Castor[a] and Pollux[b] (or in Greek, Polydeuces[c]) were twin
brothers and demigods in Greek and Roman mythology, known together as
Their mother was Leda, but they had different fathers; Castor was the
mortal son of Tyndareus, the king of Sparta, while Pollux was the
divine son of Zeus, who seduced Leda in the guise of a swan. Though
accounts of their birth are varied, they are sometimes said to have
been born from an egg, along with their twin sisters or half-sisters
Helen of Troy
Helen of Troy and Clytemnestra.
In Latin the twins are also known as the Gemini[e] (literally "twins")
or Castores,[f] as well as the Tyndaridae[g] or Tyndarids.[h] When
Castor was killed, Pollux asked
Zeus to let him share his own
immortality with his twin to keep them together, and they were
transformed into the constellation Gemini. The pair were regarded as
the patrons of sailors, to whom they appeared as St. Elmo's fire, and
were also associated with horsemanship.
1 Birth and functions
2 Classical sources
3.1 As Argonauts
3.2 Rescuing Helen
3.3 Leucippides, Lynceus and death
5 Shrines and rites
6 Indo-European analogues
7 Italy and the Roman Empire
7.1 Etruscan Kastur and Pultuce
8 See also
12 External links
Birth and functions
Castor depicted on a calyx krater of c. 460–450 BC, holding a
horse's reins and spears and wearing a pilos-style helmet
The best-known story of the twins' birth is that
himself as a swan and seduced Leda. Thus Leda's children are
frequently said to have hatched from two eggs that she then produced.
The Dioscuri can be recognized in vase-paintings by the skull-cap they
wear, the pilos, which was explained in antiquity as the remnants of
the egg. Whether the children are thus mortal or half-immortal is not
consistent among accounts, nor is whether the twins hatched together
from one egg. In some accounts, only Pollux was fathered by Zeus,
while Leda and her husband
Tyndareus conceived Castor. This explains
why they were granted an alternate immortality. It is a common belief
that one would live among the gods, while the other was among the
dead. The figure of
Tyndareus may have entered their
tradition to explain their archaic name Tindaridai in Spartan
inscriptions, or Tyndaridai in literature, in turn occasioning
incompatible accounts of their parentage.
Castor and Pollux
Castor and Pollux are sometimes both mortal, sometimes both divine.
One consistent point is that if only one of them is immortal, it is
Pollux. In Homer's Iliad, Helen looks down from the walls of
wonders why she does not see her brothers among the Achaeans. The
narrator remarks that they are both already dead and buried back in
their homeland of Lacedaemon, thus suggesting that at least in some
early traditions, both were mortal. Their death and shared immortality
Zeus was material of the lost
Cypria in the Epic cycle.
The Dioscuri were regarded as helpers of humankind and held to be
patrons of travellers and of sailors in particular, who invoked them
to seek favourable winds. Their role as horsemen and boxers also
led to them being regarded as the patrons of athletes and athletic
contests. They characteristically intervened at the moment of
crisis, aiding those who honoured or trusted them.
Pair of Roman statuettes (3rd century AD) depicting the Dioscuri
as horsemen, with their characteristic skullcaps (Metropolitan Museum
Ancient Greek authors tell a number of versions of the story of Castor
Homer portrays them initially as ordinary mortals,
treating them as dead in the
Iliad ("... there are two commanders
I do not see, / Castor the horse breaker and the boxer / Polydeuces,
my brothers ..." — Helen,
Iliad 3.253-255), but in the
Odyssey they are treated as alive even though "the corn-bearing earth
holds them". The author describes them as "having honour equal to
gods", living on alternate days because of the intervention of Zeus.
In both the
Odyssey and in Hesiod, they are described as the sons of
Tyndareus and Leda. In Pindar, Pollux is the son of
Zeus while Castor
is the son of the mortal Tyndareus. The theme of ambiguous parentage
is not unique to Castor and Pollux; similar characterisations appear
in the stories of
Hercules and Theseus. The Dioscuri are also
invoked in Alcaeus' Fragment 34a, though whether this poem
antedates the Homeric Hymn to the twins is unknown. They appear
together in two plays by Euripides, Helen and Elektra.
Cicero tells the story of how
Simonides of Ceos
Simonides of Ceos was rebuked by Scopas,
his patron, for devoting too much space to praising Castor and Pollux
in an ode celebrating Scopas' victory in a chariot race. Shortly
afterwards, Simonides was told that two young men wished to speak to
him; after he had left the banqueting room, the roof fell in and
crushed Scopas and his guests.
