Dioscuri in Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology

(Διόσκουροι), that is, sons of Zeus, the well-known heroes, Castor and Pollux, or Polydeuces. The singular form Διόσκουρος, or Διόσκορος, occurs only in the writings of grammarians, and the Latins sometimes use Castores for the two brothers. (Plin. Nat. 10.43; Serv. ad Virg. Georg. 3.89; Hor. Carm. 3.29, 64.) According to the Homeric poems (Od. 11.298, &c.) they were the sons of Leda and Tyndareus, king of Lacedaemon, and consequently brothers of Helena. (Hom. Il. 3.426.) Hence they are often called by the patronymic Tyndaridae. (Ov. Fast. 5.700, Met. 8.301.) Castor was famous for his skill in taming and managing horses, and Pollux for his skill in boxing. Both had disappeared from the earth before the Greeks went against Troy. Although they were buried, says Homer, yet they came to life every other day, and they enjoyed honours like those of the gods. According to other traditions both were the sons of Zeus and Leda, and were born at the same time with their sister Helena out of an egg (Hom. Hymn. 13.5; Theocrit. xxii.; Schol. ad Pind. Nem. 10.150; Apollon. 1.149; Hyg. Fab. 155; Tzetz. ad Lycoph. 511; Serv. ad Aen. 3.328), or without their sister, and either out of an egg or in the natural way, but in such a manner that Pollux was the first born. (Tzetz. ad Lycoph. 88, 511.) According to others again, Polydeuces and Helena only were children of Zeus, and Castor was the son of Tyndareus. Hence, Polydeuces was immortal, while Castor was subject to old age and death like every other mortal. (Pind. N. 10.80, with the Schol.; Theocrit. 24.130; Apollod. 3.10.7; Hyg. Fab. 77.) They were born, according to different traditions, at different places, such as Amyclae, mount Taygetus, the island of Pephnos, or Thalamae. (Theocrit. 22.122; Verg. G. 3.89; Serv. ad Aen. 10.564; Hom. Hymn. 13.4; Paus. 2.1.4, 26.2.) The fabulous life of the Dioscuri is marked by three great events: 1. Their expedition against Athens. Theseus had carried off their sister Helena from Sparta, or, according to others, he had promised Idas and Lynceus, the sons of Aphareus, who had carried her off, to guard her, and he kept her in confinement at Aphidnae, under the superintendence of his mother Aethra. While Theseus was absent from Attica and Menestheus was endeavouring to usurp the government, the Dioscuri marched into Attica, and ravaged the country round the city. Academus revealed to them, that Helena was kept at Aphidnae (Hdt. 9.73), and the Dioscuri took the place by assault. They carried away their sister Helena, and Aethra was made their prisoner. (Apollod. l.c.) Menestheus then opened to them also the gates of Athens, and Aphidnus adopted them as his sons, in order that, according to their desire, they might become initiated in the mysteries, and the Athenians paid divine honours to them. (Plut. Thes. 31, &c.; Lycoph. 499.) 2. Their part in the expedition of the Argonauts, as they had before taken part in the Calydonian hunt. (Apollon. 1.149; Paus. 3.24.5; Hyg. Fab. 173.) During the voyage of the Argonauts, it once happened, that when the heroes were detained by a vehement storm, and Orpheus prayed to the Samothracian gods, the storm suddenly subsided, and stars appeared on the heads of the Dioscuri. (Diod. 4.43; Plut. de Plac. Philos. 2.18; Senec. Quaest. Nat. 1.1.) On their arrival in the country of the Bebryces, Polydeuces fought against Amycus, the gigantic son of Poseidon, and conquered him. During the Argonautic expedition they founded the town of Dioscurias. (Hyg. Fab. 175; P. Mela, 1.19; comp. Strab. xi. p.496 ; Just. 42.3; Plin. Nat. 6.5.) 3. Their battle with the sons of Aphareus. The Dioscuri were charmed with the beauty of the daughters of Leucippus, Phoebe, a priestess of Athena, and Hilaeira or Elaeira, a priestess of Artemis: the Dioscuri carried them off, and married them. (Hyg. Fab. 80; Ov. Fast. 5.700; Schol. ad Pind. New. 10.112.) Polydeuces became, by Phoebe, the father of Mnesileus, Mnesinous, or Asinous, and Castor, by Hilaeira, the father of Anogon, Anaxis, or Aulothus. (Tzetz. ad Lycoph. 511.) Once the Dioscuri, in conjunction with Ideas and Lynceus, the sons of Aphareus, had carried away a herd of oxen from Arcadia, and it was left to Idas to divide the booty. He cut up a bull into four parts, and declared, that whichever of them should first succeed in eating his share should receive half the oxen, and the second should have the other half. Idas, thereupon, not only ate his own quarter, but devoured that of his brother's in addition, and then drove the whole herd to his home in Messene. (Pind. N. 10.60; Apollod. 3.11.2; Lycoph. l.c.) The Dioscuri then invaded Messene, drove away the cattle of which they had been deprived, and much more in addition. This became the occasion of a war between the Dioscuri and the sons of Aphareus, which was carried on in Messene, or Laconia. In this war, the details of which are related differently, Castor, the mortal. fell by the hands of Idas, but Pollux slew Lynceus, and Zeus killed Idas by a flash of lightning. (Pind. Apollod. ll. cc.; Tzetz. ad Lycoph. 