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My Favourite Planet > English > People > Dioskouroi
back The Dioskouroi  

Ancient Greek mythology, religion and art

The mythical twin heroes, Kastor (Κάστωρ, beaver; Latin, Castor) and Polydeukes (Πολυδεύκης, much sweet wine; Latin, Polydeuces or Pollux) were known as the Dioskouroi (Greek Διόσκουροι, sons of Zeus; Latin, Dioscuri). [1]

The various versions of the myths concerning the twins are inconsistent and often vague. One twin was said to be the immortal son of the Aetolian princess Leda (Λήδα, daughter of King Thestius) and Zeus, who disguised himself as a swan to have sex with her. The other, conceived the same night, was the mortal son of Leda and her husband King Tyndareos of Sparta (Τυνδάρεως). However, which of the twins was immortal is not clear: it is generally thought that Polydeukes was the immortal son of Zeus, and Kastor the mortal son of Tyndareos.

According to some versions of the myths, the coupling of Leda and Zeus as a swan (see below) produced one or two eggs, from which hatched one of the twins and Helen of Troy. [2] At the same time Leda also give birth to the other twin and Clytaemnestra, conceived by more conventional means with Tyndareos. Helen (Ἑλένη) married Menelaos, king of Sparta, but her abduction by the Trojan prince Paris (see below) led to the Trojan War. Clytaemnestra married Menelaos' brother Agamemnon, king of Mycenae, but murdered him on his return from Troy (see below).

The Dioskouroi were also half-brothers of Timandra, Phoebe, Herakles, and Philonoe.

The twins were closely associated with horses, often depicted as mounted warriors or hunters (such cult images of mythical horsemen were widespread among ancient cultures) and particularly revered by cavalry soldiers.

They also appeared as warriors and hunters in several mythical tales, including the hunting of the Kalydonian Boar (see photos below), the feud between Sparta and Athens following the abduction of Helen by Theseus, and the expedition of Jason and the Argonauts.

There were also tales of cattle theft (see photo below), abduction of women, rivalry, trickery and revenge involving the Dioskouroi and their cousins Lynkeus and Idas (the Apharidae, sons of Aphareus), twin brothers from Messenia [3]. The growing emnity between the two sets of twins ended with Idas ambushing and killing Kastor, and Polydeukes killing Lynkeus.

According to other versions of the myths, both the Dioskouroi were killed in combat by Lynkeus and Idas during a siege of Sparta (Lacedaemon). In the Iliad by Homer, during the siege of Troy Helen asks why her brothers are not among the Greek besiegers (Achaeans) she can see from the walls of the city. Homer tells us that, unknown to her, both were already dead and buried:

"'I see, moreover, many other Achaeans whose names I could tell you, but there are two whom I can nowhere find, Castor, breaker of horses, and Pollux the mighty boxer; they are children of my mother, and own brothers to myself. Either they have not left Lacedaemon, or else, though they have brought their ships, they will not show themselves in battle for the shame and disgrace that I have brought upon them.'

She knew not that both these heroes were already lying under the earth in their own land of Lacedaemon."

Homer, Iliad, Book III.
Prose translation by Samuel Butler.

After Kastor's death, Polydeukes asked Zeus to allow his twin brother share his immortality so that they could remain together. Zeus transformed them both into the stars today known as the Gemini (Latin for twins) constellation, the heavenly twins. Some ancient authors wrote that they shared immortality in turns.

They are sometimes called the Tyndaridae or Tyndarids (Τυνδαρίδαι, Tyndaridai), a reference to their father / stepfather King Tyndareos of Sparta. The worship of the Dioskouroi appears to have had its origins and centre at Sparta, where they were associated with the Spartan tradition of dual kingship, and there were many sanctuaries dedicated to the twins around the Peloponnese. The cult spread throughout Greece, and they were also worshipped by the Etruscans (as Kastur and Pultuce), Romans and Gauls.

They were also known as Anakes (Ἄνακες, kings; also translated as "protectors", "guardians" and "on high"; Plutarch, Life of Theseus, 33.1), their annual religious festival the Anakeia (Ἀνάκεια), and their temple the Anakeion (Ἀνάκειον).

There was an Anakeion beneath the Sanctuary of Aglauros on the east slope of the Athens Acropolis. Pausanias described a sculpture group and paintings dedicated to them there:

"The sanctuary of the Dioscuri is ancient. They themselves are represented as standing, while their sons are seated on horses. Here Polygnotus has painted the marriage of the daughters of Leucippus, was a part of the gods' history, but Micon those who sailed with Jason to the Colchians, and he has concentrated his attention upon Acastus and his horses."

Description of Greece, Book 1, chapter 18, section 1.

Pausanias also mentions that "at Kephale [in Attica] the chief cult is that of the Dioskouroi, for the inhabitants call them the Megaloi Theoi [Great Gods]".

Description of Greece, Book 1, chapter 31, section 1.

In many places, such as the Aegean island of Thasos (see below), the Dioskouroi were also worshipped as protectors of seamen.

According to the poet and collector of epigrams Meleager of Gadara (Μελέαγρος ὁ Γαδαρεύς, 1st century BC), the cyclamen (κυκλάμινος) was named after the Dioskouroi:

"... the Muses' cyclamen which takes its name from the twin sons of Zeus." [4]

In Greek and Roman art the Dioskouroi are usually depicted as naked apart from a pilos (πῖλος) conical cap (see Medusa), chlamys (χλαμύς, short cloak) and sometimes boots, each holding a spear and often on or with a horse. They are sometimes shown with a star above each head, particularly on coins (see coins above right and below, and a votive relief below).
References to the Dioskouroi
on My Favourite Planet

The Pedestal of Agrippa, on the Athens Acropolis:

Athens Acropolis gallery, page 8

Detail of one of the statues of the Dioskouroi in the Naples Archaeological Museum at My Favourite Planet

Detail of one of the Dioskouroi statues
in the Naples Archaeological Museum.

See photos below.

The Dioscuri on a Roman bronze coin at My Favourite Planet

The Dioscuri on a bronze coin of
the Roman Republic, 211-170 BC.

Palazzo Massimo alle Terme,
National Museum of Rome.

The Dioscuri on a Roman quinari coin from Akragas, Sicily at My Favourite Planet

The Dioscuri on a coin of the Roman
Republic, from Akragas (Agrigento), Sicily.

Agrigento Regional Archaeological Museum.

The Dioskouri on a silver drachm from Istros at My Favourite Planet

Heads of the Dioskouri, one upright and
the other inverted, on a silver drachm
from Istros (Ίστρος), a Greek colony
founded by Miletus in the 7th century BC
on the Black Sea coast (near modern
Istria, Romania). Circa 400 BC. [5]

Alpha Bank Numsimatic Collection,
Athens, Greece.

One of the Dioskouri on the corner of a sarcophagus at My Favourite Planet

One of the Dioskouri on horseback,
on the corner of a marble relief on
the "Sarcophagus of Meleagros".

From Dyrrachium (Durres, Albania). Roman
period, first half of the 2nd century AD.

The Dioskouri twins sit on horseback on
either side of a relief frieze depicting the
myth of the Kalydonian hero Meleagros.

Istanbul Archaeological Museum.
Inv. No. 2100 T. Cat. Mendel 4.

Two charioteers on a Geometric krater at My Favourite Planet

Two charioteers, perhaps the Dioskouroi, among horsemen
on an Athenian black-figure spouted krater (large bowl).

Geometric period, 735-720 BC (LGIIa). From Thebes.

British Museum. Inv. No. GR 1899.2-19.1.

The other side of the krater has a painting of a man grasping a woman by the wrist as he turns towards a ship with two rows of oarsmen. Thought to be an early representation of a myth, perhaps Theseus abducting Helen, Paris abducting Helen, the cause of the Trojan war, or Theseus fleeing King Minos of Crete with Ariadne. If the woman is Helen, then the two charioteers may be her brothers Kastor and Polydeukes.

See the other side of the krater in Homer part 2.

See also the Judgement of Paris in Greek, Etruscan and Roman art on the Hermes page.

Relief of the Dioskouroi from the Sikyonian Treasury, Delphi, Greece at My Favourite Planet

An Archaic high relief depicting a scene from the myth of the Dioskouroi and the Apharidae.

Part of a poros (limestone) metope of the Sikyonian "monopteros", an open
Doric colonnade at the Treasury of the Sikyonians, Delphi. Circa 560 BC.

Delphi Archaeological Museum, Greece. Inv. No. 1322.

The five surviving metopes from the Sikyonian monopteros were excavated at Delphi in 1894, in and around the Sikyonian Treasury. [6]

The Kastor and Polydeukes are shown walking to the right, followed by their Theban cousin Idas (Ἴδας, one of the the Apharidae twins), leading cattle as booty from their raid on Arcadia. Around 20 centimetres of the left side of the relief are missing, and it is thought that Idas' twin brother Lynkeus (Λυνκεύς) followed him. Painted inscriptions (two barely visible, on the right) showed the names of the figures.

All three men are shown in profile, at the same size, identical in dress and pose, and walk in step with the left leg in front. Each is naked apart from a chlamys (short cloak), fastened at the right shoulder and open at the side, a thick belt and sandals. Each carries two spears in the left hand, resting on the left shoulder, and another two horizontally in the right hand.

The oxen, shown smaller in scale, walk behind the men in rows of three, with three sets of legs and three heads. The heads are shown one above the other, with those in the rear rows at the top. The heads in the two rear rows are in profile, while those in the front rows are turned to face the viewer frontally. Strangely, the horns and ears of the oxen are shown in front of the men's cloaks. The composition as a whole has surprising depth and a dynamic rhythm, and must have been even more impressive when it was first sculpted and painted.

The brightly painted metopes had an unusual width-to-height ratio of 3:2.

Approximate dimensions: height 58 cm, length 87 cm, depth 16 cm, depth of relief 8 cm.

Polydeukes and Orpheus on the Argo, Delphi Archaeological Museum at My Favourite Planet

Fragments of an Archaic high relief depicting the prow of the Argo ship. On the left,
Polydeukes (name inscribed), one of the Dioskouroi, disembarks from the ship on horseback.
On the right stand Orpheus (name inscribed) and an unidentified musician, both holding lyres.

Part of a poros metope of the Sikyonian "monopteros", Delphi. Circa 560 BC.

It is thought that the image of the ship occupied three
metopes along the short side of the monopteros.

Delphi Archaeological Museum, Greece.

Twin kouroi statues traditionally identified as Kleobis and Biton at My Favourite Planet

Twin marble kouroi statues originally identified as
the brothers Kleobis and Biton [7] of Argos, but now
thought by some scholars to depict the Dioskouroi.

Naxian marble. Circa 580 BC.

Delphi Archaeological Museum, Greece.
Statue A (right) Inv. No. 467, Statue B (left) Inv. No. 1524.

The first of the two over life-size marble statues, Statue A (right in the photo above), and part of its inscribed rectangular base were excavated in 1893 near the Athenian Treasury, Delphi, and the second statue, Statue B (left), was discovered in 1894. Parts of the second base was discovered in 1907, built into a wall of the Roman baths.

Statue A is almost complete, and the soles of the feet on one of the bases allowed archaeologists to match them. Statue B is more fragmentary and has been restored; the lower legs and part of the base are modern additions. Both statues and bases are badly weathered, but the figures still have a remarkable intensity and presence, despite - or maybe because of - their exaggerated anatomies.

The base of Statue A (Base B) is inscribed with the artist's signature [ΠΟΛΥ]ΜΕΔΕΣ ΕΠΟΙΗΣΕΗ ΑΡΓΕΙΟΣ ([Poly]medes of Argos made me; there are a number of varying readings of this signature, see images below), and it is probable that both statues were made by the same sculptor. Another inscribed line and the inscription on the base of Statue B (Base A) are illegible. The perhaps optimistic reading of letters on Base A as part of the name Biton remains a subject of scholarly debate.

The identification of the statues as depictions of the Argive heroes Kleobis and Biton appears to rest on the signature by an Argive sculptor and the questionable reading of Biton's name on Base A, tied to a mention of statues of the brothers by Herodotus [see note 7]. It should be noted that Herodotus was relating a story said to have been told by the Athenian statesman Solon to King Croesus of Lydia (it is doubted that these two men ever met); he did not write that he had seen these statues himself or that they still existed in his day.

