Who Was Leda?
Leda was a princess of King Thestius, also known as the name Thestias, until such time that she married off to Sparta’s King Tyndareus. Although she did not accomplish much in the grand scheme beyond her work as a mother, she was quite beautiful and her beauty is what brings her into the world of Greek mythology.
What Greek Myths Does Leda Figure Into?
Leda only really figures into a story involving Zeus, king of the gods. One day after Leda was married to King Tyndareus, her beauty managed to catch the attention of Zeus from his throne atop Mount Olympus. Seeking to sow some more of his many wild oats, Zeus descended to the realm of the mortals in the guise of a swan that was being chased by an eagle. Worried for the health of the poor creature, Leda shooed away the eagle. Zeus, still in the guise of a swan, laid down next to Leda and proceeded to give her children. Later on in the same day as her unknowing encounter with Zeus, Leda would sleep with her husband, the king of Sparta.
Plans Begin to Hatch
Soon after her unique encounter with the swan, Leda would lay one or two eggs, depending on the version of the story being told. These eggs would eventually hatch, revealing children.
Other versions of the story indicate that the eggs were the result of relations between Zeus and Nemesis, goddess of vengeance. In these versions, eggs are still produced but a farmer discovers them and gives them to Queen Leda, likely because he believed her beautiful and femininity would leave her better suited to watching eggs than someone who has to work long hours far afield. In these versions, only a single egg hatches and Helen emerges. Leda takes it as a sign from the gods that she should raise the child.
The Children of the Eggs
Regardless of the number of eggs in the tellings, one thing that is commonly agreed upon is that not all of the children are stated to be divine, i.e. immortal. There are also a few constants.
Pollux is always immortal in versions where only one child is divine.
Pollux is often acknowledged as a son of Zeus while Castor, his twin, was often acknowledged as a son of Tyndareus. Helen is always acknowledged as a daughter of Zeus. This mixing of mortality and divinity is often regarded as a quirk of the closeness between Leda’s time with swan-Zeus and with King Tyndareus.
While each of these four children are quite notable, Helen of Troy is likely the one that most people have heard of. Once she was of age, Helen blossomed into the most beautiful female in all of mankind, a quality that would lead to great ruin. For those unfamiliar with the Trojan War, the inciting incident would be after Paris chose Aphrodite as the fairest or most beautiful goddess between Aphrodite, Hera and Athena. Where Athena promised to bestow Paris with supreme battle tactics and Hera promised him rulership, Aphrodite promised to reward Paris with the most beautiful woman. One wrinkle in Paris’ reward was that that beautiful woman, Helen, was already married to Menelaus. Thus, Helen became the impetus for Greece and Troy to war with one another.
Something that might surprise some people is that this was not the first time Helen’s beauty lead to bloodshed between nations. When Helen was still a child, she had been abducted by Theseus because he wanted to marry a daughter of Zeus. Infuriated with having his daughter kidnapped, King Tyndareus waged war against Theseus’ kingdom of Athens.
While not nearly as well known as her sister Helen, Clytemnestra also played a major role related to the Trojan War. Clytemnestra was the wife of Mycenae’s King Agamemnon, making her both the sister and sister-in-law to Helen as she was often regarded as Tyndareus’ daughter instead of Zeus’.
Some versions of the Trojan War’s story frame Clytemnestra as a woman who had been wronged yet others frame her as downright murderous.
During the events of the Trojan War, Clytemnestra would cheat on Agamemnon with Aegisthus and the two would slay Agamemnon after his return from Troy. Upon learning of the murder of Agamemnon, Clytemnestra and Aegisthus’ grown son Orestes believed himself honor-bound to kill Clytemnestra and acted accordingly.
Castor and Pollux, the Dioscuri
Castor and Pollux were twins that are well-known heroes within Greek mythology. They are also known as the Gemini, Castores and Tyndaridae. These two men would lead Sparta against the Athenian forces in order to reclaim Helen from Paris. Later on, they joined the crew of the Argos in pursuit of the Golden Fleece. They were also among the hunters who joined the Calydonian Boar Hunt.
Eventually, Castor’s mortality catches up with the boy during a disastrous cattle raid against the duo’s cousins when Prince Idas stabbed him with a spear. Desperate to keep his twin brother around, Pollux was given the choice of either joining Zeus on Mt. Olympus or sacrificing half of his immortality. Pollux chose the latter option and thus, he and Castor were free to travel between Hades and Olympus. This eventually led to them being a permanent home in the heavens, which is how the constellation known as Gemini came into being.
Iconography of the duo as men is consistent. Both are depicted with spears and helmets, often astride horses. They were worshiped throughout Greece and the city of Dioscurias was named after them; Dioscurias is located where you would find Sukhumi along the coast of the Black Sea. Lastly, the island of Socotra was known by the Greeks as the “island of the Dioscuri.”
Leda’s Other Children
Leda would have three additional children after the incident with the eggs. These three daughters were all certifiably Tyndareus’s children.
Timandra. Timandra would eventually became the Queen of Arcadia by being married to Phyleus, the king of Dulichium. Of these daughters of Leda, only Timandra may have had children; some tellings of this family’s contributions and acts indicate that Timandra and Phyleus sire a boy named Ladocus.
Phoebe. All that is known is her name; she achieved nothing nor was she married off to anyone important.
The Aftermath of the Tale
While barely anything is said of Leda after she has her children, it is a unique tale in that Hera never visits her wrath upon Leda for the coupling with Zeus. It is also odd that, unlike the case of Heracles, not even Leda’s children are punished by Hera for being the product of infidelity.
Summing Things Up
Leda was a royal in Greek mythology who had a brief dalliance with the king of the gods whom had assumed the form of a swan. Shortly after this encounter and subsequently bedding her husband, the King of Sparta, Leda laid one or two eggs that contained four human beings in a blend of mortal and immortal vitality. Each of these children had some sort of involvement in events during the Trojan War, whether they served as heroes on the front lines, the origin of the conflict itself or sought to eliminate a major player in said conflict. While Leda had three more daughters through her marriage to King Tyndareus, neither she nor those children went on to contribute anything more noteworthy to the overall body of Greek mythology.
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