Twins in mythology
Twins appear in the mythologies of many cultures around the world. In some they are seen as ominous and in others they are seen as auspicious. Twins in mythology are often cast as two halves of the same whole, sharing a bond deeper than that of ordinary siblings, or otherwise shown as fierce rivals. Twins can represents some "other" aspect of the Self, a doppelgänger or a shadow. Often the twin is the "evil twin", or one may be human and one semi-divine. The twin may be a brother, or a soul-mate, such as the "civilized" Gilgamesh and the "wild" Enkidu.
Many cultures have mythic or folkloric explanations for how twins are conceived. In Greek mythology, some twins were conceived when a woman slept with both a mortal and a god on the same day. One of her offspring thereafter had godlike qualities, and the other was an ordinary mortal, such as Heracles and his twin brother Iphicles. In several Native American cultures women avoided eating twin fruits like double almonds and bananas because it was thought to increase the likelihood of twins. In other cultures, twins were attributed to superior virility of the father.
Twins can represent the dualistic nature of the universe. In Greek mythology, Apollo and Artemis are twins, and Apollo was adopted as the sun god with Artemis as the moon goddess. In Hinduism, the Ashwini Twins or Ashvins are the Healers who are also offered sacrificial offerings or oblations as per the Rig Veda. Also, Yama and Yami, elder siblings of the Ashvins, are a brother-sister twin pair. In Xingu mythology of Brazil, the twin brothers Kuat and Iae forced the evil king Urubutsin to give light to the world, and Kuat became the sun with Iae as the moon. In one version of the Egyptian creation myth, the earth god Geb and the sky goddess Nut were twins. In Zoroastrian mythology, the twins Ahriman and Ahura Mazda represent the spirits of evil and good respectively. Cultures with rival twin heroes often follow this pattern of split moral forces. In a myth of several northeastern Native American tribes, Gluskap, the creator god and cultural hero, has to defeat Malsum, his evil twin, who was the ruler of the demons.
Twins can also be shown as having special powers and deep bonds. In Greek mythology, Castor and Pollux share a bond so strong that when Castor dies, Pollux gives up half of his immortality to be with his brother. This etiologically explains why their constellation, the Dioskouroi or Gemini, is only seen half the year, as the twins split their time between the underworld and Mount Olympus. In an aboriginal tale, the same constellation represents the twin lizards who created the plants and animals and saved women from evil spirits. To the Dogon of Mali in West Africa, twinship represents completeness and perfection, symbolized by the deity Nummo. Nummo is actually a set of twins, male and female, and because the creation of the world required a sacrifice, humans can only be one half of the whole, male or female. In many Native American stories, twins are often partners on adventures such as quests.
Greek and Roman mythology
- Apollo and Artemis - God and goddess, children of Zeus and Leto.
- Hypnos and Thanatos - Sons of Nyx and Erebos.
- Palici - Sicilian chthonic deities in Roman mythology.
- Ploutos and Philomelos - Sons of Demeter and the demigod Iasion.
- Romulus and Remus - Central characters of Rome's foundation myth. Children of Rhea Silvia by either the god Mars, or by the demi-god Hercules.
- One divine, one mortal
- Castor and Pollux, known as the Dioscuri - Though their mother was Leda, Castor was mortal son of Tyndareus, the king of Sparta, while Pollux was the divine son of Zeus.
- Helen and Clytemnestra - Sisters of the Dioscuri, they were the daughters of Leda by Zeus and Tyndareus, respectively.
- Heracles and Iphicles - Though their mother was Alcmene, Heracles was son of Zeus while Iphicles was son of Amphitryon.
- Children of a god or nymph and a mortal
- Aegyptus and Danaus - Sons of Belus and Achiroe, a naiad daughter of Nile.
- Aeolus and Boeotus - Sons of Poseidon and Arne.
- Amphion and Zethus - Sons of Zeus by Antiope
- Ascalaphus and Ialmenus - Sons of Ares and Astyoche, Argonauts who participated in the Trojan War.
- Atlas and Eumelus/Gadeirus, Ampheres and Evaemon, Mneseus and Autochthon, Elasippus and Mestor, and Azaes and Diaprepes - Five sets of twins, sons of Poseidon and Cleito, and Kings of Atlantis in Plato's myth.
- Belus and Agenor - Sons of Poseidon and Libya.
- Centaurus and Lapithes - Sons of Ixion and Nephele or Apollo and Stilbe.
- Pelias and Neleus - Sons of Poseidon and Tyro.
- Phrixus and Helle - Children of Athamas and Nephele.
- Gluskap and Malsumis - A cultural hero and its evil twin brother for the Wabanaki peoples.
- Hahgwehdiyu and Hahgwehdaetgah - Sons of Iroquois sky goddess Atahensic.
- Asdzą́ą́ Nádleehé and Yolkai Estsan - Navajo goddesses.
Central American mythologies
- C. Scott Littleton, ed. (2005). Gods, Goddesses, and Mythology, Volume 4. Marshall Cavendish Corporation. ISBN 0-7614-7559-1.
Jobes, Gertrude (1962). Dictionary of Mythology, Part 2. New York: Scarecrow Press, Inc. pp. 1614–1615. Maria Leach, ed. (1972). Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology, and Legend. New York: Funk & Wagnalls. pp. 1134–1136. John M. Wickersham, ed. (2000). Myths and Legends of the World, vol 4. New York: Macmillan Reference USA. pp. 76–79. ISBN 0-02-865438-2.
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