Like so many women in ancient Greece (both real and mythological), Leda was important as a wife and mother. In legend, she was the wife of Tyndareus (a king of Sparta). Leda was the mother to many noble children, including the famous beauty Helen, the heroine Clytemnestra, and the twins Castor and Polydeuces (the pair, incidentally, were also known as the Dioscuri). However, this is where the story of Leda becomes complicated. For while Leda was the mother to all of the characters listed above, her husband Tyndareus was not the father of every child. Let us explore this subject in a bit more detail.
According to myth, Leda was approached by the god Zeus while he was masquerading as a swan. Indeed, Zeus made love to Leda in this form. And the memorable union between Leda and the Swan (who, remember, was actually Zeus) has long been immortalized by painters and poets. In addition to influencing artists, however, this coupling also influenced mythology. Here is another poetic plot twist - the legend is that Helen was born from an egg because her father Zeus appeared as a swan when he impregnated Leda (it should be mentioned that some versions of the tale instead claim that it was the goddess Nemesis who laid the egg from which Helen hatched). Additionally, some ancient sources state that Polydeuces was also the son of Zeus, while his twin brother Castor was Tyndareus's child.
Complications aside, it is clear that Leda's legend is quite meaningful in mythology. Her role as the mother to some illustrious offspring, as well as her notorious affair with Zeus, makes Leda a mythological heroine worth remembering.
Leda in Art History
Gallery | For pictures and information about Leda in art, visit the Mythography gallery!
Who's Who in Classical Mythology