Kástôr and Polydéfkîs



Generalities: The Parentage and Family of the Dióskouri

The word Dióskouri (Dioscuri, Διόσκουροι) simply means "sons of Zefs" (Ζεύς), the etymology being Διός "of Zefs" + κούροι "boys" or "youths." The term can apply to any sons of Zefs, such as the Kouritæs (Curetes, Κούρητες), but it is usually associated with two particular Gods.

The Dióskouri are Kástôr (Castor, Κάστωρ, "beaver") and Polydéfkîs (Polydeucês or Pollux, Πολυδεύκης, "much sweet wine"). They are the twin sons of Lída (Lêda, Λήδα). The father of Kástôr is Tyndáræôs (Tyndareus, Τυνδάρεως) of Spárta (Σπάρτα). The father of Polydéfkîs is Zefs (Ζεύς). They are the brothers of Ælǽnî (Elenê or Helen, Ἑλένη) and Klytaimnístra (Clytemnêstra, Κλυταιμνήστρα). The Dióskouri are highly significant deities in the pantheon of Ællînismόs (Hellênismos, Ἑλληνισμός), the ancient Greek religion, and play an important role in much of the mythology of our religion.

The Birth and Heritage of the Dióskouri

Lída, wife of king Tyndáræôs of Spárta, observed a swan being pursued by an eagle. She gave the swan refuge; they became affectionate and she coupled with the swan, which was a transformation of Zefs. That same evening, she also coupled with her husband. These unions produced eggs from which all the children, Ælǽnî, Kástôr and Polydéfkîs, and Klytaimnístra, were born. It is usually said that Ælǽnî and Polydéfkîs are the progeny of Zefs, and thus immortal.

There are divergent accounts concerning the details of this story, such as who of the children was born from which egg, stories not mentioning eggs, and who of the children were mortal and who of the children were immortal. In some variants of the story, the Dióskouri are both said to be the sons of Zefs. In Ómiros (Homer, Ὅμηρος) they are depicted as mortal.

The Dióskouri became great Írôæs (Herôes, Ἥρωες). They participated in many memorable events such as the journey of the Argóh (Argô, Ἀργώ) and the hunt of the Kalydóhnios Kápros (Calydonian Boar, Καλυδώνιος Κάπρος).

The Rescue of Ælǽnî by the Dióskouri

Before Ælǽnî had been taken by Páris (Πάρις) to Tría (Troy, Ἴλιον or Τροία), she had first been abducted by Thîséfs (Thêseus, Θησεύς), king of Athens. Thîséfs and Peiríthous (Pirithous, Πειρίθους), king of the Lapíthai (Lapiths, Λαπίθαι), decided to marry daughters of Zefs. Thîséfs chose Ælǽnî, and having obtained the young girl, left her in the care of his mother, and went to help Peiríthous obtain Pærsæphónî (Persephonê, Περσεφόνη) in the kingdom of Aidîs (Hades, Ἅιδης), but they were tricked by the Aidîs, and bound with snakes to chairs, later to be rescued. In the meanwhile, Kástôr and Polydéfkis rescued their sister and made Mænæsthéfs (Menestheus, Μενεσθεύς) king of Athens, the regal power later to be returned to the family of Thîséfs after the Trojan War.

The Divine Honors of the Dióskouri

Kástôr and Polydéfkis had been tricked by their cousins out of some cattle. In the effort to retrieve their property, Kástôr was mortally wounded by Ídas (Ἴδας). When Kástôr lay dying, Zefs gave his brother Polydéfkis a choice of either eternity on Ólymbos (Olympus, Όλυμπος) or he could share his immortality with his brother. He made the latter choice and the two brothers alternate between Aidîs and Ólymbos.

"Nevertheless, as Pollux refused to accept immortality while his brother Castor was dead, Zeus permitted them both to be every other day among the Gods and among mortals." [1]

Kástôr and Polydéfkis, who are in Latin called Gemini, the Twins, are also the brightest stars of the constellation of that same name, or, in ancient Greek, Dídymi (Δίδυμοι).

