The Archaic Greek Kouros brothers Cleobis and Biton were famous for their filial piety: a virtue of respect for one’s parents. The brothers’ remarkable story and the sacrifices they made for their beloved mother have been depicted by several artists of the Renaissance.
Cleobis and Biton were the sons of a nun named Cydippe, who worshiped Hera, goddess of marriage and family. In Greek mythology, Hera protected the wellbeing of married couples and oversaw childbirth, with the ultimate aim of protecting and preserving the human race. The goddess Hera allowed couples to have many children; new mothers were considered to be blessed.
One day, Cydippe and her two sons traveled together from Argos to Heraion on a pilgrimage to worship the goddess Hera. However, the cow pulling their carriage became too exhausted to continue their journey.
Witnessing this, Cleobis and Biton decided to pull the carriage themselves and carried their mother for the entire 45 stadia-long journey. By today’s standards, the route was 8.3 kilometers long.
On arrival at Heraion, Cydippe, moved by the devotion of her two sons, prayed to the goddess Hera that her sons would receive the best gift that a god could bestow upon them. The goddess of marriage and family was listening.
The same evening, after the ceremony of worship to Hera ended, the two brothers fell asleep inside Hera’s temple. The benevolent goddess Hera took that moment to bestow upon the sleeping Cleobis and Biton a special gift: They would pass away peacefully in their sleep.
The Argive people forged a statue of Cleobis and Biton at the sacred temple of Delphi to commemorate their respect and love for their mother; an homage to two brothers and an exemplary display of filial piety.
It is said that the goddess Hera gifted Cleobis and Biton with eternal life after death. Immortality was the highest distinction that a god could grant to an ordinary person.
One well-known Western proverb advises: “Call no man blessed until he is dead.” According to this proverb, we cannot know whether or not a person was blessed until the very end of their life.
The blessed lives of Cleobis and Biton were only apparent once the goddess Hera granted them a peaceful death, followed by the great gift of eternal life, in recognition for their deep respect and love for their mother.
The brothers’ filial piety is immortalized in various Renaissance paintings for viewers to witness, enjoy, and consider, for many centuries to come.