Castor and Pollux Statues - Rome City Hall
Castor and Pollux Cult in Greco-Roman Culture: Flamininus at the Temple of the Dioscuri
Roman and Spartan Virtue
Roman general and Proconsul Titus Quinctius Flamininus, after his victory at Cynoscephalae (Dogs head) against Phillip V of Macedon in 197 BCE, liberating Greece with the aid of his Aetolian allies, went to Delphi, to the temple of the Tyndaridae. There, according to Plutarch, he dedicated silver bucklers and his own war shield, having the inscription made stating “O ye sons of Zeus, whose joy is in swift horsemanship, O ye Tyndaridae, princes of Sparta, Titus, a descendant of Aeneas, has brought you a most excellent gift, he who for the sons of the Greeks wrought freedom.” Why would he upon this great victory honor the twins, Castor and Pollux or the Dioscuri as they were called collectively, not part of the major Greek or Roman big twelves pantheon, gods who according to myth traded places between Olympus with the Gods and in the Underworld with Hades? It is my intention to explore some of the significance of the Cult of Castor and Pollux in Roman and Greek culture. I shall be focusing one the period when Greece became part of the emerging Roman Republican Empire in the second and third centuries BCE.
Flamininus’s Roman and allied Greek forces vs Phillip V of Macedon and his allies at Cynoscephalae.
The example of Flamininus, celebrating the Tyndairdae (sons of Tyndareus) and the reference to Sparta is because that is the particularly Spartan name for the Greek Dioscuri (sons of Zeus) or in Latin Castores, has much to do with the politics of the time and that place, in which they symbolized more than other deities. There was nothing unusual about that mixing of religion and state among the Romans or the Greeks. Delphi was the center of the oracle of Apollo, and visitors from around the ancient world would go there for advice. This had great propaganda value for the Romans in promoting their role as the champions of liberty and peace as well as touting Flaminius’s own horn. The golden wreath placed at the temple of Apollo attests to this. “This will fitly lie on thine ambrosial locks, O son of Leto, this wreath with sheen of gold; it is the gift of the great leader of the children of Aeneas. Therefore, O Far-darter, bestow upon the god-like Titus the glory due to his prowess.”
Copyright : emicristea
The temple of Apollo at Delphi, Greece
Why though the Tyndairdae or Dioscuri? There is a dual meaning to the Dioscuri as they were both the guardian spirits of Sparta who were embodied in the form of the dual kings of the city state, and they were also heroic representatives of the victory of the Republican Rome over its last kings. An examination of the role of the Dioscuri in Sparta shows that in mythology Castor and Pollux or Polydeuces as he was known to the Greeks, were both sons of Leda wife of Tyndareus ruler of Sparta before the Trojan War, hence the name Tyndairdae. Castor is traditionally the human son of Tyndareus and the Pollux the son of Zeus when he came to Leda as a swan. Sometimes their sisters including Helen were suspected as being children of Zeus and Leda.
Wikimedia Commons. ‘Leda and the Swan’ after Leonardo da Vinci
One egg contained the Dioscuri, Polydeuces being the immortal son of Zeus and Castor the mortal son of Tyndareus. From the other hatched Helen, and her sister Clytemnestra was the daughter of Tyndareus.
There are interesting symbols and myths associated with the twins. The caps, they are frequently shown wearing, called piloi, represent the cosmic egg from which they hatched, symbol of the heavens and the earth. Their alternation of heaven and earth, day and night, became identified as the personifications of eternity or the “everlastingness of the renovatio temporum” They were worshiped as savior gods in Ptolemaic Egypt where they shared a temple with the royal family’s divinities Philadelphus and Euergetes. These were the defied kings of Ptolemaic Egypt, and Theocritus a royally sponsored poet, wrote about the Dioscuri in his poetic “Idylls (eidyllia ‘little pictures’)” with a sophisticated court audience in mind, playing on their nostalgia for a more bucolic time, a term that is attributed to him boukolikos, meaning ‘about cowherds’. He was in Alexandria during this period of very deliberate syncretism on the part of the Ptolemy’s. Theocritus wrote his Idyll on the Dioscuri describing Castor’s death as being avenged by his father, Zeus crying “Ah! ‘tis no child’s-play to fight with the sons of Tyndareus; they prevail even as he that begat them prevaileth” This indicates that a cult of salvation may be associated with the Dioscuri. Perhaps this is a syncretic Egyptian practice attached to the Greek heroes. Kennell writes that the association with the Dioscuri goes back to the ancient Indo-European tradition of the Divine Twins, a tradition that he feels the conservative Spartans maintained in their tripartite distinction of the three social classes of “priest and kings, warrior and herder-cultivators” This ancient traditional division appears to have also been the basis of the caste system of the Aryan invaders of India.
