After reading a lovely ritual created by John Drury for the Dioskuri (which can be found here) it got me thinking of divine twins in a most generic sense. I have commented before in my book, Crowned with Nine Rays, the interesting link between the Dioskouri and the holy twins Apollon and Artemis that seems to particularly manifest at sea where the Disoskouri act as saviors of ships from sea storms, that seems to unify with the aspects of Apollon and Artemis which are associated with the sea as Apollon is the guide of ships (for which we are told by Herodotus I believe that at Delphi there was a great statue of Apollon which depicted the god with his hand upon the prow of the boat) and as Telchinios, a god of the violent windstorms…especially in regards to the sea. Likewise Artemis too is connected with the sea largely as Soteira, savior. The connection can also be extended in that the constellation Gemini is linked both to the Dioskouri and to Apollon as per altars that have been found with constellation assignments for the gods.
But there are three sets of twins in all that are really meaningful to me, and yet have a very different role I think. First, in some versions Zeus and Hera are also described as twins, and act therefore quite logically as the king and queen of heaven in representation of the creative principles in the cosmos. Therefore their being twins shows them to be essentially of the equal parts of the cosmos that come together for creation…the ultimate union of male to female balanced. Then you have Apollon and Artemis who arrive from the womb of Leto…as per their mythic relationship (as in hellenic myth they don’t become married or lovers of any kind) they end up not representing the creative unity (though the potential is certainly there upon which there has been play on the idea of some tender feeling. Instead, they represent the harmonic energies together that manifest differently but are of a common source, which also manifests in the intimate link between their domains which feeds that of the other. They are unified and extensions of each other’s domains. And that brings me to the third set of twins, the Dioskouri.
The Dioskouri are an interesting case because at the beginning we see something similar to the Apollon-Artemis relationship because in the egg of Leda the two divine children are not the brothers, but rather a male and female twin. I sometimes get the boys confused, but I believe the son of Zeus was Castor the horseman, which again is not unlike the images of Apollon as the charioteer which is a fun coincidence in imagery, and his sister Helene whose name refers to the basket which has many mystical applications that are not altogether foreign to Artemis as the kiste box is held by Artemis as Despoina (via the interpretation in which Artemis is the daughter of Demeter and Poseidon in Eleusis and quite likely widespread as containing an important symbolic image) and the basket of Dionysos associated with the cult of Artemis in Claria in Ionia…just another interesting coincidence, but my point is that these twins of Zeus and Leda are not unlike those born of Leto, the similarities between the names of the lady having also been remarked upon by scholars in articles I have read. But this is where the similarity ends. It looks like the beginning is an echoe of Apollon and Artemis, but the end result is quite different as Helene and Castor are not deified pair. Instead we have the Dioskouri, the sons of Zeus in which the son of Zeus Castor, and his twin brother of a different sire (as there were four infants in the egg, one male and female set fathered by Leda’s husband, and the other set by Zeus). So we end up with twin brothers..one mortal and one already semi-divine being joined together in their divinity. Unlike the twin pairs of Zeus-Hera, and Apollon-Artemis, this pair isn’t associated with cosmic principles, but rather on the relationship of the brothers and the heroic journey. Like most hero myths they represent the semi-divine hero who arises to divinity through living a heroic life that they accomplished through the strength of their love for each other that neither brother would part with the other.
I would hazzard to stretch a bit here and say that their brotherly love probably had a great deal to do with Spartan social structure, and may have even represented a kind of higher statused brother giving support and love to his brother of lower status (ie through the symbolism of one brother being semi-divine and the other not which could have been understandable in a system in which older males paired with younger males in a supportive structure) in which benefits the development of the lower statused brother and eventually draws him up into an equal status. Co-influence at work. I could easily imagine that the Gymnopaidia, a festival which largely honored Apollon and Artemis to a slight degree from what I have seen, would have been an appropriate ground to also honor the Dioskouri…something which I believe I remembered to mention in that particular chapter in my book that one could, and should, pay homage to these twins too during this festival.
Meanwhile Helene and Menelaus become deified..the latter through his wife I imagine much akin to Cadmus and his divine wife Harmonia. But this is rather seperate from the divine twin roles as her deification is largely independent of the Dioskouri, though they have played a part in her development as a kind of guardian figure. In any case the imagery of divine twins is one which is quite interesting in Hellenic myth and religion and quite likely has many ways that one can look at it…this is just mine 🙂