The theory that the statues were among several dedications to the Dioskouri in Delphi has also yet to be proved, and also rests on conjectural readings of the inscriptions. As in the case of many ancient Greek sculptures, especially Archaic kouroi and kore, without recognizable attributes asscociated with particular deities and other figures, positive identification remains elusive.

Statue A: height 216 cm; head height 30 cm; base height 19 cm, width 38 cm, length 70 cm.

Statue B: restored height 218 cm.

Isotopic ratio analyses of marble samples from monuments in the sanctuary of Apollo at Delphi have shown that the statues are made of Naxian marble, from the Melanes or Apollonas quarry on Naxos.

See: Olga Palagia and Norman Herz, Investigation of marbles at Delphi. In: J. J. Hermann Jnr., N. Herz and R. Newman (editors), Asmosia 5: Ιnterdisciplinary studies οn ancient stone, pages 240-249. Archetype Publications Ltd., London, 2002.

The back of the head of statue A, Delphi at My Favourite Planet

The back of the head of statue A.

Other kouros statues
on My Favourite Planet:

The colossal "Isches Kouros" from Samos,
"The Ram-Carrier of Thasos"
and smaller kouroi from Samos:

Samos photo gallery pages 4-5

A bronze kouros statuette in the Daedalic
style in the Delphi Archaeological Museum:

Daidalos page, MFP People

The inscription on the base of Statue A, Delphi, with the signature of Polymedes of Argos at My Favourite Planet

The inscription on the base of Statue A, with the signature of the sculptor Polymedes of Argos.

Each statue and its base were made from a single stone block.

"The figure, 2.16 metres in height, is of one piece with the base, which is rectangular in shape,
and follows the outside edges of the feet. Such a base, wrought out of the same block as the
statue, was called Σφέλας [sfelas], as is proved by the inscription on the colossal Apollo at Delos."

Frederik Poulson, Delphi, Chapter 6, The Delphian twins, page 90. Translated
by G. C. Richards. Gyldendal, London, 1920. At the Internet Archive.

Drawing of the bases of the Delphian twins statues at My Favourite Planet

Drawing of the bases of the Delphian twins statues. The image of the base
of Statue B (top) has been turned around for easier reading of the inscription.

Source: Frederik Poulson, Delphi, Chapter 6, The Delphian twins, page 95.
Translated by G. C. Richards. Gyldendal, London, 1920. At
(From Oesterreichische Jahreshefte, xiii, 1910, 41 ff.)

Kastor and Polydeukes assist Jason to cure the blindness of king Phineas at My Favourite Planet

Jason, the leader of the Argonauts, places his hands over the eyes of the Thracian king Phineas
(Φινέας) to cure his blindness. Kastor and Polydeukes, right, assist. It has been suggested that
the female figure may be the earliest known representation of Queen Kleita (Κλειτα), wife of
Kyzikos, who, according to Apollonias of Rhodes, played a role in the Argonauts' adventure.

Fragment of an inscribed black-figure Corinthian krater, known as "the Argonauts Krater",
made in the workshop of the Cavalcade Painter, around 575-560 BC.

In the lower register is a standing lion. Another fragment shows Zetes and Kalais
(the Boreads, sons of Boreas, the North Wind) chasing the Harpies.

The fragments were discovered in the early 1970s by Stavros Andreadis on his family's
land, at what now known to be the site of the Sanctuary of Artemis, Sani (ancient Sane),
Kassandra peninsula (ancient Pallene), Halkidiki. He donated them to the museum in 2005.

Thessaloniki Archaeological Museum. Inv. No. MΘ 23656.
According to the museum catalogue, Inv. No. MΘ 1.

Detail of a black-figure column krater with two youths flanked by their horses and dogs at My Favourite Planet

Detail of a black-figure column krater (bowl for mixing wine and water)
with two youths flanked by their horses and dogs.

From Vulci. Made in southern Italy, around 540 BC.
Attributed to the Inscriptions Painter (Chalcidian Group).

The figures have not been identified. Perhaps the Dioskouroi or two other heroes.
Pausanias noted that at the Anakeion, the sanctuary the Dioskouroi in Athens,
they "are represented as standing, while their sons are seated on horses."
Pausanias, Description of Greece, Book 1, chapter 18, section 1.

British Museum. GR 1843.11-3.38 (Vase B 15). Canino Collection.

A figurine of a horse and rider from Dodona at My Favourite Planet

A bronze figurine of a horse and rider, perhaps one of the Dioskouroi.

Around 575-550 BC. From the Sanctuary of Zeus at Dodona, near Ionnina, northwest
Greece. Probably made by Corinthian metalworkers, perhaps living in the area.

The rider was found in 1875 during excavations at Dodona by Konstantinos Karapanos
(see note in Homer part 3). He looks masculine although he appears to have breasts.
He wears a short chiton (tunic), and is thought to have originally worn a petasos (broad-
brimmed hat), and to have held reins in his left hand and a spear in the right. The horse
was found in 1956 during excavations by Professor D. Evangelidis. A similar horse also
found at Dodona and now in the Louvre probably belongs to this rider, while the rider
of the horse above has not been found.

National Archaeological Museum, Athens. Inv. Nos. καρ. 27 and 16547.
Rider from the Konstantinos Karapanos Collection.

Horos (boundary stone) for the Dioskouroi sanctuary, Korkyra at My Favourite Planet

The inscribed limestone grave column of Lexeiatas, second half
of the 5th century BC, reused in the 4th century BC as a horos
(boundary stone) for a Dioskouroi sanctuary. Found in the 19th
century near the Monument of Menekrates in the Garitsa district,
south of the centre of Corfu town (ancient Korkyra). [8]. It
appears that the sanctuary itself has not yet been discovered.

The deceased's name ΛΕΞΕΙΑΤΑΣ (Λεξειάτας, Lexeiatas) is inscribed
retrograde (from right to left, with the letters reversed) and vertically
up the length of the column (see image below). Later ΔΙΟΣΚΟΥΡΩΝ
(Διοσκο̣ύρων, Dioskouron) was inscribed horizontally across the
column, near what is now the top. Height 142 cm, width 33 cm.

Corfu Archaeological Museum. Inscription IG IX 1² 4 883.

The name Lexeiatas inscribed on the horos column in Corfu at My Favourite Planet

A drawing of the name ΛΕΞΕΙΑΤΑΣ (Λεξειάτας, Lexeiatas)
inscribed retrograde on the horos column in Corfu.

Source: Hermann Roehl, Inscriptiones graecae antiquissimae,
No. 345, page 81. Georg Reimer, Berlin, 1882. At the Internet Archive.

The Dioskouroi, Orestes and Elektra on a red-figure lekanis, Paestum at My Favourite Planet

The lid of a Paestan red-figure lekanis [9] depicting a scene from the myth of
Orestes and Elektra: the Dioskouroi appear at the tomb of Agamemnon.

Attributed to the Floreale Painter, circa 330 BC. Excavated in 1954
at Tomb 5 in the necropolis at Laghetto, just northwest of Paestum.

National Archaeological Museum of Paestum, Campania, Italy.

In Greek mythology and literature, Agamemnon, king of Mycenae, was murdered on his return from the Trojan War by his wife Clytaemnestra and her lover Aigisthos. Orestes and Elektra, the children of Agamemnon and Clytaemnestra, avenged their father by killing their mother. The cycle of revenge and murder was mentioned in the poetry of Homer and Pindar and was the subject of plays by the Athenian tragedians Aeschylus, Euripides and Sophocles. At the end of Euripides' Electra (Ἠλέκτρα, written around 410-413 BC), the deified Dioskouroi appear and tell Orestes and Elektra that their mother's punishment was just, but they must nevertheless atone for their matricide and purge their souls.

At the front of this lekanis lid, as it appears in the photo above, Elektra sits mourning her father on his tomb. She is veiled and holds what appears to be a vase, perhaps Agamemnon's funerary urn. What appear to be two white teardrops can be seen in front of her face, but the paint is too worn to be certain. The Dioskouroi twins approach her from either side (see detail below; unfortunately the lekanis is displayed at the corner of a glass case, and its position and reflections made it it impossible to take a photo of both twins). Each is naked apart from a pilos (πῖλος) conical cap (see Medusa), chlamys (short cloak) and boots, and each holds a spear and another object which is offered to Elektra. It is uncertain what the twin on the left is holding, but his brother to the right of Elektra offers a golden wreath.

On other vases depicting this subject, two similar figures, dressed in the same way, have been identified as Orestes and Pylades, his cousin who, according to some versions of the story, assisted in the killing of Clytaemnestra and Aigisthos.

See also:

Orestes killing Clytaemnestra on a bronze Etruscan mirror, in Homer part 3;

a "Melian" relief of Orestes and Elektra at the tomb of Agamemnon, in Homer part 3.

One of the Dioskouroi with Elektra at My Favourite Planet

One of the Dioskouroi with Elektra on the lid of the Lekanis in Paestum.

Colossal statues of Castor and Pollux in Naples at My Favourite Planet

Colossal marble statues of Castor and Pollux, the Dioscuri.

2nd century AD, based on Greek models of the 5th century BC, particularly the Doryphoros
(spear carrier) of Polykleitos. Found at Baiae, in the Bay of Naples, in the area of the baths,
near the "Tempio di Venere" (Temple of Venus).

The twins are usually represented nude; each wears and pilos (πῖλος) conical cap and a
chlamys riding cloak. They are also nearly always shown with horses, here reduced to heads
which double as supports for the marble figures. Both figures hold swords in their left hands.

National Archaeological Museum, Naples. Inv. Nos. 131209 and 230872.
The statue of Castor in the Naples Archaeological Museum at My Favourite Planet   The statue of Pollux in Naples at My Favourite Planet

The statues of Castor and Pollux in the Naples Archaeological Museum.

There appears to be no indication of which twin is which. Traces of
dark red colour can be seen on the hair of the statue on the left.
A replica of a relief of one of the Dioskouroi from Las Incantadas, Thessaloniki at My Favourite Planet   Detail of the Dioskouros relief from Las Incantadas, Thessaloniki at My Favourite Planet

A replica of a marble high relief of one of the Dioskouroi on a pilaster from "Las Incantadas"
(the Enchanted Ones, see below) in Thessaloniki, Macedonia, Greece. The four pilasters
of the group have reliefs of Greek mythological figures on each side. On the other side
of this pilaster is a relief of Ariadne (see Dionysus).

Height 218 cm. The originals, of the late 2nd or early
3rd century AD, are now in the Louvre, Paris.

Like the Dioskouroi statues in Naples (above) and on the Roman Capitol (below), the
figure stands naked apart from a pilos cap and a cloak, in this case over his chest,
shoulders and part of his left arm. With his missing right hand he probabably held the
reins which rise from the head of the horse, which is shown only as a bust at his side.

Thessaloniki Archaeological Museum.

Original, Louvre, Paris. Inv. No. Ma 1392.

A drawing of Las Incantadas in Thessaloniki by James Stuart at My Favourite Planet

"Las Incantadas" standing in its original position in Thessaloniki in the mid 18th century.

A coloured print from a drawing by James Stuart, 1754. [10]

"Las Incantadas" (the Enchanted Ones) was the name given by Sephardic Jews of Thessaloniki during the period of Ottoman occupation to the 13 metre high remains of a two-storey marble colonnade that stood between Egnatia Street and the ancient Agora (today a park in the area where the statue of Eleftherios Venizelos now stands). It was known to the Greeks as "the Portico of the Idols" (η Στοά των Ειδώλων, i Stoa ton Eidolon), "The Enchantment" (Γοητειᾒα, Goeteia) or "the Magicians" (Οι Μαγεμένες, oi Magemenes), and to the Turks as "Suret-maleh" (angel figures).

A row of five columns with Corinthian capitals supported an inscribed epistyle on which stood four pilasters, each with a relief of a Greek mythological figure on two sides. It is thought that originally the colonnade may have had more columns and at least one more pilaster, and that it may have been part of a baths complex.

During the Ottoman period the ruin of the colonnade became part of the courtyard of a Jewish merchant's house in the Rogos district, the city's only Jewish quarter above Egnatia Street. They were admired by a number of early European travellers who visited the city, notably James Stuart and Nicholas Revett [see note 10]. In 1864 the French palaeographer Emmanuel Miller, with the permission from the Ottoman authorities, removed the pilasters amid angry protests by local people, and sent them to the Louvre in Paris.

