June 21st, 2010 by sabrina
Eileithyia (pronounced ay-lay-THWEE-uh) is the Greek Goddess of childbirth. A daughter of Zeus and Hera, she is also ruler of the pain and length of labor. It appears that there were originally two Eileithyiai—one to hasten birth and one to delay it—but they were eventually conflated into one Goddess. Two of the more important births involving Eileithyia (and her jealous mother Hera) are those of the twins Artemis and Apollo and of the hero Herakles. When the Goddess Leto was about to give birth to Zeus’s children Artemis and Apollo, Hera kept Eileithyia from hearing her cries and attending the birth. The Goddesses who were helping Leto eventually sent Iris, Goddess of rainbows, to find her, and when Eileithyia landed on the island of Delos where Leto was, the birth finally began. In the birth of Herakles, Hera had Eileithyia sit with her legs and arms crossed while his mother, Alkmene, was in labor. When Alkmene’s maid Galanthis noticed what Eileithyia was doing, she deceived the Goddess by declaring that Alkmene had already given birth to a fine son. Eileithyia jumped up and, with her binding actions ended, Alkmene was able to deliver Herakles. For her trick, Eileithyia turned Galanthis into a weasel. Due to her importance in the lives of everyday women, there were many temples erected in Eileithyia’s honor across the Greek world. Eileithyia’s name, which means “reliever,” is also seen as Ilithyia, Eleithyia, Eilethyia, Eleuthya, Eleusia, Eleiuthya, Eileitheia, and Eileioneia, and the epithets Genetyllis (procreating), Lysizona (loosening), and Eukoline (content) were used for her.
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