Double Vision: Epiphanies of the Dioscuri in Classical Antiquity

and Verity J. Platt

Abstract:

The Dioscuri – Castor and Pollux – are among the most epiphanic of gods, frequently appearing in battle or to sailors struggling at sea. On Chios, a festival called the Theophania was founded in the third century BC to commemorate an epiphany of the twin gods. Indeed, their appearance at the Sicilian battle of the River Sagra c. 540 BC was so well known in Greek – and Roman – culture that it was invoked as a proverbial example of epiphanic manifestation in Cicero’s De natura deorum (2.1.13); as such, it was the model for several Graeco-Roman battle epiphanies featuring the Dioscuri and their horses, from Postumius’ victory at Lake Regillus in 496 BC to Constantine’s at the Milvian Bridge in AD 312. The numerous battle epiphanies of antiquity have been gathered and assessed by previous scholars (Pfister 1924 and Pritchett 1979). This article posits a new approach to the material, arguing that, because of their fame and ubiquity, epiphanies of the Dioscuri provided a model through which to explore both the validity and visual authority of divine manifestation. The conjuring of divine presence through the physical semeia of the gods is also an important element of the portrayal of the Dioscuri in image form. Representations of these epiphanic gods cover a spectrum of iconicity, ranging from highly anthropomorphized ‘re-enactments’ of their epiphanies (such as the sculptures set up in the Roman forum to commemorate the Lake Regillus victory) to metonymic denotations of their presence in the form of their polos hats, and sub-iconic depictions of twin stars. This combination of corporeal and cosmic semeia provides a sophisticated commentary upon the cognitive dilemmas raised by epiphany: what kind of bodies do the gods have, how do they reveal these forms to mortals, and how are we to recognize and identify them? As deities defined by dualism – mortals and immortals, gods and heroes, men and stars – the Dioscuri provide a particularly potent model for exploring such issues, for both ancient thinkers and modern scholars of epiphany.

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Archiv für Religionsgeschichte is a specialised journal dealing primarily with religions of the ancient world. The different aspects of the field of research are covered in essays, reports on the main areas of religious studies and in individual articles.

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