The order of the reliefs on the surviving pilasters, according to drawings by Stuart and Revett: along the north side of the colonnade (east-west), Nike, Aura, Dioskouros, Ganymede and the eagle (Zeus); along the south side (east-west) Maenad, Dionysus, Ariadne, Leda and the swan (Zeus).

The north side of each pilaster is usually referred to as Side A, and the south side as Side B. The pairs of reliefs on each pilaster, from east to west, and their respective Louvre inventory numbers:

Pilaster 1, Inv. No. Ma 1391
north side (A) Nike
south side (B) Maenad

Pilaster 2, Inv. No. Ma 1393
north side (A) Aura
south side (B) Dionysus

Pilaster 3, Inv. No. Ma 1392
north side (A) Dioskouros
south side (B) Ariadne

Pilaster 4, Inv. No. Ma 1394
north side (A) Ganymede and the eagle (Zeus)
south side (B) Leda and the swan (see photo below)

In 1997, during rescue excavations by archaeologists in Rogote Street (Οδός Ρογκότη) in the city centre, a fragment of another of the pilasters was discovered, with part of the head and a wing of a Nike relief (see photo, right). This is thought to be the only surviving part of the stoa now in Greece. Although the Roman period colonnade has generally been dated to the late 2nd or early 3rd century AD, according to the labelling of the Thessaloniki Archaeological Museum, the fragment was made around 225 AD.

As with the "Elgin Marbles", recent campaigns for the return of the pilasters to Greece have so far been unsuccessful, but did result in replicas made of Thassian marble being sent to Thessaloniki in September 2015. The copies cost 150,000 Euro, paid for by HELEXPO Thessaloniki International Fair (ΔΕΘ, TIF). Since September 2017 they have been exhibited in the open, roofed portico of the archaeological museum (see photo below). There are plans to move them to the small museum in the ancient Agora, which would be a good idea, as they are currently exposed to the weather and environmental pollution.

Drawing of the Dioskouros figure from Las Incantadas by Stuart and Revett at My Favourite Planet

A drawing of the Dioskouros figure from
"Las Incantadas" by James Stuart and
Nicholas Revett, 1753-1754.

Fragment of a pilaster from Las Incantadas found in 1997 at My Favourite Planet

The fragment of the top of a pilaster
from Las Incantadas with part of a
relief of Nike. Found in 1997.

According to the museum labelling,
around 225 AD.

Thessaloniki Archaeological Museum.

Two warriors fighting on the bronze cheekpiece of a helmet at My Favourite Planet

A bronze left cheekpiece of a helmet with a relief of two naked warriors fighting.
The warrior on the right wearing a pilos helmet (see Medusa part 6), a cloak
and carrying a round shield, appears to have defeated his opponent. Perhaps
Kastor fighting Lynkeus or Polydeukes fighting Idas [see note 3].

Late 5th - early 4th century BC. Found in 1875 in the Sanctuary of Zeus
at Dodona, near Ionnina, northwestern Greece, during excavations by
Konstantinos Karapanos (see Homer part 3).

National Archaeological Museum, Athens. Inv. No. καρ. 166.
From the Konstantinos Karapanos Collection.

Votive relief of the Dioskouroi and the river god Strymon from Amphipolis at My Favourite Planet

Fragment of an inscribed votive relief of Kastor and Polydeukes, the Dioskouroi,
and part of the reclining river god Strymon (Στρυμών), the personification of the
River Strymon, which flows though Amphipolis [11].

From Amphipolis, Macedonia, Greece. 2nd century AD.

Amphipolis Archaeological Museum. Inv. No. Λ 673.

The mirrored figures of the Dioskouroi stand either side of their horses, facing frontally. Each is naked apart from a pilos (πῖλος) conical cap, chlamys (χλαμύς, short cloak), and holds a spear in the outer hand and the reins of his horse in the other. Only the front parts of the horses are shown. A tree or large plant and a foot and the lower part of the himation (cloak) of the reclining river god Strymon can be seen on the right edge of the broken stele. Below the inscription on the bottom of the frame of the relief is a serpent, a common feature of hero reliefs (see Pergamon gallery 2, page 10). The snake appears to be drinking or feeding from a spoon or leaf shaped object.

The remains of the inscription below the relief:


The quality of the workmanship is poor, and, as ever, it is tempting to believe that it is a copy, a faint echo, of a much finer work of an earlier age. No such original masterpiece has yet been discovered, but the iconography appears in several surviving ancient works, mostly from the Roman period, as can be seen in other photos on this page.

A Roman votive relief of one of the Dioscuri from Speyer, Germany at My Favourite Planet

A Roman sandstone votive relief depicting one of the Dioscuri.

Roman. 2nd - 3rd century AD. Found in 1611 with several ancient stone monuments
in the Retscherhof, Speyer (ancient Noviomagus / Civitas Nemetum, Germania
Superior), Rheinland-Pfalz, Germany. Height 42 cm, width 44 cm, present depth 17 cm.

Historisches Museum der Pfalz, Speyer, Germany.

The male figure, naked except from a cloak, stands in front of horse which faces left
and has one front leg raised. With his left hand he holds the horse's reins, and in
his left hand he holds an upright spear, the bottom of which rests on the ground.
The stone slab, the back of which is broken off, is thought to have been the base
for a column monument dedicated to Jupiter. It may have been one of a pair, each
showing one of the Dioscuri. On the left side is part of an inscription:

[---] Reg(inae?) / [---]orat/[---]aug/[---]ania

See other Roman reliefs from Rheinland-Pfalz on the Hephaistos and Hermes pages.

A relief of Castor on a sarcophagus at My Favourite Planet

A relief of a youth with a horse, perhaps Castor
on the right side of a marble sarcophagus.

3rd century AD.

National Archaeological Museum, Naples. Inv. No. 6705.

The main relief on the highly polished front panel of the sarcophagus contains a complex scene representing the creation and destruction of man, which includes Prometheus among a number of gods and other mythological characters. The reliefs on the sides of the sarcophagus are more roughly carved. On the left side Atropos is shown determining the hour of death with a sun dial.

Since the theme of the reliefs is mortality, it has been suggested that the youth with a horse is Castor as the mortal twin of the Dioskouroi. He is shown bare-headed and naked, apart from a cloak over his shoulders. He stands frontally, with his head turned to the left. With his left hand he holds a spear and with his right hand he holds the reins of the horse that stands behind him, facing left with its right fore-hoof raised.

Bronze plaque inscribed with a dedication to the Dioscuri at My Favourite Planet

A bronze lamina (plaque) inscribed with a dedication in archaic Latin to the Dioscuri.

Castorei Podlouqueique qurois

To Castor and Pollux, youths

Late 6th century BC. Found at the Sanctuary of the Thirteen Altars,
Lavinium (today Pratica di Mare), an ancient port of Latium, around
30 km south of Rome and 22 km southeast of Ostia.
Height 5.0 - 5.3 cm, width 29.1 cm, thickness 0.10 - 0.15 cm.

Baths of Diocletian, National Museum of Rome. Inv. No. 135931.
Inscription CIL I(2): 2.4, 2883.

The lamina, known as "La Tabella Lanuvina", is broken in two pieces, which were discovered separately in August 1958, during excavations directed by Ferdinando Castagnoli (1917-1988) of the University of Rome. The five holes in the thin plaque, one at each corner and another in the centre, were for attaching it to another object, perhaps one of the thirteen altars.

The inscription, written in reverse letters and from right to left, is the earliest evidence of the cult of the Dioscuri in Latium. In this inscription their names and title appear to be direct transliterations into Latin from the Greek: Castorei (Κάστωρης, Kastores), Podlouquei (Πολυδεύκης, Polydeukes) and qurois (κούροις, kourois, youths), which has also been translated as "young knights" and "sons (of Zeus)". The twins were often referred to in Latin as the Castorei (Castores).

Ferdinando Castagnoli, Dedica arcaica lavinate a Castore e Polluce, in Studi e materiali di storia delle religioni, Volume 30, Fasc. 1, pages 109-117. Cesare Marzioli Editori, Rome, 1959. At Università degli Studi di Roma "La Sapienza".

The Temple of the Dioscuri in the Roman Forum at My Favourite Planet

The three remaining Corinthian columns, part of the entablature and
the raised substructure of the Temple of the Dioscuri (Castores) on the
south side of the Sacra Via (right of the temple), in the Roman Forum.

Worship of Castor and Pollux, as the patrons of the knights, is thought to have been adopted by the Roman aristocratic party in the early 5th century BC. According to legend, two mysterious horsemen led the Romans to victory over the Etruscan Tarquins and Latins at the Battle of Lake Regillus around 499 BC. Shortly after, the pair, identified as the Dioscuri, appeared watering their horses at the Pool of Juturna, near the Temple of Vesta in the Forum, before announcing the Roman victory and then disappearing.

"And when the Romans conquered the Tarquins, who had taken the field against them with the Latins, two tall and beautiful men were seen at Rome a little while after, who brought direct tidings from the army. These were conjectured to be the Dioscuri.

The first man who met them in front of the spring in the forum, where they were cooling their horses, which were reeking with sweat, was amazed at their report of the victory. Then, we are told, they touched his beard with their hands, quietly smiling the while, and the hair of it was changed at once from black to red, a circumstance which gave credence to their story, and fixed upon the man the surname of Ahenobarbus, that is to say, Bronze-beard [Χαλκοπώγων, Chalcopogon]."

Plutarch, Aemilius Paulus, chapter 25, sections 1-2. At Perseus Digital Library.

The temple (also referred to as the Aedes Castoris) was probably built by the general and dictator Aulus Postumius Albus circa 484 BC [12]. The Roman knights held an annual parade in front of the temple on the 15th July. It was restored after 200 BC, and reconstructed in 117 BC by the consul Lucius Caecilius Metellus Dalmaticus following his victory over the Dalmatians. After being destroyed by fire in 14 or 9 BC, it was rebuilt during the reign of Emperor Augustus and inaugurated in 6 AD by Tiberius (later Augustus' successor). Although it was later restored several times, the existing remains are thought to be mostly from the Augustan period, apart from the podium which is that constructed by Metellus.

The peripteral temple, built on a podium approximately 32 x 49.5 metres and 7 metres tall, had 8 Corinthian columns, 12.5 metres tall, at either end, and eleven on each side. Like many of the ancient buildings of the Forum, it was built on a high substructure because of the marshy, uneven ground of the valley. The senate often met here and the building served as the office of the weights and measures inspectors. It had a tribune for orators and booths for bankers (or money changers).

Directly in front of the temple, the shrine of Juturna, the nymph of healing waters, was in the form of the Pool of Juturna (Lacus Juturnae) fed by a spring. Following the victory of the Roman consul and general Lucius Aemilius Paullus Macedonicus (circa 229-160 BC) over the Macedonian king Perseus at the First Battle of Pydna in 168 BC, the Dioscuri are said to have appeared again in the Forum. Aemilius Paullus built a fountain at the shrine, with a monumental basin in which were statues of the horses of the Dioscuri. The temple (or chapel) of Juturna was rebuilt during the reign of Trajan (98-117 AD).

Roman coin showing Castor and Pollux with their horses at My Favourite Planet

Roman denarius showing Castor and Pollux
with their horses drinking from a fountain.

Issued by C. Publicius Malleolus,
A. Postumius Albinus and
L. (Caecilius) Metellus, circa 96 BC.

Palazzo Massimo alle Terme,
National Museum of Rome.
Colossal statues of Castor and Pollux on the Capitoline Hill, Rome at My Favourite Planet

Colossal marble statues of Castor and Pollux with standing with horses
on the balustrade flanking the top of the Cordonata, the stairway up
to the Piazza del Campidoglio, the square of the Capitoline Hill, Rome.

The balustrade, designed by Michelangelo, is decorated with several sculptures, previously including two other colossal statues of Castor and Pollux which now stand on the Palazzo del Quirinale (see below).

