Pleto, a Proto-Indo-European Goddess

Welcome to the Proto-Indo-European Religion domain at
Site Menu
Proto-Indo-European Religion
Indo-European Languages
Proto-Indo-European Goddesses
Proto-Indo-European Myths
Proto-Indo-European Rituals
Festivals, Food and Farming

Early English Text Society Publications
Book References

*Pleto, Proto-Indo-European Goddess of Plenty, and wide, flat rivers Pleto, whose name might better be written *Pleto, with an asterisk to indicate that this is the reconstructed form, is one of the Great Goddesses of the Indo-Europeans. Her name is formally reconstructed in Proto-Indo-European by Mallory and Adams as *pltH2wiH2 meaning ‘Plenty’ (p. 267, Oxford Introduction). Many western linguists have understood the meaning of this as ‘flat (land)’ apparently in the belief that all female deities are “earth” deities, but in fact she is deified as a Goddess of wide flat rivers that meander across the land. Her name is formed from the basic Indo-European root *pleu- ‘to flow’ with forms like ‘flow, Pluto’ etc., in various languages, (p. 2043, American Heritage Dictionary). As is usual among the Indo-European deities, she has both male and female forms.

Hittite form
The Hittite form of her name is Lelwanni, a Goddess whose name means “the pourer” (p. 760, Gamkrelidze and Ivanov).

Sanskrit and Persian forms
In Sanskrit, she is known as Prthivi, and she appears in several Rig Vedic hymns, among them Hymn 5.84 (Griffith translation). Prthivi has been identified as an “Earth Goddess” by western writers, however, in this hymn she is addressed as “Thou rich in torrents who with might quickenest earth, O mighty One” which clearly describes the action of water on earth, not the earth itself. The ancient Persian form of her name is u-fratis, which was borrowed into Greek as Euphrates, one of the two great rivers of Mesopotamia, according to Franz Bopp (Vol. 1, p. 27), an early linguist who did extensive comparative studies.

Greek forms
This Goddess appears in several forms in Greek because of the Greek tendency to absorb Gods and Goddesses from other countries and cultures. One of the major forms is Leto, a Goddess known to the Ionian Greeks from their colonies in eastern Anatolia (modern Turkey), where the city of Letoon is named after her sanctuary there. While her most famous sanctuary was at Delos, an island in the Aegean surrounded by swans, she had many letoons or temples in southern Greece also. One of the earliest representations of her was found at Dreros in Crete and dates to the 8th century BC. Her name has been connected with the lotus and with the River Lethe both of which are supposed to cause forgetfulness.

She also appears in the form Leda, a Goddess who was the mother of various sets of famous twins, born from eggs, also with the assistance of a swan. Leda is a word that means “woman, wife, lady” in Lycian, a language spoken in Anatolia. And she appears in a native Greek form as Plataia according to Walter Burkert, although he considers her an ‘Earth Goddess’ (see p. 17, Greek Religion). However, Plataia is the nymph of a spring.

And finally she appears in Greek in a masculinized form as the God Ploutos. This might not seem related but Ploutos was thought to be the God who caused water to form springs that come up out of the ground. Many people in ancient times did know that water seeping down from mountain tops, especially snow-covered peaks, formed springs at the lower levels, but it nevertheless seemed like a miracle that water could appear in otherwise dry countryside, often continuing to flow even during the times of summer drought. The Greek God Ploutos (his name means “Plenty”) was borrowed into Latin as Pluto, and he was later demonized by Christians as a God of “hell,” because they thought everyone had to have one. However Ploutos was considered a beneficent God by the Pagans who knew that ground water was essential for the life of plants, on which they depended directly and indirectly.

Roman forms
In Latin, this Goddess was known as Latona, and she is mentioned several times by Ovid and by Virgil as the mother of Apollo and Artemis, but although the name is not borrowed from the Greek, the mythology may be, as it typically was in the classical era. Ovid also tells that Orion saved her from being stung by a giant scorpion, but was killed and so she set him among the stars (Ovid’s Fasti, Book V. for May 11th).

Other Language Groups
There are also forms of this Goddess in the Celtic, Germanic, Slavic and Baltic languages, but as far as I know the linguistic connections have not been made in formal publications. Some modern scholars such as Marija Gimbutas have surmised that Leto had to have been borrowed from a pre-Indo-European substrate, however her name appears all over the Indo-European-speaking world in forms that are cognate not borrowed, although of course, her name has also been borrowed from one Indo-European language to another as can be seen in the Greek examples given above.

This Goddess often gives her name to wide flat rivers and their sources which are naturally her domain (from northern England to Lebanon to Ukraine), and she was often thought of as taking the form of a swan because swans prefer such rivers, where they can rest on the water and not be bothered by predators. There are a number of myths connected to her that have a swan transformation, and she is often associated with the constellation Cygnus, though the mythology isn’t clear. [fuggle26]

Rivers were universally worshiped by the Indo-European-speaking people, probably on a daily basis, since most people did not have water piped into their houses and for thousands of years they had to go to a spring, river or well for their daily needs. There were also temples for this Goddess in many countries and a number of towns are named after her where she is the dominant, or favorite deity.

American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Houghton, Mifflin Co., Boston, 2000.
• Bopp, François, Grammaire Comparée des Langues Indo-Européennes, translated by Michel Bréal, Imprimerie Impériale, Paris, 1866.
• Burkert, Walter, Greek Religion, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 1985.
• Gamkrelidze, Thomas V. and Ivanov, Vjaceslav V., Indo-European and the Indo-Europeans: A Reconstruction and Historical Analysis of a Proto-Language and a Proto-Culture (Trends in Linguistics: Studies and Monographs 80, 2 Vol. Set) with Werner Winter, ed., and Johanna Nichols, translator (original title Indoevropeiskii iazyk i indoevropeistsy), M. De Gruyter, Berlin & NY, 1995.
• Grimm, Jacob, Deutsche Mythologie (English title Teutonic Mythology, translated by Stallybrass), George Bell and Sons, London, 1883.
• Mallory, J.P. and Adams, Douglas Q., Oxford Introduction to Proto-Indo-European and the Proto-Indo-European World, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2006.
• Puhvel, Jaan, Analecta Indoeuropaea, (a collection of articles), by Jaan Puhvel, publ. by Innsbrucker Beitrage zur Sprachwissenschaft, Innsbruck, 1981.

This article was published at but Yola was hacked in Nov. 2011 and they could not salvage their data storage, so it has been migrated here.

© 2007, last updated 4/10/2011, at