Saturday, November 7, 2020

The Tinas Cliniar: Dioscuri of the Etruscans

These bronze handles have the distinctive shape associated with a type of krater made in Vulci and exported to Etruscan settlements as far away as Spina in Northern Italy. The youths wearing winged boots and holding the bridles of their horses are almost certainly the twin gods, Castur and Pultuce (Roman: Castor and Pollux), the sons of Zeus. The two are known in Etruscan as Tinas Cliniar and as the Roman Dioscuri although in Latin the twins are also known as the Gemini (literally "twins") or Castores, as well as the Tyndaridae or Tyndarid.
In Homer's Iliad, Castor, the horse breaker, and Polydeuces, the boxer, are brothers to Helen of Troy and are both mortals who have died. ("... there are two commanders I do not see, / Castor the horse breaker and the boxer / Polydeuces, my brothers ...") – Helen, Iliad 3.253–255 But, as described by Pindar, the two, born of the same mother, were only half-brothers, however. Castor was the mortal son of Tyndareus, the king of Sparta, while Pollux was the divine son of Zeus, who seduced Leda in the guise of a swan. The pair were thus thought to be an example of "heteropaternal superfecundation" or the fertilization of two ova by two different fathers. The divinely conceived Pollux was immortal while his half-brother, Castor, was not. Pollux asked Zeus to let him share his own immortality with his twin to keep them together, so Zeus transformed them into the constellation, Gemini.
The pair were regarded as the patrons of sailors, to whom they appeared as St. Elmo's fire. They were also associated with horsemanship, in keeping with their origin as the Indo-European horse twins. Their role as horsemen and boxers also led to them being regarded as the patrons of athletes and athletic contests. They characteristically intervened at the moment of crisis, aiding those who honored or trusted them. Those not honoring them properly, however, could be punished. Cicero tells the story of how Simonides of Ceos was rebuked by Scopas, his patron, for devoting too much space to praising Castor and Pollux in an ode celebrating Scopas' victory in a chariot race. Shortly afterwards, Simonides was told that two young men wished to speak to him. After he had left the banqueting room, the roof fell in and crushed Scopas and his guests.
Hence, the Romans, ever mindful of the importance of pietas, built a temple to the Dioscuri in the Forum. It was constructed by the Roman general Aulus Postumius following his victory over the Latins at the Battle of Lake Regillus in 484 BCE.
"During the battle two young men riding white horses were said to have appeared and guided the Romans to victory and then were seen again after the battle watering their horses at the Juturna Spring in Rome, hence the subsequent dedication to the famous cavalry twins and choice of location for the temple next to the fountain in the Forum. Every 15th of July the temple was the focus of a cavalry parade - the transvectio - of 5,000 men led by two impersonators of the heroes who commemorated the victory at Regillus." - Ancient History Encyclopedia
The heavily restored iconic statues of Castor and Pollux that flank the entrance to the Capitoline Museum in Rome incorporate fragments found at the original site of the Temple of Castor and Pollux in the Forum.

Images: (1-2) Etruscan Bronze handles from a large volute-krater (vase for mixing wine and water) depicting Castor and Pollux ca. 500–475 BCE courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Their divine nature is indicated by their winged boots and the pair, with oval-shaped eyes, wear unbelted short tunics and a hair style often seen on individuals reclining atop Etruscan funerary urns.

Pair of Roman statuettes also depicting the Dioscuri as horsemen, but here they appear heroically nude, with longer Hellenistic hairstyles and their characteristic skull caps. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor Marie-Lan Nguyen.

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