Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Dioscuri: Castor & Pollux/Polydeuces - Διόσκουροι

The Disocuri were Castor and Polydeuces (or Pollux), the twin sons of Leda and Zeus and the brothers of Helen of Troy. Because Zeus came to Leda in the form of a swan, they are sometimes presented as having been born from an egg. Pollux was a formidable boxer, and Castor was a great horseman. Together, they were the "Heavenly Twins," often associated with the constellation Gemini.

Four episodes from their careers are most notable.

1. After Theseus kidnapped their sister Helen and carried her off to Aphidnae, Castor and Pollux rescued her; they also abducted Theseus' mother, Aethra.
2. Later, the twins accompanied Jason on the Argo; during the voyage, Pollux distinguished himself by killing the belligerent king Amycus, who challenged him to a boxing match.
3. When Peleus attacked and laid waste to Iolcus, in revenge for the evils done to him by its queen, Astydameia, the Dioscuri assisted him.
4. Castor and Pollux also abducted and married Phoebe and Hilaeira, the daughters of Leucippus; Castor was then killed in a battle with the nephews of Leucippus, Idas and Lynceus.

Pollux was granted immortality by Zeus, but he persuaded Zeus to allow him to share the gift with Castor. As a result, the two spend alternate days on Olympus (as gods) and in Hades (as deceased mortals).

From: Here
XVII. To the Dioscuri (5 lines) (ll. 1-4) Sing, clear-voiced Muse, of Castor and Polydeuces, the Tyndaridae, who sprang from Olympian Zeus. Beneath the heights fo Taygetus stately Leda bare them, when the dark-clouded Son of Cronos had privily bent her to his will.
(l. 5) Hail, children of Tyndareus, riders upon swift horses!
(ll. 1-17) Bright-eyed Muses, tell of the Tyndaridae, the Sons of Zeus, glorious children of neat-ankled Leda, Castor the tamer of horses, and blameless Polydeuces. When Leda had lain with the dark-clouded Son of Cronos, she bare them beneath the peak of the great hill Taygetus, -- children who are delivers of men on earth and of swift-going ships when stormy gales rage over the ruthless sea. Then the shipmen call upon the sons of great Zeus with vows of white lambs, going to the forepart of the prow; but the strong wind and the waves of the sea lay the ship under water, until suddenly these two are seen darting through the air on tawny wings. Forthwith they allay the blasts of the cruel winds and still the waves upon the surface of the white sea: fair signs are they and deliverance from toil. And when the shipmen see them they are glad and have rest from their pain and labour.
(ll. 18-19) Hail, Tyndaridae, riders upon swift horses! Now I will remember you and another song also.
The DIOSCURI are the twin brothers Castor 1 and Polydeuces ("Castor and Pollux"). These brothers were most affectionate: they never strove in rivalry for the leadership, and they never acted without consulting each other, which is a distinctive mark of real brotherhood. Poseidon gave them the power to aid shipwrecked men, stilling winds and waves. The DIOSCURI were still alive when the seducer Paris abducted their sister Helen, but they had already left this world when the Trojan War broke out.


Zeus in the form of a swan consorted with Leda, and on the same night Tyndareus, king of Sparta, also made love to her. This is why she bore, beneath the peak of Mount Taygetus (in Laconia) Polydeuces and Helen to Zeus, and Castor 1 and Clytaemnestra to Tyndareus. Because of their different parentage, Polydeuces was immortal, and Castor 1 mortal.

Abduction of Helen

When Helen became a woman, Theseus carried her off and brought her to Aphidnae in Attica. Some say that Iphigenia, otherwise called daughter of Agamemnon and Clytaemnestra, was daughter of Theseus and Helen, but others have said that Helen was untouched when she returned to Sparta.

Campaign against Athens

In any case, while Theseus was in the Underworld, having a preposterous adventure along with his accomplice Pirithous, the DIOSCURI marched against Aphidnae, took the city, got possession of Helen, and led Theseus' mother Aethra 2 away captive. That is how Aethra 2 became Helen's maid, following her to Troy. She was set free at the end of the Trojan War by the sons of Theseus.


When the DIOSCURI decided to get married, they carried off the daughters of Leucippus 2 (son of King Perieres 1 of Messenia, son of Cynortes, son of Amyclas 1, son of Lacedaemon, son of Zeus and Taygete, one of the PLEIADES), and having wedded them, they had children by them.

Conflict with Messenians

The DIOSCURI, it is told, were once stealing cattle in Arcadia together with two Messenian brothers, Idas 2 and Lynceus 1. They allowed Idas 2 to divide the spoil, and he cut a cow in four pieces, saying that one half of the booty should be his who ate his share first, and that the rest should be his who ate his share second. And before they could even react to that proposal, Idas 2 had swallowed his share, and his brother had done the same.

Idas 2 abducts Marpessa 1

Idas 2 is son of Poseidon or of Aphareus 1, son of Perieres 1. His mother was Arene, after whom the city in Messenia is called. Idas 2 is known for having carried off Marpessa 1, whom Apollo loved. Her father Evenus 2, unable to catch Idas 2, who abducted the girl riding a winged chariot that he had received from Poseidon, threw himself into the river Lycormas which is called Evenus after him. Marpessa 1's mother is Alcippe 5, daughter of cruel King Oenomaus 1 of Pisa in Elis, whom Pelops 1 killed.