The present statues were discovered either in the Ghetto or in the ruins of the Theatre of Pompey. It is thought that they may have originally stood at the temple of the Dioscuri in the area of the Circus Flaminius (aedes Castori Polluci in Circo Flaminio), about which little is known. [13]

"The two Colossal Statues of the Dioscuri were discovered under Pius IV [1559-1565], apparently during the construction of the synagogue in the Ghetto *; and for a time lay, unrestored, behind the Balustrade. Some years later they were restored by the sculptor Valsoldo, and in 1583 they were erected on the Balustrade, at the head of La Cordonnata, or grand staircase ascending from the Piazza Aracoeli to the Capitol Square.

The figures are recognizable as the Dioscuri mainly by the pileus on their heads and by the horses which stand beside them. The horses are represented on a small scale in conformity with the principle of ancient art which emphasized the principal figures even at the cost of truth to nature. Each of the youths held his horse with one hand by the bridle, which was presumably added in bronze, while with his other he grasped a wooden or bronze spear. The execution is purely decorative in style and quite insignificant. In antiquity the two statues were probably placed as the ideal watchers of some monumental entrance."

* "Rom. Mittheilungen, VI, p. 33, According to the inscription on the back of the base of the figure to the right (as we look from the Piazza Aracoeli), both statues were found among the ruins of the Theatre of Pompey. The above statement, however, given on the authority of Flaminio Vacca (Berichte der philolog.-histor. Klasse der Sachs. Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften, 1881, p. 70, No. 52), seems more worthy of credence, as Vacca writes as an eye-witness of the discovery."

Wolfgang Helbig (1839-1915), Guide to the public collections of classical antiquities in Rome, Volume I, pages 287-288. Karl Baedeker, Leipzig, 1895.

The Dioscuri statue on the right side of the steps up to the Piazza del Campidoglio, Rome at My Favourite Planet

The Dioscuri statue on the right side
of the steps up to the Piazza del
Campidoglio. Both statues show
the twins wearing a pilos (πῖλος)
conical cap and a riding cloak.
The Dioscuri statue on the left side of the steps up to the Piazza del Campidoglio, Rome at My Favourite Planet

The Dioscuri statue on the left side as you climb the steps up
to the Piazza del Campidoglio, on the Capitoline Hill, Rome.
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Colossal statues of Castor and Pollux on the Piazza del Campidoglio, Capitoline Hill, Rome at My Favourite Planet

Colossal marble statues of Castor and Pollux with horses
on the Piazza del Campidoglio, Capitoline Hill, Rome.

In the background is the Palazzo Senatorio, the 12th century senate house of the commune of Rome, now the offices of the city's mayor. It was restored by Michelangelo in 1546 and several times thereafter. The bell tower with the clock was added in 1582. The equestrian statue of Emperor Marcus Aurelius in the centre of the piazza has been replaced by a copy. The original is now in the Palazzo dei Conservatori of the Capitoline Museums, on the right of the piazza.
One of the statues of the Dioscuri on the Piazza del Quirinale, Rome at My Favourite Planet   One of the Dioscuri statues, Piazza del Quirinale, Rome at My Favourite Planet
The statues of the Dioscuri on the Piazza del Quirinale, Quirinal Hill, Rome.

The two statues of Castor and Pollux with their horses, around 5.5 metres high, are thought to be Roman Imperial period copies of 5th century BC Greek originals. They stand on high pedestals in the middle of the square, flanking the Dioscuri Fountain and a 14.5 metre tall granite obelisk which previously stood in front of the Mausoleum of Augustus.

The statues, known as the horse tamers, had stood somewhere in the city since the fall of the Roman Empire, and during Medieval times were mentioned by authors and appeared in images of Rome. The false inscriptions on the pedestals, "Opus Phidiae" (work of Pheidias; statue in the left-hand photo) and "Opus Praxitelis" (work of Praxiteles; photo right), have been dated to circa 450 AD. They were discovered in the ruins of the early 4th century AD Baths of Constantine (Thermae Constantinianae) on the Quirinal Hill. Pope Sixtus V commissioned Domenico Fontana to set the statues up on the square in 1588 and the hill became known as "Monte Cavallo" after them. The obelisk was added by Pope Pius VI in 1786, and Pope Pius VII moved the fountain's dark grey granite basin there from the Forum Romanum, where it had been used as a cattle trough.

Photo source: Edmund von Mach (editor), University prints. Series A: Greek and Roman sculpture; 500 plates to accompany a handbook, plate A 129. University Prints, Boston, Mass., 1916. At the Internet Archive.

Torso of a marble statuette of a youth in Dresden at My Favourite Planet

The torso of a marble statuette of a youth wearing a
cloak over his chest and shoulders. Perhaps one of the
Dioskouroi or Hermes (see similar statues of Hermes).

Probably 1st half of the 2nd century AD.
Height 60 cm, width 33 cm, depth 19.5 cm.

Skulpturensammlung, Albertinum, Dresden. Inv. No. Hm 249.

A marble statue of a warrior, perhaps one of the Dioskouroi at My Favourite Planet

A marble statue of a warrior, perhaps one of the Dioskouroi.

Roman period, 200-1 BC. Found in the
sea off the coast Marsala, west Sicily.

The naked figure carries a small round shield and a military
cloak on his left arm and a sword belt across his chest.

Lilibeo-Baglio Anselmi Regional Archaeological Museum, Marsala. Inv. No. 4583.

Plaster cast of the San Ildefonso Group in Dresden at My Favourite Planet

Plaster cast of the "San Ildefonso Group", marble staues of two youths,
perhaps the Dioscuri. The head of the figure on the left has been
replaced with a portrait of Antinous of the Apollo-Antinous type.

Augustan and Hadrianic periods, 1st century BC - 2nd century AD.
Height 160 cm, width 112 cm, depth 58 cm.

Abguss-Sammlung (Cast Collection), Semperbau, Dresden. Inv. No. ASN 2379.
Acquired in 1783 with the cast collection of Anton Rafael Mengs (1728-1779).

The original statue group, made of white Carrara marble, is in the Museo del Prado, Madrid (Inv. No. 28-E). Also known as the Ildefonso Group, it was named after San Ildefonso in Segovia, Spain, where it was kept at the palace of La Granja until 1839 when it was acquired by the Prado.

Probably found in the early 17th century in Rome, the earliest record of the sculpture is in 1623 when it was in the collection of Cardinal Ludovico Ludovisi at the Villa Ludovisi, Rome. After the cardinal's death it became the property of Cardinal Camillo Massimo, then of Queen Christine of Sweden, and in 1724 it was acquired by King Felipe V of Spain.

It is thought that the sculpture was made during the reign of Augustus (27 BC - 14 AD), and at some point the head of the youth on the left was replaced by a portrait of Antinous, Emperor Hadrian's deified favourite. This may have occurred either during Hadrian's reign (117-138 AD) or, more probably, when it was restored around 1623 by Ippolito Buzzi (1562-1634).

There is no other known statue group of this type, which is thought to be a Neo Attic creation inspired by works of 5th and 4th century BC Greek sculptors such as Polykleitos and Praxiteles. However, a late 1st century BC statuette in Athens is clearly a version of one of the right-hand figure of the group (see photo below). It has been suggested that the group may be a work by Pasiteles or his school.

Two idealized nude youths, wearing laurel wreaths, stand next to each other. The figure on the left leans on the other who holds two torches, with one of which he ignites a garlanded altar. The youths have been variously identified as Castor and Pollux, Orestes and Pylades, Hypnos and Thanatos (Sleep and Death), and Corydon and Alexis.


Behind the right-hand figure stands a small Archaistic female figure (see photo, below right) wearing a polos and a peplos, thought to be a statue of a goddess, perhaps Persephone or Artemis. Her right arm is bent, and in her raised right hand she holds a small round object, interpreted as an egg or a pomegranate, to her breast.

Although I have so far seen no other reference to this idea, I am reminded of figures of Helen of Troy wearing a polos or kalathos on reliefs depicting her standing between her brothers, the Dioskouroi (e.g. Sparta Archaeological Museum, Inv. Nos. 201, 202 and 203; see also reliefs of the Dioskouroi and Helen below). As mentioned above they were all said to have been born from eggs. Similar figures appear, for example, on the 2nd century AD "Leda sarcophagus" (see below), found in Kephissia, Attica. The relief on the left side of the sarcophagus depicts Leda and the swan (Zeus), and on the front Helen stands between the Dioskouroi. Each of the four figures on the corners, referred to as Caryatids or Helen-statues, wears a polos (or kalathos), peplos and hairstyle very similar to that of the San Ildefonso figure. They stand in the same pose, holding a small object between the forefinger and thumb of one hand which is pressed against her breast, while her other lowered hand clutches at the side of her garment.

See drawings and photos of the "Leda sarcophagus", as well as photos of two of the Spartan reliefs of the Dioskouroi and Helen:

Ellen E. Perry, Iconography and the dynamics of patronage: a sarcophagus from the family of Herodes Atticus. In: Hesperia, Volume 70, Issue 4 (October - December 2001), pages 461-492, particularly pages 474-475, figures 1 and 3 (Caryatids on the "Leda sarcophagus"), 6 and 7 (Spartan reliefs). American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA). At

A large number of casts and copies in various materials (bronze, marble, cast iron, porcelain) have been made of the San Ildefonso Group, and many are now in collections and museums.

The Dresden cast is well finished and polished, and is in remarkably good condition considering its history. It has been transported a number of times, and has survived the World War II bombings, confiscation by the Soviet army and the flooding of the River Elbe in 2002.

Until 2016 it was exhibited with the Sculpture Collection (Skulpturensammlung) in the Albertinum, Dresden (where the photo above was taken), but is presently (2018) displayed with other casts of ancient sculptures in a room in the Semperbau (or Semper-Galerie) of the Zwinger, which exhibits paintings of the Old Masters (Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister). The cast collection as well as the antiquities collection of the Dresden museums have been without a permanent home since 2002, although there are plans to house them in part of the Semperbau in the near future.

For further information about the Dresden Cast Collection
and Mengs, see the Niobe page.

Head of Antinous from the San Ildefonso Group in Dresden at My Favourite Planet

Head of Antinous of the Apollo-Antinous type
on the San Ildefonso Group cast in Dresden.

The female figure of the San Ildefonso Group at My Favourite Planet

The small female figure of the
San Ildefonso Group in Dresden.

A marble statuette of a youth of the Ildefonso type at My Favourite Planet

A marble statuette of a youth
of the Ildefonso type.

Around the end of the 1st century BC.
Provenance unknown.
"Probably Pentelic marble".

National Archaeological Museum,
Athens. Inv. No. 3631.

An engraving of the San Ildefonso Group published by Winckelmann at My Favourite Planet

An engraving of the San Ildefonso Group in Rome,
published by Johann Winckelmann in 1767.

Johann Joachim Winckelmann, Monumenti
antichi inediti spiegati ed illustrati da
Giovanni Winckelmann
, Volume I
antique monuments, described and illustrated
by Giovanni Winckelmann
). Rome, 1767.
At Heidelberg University Digital Library.
An unnumbered plate by an unknown artist
in the preface, between pages XIII and XIV.

The Dioskouroi and Helen of Troy on a sarcophagus in Kifissia at My Favourite Planet

A relief of the Dioskouroi and their sister Helen of Troy on the front of the "Leda sarcophagus",
an Attic marble sarcophagus in Kifissia, northeast of Athens. Mid 2nd century AD.

Known as the "Leda sarcophagus", this is the largest of four sarcophagi in a marble tomb discovered in September 1866 near the church of Agia Paraskevi (used as a mosque, then a barracks, later demolished) on Platanos Square (Πλατεία Πλατάνου, Plateia Platanou), Kifissia, northeast of Athens. The sarcophagi are now displayed in situ in a small, purpose-built building. The area is thought to have been part of the estate of Herodes Atticus and Annia Regilla, and the sarcophagi the graves of four of their six children who died at a young age. This sarcophagus may have been made for Elpinike (Ἐλπινίκη), their second child and first daughter.

Sarcophagus height 112 cm; length 227 cm (front), 233 cm (back);
width 94 cm (left side), 89 cm (right side).

The fragmentary gabled lid currently on the sarcophagus does not belong to it, and the original lid was probably a kline sculpture, depicting one or more figures lying on a kline (couch). Such sculptures usually depict the deceased (see an example of a kline sculpture on a Roman sarcophagus below, and on Etruscan cinerary urns in Homer part 2), and in this case may have been a portrait of Elpinike, and perhaps also her husband. A marble fragment of a reclining female figure (now missing) found in the tomb was probably part of the lid.

