Study Guide

The Dioscuri (Castor and Pollux) Analysis

  • Context

    The twin brothers, Castor and Pollux (Polydeuces), were super popular figures back in ancient Greece and also in the Roman Empire. The Dioscuri, as they were called, were worshipped all over the place as the patrons of horsemen, athletes, sailors, and warriors. (If you're the patron of that many things, you know you're the cool kid on campus.)

    The twins were so revered by pretty much everybody that they even got their own constellation, Gemini. Most experts agree that the worship of "divin twins" like Castor and Pollux goes way back to the Proto-Indo-European people who most of the peoples of India and...you guessed it...Europe, are descended from.

    Though the Dioscuri don't get some great epic of their own in classical literature, they pop up in works by pretty much everybody who was anybody way back in the day. In Homer's Iliad, Helen looks out from the walls of Troy and wonders where her twin brothers are. Their full story was told as part of the lost epic, the Cypria, which was kind of a prequel to the Iliad, written either by a guy named Stasinus or Hegesias.

    The twins also get their time on stage in Euripides' plays, Helen and Electra. Mega-awesome Roman poet, Ovid, also tells the tale of the Dioscuri in his poem, Fasti. Castor and Pollux also show up in the writings by a long list of other dudes with funny names: Hesiod, Ovid, Pindar, Apollonius Rhodius, Diodorus Siculus, and (our favorite) Valerius Flaccus.

    Don't go thinking that Castor and Pollux have dropped out of the popular imagination either. Recently they've appeared in Hercules (the animated Disney series), Xena: Warrior Princess, Jason and the Argonauts (TV miniseries), Helen of Troy (TV miniseries), and they inspired the names of two brother cameramen in Suzanne Collins's Mockingjay. If that resume doesn't prove to you that the Castor and Pollux are still super stars, then just look up into the sky, where they shine to this day as the constellation, Gemini.

  • Setting

    Sparta

    The Dioscuri's adventures take them to all kinds of places. Whether it be the wild forests of Calydonia to track down that pesky boar, the city of Athens to rescue their sister Helen, or the many far-flung places they travel to with the Argonauts, there's no doubt that C and P are some well traveled guys. The very fact that they've been so many places makes them pretty remarkable for their time.

    Despite the fact that they go so many places, most of the Dioscuri's story is set in and around their home city of Sparta. This city state was one of the main rivals of Athens back in the day, and it's people were known for being strong and militaristic. You can't deny that Castor and Pollux fit belong in their homeland. These guys are tough warriors with no fear in their hearts.

  • The Hero's Journey

    The Hero's Journey is a framework that scholar Joseph Campbell came up with that many myths and stories follow. Many storytellers and story-readers find it a useful way to look at tale. (That's actually putting it lightly. Some people are straight-up obsessed.) Chris Vogler adapted Campbell's 17 stages of a hero's journey, which many screenwriters use while making movies. Vogler condensed Campbell's 17 stages down to 12, which is what we're using. Check out a general explanation of the 12 stages.

    "The Dioscuri" doesn't fit perfectly into the Hero's Journey structure, but we're giving it a shot. As the gross old saying goes, there's more than one way to skin a cat.

    Ordinary World

    The Dioscuri live an awesome life of being awesome heroes. It's awesome. Super awesome. Super super super awesome. Okay, that's enough. You get the picture.

    Call To Adventure

    Adventure calls when Castor and Pollux spot two lovely ladies named Pheobe and Hilaeira.

    Refusal Of The Call

    There's no refusal of the call at all. The twins see the pair of hotties and go right to business.

    Meeting The Mentor

    Yeah, this story skips over this step.

    Crossing The Threshold

    Castor and Pollux thoroughly cross the threshold when they kidnap Pheobe and Hilaeira and force them to be their wives.

    Tests, Allies, Enemies

    The twins definitely make some enemies by taking these ladies, because the girls just so happen to be engaged to the Dioscuri's cousins Lynceus and Idas. Later on, though, Lynceus and Idas seem like buddies because they go cattle rustling with Castor and Pollux. After some disagreements over who gets to keep the herd of cattle, however, Lynceus and Idas definitely become enemies again.

