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Who Was the Goddess Asteria in Greek Mythology?

Leto was the famous mother of Artemis and Apollo in Greek mythology, but how much do you know about her sister. Read on to learn about Asteria, a goddess of the stars.

In Greek mythology, Leto was the mother of Apollo and Artemis. She was often regarded as the first of many goddesses that Zeus pursued after marrying Hera.

She was actually the second, though. Before Zeus spotted Leto, he was enamoured with her younger sister.

Asteria was another goddess whose main role in the stories that were written was as a love interest for Zeus. There is much more to her story than Zeus’ attraction to her, though.

While Asteria is often remembered only as Leto’s sister, she was also an important goddess in her own right. While not as well-known as her sister, Asteria was closely tied to the family traits that they both shared with their children.

Asteria: Goddess and Island

In Greek mythology, Asteria was one of the younger Titanesses.

She was the daughter of Coeus and Phoebe, two of the original twelve Titans. She was the second of two daughters; her older sister was Leto.

Asteria married one of her cousins, the Titan Perses. They had one daughter together according to many sources, Hecate.

Like the other female Titans, Asteria and her sister were welcomed among the Olympians after the Titanomachy. They lived on Olympus and her daughter Hecate was honored by Zeus as the goddess of magic.

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Zeus and Hera were married shortly after he took power, but it did not stop the new king of the gods from noticing the other goddesses of Olympus. The first goddess he fell in love with after his marriage was Asteria.

Although her husband was likely imprisoned in Tartarus with the other Titans, Asteria was not receptive to Zeus’ advances. Instead, she fled from him.

Asteria raced across the sky, but Zeus pursued her in the form of an eagle. Knowing that she would not be able to outrun him forever, the goddess resorted to drastic measures to escape from him.

Asteria transformed herself into a quail and dove into the sea. According to most versions of her story, when she hit the water she was turned into an island.

While the island was often called by her name, she was also identified with Ortygia, which translates as “Quail Island.” A few stories, however, claimed that there was more to the story.

In Phoenicia, a small sect believed that Asteria, rather than Alcmene, was the mother of Heracles. They thought that Zeus had impregnated her before she drove into the sea and sacrificed quails in the hero’s memory.

Much later, Nonnus claimed that Asteria had survived her initial dive. Poseidon took up the chase in the sea and she was transformed into an island to escape him.

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Although Asteria’s island was known by several names, she was most often identified with Delos. In Greek art, she is sometimes labeled with this name rather than her own.

As the island of Delos, Asteria’s story would continue.

After she was transfigured, Zeus turned his attention to her sister Leto. The Titaness became pregnant and attracted Hera’s ire.

Guided by the winds, Leto reached the floating island of Delos and found sanctuary there. Leto gave birth to the divine twins, Artemis and Apollo, on the island that was identified with her sister.

Delos was rooted to the sea floor by Apollo in thanks for the sanctuary it provided and the new god swore that it would become an important site. The birthplace of Leto’s children was a major destination for pilgrims to worship Zeus’s children.

My Modern Interpretation

Mythology associated Asteria with an island, but her name shows historians her true function.

The name Asteria means “Of the Stars,” making it clear that Asteria was a goddess of the sky. This fits with the story of Zeus’s pursuit not across land, but across the heavens.

Because of her fall into the sea, Asteria is often thought of as the goddess of shooting stars. They appeared to dive into the sea just as Asteria had.

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There are many clues, however, that show that Asteria was a goddess of more than just one natural phenomenon. Many historians also believe that she was a goddess with prophetic powers.

These powers were shared by her sister, nephew, and likely her parents. The family of Artemis and Apollo was noted for having particular ties to such abilities.

In many ancient cultures, falling stars were often seen as omens. It would be fitting for the goddess who personified them to have the ability to see the future, as well.

Asteria may have been a goddess not only of prophecy, but of magic in general. This would be continued with her daughter, Hecate.

As a stellar goddess, Asteria was most likely linked to forms of divination that occurred at night. This could have been through astrology or oneiromancy, the interpretation of oracles sent through dreams.

It may have been as a goddess of dream divination that Asteria lived on. As could be expected from her story, she was an important figure in the local traditions of the island of Delos.

Many historians identify Asteria as the goddess Brizo, who was worshipped almost exclusively on Delos. The Delians believed that Brizo sent prophetic dreams.

In Lacedaemon, as well, Asteria’s cult may have lived on under a different name. Some people identify her with a local goddess referred to as Ino-Pasiphae.

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In his description of the area, Pausanias said that the locals consulted an oracle at the sanctuary of Ino to receive prophetic dreams. The temple was decorated with statues of Pasiphae and Helios.

Pausanias also notes, however, that Pasiphae was a name used for Selene, who was not a native goddess to the region.

Pausanias could have based his identification of Ino-Pasiphae off a misunderstanding of Asteria and her function. Like Asteria, Ino leapt into the sea and became an island and Pasiphae was associated with the night sky.

Similarly, the statues he identified as being of Helios may have been of Apollo. The two gods shared many attributes, including a link to light and brightness.

Historians believe, therefore, that the cult of Ino-Pasiphae may have actually been one dedicated to Asteria. It preserved her role as a goddess who, like much of her family, was linked to divination and the sky.

In Summary

Asteria was a Titan goddess of Greek mythology. She was the sister of Leto.

Before falling in love with Leto, Zeus pursued Asteria. She ran across the sky to escape him and eventually turned into a quail, diving into the sea to avoid the king of the gods.

When she struck the water, Asteria was transformed into an island. This was most often identified as Delos, which would soon after become the birthplace of her niece and nephew, Artemis and Apollo.

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Although she was identified with an island, Asteria was a goddess of the sky. Her name links her to the stars, and her story usually leads to an interpretation that she represented shooting stars that appeared to dive out of the night sky.

Like much of her family, Asteria was also linked to magic. Her daughter Hecate became the goddess of witches and, like Apollo, Asteria was likely believed to have powers of divination.

Although they were recorded under different names, local goddesses of both Lacedaemon and Delos are likely versions of Asteria. They were both believed to send prophecies through dreams and allow people to interpret them.

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My name is Mike and for as long as I can remember (too long!) I have been in love with all things related to Mythology. I am the owner and chief researcher at this site. My work has also been published on Buzzfeed and most recently in Time magazine. Please like and share this article if you found it useful.

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