Greek Goddess Eileithyia 

Eileithyiae and the birth of Athena (detail), Athenian black-figure kothos C6th B.C., Musée du Louvre (google images)

Eileithyiae and the birth of Athena (detail), Athenian black-figure kothos C6th B.C., Musée du Louvre (google images)

She was the goddess of childbirth and labor pains. Her name means “she who comes to aid” or “relieve” from the Greek word elêluthyia. Her Roman counterpart was Lucina (“Light bringer”) or Natio (“Birth”). She was depicted as a woman wielding a torch, representing the burning pains of childbirth, or with her arms raised in the air to bring the child to the light.

Hesiod in the Theogony states she is the daughter of Zeus and Hera. She was born in a cave near Knossos, Crete, and this became her main place of worship. She was also worshiped in Olympia, which is attested by the discovery of a shrine attributed to her, while other shrines have also been found in Tegea, Argos and Aigion; icons of the goddess were also found in Athens. Offerings found in the cave in Crete were expensive gold jewelry and figurines, made of terracotta and ivory, depicting pregnant women.

She would come to the assistance of women in labor. When she was kindly disposed, she furthered the birth, but when she was angry, she protracted the labor and delayed the birth. According to Homer, she must be present when a birth happens as her absence can delay the birth. Hera does this when Apollo is being born.

Hera used her daughter’s power over childbirth at another labor. When Alkmene (Alcmena) was in labor with Herakles (Heracles), Hera sent Eileithyia to stay the birth. Some legends say this was to kill both mother and child. Others are bit kinder to Hera and say it was to allow his rival Eurystheus to be born first in order to claim the throne of Mycenae. However, Alkmene’s handmaiden Galinthias spied the goddess seated before the door with her arms and legs crossed, and cried “a son is born.” The goddess leapt up in surprise, which released her magical grip on the womb. This allowed the child to be born. Eileithyia was furious at being tricked by the woman and transformed Galinthias into a polecat.

Adela