Castor and Pollux: The Twins that Shared Immortality

Castor and his twin brother Pollux were considered to be demigods in Greek mythology. Their deaths and shared immortality have resulted in the fact that they are closely related to what we today know as the Gemini constellation. Actually, they are the very representation of it.

Who Were Castor and Pollux?

Castor and Pollux are figures from Greek and also Roman mythology, often referred to as the Dioscuri. They were twin brothers, known for their exceptional bond and various adventures.

The twins had different fathers due to a divine encounter between Leda and Zeus. Castor and Pollux were born from two eggs – Castor from an egg laid by Leda and Pollux from an egg laid by Leda while she was visited by Zeus in the form of a swan. This dual paternity was a significant part of their mythological significance.

One of their most famous stories involves the “rescue of Helen.” Helen, also known as Helen of Troy, was their half-sister. When Helen was abducted by Theseus, the twins played a crucial role in her rescue. They also took part in the Calydonian Boar Hunt and the Argonauts’ quest for the Golden Fleece.
Castor and Pollux were considered protectors of sailors and were often called upon for help during sea voyages. They were associated with the constellation Gemini, which represents the twins.

Their close bond was so strong that when Castor was killed in battle, Pollux was devastated. In some versions of the myth, Pollux’s grief and love for his brother were so intense that he asked Zeus to let him share his immortality with Castor. Zeus granted this request and placed them both in the heavens as the constellation Gemini, representing their eternal brotherly love.

READ MORE: Zeus Family Tree: The Family Tree of the King of the Gods

What is the Story of Castor and Pollux?

Still, the exact answer to what the story is of Pollux and Castor is a question that nobody really knows the answer to. There are many versions. That doesn’t make them special, at least not in Greek mythology.

To start, Castor and Pollux were twin brothers with the same mother, Leda. In Greek mythology, Leda was a princess who eventually became a Spartan queen. She became a queen by marrying the ruler of Sparta, King Tyndareus. But, her beautiful black hair and snowy skin made her an astonishing appearance, something which was noted by any ancient Greek god. Indeed, even Zeus, who was peacefully living his life on Mount Olympus, fell for her.

When Queen Leda was walking along the Eurotas River on a sunny morning, she noticed a beautiful white swan. But, as soon as she noticed the swan, it was attacked by an eagle. She saw that it had trouble escaping the attack of the eagle, so Leda decided to help him. After saving him, the swan managed to seduce Leda with its appearance.

How does one get seduced by a swan? Well, it turned out to be Zeus himself, transformed into the beautiful swan.

The Birth of Castor and Pollux

This interaction laid the foundation for the birth of two boys named Castor and Pollux. Zeus and Leda shared a bed together on the day that they met. But, the same night her husband King Tyndareus also shared a bed with her. The two interactions resulted in a pregnancy that would birth four children.

Because Queen Leda was seduced by a swan, the story goes that the four children were given birth out of an egg. The four children born to Leda were Castor and Pollux, and their twin sisters Helen and Clytemnestra. However, not all children could call the god of thunder, Zeus, their father.

Castor and Clytemnestra are believed to be the children of King Tyndareus of Sparta. On the other hand, Pollux and Helen are believed to be the offsprings of Zeus. This means that Castor and Pollux should be seen as half brothers. Still, they were inseparable from birth onwards.

Mortals and Immortals

Another version of the story tells that Leda only slept with Zeus that day so there was only one child born out of the pregnancy. This child would become known as Pollux. Since Pollux was the son of Zeus, he is regarded to be immortal.

On the other hand, Castor was born after another pregnancy. He was begotten by King Tyndareos, which meant that Castor is seen as a mortal man.

Although this version of the story is a bit different, the mortal and immortal characteristics of Castor and Pollux are still loosely applied throughout their appearances in Greek mythology. Indeed, the timeline and content of their stories are somewhat elastic. The differences in mortality are, too, central to this version of the story.

How to Refer to Castor and Pollux

In ancient Greece, many languages were spoken. Because of the interactions between Latin, Greek, and dialects such as Attic and Ionic, Aeolic, Arcadocypriot, and Doric, the ways in which people refer to the twins changed over time.

