Friday, January 07, 2011

What do Pollux and Romulus have in common?

They both lost a brother. Because Being a Twin? It SUCKS.

Ill-fated twins pop up all over the place, often enough that you'd THINK being born a twin would immediately start people panicking over the future results. Three  Two (Thanks Wendy!) case studies today!

Romulus and Remus
Growing up they were heroes (according to Plutarch) and so honorable that after they helped Numitor (their grandfather) win back his kingdom from his-brother-their-uncle-who-deposed-him, they set off at once so that they wouldn't pose a threat to Numitor's rule. When they began founding their own city, however, the trouble started. Romulus and Remus both had different ideas for how Rome should be built and determined to settle it FAIRLY by letting the gods decide via the number of birds in the sky. Remus saw 6 Vultures. Romulus claimed to have seen 12. Remus, believing his brother had lied, began obstructing the building of the city wall by Romulus's design, and generally made a problem about it. He jumped over the wall, and was struck down, either by Romulus, or by Romulus's friend Celer. Either way, Remus ended up dead.

Tragedy Factor: 4 out of 5 if Romulus committed the murder, 3 out of 5 if his buddy Celer did. If Romulus lied about the vultures, then killed his brother for calling him on it, he's a real piece of work. I'm not sure I'd be too proud of him as a founder of MY city. Remus really got a raw deal.

Castor and Pollux
Absolutely inseparable twins, also known as the Dioscuri, and brothers to Helen of Sparta/Troy. Pollux was a son of Zeus and Castor was a son of Tyndareus (presumably--more on their paternity issues HERE). Castor and Pollux were by all accounts incredible hunters, horsemen, and very admirable men, running about the Greek countryside performing heroic deeds, raiding cattle, and stealing women (in the great tradition of all Greek heroes!), including the rescue of Helen from Theseus's clutches (or something). On one of these expeditions, they were caught in the act of raiding and Castor was killed by a spear. Pollux avenged his brother's death by killing the men who fought them, and then may or may not have been saved from death himself by Zeus-his-father. After this, Zeus offered Pollux the choice of giving Castor half his immortality, or to leave his brother and join the gods on Olympus. Pollux chose to share his immortality, so that he would never be parted from his brother. (can I get an "Awwww!")

Tragedy Factor: No more than a 2. Yeah, it's sad that Castor died, but that's the risk you take when you're stealing other people's livestock! Besides, they got a happy ending. Who can REALLY complain about spending half your time partying together on Olympus, even if the other half is spent in Hades? But see, this is why I do not understand how Theseus didn't get a sweet afterlife offer! I guess only the sons of Zeus get the hook-up to the Olympus after-party.

Any other famous and ill-fated twins that you can think of?


  1. Haha! I got a kick out of the livestock comment.

    And now I'm going to be racking my brain trying to think of other twins. None off the top of my head, but there have to be more out there!

  2. Yeah-- writing this really made me want to put together a short story on Castor and Pollux. I think it'd be a lot of fun.

    any Egyptian twins?!

  3. There's a few Native American creation stories that evolve around two twins--one good, one bad :)

    ALSO, I had this idea floating in my head about a new WiP--and this post totally just gave me that spark of creativity to solidify it. Sadly, can't get working on it haha NOT YET! Must finish #1 first!

  4. Haha! That sounds like sweet torture! I'm glad I could help, kind of?

    Native American stories! Yes! Now that you mention it, I definitely know of them, though I don't know any of the particulars. I'll have to look some up.

  5. Twins *are* fascinating. There's that two halves of a whole/special connection thing going on. I think we all wonder what it would be like to be saddled with that kind of baggage. How can one dismiss what is essentially the other half of oneself, no matter how corrupt?

    You're right, it rarely ends well, either in history or in literature, from Polly and Rom right up through, the twins in Niffenegger's A Fearful Symmetry.

  6. That's definitely what makes the twin-murdered-by-his-own brother so awful. But I'm also kind of surprised that we don't have more instances of special powers attributed to twins in Classical history. Maybe I just haven't dug deeply enough!

  7. Not famous and ill-fated per se, but there are a couple of weird creatures in ye olde medieval bestiary that deal with twins. The callitrix, cericopithicus and satyrus are kinds of apes that supposedly give birth to twins, "of which it will always hate one and love the other." I do not know what that is about but it is interesting!

  8. Fascinating. My sister once had two horses (twins) called Castor and Pollux but that's still one of the few greek myths I never read up on.

    I love these little snippets of great reasearch you post here!

    ps. how were those books? Are you home? Can I send you the parcel now?

  9. Valerie: AWESOME! I will look at those!


    I am home!! The books were great. I was expected Raised By Wolves to be more romance-y than it was, so it was kind of a pleasant surprise. The MC was really pretty fabulous, I thought. A great Strong Female Character. Please feel free to send the parcel! :)

    Castor and Pollux are a lot of fun, I think. They play a pretty solid secondary role in my Helen novel. I love writing Pollux.

  10. The Thompson Twins (the Tintin ones, not the band) and then there's the creepy pair played by Jeremy Irons in Cronenberg's Dead Ringers.

  11. Myths just can't get enough about twins. Gotta love Castor and Pollux.

    Can't forget Heracles and Iphicles or Helen and Clytmenestra. They're supposed to be twins as well.

  12. I forgot all about Heracles and Iphicles! Helen and Clytemnestra I remembered but their fates are not quite so intertwined with one another, I think. At least not as directly/personally.

  13. It's a bit of a shame you went with Plutarch.

    I can't remember who it was atm (Vergil maybe? Actually it may have been one of the scholars who suggested Rome was originally founded by thieves led by Romulus & Remus who needed a safe haven, anyway...),

    There's a great version of events where Remus just kind of shuts up and they establish the boundaries of what was to become their city/village/whatever. There was a custom at the time that you would plough where the walls of the settlement would go as a sort of marker, and once they were in place you were to behave as though the wall as actually there and only come in/out through the gate(s).

    Remus, for whatever reason, decided to disregard this rule, and walk over the lines whenever he very well pleased. After much arguing Romulus bludgeoned him to death with a rock.

    I like that version better, if only because Remus was a gigantic prat who kind of deserved to die.

    Oh wait! I remember who it was now. Livy. Not sure whose version of events came first though. Livy would've been 13 when Plutarch was born, so my guess is Livy got to it first, but I don't know.

    Now I feel like re-reading Ab Urbe Condita.

  14. *sighs* I love Pollux. And I totally agree-- small price to pay to have half your life on Olympus for all eternity.

    And Romulus and Remus, that story always makes me mad. Boo Romulus!! I think he did it.

    So true about twins...I don't want to spoil a book about a certain boy wizard but.....yeah.

    Awesome post as always!! xo

  15. Nick: Funny you should say that-- I just dug into Livy this afternoon. Plutarch talks about the ploughing to indicate the walls, except for where the gates would be, and treating them as sacred, too.

    Di: ha! You are not the first person to mention them in relation to this post :)

  16. Glad you enjoyed the books! I thought exactly the same about Raised By Wolves... suprisingly good!

  17. Glad you enjoyed the books! I thought exactly the same about Raised By Wolves... suprisingly good!

  18. Hey Amalia, I just awarded you the Stylish Blogger Award


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