The Dióskouri in Iconography

The Dióskouri can be identified in ancient art as resplendent, beardless youths, usually naked or scantily clad having just a cape. Their bodies are of perfect and athletic proportions. They wear the pílos (πῖλος), a (generally) brimless, conical felt cap quite associated with these deities; there is some thought that the cap is a remnant of the eggs from which the mythology says they hatched. At other times they are depicted wearing the olive-wreath crown of the Olympic Games. Sometimes they are mounted on horses or have horses at their side.

Cultic Characteristics of the Dióskouri

The Dióskouri are said to dwell half of the time in the Aithîrial regions of the Immortals, and half of their time in the realm of Ploutôn (Pluto or Hades, Πλούτων). Ploutôn is the king of the khthonic region. He is the earthy God, the Lord of the Earth [2]. This being so, the Dióskouri are within our realm and have particular interest in the affairs of man. They have a dual function as deities associated with the Aithír (Aethêr, Αἰθήρ), yet they are also khthonic deities.

The Dióskouri are protectors of sailors. They are thought to be the phenomenon known as St. Elmo's fire, that is, a particular aithîrial glow or fire appearing on the masts of ships (and other things) usually during thunderstorms. When there are two plasmas, it is thought of as the Dióskouri; when one, it is called Ælǽnî. They are the guardians of guests and travelers, and they are friends of mankind, helping, particularly in times of crisis. They are associated with the horse and are benefactors of horsemen and races. In ancient times, they were the patrons of the pan-Hellenic Olympic Games, games in honor of their father Zefs. They are called Sôtǽri (Σωτέροι) "Saviors." They are called Ánaktæs Paidæs (Ἄνακτες Παίδες) "Boy Kings." They are called Thæí Mægáli (Θεοί Μεγάλοι) "Great Gods." They are called Amvoulii (Αµβούλιοι) "Counselors."


17. Εἲς Διοσκούρους

Κάστορα καὶ Πολυδεύκἐ ἀείσεο, Μοῦσα λίγεια,

Τυνδαρίδας, οἳ Ζηνὸς Ὀλυμπίου ἐξεγένοντο:

τοὺς ὑπὸ Τηϋγέτου κορυφῇς τέκε πότνια Λήδη

λάθρη ὑποδμηθεῖσα κελαινεφέι Κρονίωνι.

χαίρετε, Τυνδαρίδαι, ταχέων ἐπιβήτορες ἵππων.

17. To the Dióskouri [3]

Sing, clear-voiced Muse, of Castor and Polydeuces, the Tyndaridae, who sprang from Olympian Zeus. Beneath the heights of Taӱgetus stately Leda bare them, when the dark-clouded Son of Cronos had privily bent her to his will. Hail, children of Tyndareus, riders upon swift horses!

