’ or ‘from whom there is no escape’. The epithet of the Erinyes being ‘implacable’. Nemesis is often portrayed carrying the bough of an apple tree, or in one of her annual disguises as an ash tree. It was the later Greeks who identified Adastreia with the pastoral goddess Nemesis of the rain-making ash-tree. She is also sometimes depicted with a wheel, holding scales, whip and bridle, and symbolised in a chariot drawn by winged griffins.

Nemesis, as the original nymph goddess, whose usual name was Leda, was pursued by Zeus. During the pursuit both Nemesis and Zeus frequently changed form. Eventually Zeus, in the guise of a swan ravaged and impregnated Nemesis in her goose form. As a result of the rape Nemesis hatched an egg, found by Leda, into two sets of twins. One set was Helen of Troy and Clytemnestra, the other the Dioscuri called Castor and Polydeuces.

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Leda and the Swan (1601).  Peter Paul Rubens.

In the pre-Hellenic story the goddess pursues the sacred king against whom uses she uses her seasonal transformations to counter his, whereupon she devours him at summer solstice. With the victory of the system of patriarchy the later Hellenic version reverses their roles. Hence the goddess takes flight, metamorphoses a number of times, and is eventually caught and raped by the chasing king. Leda, who finds the egg, is another form of Leto, Lat, or Latona who is pursued by Python. In another version it is Leda who gave birth after the egg had been placed between her thighs by Artemis. Nemesis who was a moon-goddess as a nymph was also the goddess of a Peloponnesian swan cult. Swans were sacred to Leto and Latona. Later Leda was deified as Nemesis.

The ancient Romans equated Nemesis with the goddess Invidia who in ancient Rome was called Pax-Nemesis.

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Nemesis.  Roman marble from 2nd century AD Egypt.

As the patroness of gladiators she was also Nemesis campestris or the goddess of the training ground. Nemesis in ancient Rome was the winged balancer of life, a dark faced goddess and daughter of Justice. In the 3rd century AD she was the all-powerful Nemesis-Fortuna.

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