Both Dioscuri were excellent horsemen and hunters who participated in
the hunting of the
Calydonian Boar and later joined the crew of
Jason's ship, the Argo.
During the expedition of the Argonauts, Pollux took part in a boxing
contest and defeated King
Amycus of the Bebryces, a savage mythical
people in Bithynia. After returning from the voyage, the Dioskouroi
Peleus to destroy the city of
Iolcus in revenge for
the treachery of its king Pelias.
When their sister Helen was abducted by Theseus, the half-brothers
invaded his kingdom of
Attica to rescue her. In revenge they abducted
Theseus's mother Aethra and took her to
Sparta while setting his
rival, Menestheus, on the throne of Athens. Aethra was then forced to
become Helen's slave. She was ultimately returned to her home by her
grandsons Demophon and
Acamas after the fall of Troy.
Leucippides, Lynceus and death
Roman sarcophagus (160 AD) depicting the rape of the Leucippides,
Hilaeira (Vatican Museum)
Castor and Pollux
Castor and Pollux aspired to marry the Leucippides ("daughters of the
white horse"), Phoebe and Hilaeira, whose father was a brother of
Leucippus ("white horse").[i] Both women were already betrothed to
cousins of the Dioscuri, the twin brothers Lynceus and
Idas of Thebes,
sons of Tyndareus's brother Aphareus.
Castor and Pollux
Castor and Pollux carried the
women off to
Sparta wherein each had a son; Phoebe bore Mnesileos to
Hilaeira bore Anogon to Castor. This began a family feud
among the four sons of the brothers
Tyndareus and Aphareus.
Rape of the Daughters of Leucippus by Rubens, ca. 1618
The cousins carried out a cattle-raid in
Arcadia together but fell out
over the division of the meat. After stealing the herd, but before
dividing it, the cousins butchered, quartered, and roasted a calf.
As they prepared to eat, the gigantic
Idas suggested that the herd be
divided into two parts instead of four, based on which pair of cousins
finished their meal first.
Castor and Pollux
Castor and Pollux agreed. Idas
quickly ate both his portion and Lynceus' portion. Castor and
Pollux had been duped. They allowed their cousins to take the entire
herd, but vowed to someday take revenge.
Some time later,
Idas and Lynceus visited their uncle's home in
Sparta. The uncle was on his way to Crete, so he left Helen in
charge of entertaining the guests, which included both sets of
cousins, as well as Paris, prince of Troy. Castor and Pollux
recognized the opportunity to exact revenge, made an excuse that
justified leaving the feast, and set out to steal their cousins'
Idas and Lynceus eventually set out for home, leaving Helen
alone with Paris, who then kidnapped her. Thus, the four cousins
helped set into motion the events that gave rise to the Trojan War.
Castor and Pollux
Castor and Pollux had reached their destination. Castor
climbed a tree to keep a watch as Pollux began to free the cattle. Far
Idas and Lynceus approached. Lynceus, named for the lynx because
he could see in the dark, spied Castor hiding in the tree. Idas
and Lynceus immediately understood what was happening. Idas, furious,
ambushed Castor, fatally wounding him with a blow from his spear—but
not before Castor called out to warn Pollux. In the ensuing brawl,
Pollux killed Lynceus. As
Idas was about to kill Pollux, Zeus, who had
been watching from Mt. Olympus, hurled a thunderbolt, killing
saving his son.
Returning to the dying Castor, Pollux was given the choice by
spending all his time on
Mount Olympus or giving half his immortality
to his mortal brother. He opted for the latter, enabling the twins to
alternate between Olympus and Hades. The brothers became the
two brightest stars in the constellation Gemini ("the twins"): Castor
(Alpha Geminorum) and Pollux (Beta Geminorum). As emblems of
immortality and death, the Dioskouroi, like Heracles, were said to
have been initiated into the Eleusinian mysteries.[j]
Antiochus VII with Dioskouroi
Castor and Pollux
Castor and Pollux are consistently associated with horses in art and
literature. They are widely depicted as helmeted horsemen carrying
spears. The Pseudo-
Oppian manuscript depicts the brothers hunting,
both on horseback and on foot.
