JUNE 1968


In Human Biology twinning represents an unusual happening in that a mother delivers more than one of her kind to the Race.  This phenomenon has been so impressive that it has a repeated imprint on history as far back as we can go, and affecting all ethnic groups.

Twin divinities are encountered often in ancient mythology.  The twins Lugalgirra and Meslamataea are found in the Pantheon of old Mesopotamia - both names meaning “twin”.  Astronomy, surprisingly enough, really put twins on the map - in the Planetarium, in fact.  Babylonian and Assyrian Civilizations first introduced twins into astronomy and there were seven twin constellations, among them the Mesopotamian twins - Lugalgirra and Meslamataea - who by now were called the Greater Twins.

In the astronomical glossary the constellation of the Twins has been retained until the present; it dominates the Planetarium on the campus during the month of May.  It is the basis of countless legends, myths, charms, magical happenings, and horoscopes.  It might be noted how much in evidence it is over the sky of Churchill Downs at this time of year.

The oldest Indian religion is Vedic.  Two divinities in this mythology were held in very high regard: they were young twin gods and had but one name, Asvin, and since they were inseparable this was not an inconvenience.  Supposedly they were twin-brothers to Aurora and were bridegrooms of the Daughter of the Sun.  Unhappi1y it is not recorded from whom they were born.

The twin-gods were beautiful, strong, and learned.  They could work miracles and such were reserved for all who suffered.  They were compassionate and all that is Good.  The hymn books of that time had over 50 hymns dedicated to Asvin and the heavenly twins had these incanted in their praise thrice daily when sacrifices were being offered.

We then come to some very similar and attractive twins in Greek mythology who are possibly the most famous of all twins in history; and interestingly enough they have much in common with the Asvin brothers.  They are the Dioscuri - Sons of Zeus.  The religious impact of Dioscurism was considerable.

How the twins came to be conceived and born is controversial to say the least.  The family and obstetric history makes some taken in our Kentucky clinics seem relatively clear and organized.  Some say that Leda, wife of Tyndareus, delivered herself of an egg from which the Tins emerged.  But Tyndareus had no part in the impregnation; the father was Jove who lusted for Leda but in order to seduce her had to turn himself into a Swan.  A second repeat History tells that Leda produced two eggs: Helen emerged from one and the Dioscur1 from the other - Castor and Pollux as they were to be called.  Yet another version says that Helen and Pollux came from one egg and Castor and Clytemnestra from the other, but here the first egg was the result of Jove's seduction and the second, the rightful product of husband Tyndareus claiming his marital rights.  If this last version was true then it casts doubt as to whether Castor and Pollux were in fact twins.  Since so much in historical literature would thus be suspect it is better to ignore this latter tale and simply accept that Leda did produce Castor and Pollux, somehow, and that Jove resorted to oviparous subterfuge behind Tyndareus’ back.  There is so much similarity between the Asvin brothers and the Dioscuri that one wonders if both legends were not in fact derived from an even earlier common source of mythology.

Castor and Pollux passed into Etruscan and Roman mythology and were sung by Horace and written about by Cicero who says they both fought for the Romans against the Latins.  There are countless references to them in the literature and arts - they too were all that is Good.

Virgil writes of the first triplets described.  These are the Furies who were daughters of Night.

In the Aeneid -

“there are two Monsters

whose name is Dire, produced

together with the Tartan Megera

in but a single birth, by the deep Night;

She with a serpent's coils did cloak

her babes and arm them well with ventose wings."

There is a curious twinning background to the birth of the Minotaur.  As you recall, Pasiphae produced this quirk of Nature and it is recorded that she fell in love with Taurus and slept with him in his friend Daedulus' house.  Her true husband Minos also was responsible for her pregnancy and she bore a twin  (Virgil) pair - one from Minos and one from Taurus.  They got implanted presumably near together for the resultant half-man half-beast to have occurred.

Another quite large group of legends in Greco-Roman mythology have in common the well-known theme of abandonment of twins and subsequent child rearing practices by rough common persons and hoi polloi such as shepherds, or indeed fierce wild animals.

Antiope was ashamed of her liaison with Jove (who certainly appears to have a genetic tendency to libaceousness and twinning) and especially so when boy god-twins Amphion and Zethos arrived.  So she left them to die but in the nick of time a kindly shepherd happened by, and reared them in his rude hut.

Neptune and Tyro had twins - Neleus and Pelias - and again they were evicted.  But a she-dog found Neleus and suckled him, while Pelias was similarly cared for by a mare.  Kind shepherds found them and brought them up.  Twin sons of Ares and Philemon were left on Mount Eurymanthus where a she-wolf took them to her nipples and then handed them over to a kind shepherd T11ipus. 

