You probably don’t think about it much, but once you do, you will notice many nods and connections in our modern culture from ancient mythology. From names of people, places, and brands to our entertainment, we are surrounded by ancient mythological influence.
Ancient mythology permeates modern culture. Just as it affects our architecture, government, and education, its tales and ideals have influenced social dynamics including home life. This holds true for how the role of twins in mythology informs society’s views on parenting.
Having twins has been regarded as something special, because that’s not the expectation upon conception. However, 1 in 250 pregnancies result in twins according to this report by the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, not as impossible or out of the ordinary than it first seems. Regardless, there are truths as well as misconceptions about parenting twins, some of which have indeed originated from ancient myths.
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A Brief History of Twins in Ancient Times
As a middle and high school English teacher, I had the privilege to teach ancient mythology for many years. The story of Odysseus has always been one of my favorites, for which I would end the year with a student Odyssey project. It was always great fun for students, and I enjoyed their personal connections and alterations to the journey of Odysseus.
However, for the purpose of this article, I will focus on the presence of twins in ancient myths and tales.
There are two kinds of twins: identical and fraternal. Identical, of course, are twins who look alike. But officially, they are called monozygotic twins meaning they resulted for one (mono) egg while fraternal twins are dizygotic, resulting from two eggs.
According to a report by the National Institute of Health, fraternal twins are twice as likely as identical twins.
Identical twins share all genes, unlike fraternal twins who share half genes, like brothers and sisters do. Identical twins are the same sex whereas fraternal twins can be the same sex or different.
Twins in ancient mythology were not always identified as identical or fraternal. In the case of different sex, it is obvious that they were fraternal.
Greek Mythology: Artemis and Apollo
Apollo and Artemis are known as twins of Zeus and Leto, both of whom are children of Titans (Zeus was the child of Cronus and Rhea, while Leto, his beautiful cousin, was the child of Coeus and Phoebe). Leto, because of Zeus’ affections, was cursed by Hera, his official wife, and struggled during the birth of the twins.
Artemis, the daughter, was born first and she helped Leto with the birth of her twin brother, Apollo, who it supposedly took nine days to deliver. As young children, both twins were renowned hunters and excellent with the bow’ as well, both were fiercely devoted to their mother for her courage and care during and after birthing them.
Artemis and Apollo were equally devoted to each other as well, but each is credited with living their own colorful lives, too. Artemis focused on all the mountains of the world-where she chose to live (a gift from father Zeus) and hunting, while Apollo pursued prophecy and music, becoming the ‘god’ of each of these too.
In addition to skills, both were known to have quick, vengeful tempers and many were recipients of their rage.
Roman Mythology: Romulus and Remus
Romulus and Remus are ancient Roman mythological twins. As with all ancient myths, various versions of the story exist but there are some common threads among the details that can be used to explain the story of these twins.
As most versions go, Romulus and Remus were abandoned on order of their great uncle the king who feared them as male heirs (after killing their grandfather and imprisoning his daughter, their mother). However, the twins escaped death with help from a she-wolf who nursed them along with her wolf cubs. After they grew some, a shepherd and his wife raised them as their own children and taught them shepherding.
One day the boys, as young men, were attacked by other shepherds who happened to belong to their great uncle king. Remus was taken prisoner but Romulus rallied support from friends and they rescued his brother, while also killing the king, who didn’t recognize their lineage.
The brothers were offered the king’s title but both chose to leave it, and set out to establish their own city. The boys couldn’t agree on the same site so they parted ways to set up two nearby encampments. When Remus made fun of Romulus’ walls, Romulus killed Remus.
This is quite ironic after all the trouble Romulus went through to rescue Remus, but these dramatic twists are common in most myths. Romulus called his city Rome.
If these Greek and Roman myths are right up your ally, you will want to get the classic of all mythology books, Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes on Amazon at this link. I used it in middle and high school honors English classes.
You may also like Tales From The Odyssey Part 1 from the author of The Magic Treehouse series. here on Amazon.
And there is of course the Tales From The Odyssey Part 2 here on Amazon as well.
Biblical Narrative: Twins, Jacob and Esau
The story of Biblical twins, Jacob and Esau, is found in Genesis. They are the only sons of Isaac (making them grandchildren of Abraham) and Rebekah. Esau was the first twin, ensuring he would be the one to receive the eldest blessing and birth right promises as was the custom. However, Rebekah was given a word from God during her pregnancy that she would have twins and the elder would serve the younger.
Esau and Jacob were quite opposite. Esau was strong, both a hunter and a farmer, whereas Jacob was quiet and stayed inside tents like his mother. Genesis clearly accounts that Isaac favored the more manly Esau but Rebekah favored Jacob.