1514; Theocrit. xxii. ; Hyg. Fab. 80, Poet. Astr. 2.22.) Polydeuces then returned to his brother, whom he found breathing his last, and he prayed to Zeus, to be permitted to die with him. Zeus left him the option, either to live as his immortal son in Olympus, or to share his brother's fate, and to live, alternately, one day under the earth, and the other in the heavenly abodes of the gods. (Hom. Il. 3.243; Pind. Nem. x. in fin.; Hyg. Fab. 251.) According to a different form of the story, Zeus rewarded the attachment of the two brothers by placing them among the stars as Gemini. (Hygin. Poet. Astr. l.c.; Schol. ad Eurip. Orest. 465.) These heroic youths, who were also believed to have reigned as Kings of Sparta (Paus. 3.1.5), received divine honours at Sparta, though not till forty years after their war with the sons of Aphareus. (Paus. 3.13. §,1.) Müller (Dor. 2.10.8) conceives that the worship of the Dioscuri had a double source, viz. the heroic honours of the human Tyndaridae, and the worship of some ancient Peloponnesian deities, so that in the process of time the attributes of the latter were transferred to the former, viz. the name of the sons of Zeus, the birth front an egg, and the like. Their worship spread from Peloponnesus over Greece, Sicily, and Italy. (Paus. 10.33.3, 38.3.) Their principal characteristic was that of Δεοὶ σωτῆρες, that is, mighty helpers of man, whence they were sometimes called ἄνακες or ἄνακτες. (Plut. Thes. 33; Strab. v. p.232; Aelian, V. H.1.30, 4.5; Aristoph. Lys. 1301 ; Paus. 1.31.1, 8.21, in fin.) They were, however, worshipped more especially as the protectors of travellers by sea, for Poseidon had rewarded their brotherly love by giving them power over wind and waves, that they might assist the shipwrecked. (Hygin. Poet. Astr. l.c ; Eur. Hel. 1511; Hom. Hymn. 13.9; Strab. i. p.48; Hor. Carm. 1.3.2.) Out of this idea arose that of their being the protectors of travellers in general, and consequently of the law of hospitality also, the violation of which was punished severely by them. (Paus. 3.16.3; Böckh, Explicat. ad Pind. p. 135.) Their characters as πὺξ ἀγαθός and ἱππόδαμος were combined into one, and both, whenever they did appear, were seen riding on magnificent white steeds. They were further regarded, like Hermes and Heracles, as the presidents of the public games (Pind. O. 3.38, Nem. 10.53), and at Sparta their statues stood at the entrance of the race-course. (Paus. 3.14.7.) They were further believed to have invented the war-dance, and warlike music, and poets and bards were favoured by them. (Cic. de Orat. 2.86; Val. Maxim. 1.8.7.) Owing to their warlike character, it was customary at Sparta for the two kings, whenever they went out to war, to be accompanied by symbolic representations of the Dioscuri (δόκανα ; Dict. of Ant. s. v.), and afterwards, when one king only took the field, he took with him only one of those symbols. (Hdt. 5.75.) Sepulchral monuments of Castor existed in the temple of the Dioscuri near Therapne (Pind. N. 10.56; Paus. 3.20.1), at Sparta (Paus. 3.13.1; Cic. de Nat. Deor. 3.5.), and at Argos. (Plut. Quaest. Gr. 23.) Temples and statues of the Dioscuri were very numerous in Greece, though more particularly in Peloponnesus. Respecting their festivals, see Dict. of Ant. s. vv. Ἀνάκεια, Διοσκούρια. Their usual representation in works of art is that of two youthful horsemen with egg-shaped hats, or helmets, crowned with stars, and with spears in their hands. (Paus. 3.18.8, 5.19.1; Catull. 37. 2; V. Fl. 5.367.) At Rome, the worship of the Dioscuri or Castores was introduced at an early time. They were believed to have assisted the Romans against the Latins in the battle of Lake Regillus; and the dictator, A. Postumius Albus, during the battle, vowed a temple to them. It was erected in the Forum, on the spot where they had been seen after the battle, opposite the temple of Vesta. It was consecrated on the 15th of July, the anniversary day of the battle of Regillus. (Dionys. A. R. 6.13; Liv.2.20, 42.) Subsequently, two other temples of the Dioscuri were built, one in the Circus Maximus, and the other in the Circus Flaminius. (Vitr. 4.7; P. Vict. Reg. Urb. xi.) From that time the equites regarded the Castores as their patrons, and after the year B. C. 305, the equites went every year, on the 15th of July, in a magnificent procession on horseback, from the temple of Mars through the main streets of the city, across the Forum, and by the ancient temple of the Dioscuri. In this procession the equites were adorned with olive wreaths and dressed in the trabea, and a grand sacrifice was offered to the twin gods by the most illustrious persons of the equestrian order. (Dionys. l.c.; Liv. 9.46; V. Max. 2.2.9; Aurel. Vict. de Vir. illustr. 32.) - A Dictionary of Greek and Roman biography and mythology, William Smith, Ed.

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