(At this stage we can say two certain things about Homo-Grecian mythology: the Gods were promiscuous; and shepherds were kind.)

The most famous of all such legends tells of Romulus and Remus.  An unfortunate Vestal Virgin became impregnated and gave birth to twin sons who were hastily moved out to a forest in the snow.  A she-wolf found the near-frozen neonates and lay on them giving them warmth and her milk.  She was unwilling to give them up and unkind shepherds had to beat her off with a club.  They then became kind and reared the boys but the wolf was allowed to stay around and continued on occasions to suckle the boys when they were lonesome and hungry.  Numitar, a wealthy landowner recognized them one day as being remarkably like his disgraced daughter and brought them forth into their proper station.  As is well known, the city of Rome was probably founded by Romulus and Remus and the emblem of that city is of course the classic figure of the she-wolf with her twin boys taking her milk.   Interestingly enough, Siena has the same city emblem and it is said Remus founded it.

Nearer home the North American Indian tribes of California have considerable and ancient folklore on twins.  Very few tribes considered them other than immortal and that they were always visiting for a while, whilst their parents were in Valhalla.  So twins, in general, were treated with special regard and affection and luck bringing.  If they did not like Earth, they would return to Heaven put-out and it was important to keep them happy.  Both the Yuma and Cocopa tribes believed it impossible for one twin to survive or remain on earth without the other.

Not all Indian tribes thought twins desirable and were very hostile towards them.  The Kato tribe put them both to death on the spot since they were born because of an enemy's malevolence and were Evil.  The Yurok would kill only one of the pair.  This tendency is true today in Northern Nigeria where a colleague about to publish some staggering figures on the incidence of twinning in certain tribes compared to others.  He was suddenly apprised that his data were suspect because he had been unaware that one tribe was killing off the twins and the mother as soon as possible.

Perhaps mythology is part fiction and the place of twins in fiction, the theatre and all story-telling is very, very large.  Obviously perfect resemblance between two different humans is a natural for comedy and drama.  Shakespeare had twin girls, Hamnet and Judith and perhaps this inspired that man of the theatre to write two comedies on the twin theme: The Comedy of Errors - two pairs of monozygous twins born in the same house on the same day and one pair being servants to the other pair.  "I see two husbands or mine eyes deceive me.”  The second play is Twelfth Night or What You Will.  Here we have dizygous unlike-sexed twins - Viola and Sebastian who are fantastically alike physically.  “One face, one voice, one habit and two persons.  A natural Perspective, that is and is not.”  Or “How have you made a division of yourself?  An apple, cleft in two, is not more twin than these two creatures.  Which is Sebastian?!!”

To become more in touch with true history, the lives and doings of some twin pairs have been recorded; and there is no better place to start than the Bible.

Rebekah, who was barren, was prayed for by Isaac and the Lord took pity.  “And when her days to be delivered were fulfilled, behold, there were twins in her womb. And the first came out red, all over like an hairy garment; and they called his name Esau.  And after that came his brother out, and his hand took hold of Esau's heel; and his name was called Jacob.  And the boys grew; and Esau was a cunning hunter, a man of the field; and Jacob was a plain man dwelling in tents.  And Isaac loved Esau, because he did eat of his venison: but Rebekah loved Jacob.” (Gen. XXV. 21-28.)

This is the first recorded hint at the difficulty of the twin study method in research: different parental attitudes invalidating our observations.  The twins were clear dizygous and this was pointed out to his mother by Jacob.  "Behold Esau my brother is an hairy man; and I am a smooth man." {Gen. XXVII.


Later in Genesis we find Tamar, wife of Judah, begating twins.  "And it came to pass, when she travailed, that one put out his hand; and the midwife took and bound upon his hand a scarlet thread saying, This came out first.”  However, he drew back his hand and his brother, Pharez, in fact came out first to the surprise of the mid-wife (“How has thou broken forth?”).  Zarah with the scarlet thread eventually was born second.  This points up the need for obstetricians to cooperate with the researchers in twin studies by marking the first-born twin and indeed the cord of the first twin before giving up the placenta to the Louisville twin study.

