Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Twins of Argos

The two identical, over life size statues, are the oldest monumental votive offerings at Delphi and one of the earliest paradigms of large scale archaic sculpture. Such a pair of statues in ancient Greek art is quite rare. From the time of their discovery, they have been identified with two mighty and pious brothers from Argos, Cleobis and Biton whom the Argives wished to honour by making and dedicating statues of them at Delphi. Other interpretations, however, identify the two statues as the Dioscuri, whose cult was widespread in the Peloponnese.

Herodotus describes the story of Cleobis and Biton as follows:
"...Cleobis and Biton were men of Argives stock, had sufficient wealth as well as physical strength. They had both won prizes at athletic games and the following story is told of them: a festival of Hera was being celebrated in Argos and it was absolutely necessary for their mother to be taken by wagon to the temple dedicated to the goddess, but the oxen that were to drag it had not come back from the fields. As time passed, the two youths became anxious, so they harnessed themselves beneath the yoke and dragged the wagon, their mother riding on it, for a distance of 45 stades until they reached the temple...And the mother, in her great joy at what they had done for her and the praise she had heard, stood in front of the statue of the goddess and prayed for Hera to give her sons, Cleobis and Biton, who had honoured her so greatly, whatsoever is best for a man to receive. And after this prayer, when they had sacrificed and feasted, the two youths lay down to sleep in the sanctuary and never rose again. And the Argives made statues in their likeness and dedicated them as offerings at Delphi, believing that they had proven themselves to be the best of men". (Herodotus 1,31)

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