Kleobis and Biton

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For the town in Burkina Faso, see Biton, Burkina Faso.
Kleobis and Biton in a sculpture by Polymides of Argos.

Kleobis (Cleobis) and Biton (Ancient Greek: Κλέοβις, gen.: Κλεόβιδος; Βίτων, gen.: Βίτωνος) are the names of two human brothers in legend related by Solon to Croesus in Herodotus' Histories. It is also the name conventionally given to a pair of lifesize Archaic Greek statues, or kouroi, which are now in the Delphi Archaeological Museum, at Delphi Greece. The statues date from about 580 BC and come from Argos in the Peloponnese, although they were found at Delphi.

The Legend[edit]

In the legend, Kleobis and Biton were Argives, the sons of Cydippe, a priestess of Hera. Cydippe was travelling from Argos to a festival in honor of Argive Hera. The oxen which were to pull her cart were overdue and her sons, Kleobis and Biton, pulled the cart the entire way (45 stadia, or 8.3 km/5.1 miles). Cydippe was impressed with their devotion to her and her goddess and she prayed to Hera, asking her to give her children the best gift a god could give to a mortal. Hera attended the prayer. She ordained that the brothers would die in their sleep, right at that festival where they (and their mother, and the goddess of their mother, Hera) were all being praised, so they would be remembered – and worshipped – eternally as heroes.[1] So, after the feast, the youths lay down in the temple of Hera, slept and never woke. Herodotus, who relates the story, says that the citizens of Argos donated a pair of statues to the sanctuary of Apollo at Delphi.

Cleobis and Biton, by Nicolas Loir


In Book 1 of Herodotus' Histories, Solon tells the story of Cleobis and Biton to King Croesus as an example of a happy life lived, reckoning them second in happiness only to Tellus the Athenian, much to Croesus' annoyance. Herodotus records that "the Argives had statues of them made and set them up at Delphi, because they had been such excellent men". The modern Delphi Museum displays two identical Archaic kouroi under the names of Cleobis and Biton, although there is no evidence directly connecting these statues with the ones mentioned by Herodotus.

Inscriptions on the base of the statues identify them as Kleobis and Biton, and also identify Polymides of Argos as the sculptor: something which was very unusual at such an early date. The statues are in what is regarded as a typical Peloponnesian style: massive and muscular. But they are not intended to be lifelike representations of Kleobis and Biton, even assuming the brothers were historical rather than legendary figures. The statues are ideal representations of the virtues of masculine strength and piety.

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