Leda and the Swan


The motif of Leda and the swan is prominent in The Swan Thieves. It was one of those things that I’d heard of but honestly didn’t know a lot about.

Leda was the queen of Sparta, married to Tyndareus. Zeus came to Leda in the form of a swan and impregnates her. (Eww or oh, no! depending of the version.) Leda bore two children by Zeus – Helen and Polydeuces – AND two children by Tyndareus – Castor and Clytemnestra. In some versions, she lays eggs that her children hatch from.
Apparently portraying a woman having sex with a man was too racy in the sixteenth century, but a swan – done!

Paintings by da Vinci and Michaelangelo have been lost. It is interesting that it is believed that the paintings were deliberately destroyed.

William Butler Yeats published a poem called “Leda and the Swan.” He went with the rape version.

A sudden blow: the great wings beating still
Above the staggering girl, her thighs caressed
By the dark webs, her nape caught in his bill,
He holds her helpless breast upon his breast.
How can those terrified vague fingers push
The feathered glory from her loosening thighs?
And how can body, laid in that white rush,
But feel the strange heart beating where it lies?
A shudder in the loins engenders there
The broken wall, the burning roof and tower
And Agamemnon dead.

Being so caught up,
So mastered by the brute blood of the air,
Did she put on his knowledge with his power
Before the indifferent beak could let her drop?

I think my favorite painted version of Leda and the Swan is by Cezanne.

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