33. Εἲς Διοσκούρους

ἀμφὶ Διὸς κούρους, ἑλικώπιδες ἔσπετε Μοῦσαι,

Τυνδαρίδας, Λήδης καλλισφύρου ἀγλαὰ τέκνα,

Κάστορά θ᾽ ἱππόδαμον καὶ ἀμώμητον Πολυδεύκεα,

τοὺς ὑπὸ Ταϋγέτου κορυφῇ ὄρεος μεγάλοιο

μιχθεῖσ᾽ ἐν φιλότητι κελαινεφέι Κρονίωνι

σωτῆρας τέκε παῖδας ἐπιχθονίων ἀνθρώπων

ὠκυπόρων τε νεῶν, ὅτε τε σπέρχωσιν ἄελλαι

χειμέριαι κατὰ πόντον ἀμείλιχον: οἳ δ᾽ ἀπὸ νηῶν

εὐχόμενοι καλέουσι Διὸς κούρους μεγάλοιο

ἄρνεσσιν λευκοῖσιν, ἐπ᾽ ἀκρωτήρια βάντες

πρύμνης: τὴν δ᾽ ἄνεμός τε μέγας καὶ κῦμα θαλάσσης

θῆκαν ὑποβρυχίην: οἳ δ᾽ ἐξαπίνης ἐφάνησαν

ξουθῇσι πτερύγεσσι δι᾽ αἰθέρος ἀίξαντες,

αὐτίκα δ᾽ ἀργαλέων ἀνέμων κατέπαυσαν ἀέλλας,

κύματα δ᾽ ἐστόρεσαν λευκῆς ἁλὸς ἐν πελάγεσσι,

σήματα καλά, πόνου ἀπονόσφισιν: οἳ δὲ ἰδόντες

γήθησαν, παύσαντο δ᾽ ὀιζυροῖο πόνοιο.

χαίρετε, Τυνδαρίδαι, ταχέων ἐπιβήτορες ἵππων:

αὐτὰρ ἐγὼν ὑμέων τε καὶ ἄλλης μνήσομ᾽ ἀοιδῆς.

33. To the Dióskouri [4]

Bright-eyed Muses, tell of the Tyndaridae, the Sons of Zeus, glorious children of neat-ankled Leda, Castor the tamer of horses, and blameless Polydeuces. When Leda had lain with the dark-clouded Son of Cronos, she bare them beneath the peak of the great hill Taӱgetus, --- children who are deliverers of men on earth and of swift-going ships when stormy gales rage over the ruthless sea. Then the shipmen call upon the sons of great Zeus with vows of white lambs, going to the forepart of the prow; but the strong wind and the waves of the sea lay the ship under water, until suddenly these two are seen darting through the air on tawny wings. Forthwith they allay the blasts of the cruel winds and still the waves upon the surface of the white sea: fair signs are they and deliverance from toil. And when the shipmen see them they are glad and have rest from their pain and labour. Hail, Tyndaridae, riders upon swift horses!


Anaces - See Ánakæs.

Ánakæs - (Anaces; Gr. Ἄνακες, ΑΝΑΚΕΣ. This is an ancient plural form of ἄναξ.) Lords, kings.

Ánax - (Gr. ἄναξ, ΑΝΑΞ) king, lord. Cf. Ánakæs.

Emithnetus - See Imíthnitos.

Imíthnitos - (emithnetus; Gr. ἡμίθνητος, ΗΜΙΘΝΗΤΟΣ) half-mortal.

Sôtǽri - (soter; Gr. σωτήρ, ΣΩΤΗΡ. Plural is σωτέροι.) saviors.


[1] Βιβλιοθήκη Ἀπολλοδώρου 3.11.2, trans. James George Frazer, 1921.

[2] There are three terms which should be considered here:

ypokhthónios - (hypochthonic, ὑποχθόνιος) the area under the earth.

khthónios - (chthonios, χθόνιος) the surface of the earth.

ypærkhthónios - (hyperchthonius, ὑπερχθόνιος) the area above the earth.

Ploutôn (Πλούτων) has dominion over the khthonic---the earthy---regions, the place where we dwell. He also has dominion over the ypokhthonic region under the earth, but there are no souls there, only the bodies of the dead and worms and microbes and other such things. The idea that there is an underworld where we go after death can certainly be found in mythology, but this "place of misery" is actually the place where we dwell, on the surface of the earth, the area where the mortals live.

[3] Ὁμηρικὸς Ὕμνος 17 Εις Διοσκούρους, trans. Hugh G. Evelyn-White, 1914.

[4] Ὁμηρικὸς Ὕμνος 33 Εις Διοσκούρους, trans. Hugh G. Evelyn-White, 1914.

The story of the birth of the Gods: Orphic Rhapsodic Theogony.

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Dictionary of terms related to ancient Greek mythology: Glossary of Hellenic Mythology.

Introduction to the Thæí (the Gods): The Nature of the Gods.

How do we know there are Gods? Experiencing Gods.

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The story of the birth of the Gods: Orphic Rhapsodic Theogony.

We know the various qualities and characteristics of the Gods based on metaphorical stories: Mythology.

Dictionary of terms related to ancient Greek mythology: Glossary of Hellenic Mythology.

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