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Kleobis and Biton

Kleobis and Biton: examples of happy lives

The Greek historian Herodotus tells a story about two young men 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!

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Their mother needs to get to Delphi

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?

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And the oracle

Apollo's temple at Delphi

Apollo’s temple at Delphi

Kleobis and Biton offer to help but…

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!

What is animal sacrifice?

What’s so good about that?

Solon gives this story 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.

Is this a true story?

We don’t know whether these two brothers 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 home