On the front is a relief of the Dioskouroi standing either side of their sister Helen of Troy. The twins are almost mirror images, arranged symmetrically, standing frontally with their heads turned towards Helen in the centre. In the lowered inner hand each holds an upturned, sheathed sword by its hilt, and the raised outer arm originally held a metal spear which was probably stolen by grave robbers. The figures stand in a contrapposto pose, with the weight resting on the outer leg and the other slightly bent. Each is naked apart from a fillet (headband) and a cloak which covers the chest and shoulders, and hangs to behind the mid calfs. On both figures the cloak is fastened at the right shoulder.

Helen faces frontally, with her head turned slightly to her left. She wears a fillet, a long, sleeved chiton girdled at the waist, and a himation (cloak), which rests on her shoulders, with the lower right side crossing in front of her lower torso and draped over her raised left forearm. In her left hand she holds a small object, perhaps an apple or a pomegranate.

The Classicistic relief on the left side of the sarcophagus depicts Zeus, disguised as a swan, attempting to copulate with a nude Leda (see image, above right), who appears to be trying to fend him off. His successful seduction or rape resulted in the birth of Helen and at least one of the Dioskouroi. Instead of webbed feet the huge swan has the talons of a bird of prey, presumably an eagle, a symbol of Zeus. This work has been compared to reliefs of Leda and the swan from Brauron (Athens National Museum, Inv. No. 1499) and Argos (British Museum, Inv. No. 1973,0302.1, Sculpture 2199).

On the right side is a relief of winged infant Eros stringing his bow, perhaps as a prelude to the erotic scene on the other side. The figure is of a type known from a number of other sculptures. The relief on the back shows a Nereid riding on the tail of a Triton.

At each of the four corners of the sarcophagus a "Caryatid", perhaps representing a statue of Helen (see above), stands on a statue base. The top of each figure's polos touches and appears to be supporting the upper moulding of the casket, in the way that Caryatid statues were used as columns to support the roofs of buildings (see, for example, the Caryatids of the Erechtheion on the Athens Acropolis). In this case, the moulding represents the frame of the kline, and the Caryatids its legs. Each figure wears a polos (or kalathos) and peplos, and holds a small object between the forefinger and thumb of one hand which is pressed against her breast. Her other lowered hand holds the side of her garment. The Caryatids at the edges of the front of the sarcophagus are mirrored for the sake of symmetry, so that the figure on the left holds the object in her right hand, and that on the right has it in her left hand. On the back the relative positions are reversed.

As is often the case with such reliefs, those on the front and two sides have been considered to be copied from or influenced by statues. The composition and frame of the Triton relief suggest that it may have been modelled on a two-dimensional work, perhaps a relief, painting or mosaic.

See: Ellen E. Perry, Iconography and the dynamics of patronage: a sarcophagus from the family of Herodes Atticus. In: Hesperia, Volume 70, Issue 4 (October - December 2001), pages 461-492. American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA). At

Drawings of the sarcophagus made in Autumn 1886 by the Swiss artist and archaeological draughtsman Émile Gilliéron (1851-1924).

Source of drawings: Carl Robert (1850-1922), Die antiken Sarkophag-reliefs Band II, Mythologische Cyklen, No. 9, pages 9-10 and Tafel III, 9 and 9a. G. Grot'esche Verlagsbuchhandlung, Berlin, 1890. At Heidelberg University Digital Library.

The discovery of the tomb was first published in: Otto Benndorf, Römishes Grab in Kephisia. In: E. Hübner (editor), Archäologisher Zeitung XXVI, pages 35-40 (Tafel 5, 2). Georg Reimer, Berlin, 1868. At the Internet Archive.

The right-hand Dioskouros on the front of the Leda sarcophagus in Kifissia at My Favourite Planet

An early photo of the right-hand Dioskouros on
the front of the "Leda sarcophagus" in Kifissia.

Source: Carlo Anti, Lykios, Fig. 8, page 32. In:
Bullettino della Commissione Archeologica
Comunale di Roma
, Anno 47
(1919), pages
55-138. P. Maglione & C. Strini, Rome, 1921.
At Heidelberg University Digital Library.

Leda and the Swan on a sarcophagus in Kifissia at My Favourite Planet

Leda and the Swan on the left side of
the "Leda sarcophagus" in Kifissia.

Votive relief of the Dioskouroi from Thasos at My Favourite Planet

Inscribed votive relief of the Dioskouroi from the cemeteries
of Thasos, Macedonia, Greece. Late Hellenistic period.

Thasos Archaeological Museum.

The relief shows the Dioskouroi on horseback, each with the outer arm (which may have held a spear) raised, and facing a woman in the centre, standing at an altar. It is thought that she may be their sister Helen. Two cockerels stand on either side of her, below each of the horses.

The popularity of the Dioskouroi on the northen Aegean island of Thasos (Θάσος) may be due to the influence of Paros, which colonized the island around 680 BC (see History of Kavala). The Dioskouria festival included public feasts (symposia). The main Dioskouroi sanctuary of Thasos is thought to have been at a location known as Pataria, outside the city walls, where several reliefs depicting the twins with a woman, perhaps Helen, have been discovered. At Alyki (Αλυκή), on the southeast coast of the island, a sanctuary built between the 6th and 5th centuries BC may also have been dedicated to the twins. Graffiti inscriptions found there are prayers to the Dioskouroi for "salvation from the dangers of the sea" and "safe voyages".

Similar reliefs depicting the Dioskouroi with a female figure, probably Helen, have been found at a number of other locations, including Sparta, Amphipolis (see below) and Telmessos. Helen was included in the worship of the Dioskouroi at many of their sanctuaries, particularly at Sparta (perhaps from the 2nd or 1st century BC), and it has been suggested that in some places she may have become syncretized (almalgamated) with a local deity.

Pausanias mentioned an ancient image of Helen between the Dioskouroi among several mythological scenes on the "chest of Kypselos" (or "chest of Cypselus"), a richly decorated Archaic cedar-wood chest dedicated by the Corinthians, in the Temple of Hera, Olympia (see the description of the chest in Homer part 2).

"On the chest are also the Dioscuri, one of them a beardless youth, and between them is Helen."

Pausanias, Description of Greece, Book 5, chapter 19, section 2. At Perseus Digital Library.

Riders relief, Amphipolis Archaeological Museum at My Favourite Planet

An unlabelled limestone relief outside Amphipolis Archaeological Museum depicting
two horsemen, each wearing a pilos, cloak and short chiton (χιτών, tunic), either
side of a woman with her right arm raised. Perhaps the Dioskouroi and Helen.

Amphipolis (Ἀμφίπολις) in Thrace was colonized by Athens in 437 BC, but captured by the Spartan
general Brasidas in 424 BC, during the Peloponnesian War (see History of Stageira part 5).
The Spartan influence on the culture of the city may explain the iconography of the relief.

Amphipolis Archaeological Museum.

See another relief of the Dioskouroi from Amphipolis below.

Votive relief of the Dioskouroi from Thasos at My Favourite Planet

Detail of an Etruscan bronze mirror with incised decoration depicting three figures,
interpreted as three of the Cabeiri (Κάβειροι, Kabeiroi), also known as "the Great
Gods" (Μεγάλοι Θεοί, Megali Theoi). The Dioskouroi were known to the Etruscans
as Kastur and Pultuce, and together as the Tinas Cliniiaras (Sons of Tinia, the
Etruscan equivalent of Zeus). They sit either side of an unidentified deity in a
temple, indicated by an Ionic column and part of an architrave.

Mid 3rd - early 2nd century BC. Diameter 13 cm, length (including handle) 27cm.

Civic Archaeological Museum, Milan. Inv. No. A 0.9.1002.
From the Ancona Collection, then the Seletti Collection.

Statue base with a relief of the Dioscuri and Helen of Troy at My Favourite Planet

Fragmentary marble statue base with a relief of the Dioscuri with their sister Helen of Troy.

30-20 BC, Roman period copy of a 4th century BC original.

The side of the base to the left has part of a relief of Helen standing
in front of their mother Leda (see photo below). The Hellenistic statue
of Juno/Hera known as the "Juno Cesi" now stands on the restored base.

Sala del Galata (Hall of the Gaul), Palazzo Nuovo,
Capitoline Museums, Rome. Inv. No. MC 1961.

Relief of enthroned Leda with Helen of Troy at My Favourite Planet

Fragmentary relief of enthroned Leda with Helen of Troy
on the left side of the statue base above.

A votive stele with a relief of the Dioscuri in Turin at My Favourite Planet

An Egyptian sandstone votive stele with a relief of the Dioscuri on horseback.

The two figures are mirror images, each wearing armour, holding a spear in the outer
hand and with a star above his head. Between them is the full figure of the Egyptian
falcon-headed god Horus (the moon god Khonsu has also been suggested). At the centre
above the frame of the main relief is the Egyptian sun-disk symbol with two serpents.

Late Hellenistic or early Roman Imperial period. Place of origin unknown. Purchased in Egypt
in winter 1900-1901 by the Italian Egyptologist Ernesto Schiaparelli (1856-1928), director
of the Museo Egizio di Torino, 1894-1901. Height 53 cm, maximum width 52 cm, depth 9 cm.

Museo Egizio, Turin. Inv. No. S. 01321. [14]

Votive relief with the Dioskouroi and worshippers at My Favourite Planet

A marble votive relief with the Dioskouroi and a procession of worshippers.

Palazzo Altemps, National Museum of Rome. Inv. No. 182595. Brancaccio Collection.

On the left, Castor and Pollux sit on rock-hewn seats holding spears, with their horses at their sides. They face right, towards an approaching woman holding a wine jug and a phiale (libation bowl). Behind her a family of worshippers, a man and a woman holding ceremonial branches and two boys, depicted at a smaller scale, also approach the twins. The inscription below the relief is modern, museum labelling in stone.

The composition is based on a common type of Attic votive relief (see similar reliefs dedicated to Asklepios, Pan and the nymphs, Demeter, and Plouton and Persephone) and it is thought this may be a Greek original of the first half of the 4th century BC. Found in the area of the Horti Maecenatiani (Gardens of Maecenas), Rome, it may have belonged to a Roman collector.

Relief on one of the Dioscuri with a horse in Dresden at My Favourite Planet

Plaster cast of a marble relief of one of the Dioscuri (a Dioskouros
or Dioscurus) leading a horse to the right, past an arched gateway.

The original is from the Roman Imperial period.
Height 82 cm, width 62 cm, depth 6 cm.

Abguss-Sammlung (Cast Collection), Semperbau, Dresden. Inv. No. ASN 4406.

So far I have discovered little about the original relief, which may be a Neo Attic work and is of fine quality. It is in the Pio Clementino Museum of the Vatican Museums, Rome, and according to the Dresden museums website is of the "middle of the Imperial period", presumably the 2nd century AD.

One of the 19th century catalogues of the Dresden Cast Collection describes the relief as "Castor with the horse" (Matthäy, 1831, Hautreliefs im fünften Fenster, Cat. No. 91, page 29). Two others claim it depicts Bellerophon with Pegasus before gates of Corinth (Chalybaeus, 1843, Reliefs im fünften Fenster, Cat. No. 52, page 37; Hettner, 1881, Cat. No. 139, page 105), although the horse does not appear to have wings.

For further information about the Dresden Cast Collection and
details of the catalogues see the note on the Niobe page.

For further information about Bellerophon and Pegasus
at Corinth, see the Herodes Atticus page.

Marble relief of the Dioscuri among Roman gods at My Favourite Planet

Inscribed marble votive relief showing the Roman deities Jupiter and
Juno Dolicheni with Isis, Serapis, the Dioscuri, Sol (Sun) and Luna (Moon).

Circa 250 AD. Excavated in July 1935 at the sanctuary of Jupiter Dolichenus on the
Aventine Hill, Rome [15]. Carrara marble. Height 57 cm, width 58.5 cm, thickness 7 cm.

Centrale Montemartini, Capitoline Museums, Rome. Inv. No. 9750.

