Eileithyia: The Goddess of Childbirth in Greek Mythology

28/03/2021
     Eileithyia was, in Greek Mythology, the Goddess of Childbirth. She was a scarce deity, as she represented only one thing, different from Apollo, where her name had many representations.

Eileithyia in Greek Mythology:

     Eileithyia, in Greek Mythology, was the goddess of childbirth and obstetrics. In the cave of Amnisos (Crete), it was related to the annual birth of the divine son, and her cult is connected with Enesidaon (the earth shaker), who was the chthonic aspect of the god Poseidon. It is possible that her cult is related to the cult of Eleusis. In his Seventh Ode Nemeana, Píndaro refers to her as the maid or sitting next to the Moirai (destinations) and responsible for raising descendants.

"And just as when the sharp dart hits a woman in labor, the penetrating dart that Eileithyia, the goddess of childbirth, sends - yes, the daughters of Hera who have bitter pain in their care."

Hesiod:

     Hesiod (c. 700 BC) described Eileithyia as daughter of Hera by Zeus. Later, for classical Greeks, it is closely associated with Artemis and Hera (but does not develop any character of its own). In the Orphic Hymn to Prothyraeia, the association of a goddess of childbirth as an epithet of Artemis virginal, making the hunter deadly also "one who comes to the aid of women in childbirth" would be inexplicable in purely Olympic terms:

"When plagued by labor pains and sore anguished
sex invokes you, like the safe rest of the soul;
because only you, Ilítia, can give relief to the pain,
that art tries to soften, but it tries in vain.
Artemis Eileithyia, venerable power,
that bring relief at the terrible hour of work. "


Cult:

     As the main goddess of childbirth along with Artemis, Eileithyia had numerous sanctuaries in many places in Greece dating from the Neolithic to Roman times, indicating that she was extremely important for pregnant women and their families. People prayed and left offers for fertility help, safe delivery, or thanks for a successful birth. Archaeological evidence of votive terra-cotta figurines representing children found in sacred sites and sacred sites dedicated to Eileithyia suggests that she was a chorotrophic deity, to whom parents would have prayed for the protection and care of their children.

     Midwives played an essential role in ancient Greek society, with women of all classes participating in the profession, many of them slaves with only empirical training or some theoretical training in obstetrics and gynecology. Higher educated midwives, usually from higher classes, were called iatrenes or female disease doctors and would be respected as doctors.

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