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by Dr Alena Trckova-Flamee, Ph.D.
According Homer Eileithyia was the goddess of birth-pain, but Homer was often thinking about a few Eileithyiai, the daughters of Hera. Also Hesiod presented Eileithyia as the daughter of Zeus and Hera. Hera, but Artemis too were sometimes taking a role of this goddess and her title. Pausanias is describing two versions about the deity's origin. (1) In the first story Eleithyia came from the Hyperboreans (from the legendary north) to Delos to help Leto, when she was giving birth to Artemis and Apollo. In the second case Eileithyia was born in a Cretan cave at Amnisos.

There was a strong cult of the goddess Eileithyia in Crete, especially in the cities Lato and Eleutherna. The goddess is mentioned in Linear script B from Knossos as Eleuthia, which is a dialect form of her name, variously written in Greek language.(2) The offerings of different sorts found from her caves at Amnisos and at Inatos confirm that her cult was very popular in Crete. One stalagmite in Amnisos cave was perhaps treated as an aniconic religious image of the goddess. The cult in Crete continued from the Minoan period throughout the Hellenistic and Roman times.

We have not any prove about worshipping the goddess Eileithyia in the Greek mainland during Mycenaean period. In tablets with Linear script B from Pylos she is not mentioned too. But many small terracotta figures (kourotrophos), are demonstrating, that a sacred nurse, taking care about children, existed.

In Greek mythological iconography Eileithyia took a place probably under the Homeric tradition. One, but mostly two women - Eileithyiai attend Zeus during the birth of Athena on the decoration of some black figured vases from the 6th century BCE. Evidently, they are sisters, -daughters of Hera-, their type and clothes are similar.

The sanctuaries and shrines of the goddess Eileithyia in the Greek mainland during Hellenistic and Roman time are mentioned by Pausanias in Athens, Tenea and Argos, but mainly in Aigion, where existed a cult statue of the goddess from Damophon.(3) The wooden statue with the face, hands and feet from Pentelic marmor was dressed with fine cloths. Eileithyia was holding in both of her hands torches, because she was bringing children into light, out of darkness. With this attribute - torch - sometimes Artemis is depicted as well as Persephone.

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