Laërtes and Leto

Laërtes was the father of the great hero Odysseus, and King of the Kephallenians. His parents were King Arkiseus and Queen Chalkomedusa of Ithaca. By some accounts, his paternal grandpap was none other than the always-horny Zeus. Besides Odysseus, he and his wife Antiklea were also the parents of daughter Ktimene. In some versions, Sisyphus is Odysseus’s blood father.

Laërtes was also one of the Argonauts, and participated in the hunt for the Calydonian (or Aetolian) Boar. This boar, who was terrorizing the people and destroying their agriculture, had been sent by Artemis after King Oeneus forgot to include her during the annual harvest sacrifice. Awesomely, one of the hunters was a woman, the famous Atalanta.

Laërtes and Antiklea missed Odysseus terribly during the ten years of the Trojan War, so much so Antiklea died of grief. In The Odyssey, Odysseus visits the underworld and speaks with her, learning Laërtes “grieves continually,” lives in a hovel, sleeps on the ground, and dresses in rags.

After twenty long years, Odysseus finally makes it back to Ithaca, though he doesn’t come to see his father till after he’s killed all of Penelope’s very persistent suitors. At first, Odysseus keeps his true identity secret, and says he’s Quarrelman, only son of King Allwoes.

When Odysseus sees how sad Laërtes is after getting no news of his son, he reveals himself. To prove his identity, Odysseus recites all the Ithacan tree names Laërtes taught him as a boy. Afterwards, they join forces in fighting off the angry families of the slain suitors. Athena gives him extra vigour.

Laërtes means “fastening the people together,” derived from laos (people) and eirein (to fasten together). Eirein also means “to say, to speak.”

Birth of Apollo and Diana, by Marcantonio Franceschini, 1692–1709

Leto (Roman name Latona) is the daughter of Titans Koios (Coeus) and Phoebe, and the mother of deities Artemis and Apollo. Very predictably, her twins were sired by perpetual horndog Zeus. Also predictably, Hera was super-pissed off to discover Zeus had yet again whored around with another woman.

Hera made all parts of the Earth shun Leto, so she wouldn’t be able to give birth anywhere. Finally, Leto found an island not attached to the ocean floor, Asterios (now Delos). She promised Asterios wealth from the future worshippers who’d come in droves to this obscure birthplace of the two deities she was about to birth.

Leto birthed Artemis first, without any problems. She laboured nine days and nine nights for Apollo, with Artemis serving as the midwife. In another version, Leto birthed Artemis on the island of Ortygia, and then was helped by Artemis across the sea to Delos the next day.

Latona e i Pastori di Licia, by Annibale Carracci, ca. 1590

Chthonic (subterranean) monsters stalked Leto during her wanderings, and became her children’s enemies. One of them, Tityos, tried to rape Leto on Hera’s orders, but Artemis and Apollo felled him with their arrows.

After Artemis and Apollo grew up, Leto retreated into a quiet, matronly figure on Mount Olympus. She was particularly worshipped in Lycia (now Anatolia, Turkey, Asia’s westernmost land) and Crete.

Leto may come from lethe, “oblivion,” and lotus (a narcotic, amnesiac fruit in Greek mythology). It may also come from the Lycian lada, “white,” which may also be the origin of Leda.

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2 thoughts on “Laërtes and Leto

  1. Pingback: A to Z Reflections 2017 « Onomastics Outside the Box

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