On votive reliefs they are depicted with a variety of symbols
representing the concept of twinhood, such as the dokana (δόκανα
– two upright pieces of wood connected by two cross-beams), a pair
of amphorae, a pair of shields, or a pair of snakes. They are also
often shown wearing felt caps, sometimes with stars above. They are
depicted on metopes from
Delphi showing them on the voyage of the Argo
(Ἀργώ) and rustling cattle with Idas. Greek vases regularly show
them capturing Phoebe and Hilaeira, as Argonauts, as well as in
religious ceremonies and at the delivery to Leda of the egg containing
Helen. They can be recognized in some vase-paintings by the
skull-cap they wear, the pilos (πῖλος), which was already
explained in antiquity as the remnants of the egg from which they
They were described by
Dares Phrygius as "... blond haired, large
eyed, fair complexioned, and wellbuilt with trim bodies".
Shrines and rites
Fragmentary remains of the
Temple of Castor and Pollux
Temple of Castor and Pollux in Rome.
The Dioskouroi were worshipped by the Greeks and Romans alike; there
were temples to the twins in Athens, such as the Anakeion, and Rome,
as well as shrines in many other locations in the ancient world.
The Dioskouroi and their sisters grew up in Sparta, in the royal
household of Tyndareus; they were particularly important to the
Spartans, who associated them with the Spartan tradition of dual
kingship and appreciated that two princes of their ruling house were
elevated to immortality. Their connection there was very ancient: a
uniquely Spartan aniconic representation of the Tyndaridai was as two
upright posts joined by a cross-bar; as the protectors of the
Spartan army the "beam figure" or dókana was carried in front of the
army on campaign. Sparta's unique dual kingship reflects the
divine influence of the Dioscuri. When the Spartan army marched to
war, one king remained behind at home, accompanied by one of the
Twins. "In this way the real political order is secured in the realm
of the Gods".
Their herōon or grave-shrine was on a mountain top at
Eurotas from Sparta, at a shrine known as the Meneláeion where
Castor and Pollux
Castor and Pollux were all said to be buried. Castor
himself was also venerated in the region of
Kastoria in northern
Relief (2nd century BC) depicting the Dioskouroi galloping above a
winged Victory, with a banquet (theoxenia) laid out for them below
They were commemorated both as gods on Olympus worthy of holocaust,
and as deceased mortals in Hades, whose spirits had to be propitiated
by libations. Lesser shrines to Castor, Pollux and Helen were also
established at a number of other locations around Sparta. The pear
tree was regarded by the Spartans as sacred to Castor and Pollux, and
images of the twins were hung in its branches. The standard
Spartan oath was to swear "by the two gods" (in Doric Greek: νά τώ
θεὼ, ná tō theō, in the Dual number).
The rite of theoxenia (θεοξενία), "god-entertaining", was
particularly associated with Castor and Pollux. The two deities were
summoned to a table laid with food, whether at individuals' own homes
or in the public hearths or equivalent places controlled by states.
They are sometimes shown arriving at a gallop over a food-laden table.
Although such "table offerings" were a fairly common feature of Greek
cult rituals, they were normally made in the shrines of the gods or
heroes concerned. The domestic setting of the theoxenia was a
characteristic distinction accorded to the Dioskouroi.
The image of the twins attending a goddess are widespread[k] and link
the Dioskouroi with the male societies of initiates under the aegis of
the Anatolian Great Goddess and the great gods of Samothrace. The
Dioscuri are the inventors of war dances, which characterize the
Main article: Divine twins
The heavenly twins also appear in the Indo-European tradition as the
effulgent Vedic brother-horsemen the Ashvins, the Lithuanian
Ašvieniai, and the Germanic Alcis.
Italy and the Roman Empire
From the fifth century BC onwards, the brothers were revered by the
Romans, probably as the result of cultural transmission via the Greek
Magna Graecia in southern Italy. An archaic Latin
inscription of the sixth or fifth century BC found at Lavinium, which
reads Castorei Podlouqueique qurois ("To Castor and Pollux, the
Dioskouroi"), suggests a direct transmission from the Greeks; the word
"qurois" is virtually a transliteration of the Greek word
κούροις, while "Podlouquei" is effectively a transliteration of
the Greek Πολυδεύκης. The construction of the Temple of
Castor and Pollux, located in the
Roman Forum at the heart of their
city, was undertaken to fulfil a vow (votum) made by Aulus Postumius
Albus Regillensis in gratitude at the Roman victory in the Battle of
Lake Regillus in 495 BC. The establishing of the temple may also be a
form of evocatio, the transferral of a tutelary deity from a defeated
town to Rome, where cult would be offered in exchange for favor.
According to legend, the twins fought at the head of the Roman army
and subsequently brought news of the victory back to Rome. The
Magna Graecia had attributed their success at a legendary
battle on the banks of the Sagras to the intervention of the Twins.
