Divine Twins of Sparta.

A couple of weeks ago we got a really cool treat:A visit to Taygetus, the majestic mountain range, which looms over the city of Sparta!( zoom in the photo, behind the last hill to the left...This is Spaaarta)
Taygetus is a very masculine mountain with a very feminine heart full of forests, deep ravines, rivers and caves. Dozens of beautiful villages dot the slopes of the range and spread down to the fertile valley of river Eurotas.

Our destination was Kastori, on the Northwestern part of the 150 Km long range. The village got it's name from the river Kastor, which flows a couple of steps from the last row of houses.
Somewhere under the peaks of Taygetus- the Homeric literature claims- the Divine Twins were born from a swan's egg!
Kastor and Polydefkis or, as the Romans made them known, Castor and Pollux, protectors of Sparta, credited for teaching humans how to tame and ride horses, wrestle and fight. They marched at the forefront of the Spartan army to battle in the form of "docana", twin poles connected by a wooden X. This was the "war flag" of Sparta.
"White horse Riders" they were named and "Sons of Zeus-Dioscuri" ,although technically only one of the two was divine.

Da Vinci loved the myth and painted Leda the swan and the babies in  lots of variations.
in this painting the swan is black and the babies are four.
The myth of their birth is a very interesting one. It all started with (yet another) mortal lady of exceptional beauty catching the eye of the most notorious philanderer of all gods, Zeus.
Her name was Leda and she was married to the King of Sparta, Tyndareos. Zeus-in another of his ingenious transformations-approached her as a beautiful swan and mated with her. The same day, Leda had sex with her husband and after 9 months she gave birth to two eggs. From the first egg the mortal Castor was born, son of the King of Sparta. From the other emerged divine Pollux, son of Zeus.
Some sources claim that from the same eggs two baby girls, both destined to cause trouble, came into this world: Helen, whose beauty started the Trojan war and Clytemnestra ,who married and murdered the King of Mycenae, Agamemnon.

It is amazing how many famous artists from antiquity to our times, have been captivated by the myth.
Here Dali's wife and muse as Leda.
Back to the twin brothers. Castor and Pollux grew up as close as two brothers can be. They were inseparable in everything. They became famous horsemen and wrestlers, they excelled in hunting wild beasts, but they also protected anyone in any kind of trouble. Both "Dioscouri" took part in the Argonaut adventures, bringing to Sparta wealth and fame. They even dared to wage war against the king of Athens, Theseus, who had kidnapped their sister,Helen,long before Paris of Troy came into the picture.

Then one day, while ambushing their enemies inside a huge oak tree, Castor was killed. In fact, he died by a lance one of his enemies threw, which impaled him inside the tree. 
Crushed, Pollux asked his divine father for a favor: He would share his immortality with Castor. Zeus agreed. Since then, both brothers spent one day in the Underworld and on top of mount Olympus with the other gods, always together.

Castor and Pollux capturing the robot Talos on the shores of Crete.
In very ancient times, Dioscouri had been underworld deities, worshiped at a small hill near Sparta. Very quickly they became gods of light, valor,compassion,virtue and courage. They acquired a celestial role as well. They became twin stars-the constellation of Gemini- and saviors of anyone in need or in danger. Strangely enough- as Sparta never had any significant naval force-they also had the "duty" to save sailors from the rough seas, appearing as fires (St.Elmo's fire) near the horizon.
Their symbols were their round hats-the half of the swan's egg- with a star on top. Also a wreath made from palm tree leaves and an urn wraped around by snakes. The ancients sacrifised white sheep in their honor and considered white horses to be the Dioscouri sacred animals.

The divine twins had been worshipped all over the Greek world, including Southern Italy. Romans fell deeply in love with the Spartan brothers,dedicating various temples and spreading their cult even further. But it seems the Celts already knew the twins! According to Diodorus of Sicily, Dioscouri were revered by the Celts of western Galatia and an altar discovered in Paris shows them among other Celtic deities!!!