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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). 
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 one version of the myths, the coupling of Leda and Zeus as a swan produced two eggs, from which hatched one of the twins and Helen of Troy. At the same time Leda also give birth to the other twin and Clytaemnestra, conceived by more conventional means with Tyndareos.
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 Thebes. 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
, 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."
, 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 referred to as 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 dedicated to them there:
"The sanctuary of the Dioskouroi is ancient. They themselves are represented as standing, while their sons are seated on 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.
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." 
Detail of one of the Dioskouroi statues
in the Naples Archaeological Museum.
See photos below.
The Dioskouri on a bronze coin of
the Roman Republic, 211-170 BC.
National Museum of Rome,
Palazzo Massimo alle Terme.
The Dioskouri on a coin of the Roman
Republic from Akragas (Agrigento), Sicily.
Agrigento Regional Archaeological Museum.
Heads of the Dioskouri 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. 
Alpha Bank Numsimatic Collection,
One of the Dioskouri 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, 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 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 on the Homer page.
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. 
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.
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 marble kouroi statues originally identified as
the brothers Kleobis and Biton  of Argos, but now
thought by some scholars to depict the Dioskouroi.
Island 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 . 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.
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, with the signature of the sculptor Polymedes of Argos.
Each statue and its base are a single piece.
"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 archive.org.
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 archive.org.
(From Oesterreichische Jahreshefte, xiii, 1910, 41 ff.)
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.
Fragment of a black-figure Corinthian krater made in the workshop of the
Cavalcade Painter, around 560 BC. Found in the Sanctuary of Artemis, Sani, Halkidiki.
In the lower register is a standing lion. Another fragment shows
Zetes and Kalais (the Boreads, sons of Boreas), chasing the Harpies.
Thessaloniki Archaeological Museum. Inv. No. AMΘ 1. S. Andreadis Collection.
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.
The lid of a Paestan red-figure lekanis  depicting a scene from the myth of
Orestes and Electra: 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 outside 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 Electra, 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 Electra 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, Electra 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 on the vase 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 pylos (conical cap), chlamys (short cloak) and boots, and each holds a spear and another object which is offered to Electra. It is uncertain what the twin on the left is holding, but his brother to the right of Electra 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.
One of the Dioskouroi with Elektra on the lid of the Lekanis in Paestum.
Inscribed votive relief of the Dioskouroi from the cemeteries
of Thasos, Macedonia, Greece. Late Hellenistic period.
Thasos Archaeological Museum.
Fragmentary marble statue base with a relief of the Dioskouroi 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.
Fragmentary relief of enthroned Leda with Helen of Troy
on the left side of the statue base above.
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.
Inscribed votive relief of Kastor and Polydeukes, the Dioskouroi, and the personification
of the River Strymon (the lower part of the reclining figure can be seen, right).
From Amphipolis, Macedonia, Greece. 2nd century AD.
Amphipolis Archaeological Museum. Inv. No. Λ 673.
See another votive relief dedicated to the Dioskouroi below.
Colossal marble statues of Castor and Pollux, the Dioskouroi.
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".
The twins are usually represented nude; each wears a chlamys riding cloak and pilos
(πῖλος) conical cap. 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. No. 131209 and 230872.
|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.
Plaque inscribed with a dedication in Latin to the Dioscuri.
6th century BC. From the Sanctuary of the Thirteen Altars, Lavinium (Pratica di Mare), near Rome.
The dedication, which may have been attached to one of the thirteen altars, is the earliest evidence
of the cult of the Dioscuri in Latium. In this inscription they are referred to as the Castorei (Castores)
and by the Greek word quroi (young knights) transliterated into Latin.
National Museum of Rome, Baths of Diocletian.
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.
|The worship Castor and Pollux is thought to have been adopted by the Roman aristocratic party in the early 5th century BC, as the patrons of the knights. According to legend, two mysterious horsemen led the Romans to victory over the Etruscan Tarquins and Latins at the Battle of Lake Regillus in 499 BC. Shortly afterwards the pair, identifed 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.