Actions show that Esau was impetuous and impatient while Jacob was a devious planner and schemer. When hungry, Esau hastily agreed to Jacob’s demand of his lawful birth right for some ready made stew. Esau was quick to give away something seemingly meaningful and valuable just to satisfy his hunger right away while Jacob was ready in waiting to take advantage of Esau with an unreasonable demand.
And again, Jacob displayed deceit to grab what he felt was his by prophecy. Along with help from his mother, he tricked his ailing, blind father into believing he was Esau so that he would receive the father’s blessing that was reserved for the elder son.
Jacob disguised himself in his brother’s clothes and goat skin so that he would smell and feel like Esau. Though Isaac still doubted it was Esau, he bestowed the much-revered blessing to Jacob, anyway.
When Esau learned of the personal dishonor and robbery from his brother, he went into a murderous rage, vowing to kill his twin brother, Jacob. Despite having tricked Esau out of the birth right and blessing, Jacob spent many years from good fortune. He ran away from his brother, and family, to escape death and it was 20 years until they were reunited peacefully.
Lessons from Twins in Mythology And The Bible
There are certainly lessons to learn from the twins mentioned in ancient Biblical stories and mythology. In fact, most ancient tales were told precisely to impart some wisdom and to guide the listener to a moral, spiritual, or practical truth.
Sibling rivalry certainly is displayed in many of these tales, and it doesn’t bode well for anyone. Even the ‘victor’ of sibling rivalry usually suffers.
Twins, like any brother or sister, can be victims of sibling rivalry but it seems the closer siblings are, the more likely the rivalry will rear its head. Thus, with twins, sibling rivalry is bound to happen, as displayed in many examples from ancient times.
Romulus and Remus were very close, as evident by Romulus’ actions to rescue Remus when he was captured. Yet not long, as their story unfolds, jealously rears its head and Remus is killed by his twin brother. Romulus suffers too, albeit not with immediate death, but with immediate remorse and buries his brother in a sacred place.
The story of Jacob and Esau is wrought with sibling rivalry. Even before birth, it is foretold that the older (Esau) will serve the younger (Jacob) and upon birth, Jacob is grasping at Esau’s foot, presumably foreshadowing their future.
Jacob obviously covets Esau’s position as the first born with all its promises and readies his schemes to overtake Esau’s gifts as the credited first-born son. These actions lead to a huge rift in the family and Jacob leaves home for decades, missing even his mother’s death it seems!
Thus, ancient stories show us that sibling rivalry is a destructive force for twins.
Forgiveness is another lesson we can learn from ancient twins. Let’s look closely at the conclusion of the story of Jacob and Esau for this.
Jacob stayed away for 20 years due to his deception that caused his brother, Esau, to want to kill him. During this time, Jacob worked as a servant to another family and was deceived himself.
After working for 7 years for the promise of marrying Rachel, instead Jacob discovered on his wedding night that he had married Rachel’s older sister, Leah. This time Jacob had been tricked.
Jacob could not undo the marriage and so he set about another 7 years to marry the woman he first chose, Rachel. Afterwards, Jacob, being married to two sisters, endured their bitter rivalry, too. With bickering, conniving, and backstabbing, the sisters certainly made all of their lives tumultuous.
While also being away these 20 years, Jacob missed his brother and more importantly, his mother, who favored him. However, as God had foretold, Jacob also prospered during this time, with wives, children, much cattle and land. Eventually, God pressed upon him to return to his home (as was also part of God’s plan for Jacob’s line) and Jacob knew he must reconcile with his brother.
Jacob still feared the wrath of Esau, showing just how much Jacob knew he’d taken from him. Jacob sent ahead peace offerings and when he first saw Esau, he bowed to him seven times, a great show of respect to his elder brother.
In Esau’s honor, Esau refused Jacob’s presents and instead rushed to welcome his twin, hugging him dearly, showing true forgiveness.
Forgiveness was in Esau’s heart and actions, and evident on his face, which Jacob likened as to looking into the face of God that day.
We also can learn lessons about sibling protection from our ancient twins. Romulus and Remus are probably the best examples for showing twin protection of these aforementioned twins (although they are also arguably the best examples of sibling rivalry leading to destruction!).
Romulus protected Remus when he was captured. He didn’t have to, but Romulus risked his life by fighting off the king’s men to rescue his twin. Romulus could have moved on and settled his own land, which is what he did later anyway, but he didn’t. Instead, Romulus to great risk and set out out to save his twin.
This display of affection and care shows that twins love is above self-preservation. It is provided as a display of ultimate protection and presented in a way to show that this is of highest value. By including this in the story of Romulus and Remus the storyteller is letting the audience know just how important this twin/brother protection is.
No one should try to come between twins because one will do whatever it takes to protect the other (even with the ironic revelation later that the very brother he saved will die by the twin’s own hands eventually!).