    Approach To The Inmost Cave

    When Lynceus and Idas come to Sparta for a visit, Castor and Pollux sneak off to steal the cattle. We wonder if they really know how much danger they're walking into.

    Ordeal

    Lynceus and Idas catch Castor and Pollux in the act and an awful battle ensues. By the end of it, both Lynceus and Idas are dead, but Castor is mortally wounded.

    Reward

    Pollux begs Zeus to let him share his immortality with his dying mortal brother. The king of the gods rewards his brotherly love by placing them both in the sky as the constellation Gemini.

    The Road Back

    Yeah, we skip over this step, too.

    Resurrection

    Though the brothers aren't returned to life, they are given an eternal life in the heavens, which totally fits this category.

    Return With The Elixir

    The Dioscuri now serve forever as a symbol to all of the power of brotherly love.

  • Proto-Indo-European Twins

    Myths about divine twins similar to the Dioscuri are widely thought go way waaaaaaay back. The Proto-Indo-Europeans, who it's believed the people of modern Europe and India are all descended from, are thought to have worshiped similar deities. Like Castor and Pollux, these super ancient gods were thought of as warrior horsemen and were prayed to for help before battle.

  • Ashvins

    The reason why scholars and anthropologists are so certain that the ancient Proto-Indo-Europeans had Dioscuri-like gods is that divine twins can be found in so many of the cultures descended from them. For example, the Vedic cultures who kicked it what we call India today, had some dudes called the Ashvins. These horse-headed twins are mentioned in the Rigveda, one of Hinduism's most ancient and most sacred Sanskrit texts.

  • Ašvieniai

    More horsey twins can be found in the Baltic region, where many of the older religions included some version of them in their pantheons. The Ašvieniai of Lithuania, who are a whole lot like Ashvins, were mad popular. The Ašvieniai were invoked all the time for protection, and even though the region was thoroughly Christianized a long time ago you can still find their symbol—two horses—painted on the beams of houses and all kinds of other junk.

  • Celtic Dioscuri

    The Celts were a big time tribe in Northern Europe and the British Isles who many people are descended from today. Like all these other folks of Indo-European descent, they also had a version of the Dioscuri, though not much is known about them. We get a mention of them in a book by a Roman dude named Diodorus Siculus in his book Library of History. Check it out:

    "The Keltoi (Celts) who dwell along the ocean venerate the Dioskoroi (Dioscuri) above any of the gods, since they have a tradition handed down from ancient times that these gods appeared among them coming from the ocean."

  • Dioscuri

    The Dioscuri were more than dead mortal heroes back in the day; the twins were seriously popular gods and were worshipped all over the place. Their hometown of Sparta was particularly in love with them, but they were given props all over Greece and eventually became mad popular in the Roman Empire. Like all gods, Castor and Pollux became symbolic of the things they were thought to be patrons of.

    Since they were said to be expert horsemen, they became symbolic of all horsemen, and were prayed to for help in all horse related issues. (Which we're guessing there were a lot of back then.) Because Pollux, especially, was known to be such a great boxer, they were the patrons of all boxers. With their horse skills and boxing skills together, they were prayed to by all athletes in general. You can bet that at any Olympic games or any gymnasium for that matter, there were a whole lot of prayers going up to the Dioscuri.

    The twins were also the patrons of travelers and sailors. For sailors, they were especially important because they were said to cause the phenomenon we call St. Elmo's Fire today. It's when things that are high up gain static electricity before a thunderstorm and start to glow. Back in the day, though, sailors thought this was a sign from the Dioscuri that the ship would weather the storm.

    Castor and Pollux were also patrons of warriors. Soldiers would pray to them in times of war and ask for their favor before a battle. Some say that Spartans used to carry into battle two upright posts joined by a crossbar to represent the Dioscuri. In the Roman Battle of Lake Regillus, the twins were actually said to have appeared and fought at the head of the army, winning the day for the Romans. In honor of them, the Temple of Castor and Pollux was built in the heart of city.