also called Eleithyia, Eilethyia, or Eleutho. The ancients derive her name from the coming or helping goddess. She was the goddess of birth, who came to the assistance of women in labour; and when she was kindly disposed, she furthered the birth, but when she was angry, she protracted the labour and delayed the birth.
In the Orphic Hymn to Prothyraeia, the association of a goddess of childbirth as an epithet of virginal Artemis, making the death-dealing huntress also "she who comes to the aid of women in childbirth," (Graves 1955 15.a.1), would be inexplicable in purely Olympian terms:
TO THE GODDESS PROTHYRÆA
The FUMIGATION from STORAX.
O venerable goddess, hear my pray'r,
For labour pains are thy peculiar care;
in thee, when stretch'd upon the bed of grief,
The sex as in a mirror view relief.
Guard of the race, endued with gentle mind,
To helpless youth, benevolent and kind;
Benignant nourisher; great Nature's key
Belongs to no divinity but thee.
Thou dwell'st with all immanifest to sight,
And solemn festivals are thy delight.
Thine is the talk to loose the virgin's zone,
And thou in ev'ry work art seen and known.
With births you sympathize, tho' pleas'd to see
The numerous offspring of fertility;
When rack'd with nature's pangs and sore distress'd,
The sex invoke thee, as the soul's sure rest;
For thou alone can'st give relief to pain,
Which art attempts to ease, but tries in vain;
Assisting goddess, venerable pow'r,
Who bring'st relief in labour's dreadful hour;
Hear, blessed Dian, and accept my pray'r,
And make the infant race thy constant care.
Orphic Hymn 2, to Prothyraeia, as translated by Thomas Taylor, 1792.
These two functions were originally assigned to different Eiteioviai. Subsequently, however, both functions were attributed to one divinity, and even in the later Homeric poems the Cretan Eileithyia alone is mentioned.
According to The Theogony of Hesiod 922 Zeus was the father of Eileithyia, and she was the sister of Hebe and Ares. Artemis and Eileithyia were originally very different divinities, but there were still some features in their characters which afterwards made them nearly identical.
Artemis was believed to avert evil, and to protect what was young and tender, and sometimes she even assisted women in labour. Artemis, moreover, was, like Eileithyia, a maiden divinity; and although the latter was the daughter of the goddess of marriage and the divine midwife, neither husband, nor lover, nor children of her are mentioned.
She punished want of chastity by increasing the pains at the birth of a child, and was therefore feared by maidens. Frequent births, too, were displeasing to her.
In an ancient hymn attributed to Olen, which was sung in Delos, Eileithyia was called the mother of Eros.
Her worship appears to have been first established among the Dorians in Crete, where she was believed to have been born in a cave in the territory of Cnossus. From thence her worship spread over Delos and Attica, According to a Delian tradition, Eileithyia was not born in Crete, but had come to Delos from the Hyperboreans, for the purpose of assisting Leto. (The History of Herodotus IV)
She had a sanctuary at Athens, containing three carved images of the goddess, which were covered all over down to the toes. Two were believed to have been presented by Phaedra, and the third to have been brought by Erysichthon from Delos.
Her statues, however, were not thus covered everywhere, as Pausanias asserts, for at Aegion there was one in which the head, hands, and feet were uncovered. She had sanctuaries in various places, such as Sparta, Cleitor, Messene, Tegea, Megara, Hermione and other places.
The Elionia, who was worshipped at Argps as the goddess of birth was probably the same as Eileithyia.