The "oriental" Roman cult of Jupiter Dolichenus was often associated with those of other deities. In this relief, Jupiter (standing on a bull) and Juno (on a cow or hind) Dolicheni are depicted with four other divine couples related to the celestial and cosmic sphere. The bust of Sol (Sun, top left) wears a radiant crown, and behind Luna (Moon, top right) is a crescent. Castor and Pollux stand with horses and spears in the centre of the top row of figures. Below them stand the Egyptian gods Serapis and Isis.

On the frame of the marble slab, above and below the relief, is a two line dedication to Juno Dolicheni by Publius Egnatius Fructus:

Iovi Optimo Dolicheno d[ono] d[edit] (or d[e]d[icavit])

P[ublius] Egnatius Fructus

Inscription AE 1938, 0064 (1).

It has been suggested that the dedicator was a foreigner who took Roman citizenship and his Roman name from that of Emperor Gallienus (Publius Licinius Egnatius Gallienus Augustus, circa 218 - 268 AD), who was co-emperor with his father Valerian 253-260 and reigned alone 260-268.

See another relief of Jupiter and Juno Dolicheni on the Medusa page.

A marble relief of one of the Dioskouroi from the Octagon, Thessaloniki at My Favourite Planet

A relief of one of the Dioskouroi on the capital of a marble pseudopilaster
from the Octagon of the imperial palace complex, Thessaloniki.

Made in a Roman imperial workshop in the city, early 4th century AD.

The small dioskouros figure stands facing frontally, naked apart
from a pilos and cloak over his shoulders, holding an upright
spear with his left hand, and his right hand resting on his hip.

Thessaloniki Archaeological Museum. Inv. No. 6692.

Sarcophagus relief with the Dioscuri, Palazzo Massimo alle Terme at My Favourite Planet

A relief on the front panel of a marble sarcophagus with an architectural setting,
depicting a married couple, behind whom stands a goddess wearing a diadem,
flanked by the Dioscuri with their horses, three erotes (cupids) and two river gods.

240-260 AD. From the Via Appia, Rome.

Palazzo Massimo alle Terme, National Museum of Rome.

Relief of the Dioscuri at the hunt of the Kalydonian Boar at My Favourite Planet

The Dioscuri taking part in the hunt of the Kalydonian Boar
on a relief on the front of a marble sarcophagus.

Late 2nd - early 3rd century AD. Proconnesian marble. Found in 1872 in Vicovaro
(ancient Varia, Latium), northeast of Rome. Height 125 cm, width 256 cm, depth 137 cm.

Palazzo dei Conservatori, Capitoline Museums, Rome. Inv. No. 917.

The complicated story of the hunt of the monstrous Kalydonian Boar (or Calydonian Boar; Greek, Καλυδώνιος Κάπρος, Kalydonios Kapros) features a Who's Who of Greek mythological characters, including Artemis, Meleager (the main hero of the myth), Peleus, the Argonauts, Asklepios, Atalanta, the Dioskouroi and Theseus. Several Roman period sarcophagi reliefs depicting the hunt have survived, showing that it was one of the popular mythical themes produced for the tombs of wealthy citizens keen to display their heroic virtue, religious inclinations and artistic and literary taste.

Artemis sent the boar to ravage the countryside of Kalydonia in Aetolia (central Greece), to punish the Kalydonian king Oineus (Οἰνεύς) [16] for forgetting to sacrifice to her. Oineus' son Meleager (Μελέαγρος, Meleagros) hunted the boar with several heroes and Atalanta (Ἀταλάντη, Atalante), the only female in the hunting party. Several of the group were killed by the beast which was first wounded by Atalanta and eventually finished off by Meleager's spear.

In Greek and Roman art the boar is sometimes shown as an enormous monster, but often shown smaller, at a more natural size. This may be due to considerations of space, particularly on reliefs, but also as part of the tradition of depicting gods and heroes, the main characters of scenes, as larger than mortals, minor characters and animals. This relief also shows the Dioscuri and their horses at a smaller scale than the other figures.

In the centre Meleager stabs the Kalydonian Boar with a spear. Atalanta, dressed as Artemis, the goddess of the hunt, stands next to him, holding a bow and drawing an arrow from her quiver. Castor and Pollux ride rearing horses at each side of the scene. Two hunting dogs attack the boar, and a third on the left menaces a crouching hare, behind which is a lower relief of a fallen antelope. The other three figures, bearded men wearing tunics, cloaks and hunting boots, appear to be the same person. One wonders whether the faces of the characters in the relief are portraits, perhaps of members of the family which commissioned or purchased the sarcophagus, a practice known from other reliefs such as on a sarcophagus depicting the Labours of Hercules in the Palazzo Altemps, Rome (Inv. No. 8642).

On the lid, which is slightly shorter than the sarcophagus, is a sculpture of a couple reclining on a kline (couch). The woman, playing a stringed instrument, turns her head back to look at her husband. At each end of the front of the lid is a small Eros (Cupid). The figure on the left sits on the end of the mattress holding an actor's mask. At the right end an Eros stands leaning against a short pillar or altar, in front of which lies a panther. Both mask and panther indicate associations with the cult of Dionysus.

The heads of the reclining couple have been left unfinished. Such sarcophagi, some with stock designs and others with more elaborate reliefs, were made at a number of workshops around the Mediterranean, notably at Prokonnesos (today Marmara, Turkey) and Ephesus, and often shipped in a semi-finished state for sale in other cities, where presumably the features of the deceased where sculpted after purchase. On the other hand, the features of the couple may have been later erased for some reason.

The Kalydonian Boar hunt, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford at My Favourite Planet

A panel from a marble sarcophagus with a relief depicting the Kalydonian Boar hunt.

Roman Imperial period, 150-250 AD. Greek marble. Height 85 cm, width 188 cm.

To the right of the boar, Meleager is about to thrust his spear into the creature.
To the left Peleus (or Theseus?) holds a sword. Behind him stands one of the
Dioscuri, naked apart from a pilos (πῖλος) conical cap and chlamys (short cloak).
The head of his brother can be seen behind him in lower relief.

Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. Inv. No. AD 1947.278.
From Naples. Acquired 1947 from the Sir Francis Cook Collection,
Doughty House, Richmond, southwest London.

Meleager hunting the Kalydonian Boar, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford at My Favourite Planet

Detail of the relief in the Ashmolean Museum, showing Kastor and Polydeukes (left).

The Dioskouroi taking part in the Kalydonian Boar hunt on a sarcophagus from Eleusis at My Favourite Planet

Kastor and Polydeukes taking part in the hunt of the Kalydonian Boar on a
relief on the front of an Attic marble sarcophagus from Eleusis, Attica, Greece.

Around 200 AD.

The Dioskouroi are side by side on horseback, directly above the boar (see photo below).
The legs of their horses can be seen below the boar's body. They face frontally with raised
right arms, and they originally held spears with which they were stabbing the creature.

Eleusis Archaeological Museum. Inv. No. 5243.

Detail of the Kalydonian Boar hunt relief in Eleusis at My Favourite Planet

Detail of the Kalydonian Boar hunt relief in Eleusis.

Relief of Castor and Pollux at the hunt of the Kalydonian Boar at My Favourite Planet

The front of a Roman period marble sarcophagus with a relief showing the Dioskouroi
taking part in the hunt of the Kalydonian Boar. Castor and Pollux stand with horses
just to the left of the centre of the scene. The sarcophagus was reused as the tomb
of Caesar Marullus (Cesare Marullo, died 1588), Bishop of Agrigento 1574-1577,
Archbishop of Palermo 1577-1588 and founder of the Seminary of Palermo.

The crypt of Palermo Cathedral, Sicily.

The Dioskouroi on the sarcophagus in Palermo Cathedral at My Favourite Planet

The Dioskouroi on the sarcophagus in Palermo Cathedral, Sicily.

Unlabelled marbled bust, Accademia dei Lincei, Rome at My Favourite Planet

Unlabelled marbled bust, probably
modern (18th-19th century?) in the
Accademia dei Lincei, Trastevere, Rome.

Unlabelled marbled head, Baths of Diocletian, Rome at My Favourite Planet

Unlabelled marble head in the cloister
of the Baths of Diocletian, National
Museum of Rome.
Dioskouroi Notes, references and links

1. Dioskouroi and Dioscuri

On this page the names Dioskouroi, Kastor and Polydeukes are used for Greek contexts, and Dioscuri, Castor and Pollux for Roman contexts.

2. Leda's egg

Pausanias mentioned that in Sparta an object claimed to be Leda's egg was suspended from the roof of the temple of Hilaeira and Phoebe, the Leucippides [see note 3], who were worshipped there as goddesses. In an oblique way, this passage links the Leucippides with Leda, and thus with Helen and the Dioskouroi. He also said that a statue of one of the Leucippides had been "adorned" and given a new face by Leucippis, a priestess at the temple. It is not clear whether she did the work herself, or just paid for the renovation.

He continued with a ghost story in which the Dioskouroi appear in the house in Sparta where they had lived as mortals. The uncanny apparition is reminiscent of other legends concerning the twins, such as their appearances at the Battle of Lake Regillus and the Forum in Rome (see above).

"Near is a sanctuary of Hilaeira and of Phoebe. The author of the poem Cypria calls them daughters of Apollo. Their priestesses are young maidens, called, as are also the goddesses, Leucippides (Daughters of Leucippus). One of the images was adorned by a Leucippis who had served the goddesses as a priestess. She gave it a face of modern workmanship instead of the old one; she was forbidden by a dream to adorn the other one as well. Here there his been hung from the roof an egg tied to ribands, and they say that it is the famous egg that legend says Leda brought forth.

Each year the women weave a tunic for the Apollo at Amyclae, and they call Tunic the chamber in which they do their weaving. Near it is built a house, said to have been occupied originally by the sons of Tyndareus [the Dioskouroi], but afterwards it was acquired by Phormion, a Spartan. To him came the Dioscuri in the likeness of strangers. They said that they had come from Cyrene, and asked to lodge with him, requesting to have the chamber which had pleased them most when they dwelt among men.

He replied that they might lodge in any other part of the house they wished, but that they could not have the chamber. For it so happened that his maiden daughter was living in it. By the next day this maiden and all her girlish apparel had disappeared, and in the room were found images of the Dioscuri, a table, and silphium upon it."

Pausanias, Description of Greece, Book 3, chapter 16, sections 1-3. At Perseus Digital Library.

For further information for the statue of Apollo at Amyclae (Amyklai),
see Bathykles of Magnesia.

3. The Dioskouroi, the Apharidae and Leucippides

The twin princes Lynkeus (Λυγκεύς) and Idas (Ἴδας), were sons of Aphareus (Ἀφαρεύς), who with his brother Leukippos (Λεύκιππος) was joint king of Messenia (Μεσσηνία), in the sothwestern Peloponnese. They were also said to be cousins of the Dioskouroi, as Tyndareos was also a brother of Aphareus and Leukippos. They are often referred to as the Apharidae (Ἀφαρηίδαι, Apharidi), Aphareidi, Aphareides, Apharetidae (Ἀφαρητίδαι, Apharetidai), Apharetides, or Apharetiadai (Ἀφαρητιάδαι).

They were betrothed to their cousins, Hilaeira (Ιλάειρα, Softly Shining) and Phoebe (Φοίβη, Lunar Bright), the daughters of Leukippos and Philodike (Φιλοδίκη). The sisters, who were priestesses of Artemis and Athena, were known as the Leukippides (Λευκιππιδες, Daughters of Leukippos, or Of the White Horses). They were also said to be cousins of the Dioskouroi. In some versions of myths, Phoebe was their half sister.

Kastor and Polydeukes, charmed by the beauty of the Leukippides, abducted them and carried them off to Sparta. Each of the sisters had a son by one of the Dioskouroi: Phoebe bore Mnesileos to Polydeukes and Hilaeira bore Anogon to Kastor. Lynkeus and Idas attempted to recover the sisters, but during the ensuing battle Kastor killed Lynkeus, then Idas killed Kastor, and finally Polydeukes killed Idas. Polydeukes persuaded Zeus to allow Kastor to share his immortality with his brother, and the sisters were also made immortal.

Like the Dioskouroi, Lynkeus and Idas were also said to have been among Jason's Argonauts, and to have participated in the hunt of the Kalydonian Boar.

See Hilaeira and Phoebe in a painting from Herculaneum on the Niobe page.

