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Dioscuri paintings flank the entrance to the House of the Dioscuri in Pompeii.

The Divine Twins are a common mytheme in Proto-Indo-European mythology. The two brothers are youthful horsemen who are either gods or demigods represented as rescuers and healers.[1] While they are not directly attested by archaeological or written materials, there is a consensus among mythological comparativists on their reconstructed motif.[2][3]


The Vedic Aśvins.

Although the Proto-Indo-European name of the Divine Twins cannot be reconstructed based on the available evidence, the most frequent epithets associated with the duo are the "Youthful" and the "Sons of Dyēus", the Sky god.[4][3]


Represented as young men rescuing mortals from peril in battle or at sea, the Divine Twins rode the steeds that pull the sun across the sky. Sometimes they were depicted as horses themselves.[5] They share a sister, Hausos, also the daughter of the sky-god.[6] The Divine Twins are often differentiated: one is represented as a physically strong and aggressive warrior; while the other is seen as a healer who gives attention to domestic duties, agrarian pursuits, or romantic adventures.[3]

In most tales where they appear, the Divine Twins rescue the Dawn from a watery peril, a theme that emerged from their role as the solar steeds.[7][3] At night, the horses of the sun returned to the east in a golden boat, where they traversed the sea[a] to bring back the Sun each morning. During the day, they crossed the sky in pursuit of their consort, the morning star. In what seems to be a later addition confined to Europe, they were said to rest at the end of the day on the Isles of the "Blessed", a land seating in the western sea which possessed magic apple orchards.[3] By the Bronze Age, the Divine Twins were also represented as the drivers of the horse-driven solar chariots.[6]


Three Indo-European traditions (Greek, Indic and Baltic) attest the mytheme of equestrian twins, all associated with the dawn or the sun's daughter, and sharing a common phraseology: "sons of the Sky" or "sons of the God".[9][10]

Ašvieniai, commonly called the little horses, on the rooftop of a house in Nida, Lithuania

Other traces in Indo-European mythologies are less secured:

  • Celtic: the Dioskouroi, said by Timaeus to be venerated by Atlantic Celts above all other gods, with an ancient tradition of the Dioskouroi having visited them from the Ocean,[12]
  • Anglo-Saxon: Hengist and Horsa, said to have come by the sea in response to a plea from the beleaguered British king Vortigern; descendants of Odin, their names meant Stallion and Horse,[12]


The mytheme of the Divine Twins was widely popular in the Indo-European traditions, and evidence for their worship can be found from Scandinavia to the Near East as early as the Bronze Age. The motif was also adopted in non-Indo-European cultures, like the Etruscan Tinas Clenar, "sons of Jupiter".[13]

The most prevalent attributes associated with the twins in later myths are magic healers and physicians, sailors and saviors at sea, warriors and providers of divine aid in battle, controllers of weather and keepers of the wind, assistants at birth with a connection to fertility, divinities of dance, protectors of the oath, and founders of cities, sometimes related to swans.[3][14]

Horse goddessEdit

O'Brien (1982) reconstructs a horse goddess with twin offspring, pointing to Gaulish Epona, Irish Macha (the twins reflected in Macha's pair, Liath Macha and Dub Sainglend), Welsh Rhiannon, and Eddaic Freyja in the tale of the construction of the walls of Asgard, seeing a vestige of the birth of hippomorphic twins in Loki in the form of a mare (in place of Freyja) giving birth to eight-legged Sleipnir.[15]



  1. ^ The northern Black Sea or the Sea of Azov.[8]


  1. ^ Ward, Donald (1968). The Divine Twins: An Indo-European myth in Germanic tradition.
  2. ^ a b c West 2007, p. 187.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Mallory & Adams 1997, p. 161.
  4. ^ West 2007, p. 187-191.
  5. ^ West 2007, p. 188.
  6. ^ a b Mallory & Adams 2006, p. 432.
  7. ^ a b c West 2007, p. 189.
  8. ^ West 2007, p. 191.
  9. ^ a b c d e Parpola 2015, p. 109.
  10. ^ Nikolaev, Alexander (2012). "Avestan Haēcat̰.aspa-, Rigveda 4.43, and the Myth of the Divine Twins". Journal of the American Oriental Society. 132 (4): 567–575. doi:10.7817/jameroriesoci.132.4.0567. ISSN 0003-0279.
  11. ^ Beekes 2011, p. 35.
  12. ^ a b c West 2007, p. 190.
  13. ^ Mallory & Adams 1997, p. 165.
  14. ^ Shapiro, Michael. "Neglected Evidence of Dioscurism (Divine Twinning) in the Old Slavic Panthon". The Journal of Indo-European Studies. 1982, 10(1/2): 137-166.
  15. ^ O'Brien, Steven (1982). "Dioscuric elements in Celtic and Germanic mythology". Journal of Indo-European Studies. 10: 117–136.



Further ReadingEdit

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