Diving a bit more into the origin of their names, the two half-brothers were originally called Kastor and Polydeukes. But, due to the changes in language use, Kastor and Polydeukes eventually became known as Castor and Pollux.

They are also referred to as a pair because they are generally perceived as inseparable. As a pair, the ancient Greeks referred to them as Dioskouroi, meaning ‘youths of Zeus’. Nowadays, this name is molded into Dioscuri.

Clearly, this directly refers to the twin sons of Leda both being related to Zeus. Although this might be somewhat the case, the paternity over the twins is still contested. Therefore, another name that is used to refer to Castor and Pollux is Tyndaridae, referring to Tyndareus, the king of Sparta.

Castor and Pollux in Greek and Roman Mythology

During their upbringing, the twin brothers developed a range of attributes that were associated with Greek heroes. More specifically, Castor became famous for his skill with horses. On the other hand, Pollux became highly regarded for his fighting as an unrivaled boxer. A wise choice for the mortal Castor, a wise choice for the immortal Pollux.

There are some instances that are important for the story of Castor and Pollux. Particularly three! Due to these three stories, the brothers became known as the patron gods of sailing and horsemanship.

The Abduction of Helen

Firstly, Castor and Pollux play a central role in the abduction of their sister, Helen. The abduction was done by Theseus and his best friend, Pirithous. Since the wife of Theseus died, and Pirithous was already a widow, they decided to get themselves a new wife. Because they were pretty high on themselves, they chose no other than the daughter of Zeus, Helen.

Pirithous and Theseus headed to Sparta, where the sister of Castor and Pollux would reside at that point. They took Helen out of Sparta and brought her back to Aphidnae, home to the two abductors. Castor and Pollux couldn’t let this happen, so they decided to lead a Spartan army to Attica, the province where Aphidnae is located.

Because of their demigod attributes, the Dioscuri would easily take Athens. Well, it helped that Theseus wasn’t present at their time of arrival, he was wandering around in the underworld.

Either way, it resulted in the fact that they could take back their sister Helen. Also, they took Theseus’ mother Aethra in retribution. Aethra became Helen’s maid but was eventually set free during the Trojan War by the sons of Theseus.

Too Young to Fight?

Although they succeeded in rescuing Helen, there is one pretty big oddity to the story.

Some say that Helen was still very young, namely between seven and ten at the time of the abduction by Theseus. Helen was born out of the same pregnancy as Castor and Pollux, which would mean that her two saviors would be of the same age. Pretty young to invade the ancient Greek capital and abduct someone’s mother. At least, by modern standards.

Jason and the Argonauts

Besides rescuing their sister, Castor and Pollux are known as two important figures in the story of the Golden Fleece. More famously, this story is referred to as the story of Jason and the Argonauts. The story is about Jason, the son of Aeson, king of Iolcos in Thessaly.

A relative of his father seized Iolcos and Jason was determined to take it back, but he was told he could only regain the power of Iolcos if he would take the Golden Fleece from Colchis to Iolcus.

The fleece had to be stolen from Aeëtes, the king of Colchis and it was a fleece of a flying, winged ram named Crius Chrysomallos.

Stealing from a king might be hard enough, but considering it is a valuable piece also means it’s well-guarded. In order to bring the fleece back to Iolcos and claim his throne, Jason gathered an army of heroes.

The Role of Castor and Pollux

Two of the heroes, or Argonauts, were Castor and Pollux. In this story, the two brothers were very helpful to the fleet that came to take the Golden Fleece. More specifically, Pollux is noted for having bested the King of Bebryces during a boxing match, which allowed the group to exit the kingdom of Bebryces.

Other than that, Castor and Pollux were noted for their seamanship. The fleet would get into several situations which could have a deadly ending, particularly due to bad storms.

Because the twins excelled over the other argonauts in their seamanship, the two brothers would be anointed with stars on their heads. The stars indicated that they are the guardian angels for other sailors.

