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Ilithyia

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Ilithyia was the Greek goddess of childbirth and midwives, daughter of Zeus and Hera. She was later identified with Hera and Artemis. According to Homer, there were several called Eileithyiai while Hesiod and Pausanias always claimed there was only one, known as Ilithyia. She was always the daughter of Zeus and Hera, but was sometimes said to come from Hyperborea, to the north of Greece, in order to aid Leto in giving birth to Artemis and Apollo, and other times she was born in Amnisos[?] on Crete.

Hera kidnapped Ilithyia to prevent Leto from going into labor with Artemis and Apollo because the father was her husband, Zeus. The other gods forced Hera to let her go.

She was especially worshipped in Crete, in the cities Lato[?] and Eleuthernia[?]. Caves were believed to be sacred to her (perhaps a reference to the birth canal) and offerings to her have been found at caves in Amnisos[?] and Inatos[?]. In Amnisos, a stalagmite in one cave was probably an icon of Ilithyia. While the record of her worship on mainland Greece is spotty at best, kourotrophos (small, terracotta figures) depicted an immortal nurse who took care of divine infants. Two women, Eileithyiai, attended to Zeus while he gave birth to Athena in some artwork. Pausanias mentioned shrines to Ilithyia in Athens, Tenea[?] and Argos, with an extremely important shrine in Aigion[?]. Ilithyia, along with Artemis and Persephone, is often shown carrying torches to bring children out of darkness and into light.

Alternative: Eilithia, Eilythia, Ilithia, Eileithyia, Eileithyiai, Eleuthia (Cretan dialect)



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