Story of Kleobis and Biton - Greek Mythology
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Kleobis and Biton

Kleobis and Biton
Kleobis and Biton

May 2016 - The Greek historian Herodotus tells a story about two boys named Kleobis and Biton (KLEE-oh-biss and BYE-ton) who lived near Delphi about 600 BC. In Herodotus, the Greek wise man Solon tells their story as an example of people who lived the happiest possible lives. Read their story and see whether this would be your idea of a happy life!

Kleobis and Biton, as I said, lived near Delphi, which is an important Greek temple on top of a very steep hill. They were twin brothers. Their mother was a priestess at Delphi, and one morning she was going from their village up the hill to the temple for an important sacrifice. She was old and could not walk up the hill, so she was riding in an ox-cart. But the oxen suddenly fell down dead! How could Kleobis and Biton's mother get to the temple?

Delphi
The temple at Delphi

Kleobis and Biton quickly volunteered to pull the ox-cart and their mother up the hill themselves, hitching themselves to the cart in place of the dead oxen. They pulled the cart all the way up the hill to Delphi and got their mother to the sacrifice on time. Then, they fell down dead - they had worked so hard that they both had heart attacks and died!

Solon gives the story of Kleobis and Biton as an example of a good life, because Kleobis and Biton never did anything bad, or had anything bad happen to them, and they died heroes, successfully performing a good deed.

We don't know whether Kleobis and Biton ever really existed or were just a story, but certainly the story goes back before the time of Herodotus, because we have statues of the twins that were carved before Herodotus was alive.

Another story about living a good life: the story of Achilles.

Bibliography and further reading about Kleobis and Biton:

The Persian Wars, by Herodotus. Straight from the Greek historian himself

More about Herodotus
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Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter.
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