Parenting Twins versus Siblings
Parenting twins is certainly unique to parenting siblings. As parents to a son and daughter for almost 10 years before our twins came along, we have insight on the differences.
For starters, parents of multiples such as twins have a higher divorce rate than parents in general. Also, mothers of multiples including twin births have a higher rate of postpartum depression according to the NCBI report. Both of these accounts demonstrate the added stresses on a family of twin births than a family of single births.
Further studies show even more detrimental effects of twin births on the family system: families with twin births versus singleton births showed lower scores on well-being, higher stress risks, exhaustion and depression.
Double Blessing or Double Trouble
As parents to two children, a son and a daughter, we thought our family was complete. Then when our daughter was a bit over three and our son was 8, I learned I was pregnant. This came as a complete surprise to us, though the surprises weren’t done. A little over a month after learning I was pregnant, we had the added surprise of learning it was twins!
Since I was in my mid-thirties, pregnancy was already considered a bit high risk, not to mention I had had two prior cesarean births. Learning twins were in my future made me a triple threat, or really signified this was more of a double trouble scenario than double blessing.
But do you know what we have found out? Having twins really has been a double blessing for us. Yes, it’s more expensive. Yes, it REALLY is more work (don’t let anyone fool you!). But the joys are twice as sweet!
Now that our older son and daughter are out of the house, we can truly appreciate the blessings of having two more children home with us. The fact that they are twins is equally special.
They are always together; always best brothers. They look out for each other, truly their brother’s keeper. They’ve always been roommates so know each other’s habits quite well, which means they know what buttons to push and not push.
Despite the research, our home is one of harmony and we count our blessings, doubly!
When One Twin is Special Needs
Anytime one child has special needs and the other doesn’t, there are bound to be comparisons. When they are twins and one is special needs, it’s even more so!
However, in our case, we think it’s been better for our boys that they are twins, rather than one older than the other while one has special needs. Our boys have been together their whole lives, and this has made our abled-twin quite sensitive to the needs and uniqueness of his brother.
Because they’ve lived so closely together, he has been able to protect his twin like no other sibling could have. He is able to predict triggers and guard him from over-stimulation. This in turn has helped his special needs brother acclimate better and grow in ways that would otherwise be difficult.
We really don’t think our special needs child would be as successful as he is had he been twin-less.
Birth order is often something significant no matter one’s background or culture. There are many studies and research on middle child syndrome, as well as lots of common stereotypes for older or younger children, proving birth order generalities.
In any family with multiple children, you will likely see the common birth order characteristics unfold. The older/oldest is often bossy, a leader, and possibly spoiled depending on how long he/she was an only child, and probably used to getting his or her own way.
The middle child is often most agreeable, tending to make peace with the older and younger sibling. The middle child is usually even-tempered and a people pleaser.
Then, you have the younger/youngest sibling. This child is doted on and spoiled, but also tends to be led around and not given his/her way without a temper tantrum. Sometimes, also, the youngest child can be lazy and procrastinate because he/she is so used to others doing for him/her.
And considering the ramifications of assigning birth order to Esau and Jacob, we chose NOT to share birth order of our twins. Yes, you read correctly.
We decided we would ignore the questions, and haven’t regretted it one bit.
Particularly when it comes to twins, birth order seems ridiculous to us. If you find any two people who learn they have the exact same birthday and year, you will say they’re the same age. No one will question, what TIME were you born? Yet with twins who are just minutes apart, the first question we usually hear is, ‘who’s older’, even by doctors!
As far as we are concerned, especially given their cesarean birth, our twins are the same age. This has kept them from assigning or acquiring stereotypes of older/younger or one lording it over the other for sixteen years so far.
Personally, I think this is probably one of the best, albeit easiest, things we’ve done for our twins in the beginning in helping them maintain a positive twin-relationship!
Parenting Twin Myths
I think several myths exist about parenting twins for a variety of reasons. Some of these are related to ancient mythology and others have come about from modern culture. When parenting twins, you will need to be aware of myths that surround twins, and cognizant of how that affects parenting them.
Twins are often thought of to have their own language. In fact, it is called cryptophasia and is reported in studies to occur in up to 40% of twins. Twin language occurs in both identical and fraternal twins, equally.
Twin language generally is something used early on like with most babies’ first babbles and then is eventually discarded. Most figure that twins develop and maintain their invented language beyond singletons because the spend so much time together and from each other’s reinforcement. They imitate and mimic each other, reinforcing the phrases and giving them credence and longevity over non-twin babble.
Parents of twins should be aware of twin language and accept it for what it is, and isn’t. Keep in mind that it is normal for twins to have full on conversations that only they seem to understand, but also know that as their grasp of the common language around them grows, their use of twin language will diminish, organically.
