Leto – Mother to Artemis and Apollo

In the vast tapestry of Greek mythology, few figures are as intriguing as Leto. A Titaness often overshadowed by her Olympian offspring, Apollo, God of Prophecies and Patron of the Arts and Artemis, The Great Huntress, Goddess of the Wilderness, Leto’s story is one of resilience, love, and the enduring power of motherhood.

Leto Key Facts

ParentsCoeus, The Intellectual Pillar of the Celestial North and Phoebe, The Luminous Titaness
PartnersZeus, The Supreme God
SiblingsAsteria, The Starry Enigma
OffspringApollo and Artemis
Other namesLatona (in Roman mythology)
Roman nameLatona
The Goddess ofMotherhood
SymbolsVeil, date palm tree

Name and Etymology

Leto, known as “Latona” in Roman mythology, is a name that resonates with mystery. The etymology of her name is somewhat uncertain, but some scholars believe it might be derived from the Greek word “letho,” meaning “to forget” or “hidden.” This could allude to her elusive nature in myths, often staying in the shadows of her more famous children. Another interpretation suggests that her name signifies “the lady,” emphasizing her noble status among the Titans. Throughout various tales, she’s also been given epithets that highlight her roles and characteristics, further enriching her persona in the annals of mythology.

Lazar Widmann, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Leto Origins

Born to the Titans Coeus and Phoebe, Leto was a member of the second generation of Titans. Her lineage alone speaks volumes about her significance in the mythological hierarchy. While her birth was not surrounded by the dramatic events that characterize many Greek gods, her life was anything but ordinary. From an early age, she was destined for greatness, and her association with Zeus, the king of the gods, would set her on a path filled with challenges and triumphs. The Daemones, or spirits, associated with Leto often symbolized the protective nature of motherhood, emphasizing her unwavering love for her children.

Leto’s Relationships and Offspring

In the intricate web of relationships that define Greek mythology, Leto’s connections stand out for their depth and significance. 


Zeus, the king of the gods, was not only Leto’s most famous consort but also the father of her celebrated twins. Their passionate affair, however, was not without its challenges. Hera, Zeus’s wife, consumed by jealousy, pursued Leto relentlessly, casting a shadow over what should have been a joyous time for the Titaness. Despite these adversities, their union bore fruit in the form of Apollo and Artemis, two of the most revered deities in the Greek pantheon.

Apollo and Artemis

Apollo, the god of music, prophecy, and the sun, and his twin sister Artemis, the virgin goddess of the hunt and the moon, are testaments to Leto’s enduring strength and resilience. Their birth on the island of Delos, amidst Hera’s wrath, showcases the lengths Leto went to protect and nurture her children. Throughout various myths, the bond between Leto and her twins is evident, emphasizing the themes of love, protection, and sacrifice.

Depiction And Characteristics

Leto’s portrayal in myths offers a glimpse into her multifaceted personality and attributes.

Often depicted with a veil and sometimes seen holding a date palm tree, Leto’s representations emphasize her maternal and nurturing nature. The date palm, in particular, symbolizes the island of Delos, where she gave birth to Apollo and Artemis, standing as a testament to her endurance during Hera’s wrath.

Despite facing numerous challenges, Leto remained poised and dignified. Her unwavering love for her children and her ability to rise above adversity showcased her strength of character. Ancient Greeks admired her for her perseverance and saw her as a symbol of enduring motherhood.

Leto Powers and Symbols

As a Titaness, Leto possessed immense power. However, her true strength lay in her protective nature, especially towards her children. While she might not have been as overtly powerful as some Olympian gods, her influence was undeniable, particularly in the tales involving her offspring.

The date palm tree stands out as a significant symbol associated with Leto. This tree, representing the island of Delos, is a testament to her journey and the challenges she overcame during her pregnancy. Additionally, the veil she’s often depicted with symbolizes her protective and nurturing essence.

Leto Roles And Responsibilities

In the grand scheme of Greek mythology, Leto’s primary role was as the mother of Apollo and Artemis. However, her influence extended beyond just motherhood. She was a beacon of resilience, showcasing the lengths a mother would go to ensure the safety and well-being of her children. Her tales often revolved around her efforts to protect her offspring from Hera’s jealousy, highlighting her unwavering love and determination.