One of the Apostles, Thomas Didymos, was one of a twin but his twin is not described.  In A.D. 141, Faustina, wife of Marcel Aurelius, gave birth to twins - Commodus and Antonius Geminus.  The former became Emperor of Rome.  The Museum of Naples has commemorative medals commemorating Faustina's twin brother.  The first reverse shows them in the “cubiculum” and the second Faustina's six sons - the twins being held by Grunone Lucina - patroness of fecundity. (Slide 1)

In many aristocratic and dynastic families in history the incidence of twins in the family tree is high and this is interesting pointing out the genetic factor of twinning itself and here accentuated by the well-known and traditional inbreeding of such families.

In the fifteen hundreds the Capet-Bourbon families, and the Royal Bourbons later, continued to inbreed and produce many twins.  Louis XV married Mary Leszczyuska and they had, alas, twin girls later to be called Madame Premiere and Madame Seconde.  The obstetrician delivering the twins was hoping, after the firstborn was seen to be a girl, that the second would be a male heir to the Queen - a Dauphin.  On seeing the second girl he said in a very sad voice, "Cela ne vaut pas un Dauphin".

The public were very alarmed at this news because of the great cost of the upkeep of the Royal Princesses.  A song of the times went:   

“I1 faudra deux bonnets

I1 faudra deux hochets

I1 faudra deux maris,

Et l'annee qui vient,

Deux Dauphins!"

Medicine had become interested in twins and took up the study from the mythologists, the astrologers and the makers of horoscopes.  In the Hospital of Santo Spirito in Rome are some beautiful wax impressions of twinning.

(Slide 2)  Here is a pregnant uterus containing dichorial twins.  The Sculptor Manfredini made this model after the Anatomist Carlo Mondini of Bologna had provided the original specimen.

(Slide 3)  This shows two monochorionic twin fetuses with a single placenta.

Not until the second half of the 19th century was it apparent that human twins could be valuable research tools.  This step forward was due almost entirely to Sir Francis Galton, seen here at the age of 73.  (Slide 4)  He may be called the father of medical genetics and it was he who postulated the “nature – nurture” factors on development – “if identical twins are different for any factor, this difference must be caused by an environmental influence.  We now know that this is far from being as simple as that, but in researching into these areas since Galton’s time, it is clear that he started off the student along the lines of recognizing those complexities and being contributory along the way.

No account of twinning is complete without reference to the rather morbid interest Man has had in conjoined or Siamese twins - the result always of a mono-chorionic mono-amniotic foetal existence.  Rare as they are, they always evoke comment and have been used for entertainment purposes for many years.

The twins responsible for the term "Siamese" were, of course, (Slide 5) the Siamese Twins, Chang and Eng.  They traveled all over the world between 1811 and 1874 and were exhibited constantly.

In the courtyard of the San Marco Museum there is a bas-relief of two conjoined twins born in the 14th century.  (Slide 6)  The pair is recorded as having “two heads, four arms, two bellies, three legs and was clearly a monster.  It lived for twenty days, one part of it dying before the other".

Well-known performers born in 1911 were Daisy and Violet Hilton who toured extensively on the halls and were talented in their art.  (Slide 7)  At a similar time Lucio and Simplicio Godena from the Philippines skilled in many sports and gave skating exhibitions.  They married non-conjoined twins incidentally - no doubt a complex undertaking.

In the same Medical Arts Museum already mentioned in Rome there is a beautifully prepared skeleton specimen dated 1802.  Technically this is known as a Teratodymi and you can see the classical picture.  (Slide 8)

Historically the present is important and indeed the future.  One example wi11 suffice from our own doorstep.  The Lavender Twins - our favorite local pair - were happily monochorionic - di-amniotic and thus not conjoined.  However, one of the boys grabbed an enormous section of the placenta as his share and demanded that his twin transfuse him to boot at the same time.  These undemocratic and, greedy proceedings resulted in this at birth.  (Slide 9)

By careful nursing and an excellent mother the boys - who be it remembered are identical phenotypically - have grown healthy.  But the smaller is still very much smaller as you can see and has a different personality.  What will the future bring?  The forces of Good and Evil are clearly at work from the moment of conception and as Dr. Billy Andrews says: the secrets are all in Black Box.

Finally, the United States has a rather delightful craze for forming Associations, Societies, Unions, Lodges and the like.   This is largely due to the Americans’ gregarious and kindly nature and his efficiency at organization.

It seems hard to believe that there is an American Association of Triplets - but there is.  This photograph is of a meeting held at Palisades Amusement Park in the late forties.

Perhaps, economically at least, we humans are fortunate.  Two other animals come to mind: the poor female Armadillo and busy Marmoset invariably have quadruplets with each pregnancy.  Perhaps one should say the poor males of those species should have learnt the lessons of those incorrigible, racy, and rowdy mythological gods.