The Roman legend may in fact have had its origins in the Locrian
account and possibly supplies further evidence of cultural
Rome and Magna Graecia.
The Romans believed that the twins aided them on the battlefield.
Their role as horsemen made them particularly attractive to the Roman
equites and cavalry. Each year on July 15, the feast day of the
Dioskouroi, the 1,800 equestrians would parade through the streets of
Rome in an elaborate spectacle in which each rider wore full military
attire and whatever decorations he had earned.
In translations of comedies by Plautus, women generally swear by
Castor, and men by Pollux; this is exemplified by the slave-woman
character Staphyla in A Pot of Gold (act i, ll.67-71) where she swears
by Castor in line 67, then the negative prefix in line 71 denotes a
refutation against swearing by Pollux.
Etruscan Kastur and Pultuce
Etruscan inscription to the Dioskouroi as "sons of Zeus" on the bottom
of an Attic red-figure kylix (ca. 515–510 BC)
Etruscans venerated the twins as Kastur and Pultuce, collectively
the tinas cliniiaras, "sons of Tinia," the Etruscan counterpart of
Zeus. They were often portrayed on Etruscan mirrors. As was the
fashion in Greece, they could also be portrayed symbolically; one
example can be seen in the Tomb of the Funereal Bed at
a lectisternium for them is painted. They are symbolised in the
painting by the presence of two pointed caps crowned with laurel,
referring to the Phrygian caps they were often depicted wearing.
Zeus, Hera, and Amor observe the birth of Helen and the Dioscuri
(Dutch majolica, 1550).
Even after the rise of Christianity, the Dioskouroi continued to be
venerated. The fifth-century pope
Gelasius I attested to the presence
of a "cult of Castores" that the people did not want to abandon. In
some instances, the twins appear to have simply been absorbed into a
Christian framework; thus fourth-century AD pottery and carvings from
North Africa depict the Dioskouroi alongside the Twelve Apostles, the
Raising of Lazarus
Raising of Lazarus or with Saint Peter. The church took an ambivalent
attitude, rejecting the immortality of the Dioskouroi but seeking to
replace them with equivalent Christian pairs. Saints Peter and Paul
were thus adopted in place of the Dioskouroi as patrons of travelers,
Saints Cosmas and Damian
Saints Cosmas and Damian took over their function as healers. Some
have also associated Saints Speusippus, Eleusippus, and Melapsippus
with the Dioskouroi.
The New Testament scholar
Dennis MacDonald identifies Castor and
Pollux as basis characters for the appearance of James son of Zebedee
and his brother John who appear in the narrative by Mark the
Evangelist. MacDonald cites the origin of this identification to
J. Rendel Harris published his work Boanerges, a Greek
version probably of an Aramaic name meaning "Sons of Thunder", thunder
being associated with Zeus, father of Pollux, in what MacDonald calls
a form of early Christian Dioscurism.
More directly, the
Acts of the Apostles
Acts of the Apostles mentions the Dioskouroi in a
neutral context, as the figurehead of an Alexandrian ship boarded by
Paul in Malta (Acts 28:11).
Ashvins, the divine twins of Vedic mythology
Heteropaternal superfecundation, when two males father fraternal twins
^ /ˈkæstər/; Latin: Castōr; Greek: Κάστωρ Kástōr "beaver"
^ /ˈpɒləks/; Latin: Pollūx
^ /ˌpɒlɪˈdjuːsiːz/; Greek: Πολυδεύκης Poludeúkēs
"much sweet wine"
^ /ˌdaɪəˈskjʊrˌaɪ, daɪˈɒskjəˌraɪ/; Latin: Dioscūrī;
Greek: Διόσκουροι Dióskouroi, "sons of Zeus", from Dîos
("Zeus") and Koûroi
^ /ˈtɪndərɪdz/; Τυνδαρίδαι, Tundarídai
^ Phoebe ("the pure") is a familiar epithet of the moon, Selene; her
Hilaeira ("the serene") is also a lunar attribute, their
names "appropriate selectively to the new and the full moon".
^ In the oration of the Athenian peace emissary sent to
Sparta in 69,
Xenophon (Hellenica VI), it was asserted that "these
three heroes were the first strangers upon whom this gift was
^ Kerenyi draws attention especially to the rock carvings in the town
of Akrai, Sicily.
^ Bloomsbury (1996), "Dioscuri", Dictionary of Myth, London:
^ a b c d Burkert 1985, p. 212.
^ a b Cotterell, Arthur (1997), "Dioscuri", A Dictionary of World
Mythology, Oxford University Press .
