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Myths of Greece and Rome Narrated with Special Reference to Literature and Art

Page: 127

Castor and Pollux.

The twin brothers Castor and Pollux, the Dioscuri, or Gemini, who had greatly distinguished themselves by their daring in the Calydonian Hunt, were made the deities of boxing, wrestling, and all equestrian exercises.

Leda’s sons I’ll sound,
Illustrious twins, that are
For wrestling this, and for the race renown’d.”
Horace.

[279] One of these twins, Castor, was a mortal, and in a combat with the sons of Aphareus was slain. Pollux, who was immortal, then implored Jupiter to allow him to die also, that he might not be parted from his brother,—a proof of brotherly affection which so touched the father of the gods, that he permitted Castor to return to life on condition that Pollux would spend half his time in Hades.

Later on, satisfied that even this sacrifice was none too great for their fraternal love, he translated them both to the skies, where they form a bright constellation, one of the signs of the zodiac. Castor and Pollux are generally represented as handsome youths, mounted on snowy chargers.

“So like they were, no mortal
Might one from other know:
White as snow their armor was:
Their steeds were white as snow.”
Macaulay.

Their appearance under certain circumstances foretold success in war, and the Romans believed that they fought at the head of their legions at the celebrated battle of Lake Regillus. Their name was also given to meteors, sometimes seen at sea, which attach themselves like balls of fire to the masts of ships,—a sure sign, according to the sailors, of fine weather and an auspicious journey.

“Safe comes the ship to haven,
Through billows and through gales,
If once the Great Twin Brethren
Sit shining on the sails.”
Macaulay.

Festivals celebrated in honor of these twin brethren, and called the Dioscuria, were held in many places, but specially in Sparta, their birthplace, where they had world-renowned wrestling matches.

[280]

CHAPTER XXIV.

ŒDIPUS.

Laius and Jocasta, King and Queen of Thebes, in Bœotia, were greatly delighted at the birth of a little son. In their joy they sent for the priests of Apollo, and bade them foretell the glorious deeds their heir would perform; but all their joy was turned to grief when told that the child was destined to kill his father, marry his mother, and bring great misfortunes upon his native city.

Laius once,
Not from Apollo, but his priests, receiv’d
An oracle, which said, it was decreed
He should be slain by his own son.”
Sophocles (Francklin’s tr.).

To prevent the fulfillment of this dreadful prophecy, Laius bade a servant carry the new-born child out of the city, and end its feeble little life. The king’s mandate was obeyed only in part; for the servant, instead of killing the child, hung it up by its ankles to a tree in a remote place, and left it there to perish from hunger and exposure if it were spared by the wild beasts.


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