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Myths about Leto

The tales of Leto are woven with themes of love, jealousy, perseverance, and motherhood. Each myth not only highlights her character but also offers a glimpse into the intricate tapestry of Greek mythology.

Birth of Apollo and Artemis

The tale of Leto’s pregnancy and the subsequent birth of her twins is one of the most poignant stories in Greek mythology, highlighting her resilience, the cruelty of Hera’s jealousy, and the bond between mother and child.

As soon as Hera learned of Leto’s pregnancy with Zeus’s children, she was consumed by jealousy. Determined to prevent Leto from giving birth on “terra-firma” (the mainland) or any island under the sun, Hera had the Titaness hunted by her serpent, Python. This forced Leto to wander the earth, seeking a safe haven to deliver her children. Every land she approached, fearing the wrath of the powerful queen of the gods, turned her away.

After much wandering, Leto stumbled upon the floating island of Delos. Since Delos was not attached to the earth and was not considered “terra-firma,” it provided a loophole to Hera’s curse. The island, sensing an opportunity to gain favor with the gods, offered Leto refuge. In gratitude, and sensing the significance of the event about to unfold, Delos was promised by Leto that her son, Apollo, would always favor the island.

As Leto prepared to give birth, Hera’s cruelty manifested once more. She kidnapped Eileithyia, the goddess of childbirth, to prevent Leto from going into labor. However, the other gods, seeing Leto’s suffering, tricked Hera into letting Eileithyia go.

Artemis assist in birth of Apollo

The labor was long and painful, lasting nine days and nine nights. Remarkably, Artemis was born first and, despite her own newborn state, assisted her mother in delivering her twin brother. Artemis, showcasing wisdom and maturity beyond her moments of life, became her mother’s midwife, helping Leto bring Apollo into the world. This act solidified the bond between Leto and her children, showcasing the lengths they would go to protect and support one another.

The island of Delos, in honor of being the birthplace of the two Olympian deities, was anchored to the sea floor by Zeus, ensuring it would never drift again. It became a sacred place, forever associated with Leto’s endurance and the divine birth of Apollo and Artemis.

Leto and the Lycian Peasants

Another tale that showcases Leto’s resilience and the protective nature of her children involves an encounter in Lycia. As Leto wandered the lands with her young twins, she grew thirsty. She approached a clear pond to drink, but the local peasants, either out of disrespect or ignorance of her divine nature, muddied the waters with their feet, preventing her from drinking. 

Infuriated by this act of insolence, Leto transformed them into frogs as punishment, condemning them to forever remain in the muddy waters they had created. This myth serves as a cautionary tale about showing respect and also emphasizes the protective and vengeful aspects of the gods.

Leto and Niobe

Niobe, the queen of Thebes, once boasted that she was superior to Leto because she had fourteen children (seven sons and seven daughters) while Leto had only two. Such hubris, especially when directed towards the gods, never went unpunished in Greek myths. 

Upon hearing of this boast, Apollo and Artemis, in defense of their mother’s honor, descended upon Thebes. With their divine arrows, they struck down all of Niobe’s children. The grief-stricken Niobe, unable to cope with the loss, was turned into a stone from which tears eternally flowed. This myth underscores the dangers of pride and the profound respect the Greeks had for the gods.

Leto In Ancient Greek Religion

Several sites in ancient Greece were dedicated to Leto, reflecting her importance in the religious landscape. The most notable is the island of Delos, considered sacred due to its association with the birth of Apollo and Artemis. Temples and sanctuaries dedicated to Leto could also be found in regions like Lycia and Anatolia, emphasizing her widespread reverence.

Leto might not have been a primary deity of worship. However, her significance in the Greek religious framework was undeniable. Festivals celebrating her, often in conjunction with Apollo and Artemis, were held in various parts of Greece. These events highlighted her role as a protective mother and the challenges she overcame for her children.

Engravings, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Representations Of Leto In Art

Art has always been a powerful medium to convey stories, emotions, and beliefs. The tales of Leto, with their rich tapestry of love, jealousy, and motherhood, have inspired countless artists throughout history.