^ Howatson, MC; Chilvers, Ian, eds. (1996), "Dioscūri", The Concise
Oxford Companion to Classical Literature, Oxford University
^ a b c Roberts, John, ed. (2007), "Dioscūri", Dictionary of the
Classical World, Oxford: Oxford University Press .
^ a b c Parker, Robert Christopher Towneley (2003), "Dioscuri", in
Hornblower, Simon; Spawforth, Anthony, The Oxford Classical
Dictionary, Oxford University Press .
^ of Mytilene, Alcæus (May 2011), "Fragment 34a", Toutcoule (World
Wide Web log), Google .
^ Homer, Hymn, Theoi .
^ Campbell, David (1967), Greek Lyric Poetry, Bristol: Classical
^ Kerenyi 1959, p. 109.
^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Stratikis, Potis (1987), Greek Mythology, B,
pp. 20–23 .
^ a b c "Dioscuri." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2008.
^ Routledge (2002), "Castor and Polydeuces", Who's Who in Classical
Mythology, London: Routledge .
^ Kerenyi, Karl (1967), Eleusis: Archetypal Image of Mother and
Daughter, Princeton: Bollingen, p. 122 .
^ a b Kazhdan, Alexander; Talbot, Alice-Mary (1991), "Dioskouroi", in
Kazhdan, Alexander P, The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium, Oxford
University Press .
^ Kerenyi 1959, p. 107 note 584.
^ Scholiast, Lycophron .
^ Dares of Phrygia. History of the Fall of
Troy 12. A short prose work
which purports to be a first hand account of the Trojan War by Dares,
a Trojan priest of Hephaestus in the Iliad.
^ Browning, W. R. F. (1997), "Dioscuri", A Dictionary of the Bible,
Oxford University Press .
^ Burkert 1985.
^ Kerenyi 1959, p. 107.
^ Sekunda, Nicholas "Nick" Victor; Hook, Richard (1998), The Spartan
Army, Osprey Publishing, p. 53, ISBN 1-85532-659-0 .
^ Pomeroy, Sarah B (2002), Spartan Women, US: Oxford University Press,
p. 114, ISBN 0-19-513067-7 .
^ Davenport, Guy (1999), Objects on a Table: Harmonious Disarray in
Art and Literature, Basic Books, p. 63,
ISBN 1-58243-035-7 .
^ Kerenyi 1959, p. 111.
^ Tacitus, Germania 43.
^ Maier 1997, p. 96.
^ Beard, Mary; North, John; Price, Simon (1998), Religions of Rome, 1.
A History, Cambridge University Press, p. 21,
ISBN 0-521-45646-0 .
^ Smith, Christopher (2007), "The Religion of Archaic Rome", A
Companion to Roman Religion, Blackwell, p. 37 .
^ Mommsen, Theodor (2004), The History of Rome, II, Kessinger
Publishing, p. 191, ISBN 1-4191-6625-5 .
^ McDonnell, Myles Anthony (2006), Roman Manliness, Cambridge
University Press, p. 187, ISBN 0-521-82788-4 .
^ "Plautus: Aulularia".
^ Bonfante, Giuliano; Bonfante, Larissa (2002), The Etruscan Language,
Manchester University Press, p. 204,
ISBN 0-7190-5540-7 .
^ de Grummond, Nancy Thomson; Simon, Erika (2006), The Religion of the
Etruscans, University of Texas Press, p. 60,
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^ MacDonald, Dennis (2000), "Sons of thunder", The Homeric Epics and
the Gospel of Mark, Yale University Press, pp. 24–32,
^ Harris, J. Rendel (1913), Boanerges, Cambridge University Press,
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Castor and Pollux.
Burkert, Walter (1985), Greek Religion, Cambridge: Harvard University
Press, pp. 212–13 .
Kerényi, Karl (1959), The Heroes of the Greeks, Thames and Hundson,
pp. 105–12 et passim .
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Boydell & Brewer .
Pindar, Tenth Nemean Ode .
Ringleben, Joachim, "An Interpretation of the 10th Nemean Ode", Ars
Disputandi, Douglas Hedley and Russell Manning, transl, archived from
the original on 2013-04-14 . Pindar's themes of the unequal
brothers and faithfulness and salvation, with the Christian parallels
in the dual nature of Christ.
Walker, Henry J. The Twin Horse Gods: The Dioskouroi in Mythologies of
the Ancient World. London–NY: I.B. Tauris, 2015.
"Dioskouroi", Ouranios, Theoi Project . Excerpts in English of
Wikisource has the text of the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica article
Castor and Pollux.
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