Not only would they become known as guardian angels, but they would also become known as the embodiment of St. Elmo’s fire. St. Elmo’s fire is an actual natural phenomenon. It is a glowing starlike mass of material that could appear after a storm at sea. Some saw the fire as a dead comrade who had returned to warn of danger ahead, affirming the guardian status of Castor and Pollux.

Calydonian Boar Hunt

Another event that cemented the legacy of the two brothers was the Calydonian boar hunt, albeit less impressive than their role as Argonauts. The Calydonian boar is known as a monster in Greek mythology, and many great male heroes had to come together to kill it. It had to be killed because it was on a warpath, trying to destroy the whole of the Greek region Calydon.

Castor and Pollux were among the heroes that helped with the difficult task of defeating the monster. Although they had a definite part to play, the actual killing of the monster has to be attributed to Meleager with the assistance of Atlanta.

Who Killed Castor and Pollux?

Every good hero story must eventually come to an end, and so was the case with Castor and Pollux. Their death would be initiated with what seemed to be a valid partnership.

Is Stealing Cattle Ever a Good Idea?

Castor and Pollux wanted to eat, so they decided to pair up with Idas and Lynceus, two Messenian brothers. Together, they went on a cattle raid in the Arcadia region in Greece. They agreed that Idas could divide the cattle that they were able to steal. But, Idas wasn’t as trustworthy as the Dioscuri imagined him to be.

Idas cut a cow in four pieces, proposing that one-half of the loot was given to the person who first ate his share. The other half of the loot was given to the one who finished his share secondly.

Before Castor and Pollux were able to realize what the actual proposal was, Idas had swallowed his share and Lynceus had done the same. Indeed, they went to capture the cattle together but ended up with empty hands.

Abduction, Marriage, and Death

It could potentially be interpreted as retribution, but Castor and Pollux decided to marry two women that were promised to Idas and Lynceus. They were the two beautiful daughters of Leucippus and went by the name of Phoebe and Hilaeira. Idas and Lynceus obviously didn’t accept this, so they took arms and searched for Castor and Pollux to fight them.

The two sets of brothers found each other and a fight broke out. In the battle, Castor killed Lynceus. His brother Idas became instantly depressed and forgot about the fight or the brides for that matter. He took the dead body of Lynceus and started to create a monument for him. However, Castor wasn’t done. He intervened and tried to prevent the raising of the monument.

Idas was furious, piercing the thigh of Castor with his own sword. Castor died, infuriating Pollux. Pollux rushed to the crime scene and killed Idas in a single fight. Only Pollux would remain alive from the original gang that stole the cattle. As an immortal, this should come as no surprise.

But of course, Pollux couldn’t live without his brother. Since his father was a god, the immortal brother asked him if he could die too to be with Castor. Indeed, he wanted to give up his own immortality to be with his mortal brother.

But, Zeus offered him a different solution. He offered that the twins shared immortality, meaning that they would switch between the gods on Mount Olympus and among the mortals in the underworld. So according to the myth, Pollux was giving half of his immortality to Castor.

Pollux, Castor, and the Constellation Gemini 

It is believed by some that as a reward for their superhuman love, Pollux and his brother were placed among the stars as the constellation Gemini.

The Gemini constellation consists of two rows of stars, with the two brightest stars at the top of each line. The bright stars represent the heads of Castor and Pollux. The two brothers are literally side by side, indicating their thorough interconnectedness.

Yin and Yang, Castor and Pollux?

The two brothers as shown in the constellation Gemini is, thus, a big indicator of how inseparable they were. But, there are more references to their inseparability.

For starters, they are often referred to as the evening star and the morning star. The dusk and the dawn, the day and the night, or the sun and the moon are all seen as things that Castor and Pollux embody. Indeed, what is the day without a night? What is the sun without a moon? They are all necessarily dependent on each other.

In the same sense, the twin stars that are known in the West as the constellation Gemini are seen in China as part of the Yin and Yang. Especially the bright stars that are identified as the heads of Castor and Pollux are related to Yin and Yang.

Although there are many Chinese gods, the concept of Yin and Yang is normally the first thing people think of when we talk about Chinese spirituality. This, too, might say something about the importance of the Dioscuri.

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