4. Meleager of Gadara on the etymology of cyclamen

William Roger Paton (1857-1921), translator, The Greek anthology Volume I (of five), Book IV, The poems of the different anthologies, 1. "The Stephanus of Meleager" ("The introduction to Meleager's Garland"), page 113. William Heinemann, London; G.P. Putnam's sons, New York, 1916. At

5. Double heads on coins from Istros

It has been suggested that the double heads on coins from Istros may represent Apollo or Helios as the rising and setting sun, or the supposed two branches of the river Danube (or Ister).

6. Metopes of the Sikyonian monopteros, Delphi

The five surviving metopes (mostly fragments), in the order they are exhibited in the Delphi museum (left to right):

1. A figure on the back of a large ram, possibly Helle or Phrixos riding the Golden Ram in the myth of the Golden Fleece.

2. A large boar, probably the Kalydonian Boar, below which is a relatively tiny dog;

3. A woman on a bull, probably Europa on Zeus;

4. Idas following Kastor and Polydeukes (names inscribed) with cattle;

5. The ship Argo with two musicians, Orpheus (inscribed) on the right, the other unidentifiable, and the Dioskouroi on horseback on either side (Polydeukes inscribed, on the left).

7. Kleobis and Biton

Kleobis (Κλέοβις) and Biton (Βίτων) were two legendary or mythical brothers from Argos whose story was mentioned by Herodotus. The strong young men died after pulling their mother's ox cart to a festival at the temple of Hera in Argos (the Heraion, between Argos and Mycenae), and according to Herodotus, "the Argives made and dedicated at Delphi statues of them as being the best of men". (Histories, Book 1, chapter 31)

Pausanias mentioned a relief depicting the brothers pulling their mother's wagon, opposite the sanctuary of Nemean Zeus at Argos (Description of Greece, Book 2, chapter 20, section 3). The scene is also known from a Roman period coin of Argos, a relief on a sarcophagus in the small archaeological museum in Venice, and a relief on an altar now in the Baths of Diocletian, Rome (see photo, right).

The kouros statues were discovered during the massive excavations at Delphi, directed by Jean Théophile Homolle (1848-1925), director of the French Archaeological School at Athens (l’École française d’archéologie d’Athènes) 1890-1903. When the first statue was unearthed it was recognized as one of the earliest large-scale Archaic kouroi. However, the subsequent discovery of its twin caused considerable confusion, followed by a great deal of speculation. It was apparently Homolle who, recalling the passage from Herodotus, identified the figures as Kleobis and Biton. An early reading of the inscriptions on the bases ([κλεοβις και βι]τον | ταν ματαρα ...) appeared to confirm the identification, which was generally accepted.

The inscriptions have since been reexamined and discussed by several scholars. Two of the most recent studies, by Claude Vatin (1981) and Paul Fauré (1985), independently concluded that the statues were dedications to the Dioskouroi. Their conclusions are discussed in an article by David Sansone, who argues that even if Vatin and Fauré are correct in claiming that the inscriptions mention the Dioskouroi, wanakes (kings, from ϝάναξ, an early form of ἄναξ; the name by which the Dioskouroi were worshipped in Argos) and even Polydeukes, the statues may still be depictions of Kleobis and Biton dedicated to the Heavenly Twins.

David Sansone, Cleobis and Biton in Delphi. Nikephoros 4 (1991), pages 121-132. At

8. The horos in Corfu

A short article on the column with a drawing was published in: Andrea Mustoxidi, Delle cose corciresi, Volume Primo, inscription LXXXII, pages 252-253. Tipogr. del governo, Corfu, 1848. At Googlebooks. (No further volumes were published.)

For further information about the Corfiot historian Andreas Moustoxydis (Ανδρέας Μουστοξύδης, 1785-1860), see the note in Medusa part 3.

See also:

Hermann Roehl, Inscriptiones graecae antiquissimae (often abbreviated IGA), No. 345, page 81. Georg Reimer, Berlin, 1882. At the Internet Archive.

Ernest Stewart Roberts, An introduction to Greek epigraphy, Part 1, No. 101, page 130. Cambridge University Press, 1887. At the Internet Archve.

The drawing of the Lexeiatas inscription (though not the Dioskouron inscription) also appeared in: Hermann Roehl, Imagines inscriptionum Graecarum antiquissimarum, 4th edition, X28, page 48. Georg Reimer, Berlin, 1907. At the Internet Archive.

9. Lekanis

A lekanis (Λεκανίς; plural, λεκανίδες, lekanides) is a type of shallow ceramic bowl with a lid, two horizontal handles and a wide foot. They are thought to have been given as wedding gifts, and to have been used by women for storing jewellery, cosmetics and other objects. A lekane (λεκάνη; plural, λεκάναι, lekanai) is similar but has no lid and is often undecorated.

Relief of Kleobis and Biton on an altar in Rome at My Favourite Planet

Relief on the front of a marble altar depicting
Kleobis and Biton pulling their mother's wagon,
here in the form of a chariot.

Roman Imperial period. Found in 1942
in the Via della Giustiniana, Rome.

A relief on the left side of the altar shows Artemis and
Acteon, and on the right side Dionysus or Hippolytus.

Baths of Diocletian, National Museum of Rome.
Inv. No. 121983.

The grave stele of Dermys and Kytilos from Tanagra at My Favourite Planet

A high relief on the front of an inscribed grave stele
depicting two youths standing side by side and embracing.
They step forward in the manner of kouroi statues.

Found at Tanagra, Boeotia, Central Greece.
Made in a Boeotian workshop, around 500-525 BC.
Boeotian poros (limestone). Height 200 cm,
width 42 cm (top), 53 cm (bottom), height of
figures 147 cm, maximum depth of relief 27 cm.

An unusual stele, one of the earliest known Greek funerary monuments. The work is badly damaged, with a long diagonal crack around halfway up. The figures' bodies and thighs are pitted and the faces completely destroyed.

A name is inscribed along the side of the outside leg of each figure: Dermys (left) and Kytilos (right). An epigram inscribed on the base, written in an epichoric (local) alphabet, records that the stele was erected by Amphalkes on the grave of Kytilos and Dermys. It is thought that the relief may depict the deceased, who were perhaps brothers. the 5 cm high rectangular socket at the top of the stele was probably for the attachment of a crowning sculptural ornament, perhaps a seated Sphinx.

Left figure: Δέρμυς      Right figure: Κιτύλος

On the base:
Ἀμφάλκες ἔστασ’ ἐπὶ Κιτύλοι ἐ|δ’ ἐπὶ Δέρμυι

Amphalkes erected this monument
over the graves of Kittylos and Dermys.

Inscription IG VII 579 (also: CEG I 109;
SEG 19:336; Jeffery, LSAG 92, 94, no. 8)

National Archaeological Museum, Athens. Inv. No. 56.

The four copies of the pilasters from Las Incantadas in the portico of Thessaloniki Archaeological Museum at My Favourite Planet

The four copies of the pilasters from "Las Incantadas", as displayed in
the portico of Thessaloniki Archaeological Museum. The view is hindered
by the columns. Left to right: Ganymede, Dioskouros, Aura, Nike


10. The Incantadas in Thessaloniki

The architect and traveller James Stuart (see Athens Acropolis gallery page 12), who was in Thessaloniki 1753-1754, reported on Las Incantadas, and related a local legend which had grown up around it, that included Alexander the Great, a Thracian king and his beautiful wife, a magician from Pontus, and the philosopher Aristotle also as a magician:

"We had visited such objects of curiosity as our inquiries could discover at Thessalonica before we left it; but, although it is a large and populous city, said at that time to contain 100,000 inhabitants, we found the remains of only one building, the description of which we could flatter ourselves would interest the lovers of ancient art.

This is situated in the Jews' quarter; five Corinthian columns on their pedestals support an entablature, over which is an attic adorned with figures in alto-relievo; on the side next the street are a Victory, a Medea, or, perhaps a Helen, with a diadem and sceptre, a Telephus, and a Ganymede; and, next the court-yard of the Jews' House, a Bacchante dancing and playing on the flute, a Bacchus, a Bacchante crowned with vine leaves, and a Leda.

It seems difficult, if not impossible, to ascertain the species of building of which this ruin once made a part; for though the figures I have specified would seem to be proper decorations for a theatre, no traces were discovered that might confirm the opinion these figures suggested; nor does the vulgar tradition of the place afford any light, that may assist our inquiries. I will, however, relate the account they give, just as I received it, since it will give the reader some idea of the present Greeks, shew their propensity for the marvellous, and the facility with which, from a few given circumstances, they can make out a wonderful story.

This building they call Goeteia [c] (Gohteia, enchantment) or the Incantada, and affirm it to have been the work of magic art. On being asked when, and on what occasion, this extraordinary fact was performed, they answered, the fact was undoubted; every body knew that their great king Alexander conquered Persia. When he was preparing to invade that empire, he solicited the assistance of a king of Thrace, who accordingly united his forces to those of his Macedonian neighbour attending in person, with his family, at the court of Alexander, where they were royally entertained, and lodged in a sumptuous palace near his own, communicating with it by means of a magnificent gallery, of which these columns are the remains.

The Thracian queen, a lady of transcendant beauty, accompanied her husband on this visit. Alexander, young, and unaccustomed to control his passions, ardent in the pursuits of love as of glory, dazzled with such excess of charms, determined to violate the rights of hospitality, and seduce the queen of Thrace. He contrived, by means of this gallery, to pay her frequent visits, though not so privily as to escape the notice of her husband, who, having verified his suspicions, resolved to take a dreadful revenge on the deluder. He had in his train a skilful necromancer from Pontus, who, discovering by his art the instant that Alexander was to pass to the queen's apartment, scattered his spells and charms throughout this gallery; they were of such marvellous power, that whoever should, at a certain hour, attempt to pass, would inevitably be converted into stone.

Aristotle, a conjurer attached to Alexander, and of skill greatly superior to the man of Pontus, discovered his danger time enough to prevent it: by his advice and entreaties, Alexander was prevailed on to forbear for once his appointed visit. The impatient queen, tired with expectation, sent one of her confidential servants to see if her lover was coming, and she herself soon followed. At this instant, the king, supposing the magic had worked all its effect, issued forth, attended by his conjuror, to feast his eyes with a sight of the revenge he had taken; when, strange to relate, both companies, those with the king, as well as those with the queen, were instantly changed to stone, and remain to this hour a monument of vengeance on a jealous husband and an unfaithful wife."

From the editor's notes:

b "By the dates of Stuart's journal, it appears that he was upwards of six months in Salonica, from the 28th of September, 1753, to the 20th of April, 1754; how he was chiefly occupied there does not appear, since Revett, who rejoined him about the 18th of February, 1754, made the architectural drawings from 'Las Incantadas.' This ruin standing in the quarter inhabited by the Jews, who are descended from Spanish refugees settled there, and consequently speak Spanish, it is on that account named by them according to the latter termination, meaning 'The enchanted figures.' [ed.]"

c "No traveller, either fraught with most extensive learning, or eminent in antiquarian research, has been enabled to give even a plausible appropriation to this ruin. Pococke viewed it as a triumphal monument. Villoison describes it as the entrance of a theatre; he says, 'c'étoit surement l'entree de quelque théatre où l'on célebroit les jeux'; and Dr. Clarke terms it 'the Propylaea of the ancient Hippodrome or of the Forum.' All these descriptive appellations have no fixed character of application through the medium of this ruin, to any known ancient edifices of those classes..."

James Stuart and Nicholas Revett, The antiquities of Athens, measured and delineated, Volume 3 ("new edition"), Chapter XI: Of a Ruin at Salonica called 'The Incantadas', pages 119-124, Plates 45-49. Priestly and Weale, London, 1827. At Heidelberg University Digital library.

The drawing of the Dioskouros relief, signed by Stuart, is Plate VIII, in the first edition, in which the illustrations are more detailed than in the 1827 edition. Revett's drawing of the north side of the colonnade, showing the relative positions of the reliefs, is Plate II.

James Stuart and Nicholas Revett, The antiquities of Athens, measured and delineated, Volume 3, Chapter IX: Of a Ruin at Salonicha called the Incantada, pages 53-56, plates I-XIII. John Nichols, London, 1794. At the Internet Archive.

Although Revett made the architectural drawings of the monument, the scenic drawing of Las Incantadas above is signed by Stuart.