As for influence from ancient mythology regarding twin language, there isn’t any strong connection to show that this originated from there. Our earliest reports of twin language is a 20th century notion.
Thus, we can say twin language isn’t really a myth after all. The myth would be that it lasts beyond primary years and holds some sort of supernatural, other-worldliness to it, and the belief in twin language came about in more modern times.
Twin Psychic Connection
Many like to think that twins have a special, psychic, telepathic connection. However, Dr. Segal writes in her Twin Mythconceptions, that this is simply not the case. The seemingly supernatural connection is simply due to a close, familial loving relationship.
You can read her in depth look at twins in her Twin Mythconceptions here on Amazon.
Many twins have spoken of a feeling they get about their twin, or just knowing, when something monumental had happened, but this is either coincidental or just plain untrue.
There hasn’t been any documented cases to prove twin psychic or telepathic relationships, nor is there any prevalent connection that is traced to ancient mythology pertaining to this.
Wonder Twin Power
Anyone growing up the in the 1980s will probably recognize the Wonder Twins from Saturday morning cartoons. I was especially fond of their sing-song chant and can recite it even today.
Anytime they needed to get out of a jam, or rescue some unfortunate character, the Wonder Twins would ‘activate’ their powers to transform into different shapes/beings and after solving the crisis, they would ‘deactivate’ to return to their natural selves.
Do twins, as suggested by the cartoon world, possess a ‘twin power’? Um, that’s a no. As they are indeed not superheroes!
However, on a smaller, non-superhero scale, do twins have some sort of powers?
If we look back to our ancient examples, we could say twins have power in their strong bond with each other. That the twin bond, as shown by ancient mythology and Biblical accounts, is stronger and more powerful than regular siblings.
For example, the early hardships of Romulus and Remus, as well as Artemis and Apollo, certainly formed a strong bond among the twins.
Also, we can look at the after effects of the betrayal between Esau and Jacob. The twin betrayal led to murderous intentions and a 20 year chasm. And the subsequent forgiveness was just as strong-Jacob said seeing Esau’s face of forgiveness was like looking into the face of God- because of their twin bond.
Parenting Twin Tips
As parents of twins, we could probably write a book alone just on parenting twin tips and suggestions from our ‘what to do’ and ‘what NOT to do’ list based on experience!
Twins are Individuals First
Even though twins are unique and special, each child is an individual, too. It is easy to sometimes forget this in the twin world.
Each child has their one likes and dislikes. Our boys are definitely similar and have a strong twin bond, but each is also so different than the other.
Ronin likes to eat and never misses a meal. Ethan must be reminded over and over about food. Ronin absolutely sticks to a daily routine with set wake up and bed time alarms, no matter if it’s the weekend or holiday. Ethan would gladly never sleep if his body would allow it!
Ethan likes chocolate ice cream and Ronin has always been a vanilla fan. Ethan prefers red, while Ronin was always into blue (now black and grey).
Ethan is happy to go explore with you or even take a drive. Ronin prefers to stick close to home.
Our ancient myths and Biblical examples show us this too. Artemis and Apollo were always close but they enjoyed different things; as too does the Bible show us how individual Esau and Jacob were.
For us, both boys are certainly unique. Both boys continue to have their own likes and dislikes. We, as well as all parents of twins, need to remember twins are individuals first.
Have Fun Having Twins
However, having twins IS a special thing. I remember questioning if it was okay to dress them the same. After all, if I liked the outfit enough for one boy, why not put them both in it, right? But I worried I was taking away their individuality.
Mat reminded me that yes, it is okay because we should be able to celebrate the fact that we have twins. And dressing them alike, that is until they are old enough to tell us they don’t like it, is a way to do that!
So from the time they were babies until they were about 6, they had the same outfits. Around age 6 or so, they still had the same outfit, only in different colors. It was great fun for me as their mom to parade them this way, in addition to just being plain simpler than picking out two different outfits every day!
We also had fun with the twins by just letting them play together, as loud as they wanted, in their rooms. It was so convenient that they always had a playmate. In some ways, it made parenting twins EASIER than when our singleton children were little.
We babyproofed their room and then, every evening while I prepared dinner, and the older kids did homework or music lessons, or just ‘their own thing,’ the twins had a blast!
Wrapping up Twins in Mythology
Like with a lot of things in modern culture, ancient mythology has affected the ideals and interpretation of twins, as well as parenting twins. From their strong twin bond to the intense sibling rivalry that often accompanies twin relationships, we can see how ancient twins influence the twin concept today.
The bond between our twins Ronin and Ethan reminds us every day how different and unique it is in comparison to our other children, and it’s truly a double blessing for our family.