Castor and Polydeuces

Castor and Polydeuces (beaver and much sweet wine) In Greek mythology, twin brothers, sons of Leda and Tyndareus; often called Dioscuri (sons of Zeus); brothers of Phoebe, Philonoe, Timanda, and Clytemnestra; half brothers of Helen. The myths of Castor and Polydeuces (called Pollux in Latin) vary. In Homer, they are said to be the sons of Leda and King Tyndareos and are called Tyndaridae (sons of Tyndareos). They died sometime between the rape of Helen and the Trojan War and were buried in Lacedaemon. But even in death they were said to live because Zeus, the king of the gods, honored them. Thus, it was believed that they lived and died on alternate days—the day Castor was on earth, Pollydeuces was in the underworld. Their positions were reversed the following day. In a later variant myth only Polydeuces is said to be a son of Zeus. Polydeuces was born after Zeus, disguised as a swan, raped Leda. In the later account they freed their sister Helen, whom Theseus had abducted. They also took part in the Argonauts’ search for the Golden Fleece. Castor, in the later myth, died in a contest with Idas and Lynceus, the sons of their paternal uncle Aphareus. The fight arose in a quarrel over some cattle that Castor and Polydeuces had carried off. In a variant myth, the quarrel was about the rape by Castor and Polydeuces of two daughters of another uncle, Leucippus, who were betrothed to the sons of Aphareus. When Castor died, Polydeuces, the immortal one of the pair, prayed to Zeus to let him die also. Zeus permitted Polydeuces to spend one day among the gods, the other in the underworld with his beloved brother. According to another variant myth, Zeus rewarded the two for their brotherly love by placing them in the heavens as the constellation Gemini (the twins). They never appear together; when one rises, the other sets. The sun enters the constellation 21 May. The pair was worshipped at Sparta and Olympia, along with Heracles and other heroes. At Athens they were honored as gods under the title Anakes (lords or protectors). They were also regarded as gods of the sea. When sailors saw a flame at the masthead of a vessel, they believed Castor and Polydeuces were present. White lambs were sacrificed to the two. Roman cult also honored Castor and Polydeuces. A temple was built in their honor in the Roman Forum in 484 b.c.e. in honor of their help during the battle of Lake Regillus 12 years earlier. Macaulay’s Lays of Ancient Rome tells of the battle. On 15 July Roman equites (cavalry divisions) passed in solemn review in honor of the battle. Castor’s and Pollux’s images were found on the oldest Roman coins. They were also regarded as patrons of horses, their horses being Xanthus (Yellow) and Cyllarus. They are cited in Vergil’s Aeneid (book 6), Ovid’s Metamorphoses (book 6), Euripides’ Helen, the Homeric Hymns, and Spenser’s “Prothalamion.” In the New Testament (Acts 28:11) Saint Paul sails from Malta in a ship “whose sign was Castor and Pollux.” They are the subject of Rameau’s opera Castor et Pollux.


Encyclopedia of World Mythology and Legend, Third Edition – Written by Anthony S. Mercatante & James R. Dow Copyright © 2009 by Anthony S. Mercatante