A maze of dry, meandering paths led them across the island. On either side crumbling stone temples, toppled columns and the remains of statues told a story of the once-great sacred island. Damian and Oriel were greeted by something new at every bend. Whether it was a view of the sea or the debris of an ancient dwelling with the most magnificent mosaic floors open to the sky, glittering in the sunlight, the beautiful treasures were endless. The sun burned down on them from the great blue dome of the Apollonian heaven with a dry, brilliant but bearable heat, with the hot Aegean wind wrapping itself about them at every turn.
Welcome to the ancient island of Delos, in the Aegean Sea, a setting in my latest novel Aphrodite’s Tears where history and myth vibrate as one.
Some months ago, I blogged on this island (https://hannahfielding.net/staging/1129/the-ancient-island-of-delos/), to which the hero and heroine of Aphrodite’s Tears travel to feed their passion for the past. Delos, I explain, is an archaeologist’s heaven, with more excavations than any other site in the Mediterranean – it is the place to visit if you’re interested in Ancient Greek history and archaeology.
But it’s also an essential site for Ancient Greek mythology. Today, I am sharing with you some of myths associated with the ancient island of Delos, as retold in Aphrodite’s Tears.
The creation of Delos
Asteria was the Titan goddess of falling stars. In order to flee the amorous advances of Zeus, king of the gods (married to Hera), she leapt into the sea, where she became an invisible island. (In another version, she was a nymph who, out of respect for Hera, became a star and fell to the sea, transforming herself into an island.) To punish her, Zeus made the island barren and parched.
(Although, as Oriel points out in the book, ‘Delos might appear to some as a dusty, baked desert, home only to lizards and murmurs of long-gone civilizations but, for me, it’s a treasure trove. A place where ancient memories are distilled…’)
Birthplace of Apollo
Asteria’s sister, Leto, was not so lucky as to escape Zeus’s clutches. She was impregnated by Zeus, which of course made his wife, Hera, jealous.
Hera connived with other gods to prevent Leto from giving birth anywhere in the world. She decreed that Leto may not give birth on any land under the sun. So Leto wandered from place to place, followed by the serpent, Python, which Hera had set on her.
Zeus appealed to his brother, Poseidon, to help Leto find some place where she could give birth to his child. Poseidon then took the floating rock that Asteria had been transformed into – now called Adelos the invisible – and made four granite columns rise out of the sea to anchor it in place. He renamed it Delos, the visible.
Leto, in the form of a quail, a ruse by Zeus to put Hera off the scent, then came to Delos, where she resumed her original shape. Delos, she reasoned, wasn’t quite an island, given that it could float, so she could safely give birth here.
Adelos was afraid that Hera would take revenge and kick her back under the sea. So Leto swore an oath on the River Styx that her son, when he came into the world, would build a temple there. And from that time onwards, Delos became a sacred place.
Leto’s confinement lasted nine days. Many goddesses gathered on the island to help Leto – except for Eileithyia, the goddess of childbirth, whom Hera kept prisoner in a cloud on Mount Olympus, with the help of Iris, the goddess of rainbows. In the end, the goddesses were able to bribe Iris with a gold necklace, persuading her to fetch Eileithyia. They got back just in time to help with Apollo’s birth. (Also helping, according to ancient sources, was Apollo’s twin sister, Artemis, born first – quite how is an interesting question!)
If you have enjoyed these myths and would like to read more, you will find plenty in my novel Aphrodite’s Tears. The hero, Damian, is a wonderful raconteur who knows every myth of his Greek heritage, and the heroine, Oriel, is as inspired and enthralled by these ancient stories as I am.