ASHVINS or Ashwins, are the divine twin Vedic gods of the morning. They are horsemen who are known for their goodwill towards humans
This conservatism of the Spartans would have been very attractive and familiar to traditional Romans. If one follows the logic of the ancient traditions of the twins, the Romans may not have been adopting the Dioscuri so much as interpreting their own twin myths, reflected in the story of Romulus and Remus and associating the Greek twins with their own proto-Latin version from the time before the Indo-Europeans split. In the Indo-Iranian tradition the Divine Twins are often represented as horses. The Dioscuri in Quintilian’s version of the Simonides story, see below, were on “horseback (equis advecti).” As great horsemen it would seem strange that the hoplite Spartans, who had had little or no cavalry for centuries, would be so fond of hippes (cavalry) such as the Dioscuri represented. Roman knights or equites also may have seemed to be irrelevant in a world where the phalanx and the legion dominated, they also held the Dioscuri to be special protectors. Cavalry was the domain of the wealthy who could afford the upkeep of horses, but in the sense that they reflect ancient traditions from the steppe cultural past, which for the Romans and Spartans would have survived in the myths of the horse riding twins Castor and Pollux. In reality the Spartans had ended the use of cavalry at the time of the Second Messenian War about 630 BCE. At that time they “enacted egalitarian reforms eliminating obvious signs of wealth and establishing compulsory training for males as hoplites including the elimination of cavalry.” There seems to be an element of the early class divisions on the part of those who held the Dioscuri special.
Rider BM B1 wikimedia.org
A Laconian black-figured cup by Rider Painter featuring a member of the hippeus.
Rider with birds and a winged figure, perhaps Nike (Victory). Lakonian black-figured kylix, ca. 550–530 BC.
Pindar captures much of the qualities admired in the Spartans and the divine mirror of their self-image in the Nemean Odes [odes that would celebrate athletes in the Nemean Games], “For Theaeus of Argos Wrestling (?)444 B. C.” captures in these verses much of the essential knowledge we have about the cult of the Dioscuri:
But since Castor and his brother Polydeuces came to Pamphaës to receive a hospitable welcome, it is no wonder that it is innate in their race to be good athletes; since the Dioscuri, guardians of spacious Sparta, along with Hermes and Heracles, administer the flourishing institution of the games, and they care very much for just men. Indeed, the race of the gods is trustworthy.
There are several critical things mentioned in this poem, one they are masters of games where in Sparta as the guardians and favorite sons born just outside of town in Therapne, which according to archeological evidence is one of the oldest Bronze Age ruins, older than any on the site of Sparta proper. It was there that, as Michael Grant notes, “a sanctuary on three platforms, the Menelaion, from c.725: here the old Mycenaean nature goddess was resuscitated in the form of Helen, while the helpers of the goddess reappeared in the guise of her divine brothers the Dioscuri.” This harkens back to the idea of the original divine twins of the Indo-Europeans. They also represented the domination of the natural order of things, that of the just men.
Detail of one of the Dioskouroi twins battling a Gigante in a painting of the Gigantomakhia (War of the Giants). The demi-god is depicted as a horseman wearing a petasos (traveller’s cap). His brother is also shown in the same painting (see image below).
Museum Collection: Musée du Louvre, Paris, France Attributed to the the Suessula Painter ca 400 - 390 BC
These heroes engaged in adventures like Hercules. In one tale they captured Athens, with the aid of the Lacedaemonians and Arcadians, in order to bring back their sister Helen when she was kidnapped by Theseus. The tradition of defending familial and Spartan rights would provide some of the background justification for Spartan self-image as upholding the old traditions of virtue, similar to that of the Romans. The Dioscuri are seen as the equals of Hermes and Heracles which may say something of their importance as personal interveners for humans between the Earth and the heavens. This relationship is built in their mythology as Pindar continues in the next verse:
Changing places in alternation, the Dioscuri spend one day beside their dear father Zeus, and the other beneath the depths of the earth in the hollows of Therapne, each fulfilling an equal destiny, since Polydeuces [Greek version of Pollux] preferred this life to being wholly a god and living in heaven, when Castor was killed in battle. 
Spartan Girls Challenging Boys 1862 by Edgar Degas
Among the Spartans the Dioscuri were major divinities. The youth who were undergoing the famously rigorous training called the agōgē. This was referred to above, as the compulsory military training, but it was more than that, it was a way of life for the elite youth of Sparta, supported by slaves and peasantry, they focused on the traditional role of huntsman and warrior. It was a tradition that had gone back to the beginning of Sparta periodically had been ended by reformers and then brought back as a return to the ways of Lycurgus the mythical reformer who established the traditions of Sparta. Kennell says “Castor and Pollux epitomized young manhood in Spartan eyes.” They were great hunters with Castor being attributed to having been the Spartan hound the Castorian. They were the inventors of the armed dances the youth would perform in their ritual training and they were the enforcers of fair play and were the great warriors to whose tune the “kastoreian melos,” the Spartans would march off to war. Youth would sacrifice puppies to the war god at the temple of the Dioscuri in Sparta even into the Roman period. This was observed by Pausanius who describes the quaint customs of the noble Spartans. He was a Roman tourist of the Second Century CE.