Vase Paintings

Ancient Greek vase paintings offer a window into the daily life, beliefs, and stories of the time. Leto, with her twins Apollo and Artemis, was a popular subject. These depictions often showcased the trio in various stages of their life, from the birth of the twins on the island of Delos to their adventures and challenges. The intricate designs and patterns on these vases not only served as decorative pieces but also as visual narratives, allowing the viewer to engage with the mythological tales.


The art of sculpture in ancient Greece reached unparalleled heights, with artists capturing the essence of gods, goddesses, and mortals in marble and bronze. Leto was no exception. Statues of the Titaness, often accompanied by her children, graced temples, sanctuaries, and public spaces. One notable piece is the “Leto, Apollo, and Artemis” group statue, believed to be from the classical period. This sculpture captures the bond between the mother and her children, emphasizing their protective and nurturing relationship.

Frescoes and Mosaics

The walls of ancient Greek and Roman buildings were adorned with frescoes and mosaics that depicted various mythological tales. Leto’s story, with its themes of perseverance and motherhood, found its way into these artworks. Scenes from her journey across lands, her challenges, and moments of triumph were immortalized in vibrant colors and intricate designs.

Mentions in Ancient Texts

Homer’s “Iliad”

Homer, the legendary Greek poet believed to have lived around the 8th century BC, is best known for his epic poems “The Iliad” and “The Odyssey.” In “The Iliad,” Leto is referenced several times, emphasizing her role as the mother of Apollo and Artemis. One notable mention describes her as “the most gentle of all the Olympians,” a testament to her nurturing nature and the respect she commanded among the gods.

“Leto gathered her children to her, Apollo and Artemis, and said to them: ‘Since Zeus has made me the most hated of the gods, I ask you to stand by me and defend your mother.'” – Iliad (Book 21)

Hesiod’s “Theogony”

Hesiod, was another foundational figure in Greek literature who lived around the same time as Homer. He wrote the “Theogony,” a poetic work detailing the origins and genealogies of the Greek gods. In this text, Leto’s lineage and her place among the Titans are elaborated upon. Hesiod paints a vivid picture of the world before the Olympians, and Leto’s role in that cosmos is crucial. He describes her union with Zeus and later, the birth of Apollo and Artemis. Furthermore reinforcing the significance of these events in the grand narrative of Greek mythology.

Ovid’s “Metamorphoses”

Ovid, a Roman poet from the 1st century BC, penned the “Metamorphoses.” It is a poem that chronicles the history of the world from its creation to the deification of Julius Caesar. While it’s a Roman work, it draws heavily from Greek mythology. In this text, the tale of Leto and Niobe is recounted in detail, emphasizing the tragic consequences of Niobe’s hubris and the protective nature of Leto’s children. Ovid’s poetic flair adds depth to the story, making it one of the most memorable tales in his collection.

“Tears streamed from Niobe’s eyes, and the blood left her body, and a grey pallor spread across her face… She was turned to stone, within the stone, a marble statue, yet still she wept.” – Metamorphoses (Book 6)

Frequently Asked Questions

What challenges did Leto face during her pregnancy?

Leto, pursued by Hera’s jealousy, wandered in search of a safe place to give birth. She finally found refuge on the island of Delos.

Who are Leto’s famous children?

Leto is the mother of the twin Olympian deities, Apollo and Artemis.

Why is the date palm tree associated with Leto?

The date palm symbolizes the island of Delos, where Leto gave birth to her twins, enduring Hera’s wrath.

Was Leto an Olympian goddess?

No, Leto was a Titaness, belonging to the generation before the Olympian gods.

How is Leto related to Zeus?

Leto and Zeus shared a passionate relationship, resulting in the birth of Apollo and Artemis.

Did Leto have any temples dedicated to her?

Yes, several sites, including the island of Delos, had temples and sanctuaries dedicated to Leto.

Featured Image Credit: Jastrow, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

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Evangelia Hatzitsinidou is the creator and author of www.greek-gods.info which has been merged with Olympioi.com. She has been writing about Greek Mythology for almost twenty years. A native to Greece, she teaches and lives just outside Athens.