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.