Dog Sacrifices in Ancient Greece. From Attalus Museum
Spartan greatness intertwined with the Dioscuri is shown in a poem fragment attributed to Simonides in which he calls writes an elegy to the Spartan victors in the battle of Plataea against the Persians in 479 BCE. When one thinks of the Dioscuri the association with Sparta seems to have been common in the Greco-Roman world:
…Muse, as an ally to me, (if indeed) you do care for men who are praying.
(Deck out) also this (ornament, sweet to the mind, of my song), so that some-
one (may remember) . . . (of men), who (for) Sparta . . . the day of slavery . . .
(nor did they forget excellence) . . . high-as-heaven . . . (and the fame of ) these
men (will be) immortal . . . having left (the Eurotas) and the city (of Sparta) . . .
with the horse-taming sons of Zeus, (the Tyndarid) heroes and with wide-rul-
ing Menelaus . . . leaders of the city (of their fathers) . .
The Dioscuri were protectors not only of horsemen and warrior, they has a special regard for poets as well. Cicero in De Oratore describes a banquet where Simonides chants a lyric poem long on praises for Castor and Pollux. The host, a certain Scopas ridiculed the length of the panegyric to those patrons of poetry by only paying Simonides half of what he was due, telling him to claim the rest from the Dioscuri. Moments later Simonides was called outside where there were two young men waiting. Once outside nobody was found. The house collapsed burying all within. Simonides used his memory of where they sat, to identify the dead. He was called father of mnemonics after that as he used the experience to develop memory techniques.
Castor and Pollux saving Simonides from the collapsing building
Flamininus had multiple reasons to be worshiping at the temple of the Dioscuri. He was about to embark on a war with Nabis, described by Plutarch as the “most pernicious and lawless tyrant of Sparta,” . The special aid of the Dioscuri was important to the Romans as well as the Spartans. Rome also had a relationship with the Castores or Dioscuri, who according to legend saved the Romans at the battle of Lake Regillus, Aulus Postumius Albus Regillensis, then dictator of Rome, vowed to the Dioscuri that if they aided him against the Latin forces lead by the aging Tarquin former king of Rome, he would build a temple to them. Remnants of the temple which was built in approximately 495 BCE, and rebuilt several times since, exist to this day in the Roman forum. The temple was the site of the meetings of the Senate and speeches were given outside on its portico. Under the emperors it became a treasury.
Titus Quinctius Flamininus, 196 BC.
The Dioscuri were to both warrior peoples the Romans and the Spartans models of behavior and it was because of the affinity to these Gods that perhaps Flamininus’s dedication to the temple of the Tyndaridae.in Delphi was not the cynical action of a politician, at least not exclusively and may go a ways in explaining why he let Nabis make peace with Rome in 195 BCE instead of destroying the Spartans as the Achaean League desired. Flamininus announced at the Nemean Games given by Argos what amounted to an amnesty for the Spartans. .
The Romans admired the Spartan traditions and part of that was a mutual admiration of those “horse taming sons of Zeus,” the Dioscuri, who appeared to support Flamininus’s victory over Philip dedicating the shields to their temple in Delphi as a form of sympathetic magic connecting to their support in the Battle of Lake Regillus. Later, in the 160’s BCE, Lucius Aemilus Paullus in his celebration of victory over the Macedonian king Perseus at Pydna had the story spread that the Dioscuri had shown up at the fountain of Jutturna to announce his victory in Rome just as they had for the victory over the ancient kings of Rome centuries before to announce the victory of liberty over tyranny. The Dioscuri were not just protectors of the elite horsemen, warriors and elite poets against insults, but also protectors of freedoms and rights. The Phygian cap has long been associated with liberty, as the egg shell origins of the cap was the result of the mixing of man and god. The cap symbol represents that liberty a natural right of man, and the cult of the Dioscuri was in itself perhaps a reminder of man’s natural liberty.
Image by John Leech, from: The Comic History of Rome by Gilbert Abbott A Beckett. Bradbury, Evans & Co, London, 1850s Flaminius restoring Liberty to Greece at the Isthmian Games
Unfortunately Wordpress does not pick up footnotes and this was written using that system. If you want to read the paper with footnotes you can contact: Garyrumor2@yahoo.com and I will gladly email you a pdf of the original paper.
Roman Republican Coins, T. Quinctius Flaminius, Denarius 126 BC, VF