The temple was probably built by the general and dictator Aulus Postumius in 484 BC. 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 Metellus Dalmaticus. 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).
The peripteral temple, approximately 36 x 40 metres, 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).
The Temple of Castor and Pollux
in the Forum, Rome.
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 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 are now in front of the Palazzo del Quirinale. 
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. 
"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. Both statues show
the twins wearing a pilos
(conical cap) and a riding cloak.
The Dioscuri statue on the left side as you climb the steps up
to the Piazza del Campidoglio, on the Capitoline Hill, Rome.
Inscribed marble votive relief showing the Roman deities Jupiter and
Juno Dolicheni with Isis, Serapis, the Dioscuri, Sol (Sun) and Luna (Moon).
Carrara marble. From Aventino, Rome. Circa 250 AD.
Centrale Montemartini, Capitoline Museums, Rome. Inv. No. 9750.
|The 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 doe) 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 Isis and Serapis.
A marble figure of one of the Dioskouroi on the Capital
of a pseudopilaster from the Octagon, Thessaloniki.
Imperial workshop, Thessaloniki. Early 4th century AD.
Thessaloniki Archaeological Museum.
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.
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.
The Dioskouroi 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 Oeneus (Οἰνεύς)  for forgetting to sacrifice to her. Oeneus' 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 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 identical.
On the lid is a sculpture of a couple reclining on a kline (couch), flanked by erotes (cupids). The heads of the pair 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 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.
A panel from a marble sarcophagus with a relief depicting the Kalydonian Boar hunt.
Roman Imperial period, 150-250 AD.
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
Dioskouroi, naked apart from a pylos (conical cap), chlamys (short cloak).
The head of his brother can be seen behind him in lower relief.
Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. Inv. No. AD 1947.278.
Sir Francis Cook (Doughty House) Collection.
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, Sicily.
A relief on the front panel 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.
||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. 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 archive.org.
3. Double heads on coins from Istros
It has been suggested that the double heads on coins from Istros may represent Apollo or Helios.
4. 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);
5. 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, 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 Delphi (Description of Greece, Book 2, chapter 20, section 3). The scene is also known from 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 academia.edu.
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.
7. Dioscuri statues on the Piazza del Quirinale, 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 a high pedestal in the middle of the square, flanking the Dioscuri Fountain and a granite obelisk which originally 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 statues, "Opus Phidiae" and "Opus Praxitelis", 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. The obelisk was added by Pope Pius VI in 1786.
8. 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 notes 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. Harvard University Press and Oxford University Press, 1914. At Project Gutenberg.
9. King Oeneus of Kalydonia
Oeneus 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.
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 Guistiniana, Rome.
A relief on the left side of the altar shows Artemis and
Acteon, and on the right side Dionysus or Hippolytus.
National Museum of Rome, Baths of Diocletian.
Inv. No. 121983.
High relief on the front of a grave stele
depicting two youths standing side by
side and embracing. They are stepping
forward in the manner of kouroi statues.
Found at Tanagra, Boeotia, Greece.
Boeotian poros, work of a Boeotian
workshop. 1st quarter of the 6th century BC.
An unusual stele, one of the earliest known
Greek funerary monuments. An inscription
records that it was erected by Amphalkes
on the grave of Dermys and Kytilos. It is
thought that the relief depicts the deceased,
who were perhaps brothers. The stele may
have been crowned with a seated sphinx.
National Archaeological Museum, Athens.
Inv. No. 56.
|Photos on this page were taken during
visits to the following museums:
Amphipolis Archaeological Museum, Macedonia
Athens, National Archaeological Museum
Delphi Archaeological Museum
Thasos Archaeological Museum, Macedonia
Thessaloniki Archaeological Museum, Macedonia
Naples, National Archaeological Museum
Paestum, National Archaeological Museum
Rome, Capitoline Museums, Centrale Montemartini
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
Istanbul Archaeological Museum
London, British Museum
Oxford, Ashmolean Museum
Many thanks to the staff of these museums.
|Photos and articles © David John|
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