Idas 2 fights Apollo

It has been said that when Idas 2 arrived to Messenia with the girl, Apollo attempted to take her, and Idas 2 fought against the god until Zeus parted them. So Marpessa 1 was allowed to choose, and she took Idas 2 as husband of fear that Apollo might desert her in her Old Age. Idas 2 and Marpessa 1 had a daughter Cleopatra 4, who became mother by Meleager of Polydora 3, the woman who committed suicide on the death of her husband Protesilaus, the Achaean leader from Phylace in Thessaly, who was the first of the Achaeans to land on Trojan soil at the beginning of the Trojan War.

Lynceus 1

Lynceus 1, who is also counted among the ARGONAUTS and the CALYDONIAN HUNTERS, was said to excel in sharpness of sight, so that he could see things underground.

Death of all brothers

On account, then, of their disagreement with Idas 2 and Lynceus 1, the DIOSCURI marched against Messenia, took the cattle they had lost, and much else besides. And as the DIOSCURI were wainting for their two ennemies to appear, Castor 1 was discovered and killed by Idas 2. Polydeuces attacked and chased them, killing Lynceus 1, but was himself wounded in the head, and fell down in a swoon. Idas 2 was killed by Zeus with a thunderbolt.

Shared immortality

As Polydeuces refused his immortality while Castor 1 was dead, Zeus permitted them both to be every other day among the gods and among mortals.

From: here
THE DIOSKOUROI (or Dioscuri) were twin star-crowned gods whose appearance (in the form of St Elmo’s fire) on the rigging of a ships was believed to portent escape from a storm. They were also gods of horsemanship and protectors of guests and travellers.

The twins were born as mortal princes, sons of the Spartan queen Leda, one being fathered by Zeus the other by her husband Tyndareus. Because of their generosity and kindness to man they were apotheosed into gods at death. At first Polydeukes alone, being a son of Zeus, was offered this gift, but he agreed only on condition that his half-twin Kastor share the honour. Zeus assented, but the pair had to spend alternate days in Haides to appease the Fates and the Gods of the Dead.

The Dioskouroi also received a place amongst the stars as the Cosntellation Gemini (the Twins). Their alternations between heaven and Haides may refer to the heavenly cycles - their constellation being visible in the heavens for only six months of the year.

The Dioskouroi were depicted as beardless youths, horsemen wearing wide-brimmed traveller's hats.

From: Theoi
Castor (pronounced /ˈkæstər/; Latin: Castōr; Greek: Κάστωρ, Kastōr, "beaver") and Pollux (/ˈpɒləks/; Latin: Pollūx) or Polydeuces (/ˌpɒlɨˈdjuːsiːz/; Greek: Πολυδεύκης, Poludeukēs, "much sweet wine"[1]) were twin brothers in Greek and Roman mythology and collectively known as the Dioskouroi. They were the sons of Leda by Tyndareus and Zeus respectively, the brothers of Helen of Troy and Clytemnestra, and the half-brothers of Timandra, Phoebe, Heracles, and Philonoe. They are known collectively in Greek as the Dioscuri (/daɪˈɒskjəraɪ/; Latin: Dioscūrī; Greek: Διόσκουροι, Dioskouroi, "sons of Zeus") and in Latin as the Gemini (/ˈdʒɛmɨnaɪ/; "twins") or Castores (/ˈkæstəriːz/). They are sometimes also termed the Tyndaridae or Tyndarids (/tɪnˈdɛrɨdiː/ or /ˈtɪndərɪdz/; Τυνδαρίδαι, Tundaridai), later seen as a reference to their father and stepfather Tyndareus.

In the myth the twins shared the same mother but had different fathers which meant that Pollux was immortal and Castor was mortal. When Castor died, Pollux asked Zeus to let him share his own immortality with his twin to keep them together and they were transformed into the Gemini constellation. The pair were regarded as the patrons of sailors, to whom they appeared as St. Elmo's fire.


Castor and Pollux are constantly associated with horses in art and literature. They bear striking similarities in this respect to divine twins in other mythologies, especially the Vedic Ashvins, who like them have a close association with horses.[13] 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.[14]

The twins were widely depicted as helmeted horsemen carrying spears.[7] The Pseudo-Oppian manuscript depicts the brothers hunting, both on horseback and on foot.[15] On votive reliefs they are depicted with a variety of symbols representing the concept of twinhood, such as the dokana (δόκανα - two upright piece 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, above which stars may be depicted. 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 in the rape of the Leucippides, as Argonauts, in religious ceremonies and at the delivery to Leda of the egg containing Helen.[12] 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 hatched.[16]


The Dioskouroi were worshipped by the Greeks and Romans alike; there were temples to the twins in Athens and Rome as well as shrines in many other locations in the ancient world.[17]

The Dioscuri and their sisters having grown 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;[18] as the protectors of the Spartan army the "beam figure" or dókana was carried in front of the army on campaign.[19] 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" (Burkert 1985:212).

