Leto : The Obscure One; The Hidden One; The Forgotten One


Latona (Rome)

Mythology books are often dismissive of Leto: she’s portrayed as just one of Zeus’ many girlfriends. Her sole significance is giving birth to Apollo and Artemis. However, Leto is a significant goddess in her own right and was the primary deity worshipped in the Anatolian kingdom of Lykia.

There are various versions of her myth; what they all have in common are wolves, Leto’s sacred creatures. Leto is a wolf goddess. Leto is the granddaughter of Gaia and Uranus and hence Zeus and Hera’s cousin. Her mother is Titan Phoebe and her father is Polos, the pole star. She traveled to Delos, the island where she gave birth, in the form of a wolf.

Another version recalls that Zeus arrived in Greece with Northern invaders. Leto may have been his original wife who followed once the Olympian pantheon was established. Her ancestral home is described as Lykis, “Wolf Land” possibly Anatolian Lykia, which according to legend adopted its name from Leto’s wolf escort.

Another myth suggests that Leto traveled to Greece from Hyperborea in the shape of a wolf or in the company of wolves. She may already have been pregnant with Apollo or she may have carried him in the form of a wolf pup.

Hera allegedly cursed Leto so that she would only be able to give birth in a place where the sun doesn’t shine. The actual phrase may be “wolf light”: Leto must give birth where only wolves see. Hera is made out to be the villainess of the myth; portrayed as violently jealous and shrewish however what she may be doing is protecting her position as primary goddess. Leto is doing more than sleeping with Hera’slawfully wedded husband: Leto is invading her turf. It is Leto’s son, not Hera’s, who is Zeus’ favourite. Notably, Leto and her children survive the birth intact; the only fatality is Hera’s ally, a dragon who Apollo searches out to destroy.

In some myths, Leto is the mother of twins, Apollo and Artemis. In others, only Apollo is her child. Artemis, a kindred spirit, is her ally. Archaeological evidence suggests that Artemis was worshipped in Greece long before Zeus or Apollo. Describing this ancient goddess as Leto’s daughter may have been a way to incorporate both into the Olympian pantheon. All three spirits (Leto, Artemis, and Apollo) have profound associations with wolves.

Myths make Leto sound helpless: she seems dependent on the protection of others including her newborn son. Yet she is a powerful witch; quite capable of taking care of herself. When cowherds annoy her, she simply turns them into frogs.

Leto was worshipped along coastal Ana tolia. She was the primary goddess of Lykia, the Wolf Land, now in modern Turkey. The Lykians spoke a language related to Hittite and were the cultural bridge between Greece and the Levantine Coast. One myth says that Hera pursued Leto with her children to Lykia immediately after the birth. A Lykian version however says that the birth really took place there, not on Delos. In Lykia, Leto was considered a Great Mother Goddess similar to Kybele or Asherah.

William E. Gladstone (1809–1898), most famous as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom during the reign of Queen Victoria, was also an expert on Greek mythology. He identified Apollo as a divine child and savior and Leto as his holy mother. Gladstone conjectured that she was a forerunner of Mary, Mother of Christ. Leto may be among the Pagan goddesses who masquerade under the guise of the Black Madonna. It is theorized that her name means “Lady” or “Stone.”

Leto was worshipped as a guardian of families, mothers and children. As goddess of the grave, her protection extends into the realm of death. (Wolves are among the creatures traditionally believed able to traverse boundaries between realms of life and death.)

Sacred birds:

Quail, Rooster

Sacred creature: Wolf

Sacred site:

The Temple of Leto, called the Letoon, was the most important sanctuary in Lykia. The ruins are still visible. Leto was worshipped here alongside Artemis, Apollo and Nymphs. Each possessed their own temple within the complex; the largest was dedicated to Leto. Leto’s temple dates back to the fifth century BCE. Veneration continued until the 7th century CE.



Encyclopedia of Spirits: The Ultimate Guide to the Magic of Fairies, Genies, Demons, Ghosts, Gods & Goddesses – Written by : Judika Illes Copyright © 2009 by Judika Illes.