In the throes of labor, the Titaness Leto searched desperately for a place to bear Apollo and Artemis. Zeus was the father of the twins and his (justifiably) vengeful wife Hera had vowed to curse any piece of land that allowed Leto to give birth. As an extra bit of enforcement, Hera sent the serpent/dragon Python in pursuit of Leto. (Where was Zeus during all of this? That’s what I’d like to know. Apparently he sent the North Wind to help her along, but really, that seems like a pretty feeble gesture under the circumstances.)
The one place open to Leto was the island of Delos, partly because it was a rocky, barren land with nothing to lose, but also because it was unmoored and floated about freely in the sea, making it beyond the jurisdiction of Hera’s curse, according to some interpretations.
Leto reached Delos in the nick of time and gave birth to two bouncing baby Olympians. Both grew rapidly into fierce protectors of their mother. At only four days old, Apollo was ready to make up for the horror Leto suffered bringing him into the world by slaying the beast that chased her.
He went to the Python’s lair on Mt. Parnassus and killed it with his silver bow and arrows, barely breaking a sweat. Then he claimed the sacred ground, which had been a sanctuary of the earth goddess Gaia, as his own. This is Delphi, where Apollo would speak to seekers through his priestesses, known as Pythia.
Apollo’s domain was light and the sun, truth and prophecy, healing, music, and poetry, among other things.
Click to read more about Delphi.
For receiving the desperate Leto, Delos was rewarded with a permanent home, supported in place by four great columns. It’s still found just a few miles from the island of Mykonos and sheltered all around by a number of other islands. The Cyclades island group is so named because the islands encircle Delos, the most sacred of their number.
Delos was a major religious and political center and a busy center of trade, thanks to its central location and protected port. Although no one lives there now, it’s densely populated with remains and is one of the oldest and most extensive archaeological sites in Greece. There are no hotels on Delos but it’s easily visited by a short boat ride from Mykonos, with several departures every day, except Mondays, when Delos is closed. During the summer, there are also boats from Naxos and Paros to Delos.
Three of our published tours, Crown of the Aegean, Diamonds of the Aegean, and Greece for Lovers, allow enough time on Mykonos to catch a tour to Delos.
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