Alkaios’ hymn to the Dioskouroi: Hindu parallels

In this note we shall see how even a short “sūkta” of the yavana Alkaios to the Dioskouroi (individually named Kastor and Polydeukes), the Greek cognates of the Aśvin-s, offers several parallels to the Hindu tradition in the Veda. In the Veda, the Aśvin-s are the sons of Rudra hinting at his overlap with Dyaus (tvam agne rudra asuro mahodivaḥ | or bhuvanasya pitṛ). In the Greek and Roman traditions, they are the son of Zeus or Jupiter maintaining that old connection going back to the Proto-Indo-European tradition and probably beyond to prehistoric times. In Greece, the memory of their Rudrian character is recorded in a 600-500 BCE stele from Sellasia in the Spartan realm where Plestiadas, a pious votary of the deities, inscribed a verse stating that he erected it “out of fear of the fury of the Tyndarid twins (the Dioskouroi)”.

Figure 1. A denarius of the Roman emperor Antoninus Pius showing the twin gods Castor and Pollux with the eagle of Jupiter between them. This iconography closely parallels that of their para-Vedic relatives Skanda and Viśākha. The stars above them signify their association with the constellation of Gemini — an ancient association also reflected in the Taittirīya Brāhmaṇa.

deũté moi nãson Pélopos lípontes,
paĩdes íphthimoi Díos ēdè Lḗdas,
eùnóōi thúmōi prophánēte, Kástor
kaì Polúdeukes,
oì kát eùrēan khthóna kaì thálassan
paĩsan èrkhesth’ ṑkupódōn ep’ ìppōn,
rē̃a d’ anthrṓpois thanátō rúesthe
eúsdúgōn thrṓiskontes ep’ ákra náōn
pḗlothen lámproi próton’ ontrékhontes
argaléai d’ en núkti pháos phérontes
nãï melaínai;

Come to me all the way from Pelops’ island,
powerful sons of Zeus and Leda,
make your appearance with a kindly soul, Kastor
and Polydeukes!
You ride over the wide earth and the entire sea
on your quick-footed horses;
you rescue men with ease from death
due to freezing,
leaping from afar to the tops of their well-benched ships,
shining brightly as you run up the forestays;
to that in trouble in the night you bring light,
to the ship in darkness.

We shall now consider both linguistic and philological equivalences with Sanskrit usages:
• paĩdes = putra \to son; This occurs in the phrase “paĩdes íphthimoi Díos” \to the powerful sons of Zeus (and Leda). That parallels the phrase: divo napātā vṛṣaṇā: the manly offspring of Dyaus.
• We render thúmōi as soul. The thumos is a cognate of dhūma is Skt (= smoke/steam going back to PIE with same meaning). In Greek, one of its meanings, breath, is related to the original meaning, from which we get soul. The equation of soul and breath is also seen in H tradition: For instance, prāṇa is called the “soul”. The other Skt word ātman is related to an old IE word for breath (e.g., German Atem= breath).
• eùrēan khthóna \approx uruvyachasam pṛthivīm. The first word is an exact cognate of uru = wide. The khthóna= kṣmā (kṣa) \to earth;
• ṑkupódōn ep’ ìppōn parallels the phrase used for the Aśvin-s in RV 1.117.9 and RV 7.71.5: āśum aśvam: swift horse; podon = padam = foot; āśu = ōku \to swift; ippos = aśvaḥ \to horse. A comparable phrase is used by Gṛtsamada Śaunahotra in his spell for the chariot: āśavaḥ padyābhiḥ in RV 2.31.2: with swift steps/feet.
• rúesthe \approx rakṣathaḥ; c.f. rakṣethe dyubhir aktubhir hitam in RV 1.34.8: you protect through day and night. The protection at night is also mentioned in the Greek hymn(below).
• núkti = nakta (0-graded to aktā) = night; pháos = bhAs \to shine/light. phero > phérontes = bhara = to bear; náōn= nāvam \to boat. This protection offered to sailors by the Dioskouroi is mirrored in the marine rescue of Bhujyu stranded at sea that is mentioned in the śruti: yad aśvinā ūhathur bhujyum astaṃ śatāritrāṃ nāvam ātasthivāṃsam | RV1.116.5: when, Aśvin-s, you ferried Bhujyu to the shore after he mounted your ship of a hundred oars.

Figure 2. Castor and Pollux on a coin of the Roman republic with the ship on reverse.

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