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. Kleobis and Biton were travelling from Argos to Delphi with their much beloved mother, Cydippe, to attend the celebration of the goddess at the Heraion. 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 so that when she arrived at the temple she prayed to Hera, asking her to give her children the best gift a god could give to a mortal. Hera attended the prayer. Then, after they had their sacrifices and dinner and the feast was over, the two young men lay for a rest, tired from their heroic act, inside the temple of Hera where they peacefully died. So, with divine assistance, the brothers through their death gained immortality and eternal recognition for the respect and love they had shown toward their mother. To honor the two men, their fellow citizens sent the two dedicated statues to Delphi.[1] 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 other archaeologists who have studied the statues, see in them the twin sons of Zeus and beloved brothers of Helen, the Dioscouri, worship of whom was quite widespread in Peloponnese.

Inscriptions on the base of the statues identify them as Kleobis and Biton, and also identify Polymedes 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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