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.
Dioscuri in Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology
Castor (pronounced /ˈkæstər/; Latin: Castōr; Greek: Κάστωρ,
Kastōr, "beaver") and Pollux (/ˈpɒləks/; Latin: Pollūx) or
Polydeuces (/ˌpɒlɨˈdjuːsiːz/; Greek: Πολυδεύκης, Poludeukēs,
"much sweet wine") 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