Their herōon or grave-shrine was on a mountain top at Therapne across the Eurotas from Sparta, at a shrine known as the Meneláeion where Helen, Melelaus, Castor and Pollux were all said to be buried. Castor himself was also venerated in the region of Kastoria in northern Greece.

They were commemorated both as gods on Olympus worthy of burnt sacrifice, 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.[20] The pear tree was regarded by the Spartans as sacred to Castor and Pollux, and images of the twins were hung in its branches.[21] The standard Spartan oath was to swear "by the two gods" (in Doric Greek: νά τώ θεὼ, ná tō theō, in the Dual number).

Roman Castor and Pollux

From the fifth century BC onwards, the brothers were revered by the Romans, probably as the result of cultural transmission via the Greek colonies of 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.[22] The Romans believed that the twins aided them on the battlefield.[23] 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 sworn by Aulus Postumius Albus Regillensis in gratitude at the Roman victory in the Battle of Lake Regillus in 495 BC. According to legend, the twins fought at the head of the Roman army and subsequently brought news of the victory back to Rome.[7] In a very similar vein, the Locrians of Magna Graecia 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 transmission between Rome and Magna Graecia.[24]

Etruscan, Celtic and Hebrew analogues

The Celts also worshipped Castor and Pollux; the 1st century BC historian Diodorus Siculus records that the twins were the gods most worshipped in the west of Gaul. An altar found at Paris depicts them among Celtic figures such as the god Cernunnos, as well as Roman deities such as Jupiter and Vulcan.[25]

In Celtic mythology, the swan is the escort of the dead into the afterlife, or incarnation of Otherworld, which is very similarly natured to this one. They also feature extensively in the first cycle of Irish Myth featuring the Tuath De Dannan, speficially of Aengus Og, and his lover Etain, who actually become swans. As well as the tale of Mannan Mac Lir, God of the sea, whose children are curse to remain in the form of swans. There my be implications in this idea, regarding the twins, considering that the father of at least one of them is in some cases a god in the guise of a swan- which also lends itself to the roles the twins themselves represent in terms of life death, Olympus and Hades. The idea to Celts that, the twins were children of the swan- (if not biologically to the both, at least adoptively to the other, as Zeus gives Castor god-hood at the love of his brother) could have been very compelling, and in very real terms made statements about the state of human beings regarding life and death for the Celts. The attraction would be intensified with the twin's rendering as horsemen and riders and the Celtic tradition in Gaul and Britain was horse/equestrian bound to an extensively sacred degree. While all or most ancient cultures are bound up with aristocratic horse-borne castes, the majority of Celtic warfare depended on their expression with horse. Equine so saturated their culture, either plentifully or sacredly that horse was a splendid and frequent meal for them. These associations would have made the two twins compellingly 'Celtic' to the Celts. [horse information from Caesar Against the Celts]

In Italy the twins were venerated by the Etruscans, who knew them as Kastur and Pultuce, collectively the tinas cliniiaras ("sons of Tinia [Zeus]"). They were often portrayed on Etruscan mirrors.[26] As was the fashion in Greece, they could also be portrayed symbolically; one example can be seen in the Tomba del Letto Funebre at Tarquinia where 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 which they were often depicted as wearing.[27]

The Dioskouroi were regarded as helpers of mankind and held to be patrons of travellers and of sailors in particular, who invoked them to seek favourable winds.[28] Their role as horsemen and boxers also led to them being regarded as the patrons of athletes and athletic contests.[29] They characteristically intervened at the moment of crisis, aiding those who honoured or trusted them. Cicero tells the story of how 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.[13]

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.[12]

The 'Castor Pollux' notion maybe also lend itself, or vice verse from ancient middle east examples, such as the two men who accompany the Lord to meet and dine with Abraham. They then travel to Sodom to survey the state of the city and its injustices and in hospitalities as to whether or not it should be punished by God. They are met and welcomed by Abraham's nephew Lot. They then are threatened by rape by the town's people and Lot offers his daughters as alternatives. While not specifically named or bearing extensive 'Castor Pollux' traditions, their similarities in 'god entertain' in pairs is striking (see Genesis, chap. 19).

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 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 travellers, and Saints Cosmas and Damian took over their function as healers. Some have also associated Saints Speusippus, Eleusippus, and Melapsippus with the Dioskouroi.[15]

From: Wiki
Theoi Megaloi Great Gods
Anaktes Paides Boy Kings
Amboulioi Consellors
Sôteroi Saviours
Aphethrioi Starters (horse-race)
Lapersai Of Las (in Sparta)

From: Theoi

Other Sites: Cult of the Dioskouroi page
Some info
Gemini constellation lore: Site 1, Site 2, Site 3, Site 4 & Site 5
Temple of Castor and Pollux (Roman)
Neos Alexandria -- hymns, info, articles

Google Books preview:
The temple of Castor and Pollux, Volume 1 By Pia Guldager Bilde, Birte Poulsen
Mentioned here as gods of light, etc --full download
The Dioscuri in the Christian legends By James Rendel Harris --full download
Some info

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