As a father of twins I am interested in the folklore and mythology of twins and strongly believe that the stories of the past can help to inform and to prepare ourselves as parents. The archetype of the twin, or divine dyad, has been recognised by Carl Jung as one of the central archetypes encountered on the road to individuation; twinhood represents the unification of the shadow and the ego in that process of becoming the person you were truly meant to be. In Greek mythology the figures of Castor and Pollux cast light on the divine and earthly qualities and corresponds with the widely held belief of ancient civilisations that one twin is supernatural.
Castor and Pollux were born of Leda, the wife of Tyndareus, along with another twin pair, Helen of Troy and Clytemnestra. Leda, whilst pregnant by her husband, was visited by Zeus disguised as a swan and their consummation resulted in two eggs being fertilised. Castor and Clytemnestra are usually recognised as the mortal offspring of Tyndareus, whilst Pollux and Helen are consistently considered to be the children of Zeus. Castor and Pollux, collectively known as the Dioscuri, were jointly involved in numerous adventures, they were excellent horsemen and became crew member of the Argonaut, the ship captained by Jason. Pollux is recorded as defeating the King Amycus in a boxing match and both of the brothers were combatants in the devestation of the city of Iolcus. They were also involved in the rescue of their sister Helen from Theseus. Such was the love that the two brothers had for each other that when Castor was dying, following the dispute with their cousins, Zeus offered Pollux the chance to forego his immortality and an eternity on Mount Olympus in favour of sharing his immortality with Castor. Pollux, unable to separate from his twin, opted to spend eternity with Castor alternating between the heavens and Hades. The two became motifs of brotherly love and of the struggle between death and eternal life. Homer speaks of them living each on alternate days.
"Homer's hymn to Castor and Pollux" (1818) by Percy Byshe Shelley, describes both the twins provenance and their celestial connection to sailing and sailors.
Ye wild eyed muses, sing the twins of Jove,
Whom the fair ankled Leda, mixed in love
With mighty Saturn's Heaven obscuring child,
On Taygetus, that lofty mountain wild,
Brought forth in joy: mild pollux, void of blame
And steed subduing Castor, heirs of fame
These are the Powers who earth-born mortals save
And ships whose flight is swift upon the wave
When wintry tempests o'er the savage sea
Are raging and the sailors tremblingly
Call on the twins of Jove with prayer and vow.
Gathered in fear upon the lofty prow
And sacrifice with snow white lambs - the wind
And the huge billow bursting close behind
Even then beneath the weltering waters bear
The staggering ship - they suddenly appear
On yellow wings rushing athwart the sky
And lull the blasts in mute tranquility
And strew the waves on the white ocean's bed
Fair omen of the voyage: from toil and dread
The sailors rest, rejoicing in the sight
And plough the quiet sea in safe delight.
Discovering the story of Castor and Pollux helps to better understand the twinning process and the parental need to identify particular attributes to each twin. The wisdom of the story is to be found in the strength of their fraternity and in the resolved conflict between divine and earthly status. Parental anxiety that one twin seems more gifted in certain respects and less so in others, that one's qualities out weigh the other's, are dispelled in this myth and replaced with the sense that mutual thriving and love are possible outcomes for the twin pair.