See also:

Paul Perdrizet, L'«Incantada» de Salonique (Musée du Louvre). In: Monuments et mémoires de la Fondation Eugène Piot, Tome 31, fascicule 1-2, 1930, pages 51-90. At Persée.

Herman Melville, the author of Moby Dick, also wrote that he saw Las Incantadas during his short stay in Thessaloniki in December 1856, but mentioned only the columns and not the reliefs. A detailed description of the colonnade was written on 24 August 1828 by the Austrian diplomat Graf Anton Prokesch von Osten (1795-1876), who considered it the most beautiful ancient monument in the city.

Ritter Prokesch von Osten, Denkwürdigkeiten und Erinnerungen aus dem Orient, Band 3 (Volume 3 of 3), pages 642-644, "Salonich, am 24. August 1828". Hallberger'sche Verlagshandlung, Stuttgart, 1837. At the Internet Archive.

A replica of a relief of Leda and the swan from Las Incantadas, Thessaloniki at My Favourite Planet

The replica of the pilaster from
"Las Incantadas" with a relief
of Leda and the swan (Zeus).

Thessaloniki Archaeological Museum.

Original, Louvre, Paris.
Inv. No. Ma 1394.

11. Strymon, the river and river god

The sources of the 415 kilometre long Strymon river (Ancient Greek, Στρυμών; modern Greek, Στρυμόνας, Strymonas) are on the south slopes of the Vitosha mountain in Bulgaria, south of Sofia. It flows southwards for 290 kilometres, enters Macedonia, Greece, flows through Amphipolis (Ἀμφίπολις) and into the Strymonic Gulf of the Northern Aegean Sea at the site of Eion (Ἠϊών), the ancient port of Amphipolis. A lake formed by the river at Amphipolis, drained in the 20th century, was once known for its excellent-tasting eels, which during the Ottoman period were fished exclusively for the sultan's palace in Istanbul.

Strymon is thought to be an ancient Thracian name. Areas of tribal Thrace around the Northern Aegean coast were colonized by Greeks from around the 10th century BC, with a second, larger wave of colonization in the 8th - 6th centuries BC (see History of Stageira and Olympiada part 2). Later, many parts of western Thrace were gradually conquered by the Macedonians, particularly by Philp II (ruled 359-336 BC), who extended Macedonian territory to east of the Strymon (see History of Stageira and Olympiada part 6).

Depictions of the river god Strymon (Στρυμών) are rare, and the few short references to him by ancient authors differ in details, some of which contradict other accounts. Like many Greek river gods, Strymon was said to be the son of Okeanos (Oceanus) and Tethys. He was a Thracian king and the father of the Thracian heroes Olynthos (Ὄλυνθος), Brangas (Βράγγασ) and Rhesos (Ῥῆσος), by one of the Muses, either Euterpe or Calliope. By Neaera (Νέαιρα) he was also the father of Evadne (Εὐάδνη), wife of Argos, king of Argos in the Peloponnese.

Olynthos was either the mythical founder of the city of Olynthos in Halkidiki (see History of Stageira and Olympiada parts 5 and 6), or was killed by a lion during a hunt and buried there by his brother Brangas. According to another version of the myth, Olynthos was a son of Herakles and the goddess or nymph Bolbe (Βόλβη) who lived in the lake of the same name (modern Lake Volvi), around 30 km west of the Strymon.

Homer mentioned Rhesos as a king of Thrace who was killed by Odysseus and Diomedes at Troy (Iliad, Book 10, see Homer part 2), but wrote that his father was Eioneus (Ἠιονεύς). The name may be the mythological eponym of the Thracian city Eion at the mouth of the Strymon. On hearing of the death of his son, Strymon is said to have drowned in the river which was renamed after him. This story is similar to that of the Aegean Sea being named after King Aegeus of Athens who drowned himself when he thought that his son Theseus was dead (see Athens Acropolis gallery page 11).

12. Aulus Postumius Albus and the Dioscuri

The exact dates of Aulus Postumius Albus' life and dictatorship are uncertain. He is thought to have been dictator in 499, 498 or 496 BC when he commanded the Roman forces at the Battle of Lake Regillus. The story of the Dioscuri's miraculous appearances and their intervention on the side of the Romans at the battle may be a later explanation for the origin of their temple in the Forum.

Aulus Postumius Albus was also said to have been responsible for the establishment of Rome's first temple of Ceres (Demeter, another Greek deity, adopted by the plebeians), following a vow he made during a famine around 496 BC (see Demeter and Persephone). These legendary events and the introduction of new religious institutions in the city occurred shortly after the foundation of the Roman Republic around 509 BC.

13. The temple of the Dioscuri near the Circus Flaminius

There are only two brief mentions of this temple by ancient authors. One of them, Vitruvius, merely noted that its unusual architectural form was similar to that of temples of Athena on the Athenian Acropolis and at Sounion:

"There are also other kinds of temples, constructed in the same symmetrical proportions and yet with a different kind of plan: for example, the temple of Castor in the district of the Circus Flaminius, that of Vejovis between the two groves, and still more ingeniously the temple of Diana in her sacred grove, with columns added on the right and left at the flanks of the pronaos. Temples of this kind, like that of Castor in the Circus, were first built in Athens on the Acropolis, and in Attica at Sunium to Pallas Minerva. The proportions of them are not different, but the same as usual. For the length of their cellae is twice the width, as in other temples; but all that we regularly find in the fronts of others is in these transferred to the sides."

Vitruvius, Ten books on architecture, Book 4, chapter 8, section 4. Translated by Morris Hicky Morgan and Albert A. Howard. Harvard University Press and Oxford University Press, 1914. At the Project Gutenberg.

14. The Dioscuri stele in Turin

See the online collection database of the Museo Egizio (Egyptian Museum) website:

Stele dedicata a Castore e Polluce... at

Here the stele is said to be of limestone and dated to around 30 BC - 395 AD, while according to other sources it is sandstone and from the 1st - 3rd century AD. It certainly looks like dark red sandstone. The dating has been discussed in a number of publications, and a short bibliography is given on the Turin museum database page.

See also: Dirk Koßmann, Ägyptische Götter in Panzertracht in der römischen Kaiserzeit, Anhang 3, Dio 3. Stele, page 674. Köln, 2014. A short entry on the stele with bibliography, in an edited version of his dissertation, University of Köln, 2012. PDF in German at CORE open access research papers.

15. Jupiter Dolichenus and the Aventine Hill

The epiphet Dolichenus is taken from the ancient city of Doliche (Greek, Δολίχη) today the village of Dülük, around 10 km north of Gaziantep city centre and 50 km west of Euphrates river, in south-central Turkey, near the border with Syria. The syncretic mystery cult is thought to have been developed by Roman soldiers from the local Hadad-Baal-Teshub cult from around the 1st century BC, when they conquered much of this area and incorporated it into the Roman province of Syria. Like Jupiter Dolichenus, the Anatolian and Mesopotamian weather gods Teshub and Hadad were sometimes represented holding a weapon, such as a double axe, in one hand, and a thunderbolt in the other, and standing with or on a bull.

By the 2nd century the Jupiter Dolichenus cult had spread through the Roman Empire, and is known from inscriptions and other artefacts found in Germania, Britannia, Dacia, Pannonia, north Africa, Italy and Rome. It reached the height of its popularity during the 3rd century, when this relief was made, after which it declined rapidly.

The cult is not mentioned by ancient authors, and since, like other mystery cults such as the Eleusinian Mysteries (see Demeter and Persephone), its secrets were revealed only to the intitiated, nothing is known of its beliefs, rites or practices. It appears that its initiates actively recruited and that it was in competition with other "oriental" syncretic cults, particularly that of Mithras.

The modern term dolichenum, for a sanctuary or temple of Jupiter Dolichenus, was coined by archaeologists, although the word dolicenum is mentioned in at least one inscription. There were three sanctuaries of Juno Dolichenus in Rome. Those on the Esquiline Hill and Caelian Hill are thought to have been military establishments, while that on the Aventine Hill, founded during the reign of Antoninus Pius (138-161 AD), was for civilians.

Although the existence of the Aventine dolichenum was known from regionary catalogues of the 4th century, it was discovered by chance in 1935 during the digging of a drain on the Via di San Domenico, between the churches of Santi Bonifacio e Alessio and Santa Sabina. During subsequent excavations, the remains of an open sanctuary which had later been roofed over were unearthed. Among artefacts discovered there was an altar and a large number of inscriptions, statues and reliefs. As at other sanctuaries of the cult, objects were found which included representations of other gods, such as Diana, Isis, Serapis, Mitra, Sol, Luna and the Dioscuri, who were also worshipped at shrines on the Aventine.

This relief is sometimes referred to as Inv. No. 6745, which was presumably its old invoice number before it was moved to the Centrale Montemartini museum.


Elmar Schwertheim, Corpus Cultus Iovis Dolicheni (CCID). E. J. Brill, Leiden, 1987. This relief is No. 386, pages 253-254, Tafel LXXXVII.

See also:

Charles S. Sanders, Jupiter Dolichenus, in Journal of the American Oriental Society, Volume 23, pages 84-92. New Haven, Connecticut, 1902. At the Internet Archive. A short introduction to the cult and study of Jupiter Dolichenus. At the Internet Archive.

Pinar Kuşseven, The cult of Iupiter Dolichenus: origins and iconography. M.A. thesis. Department of Archaeology and Art History, Bilkent University, Ankara, 2007. PDF. With bibliography. At the Bilkent University website.

Joachim Pahl, Der Kult des Jupiter Dolichenus - Ausbreitung, Selbstverstandnis, Niedergang - Auf der Basis statistischer Erhebungen und mit einem erganzenden Corpus, pages 160-162 and Tafel XXIV, EC 61. Inaugural dissertation, Westfalischen Wilhelms-Universitat zu Munster, 2010. At the Internet Archive. With bibliography. At the Internet Archive.

16. King Oineus of Kalydonia

Oineus was the father of Meleager, Deianeira, Toxeus, Clymenus, Periphas, Agelaus, Thyreus (or Phereus or Pheres), Gorge, Eurymede, Mothone, Perimede and Melanippe. According to other versions of myths, Meleager's father was Ares, and Deianeira (the wife of Herakles) was the daughter of Dionysus.

He was credited with introducing winemaking to Aetolia. In a story similar to those concerning other legendary or mythical heroes in places around the Greek world, he was taught the arts of viniculture and winemaking by Dionysus. See, for example, the story of Ikarios introducing viniculture to Attica.

A banqueting scene with two heroized young men at My Favourite Planet

A limestone relief showing a banqueting scene with two almost identical young men reclining
on a kline (couch). It is thought to be a funerary monument for two heroized youths, perhaps
brothers. The youth on the left holds out a phiale (libation bowl) to a serving boy (oinochoos,
wine-pourer). The table in front of the kline is laden with food. Traces of colour are still visible.

Hellenistic period, 3rd century BC. From Syracuse, Sicily.

Paolo Orsi Regional Archaeological Museum, Syracuse.
Photos on this page were taken during
visits to the following museums:

Dresden, Albertinum, Skulpturensammlung
Dresden, Semperbau, Abguss-Sammlung
Speyer, Historisches Museum der Pfalz

Amphipolis Archaeological Museum, Macedonia
Athens, National Archaeological Museum
Corfu Archaeological Museum
Delphi Archaeological Museum
Eleusis Archaeological Museum, Attica
Thasos Archaeological Museum, Macedonia
Thessaloniki Archaeological Museum, Macedonia

Milan, Civic Archaeological Museum
Naples, National Archaeological Museum
Paestum, National Archaeological Museum
Rome, Accademia dei Lincei
Rome, Capitoline Museums, Palazzo dei Conservatori
Rome, Capitoline Museums, Palazzo Nuovo
Rome, National Museum of Rome, Baths of Diocletian
Rome, National Museum of Rome, Palazzo Altemps
Rome, National Museum of Rome, Palazzo Massimo alle Terme
Rome, Roman Forum archaeological site

Italy - Sicily
Agrigento Regional Archaeological Museum
Palermo Cathedral
Syracuse, Paolo Orsi Regional Archaeological Museum

Leiden, Rijksmuseum van Oudheden

Istanbul Archaeological Museum

United Kingdom
London, British Museum
Oxford, Ashmolean Museum

Many thanks to the staff of these museums.
Photos and articles © David John, except where otherwise specified.
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