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Kleobis, head and upper torso

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Kleobis, head and upper torso, right profile

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Kleobis, head and upper torso from left

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Kleobis and Biton, the pair from back right

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Biton, upper torso and head from right

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Biton, frontal view

Collection: Delphi Archaeological Museum
Title: Kleobis and Biton
Context: From Delphi
Findspot: Excavated at Delphi (the statues and part of one of the inscribed bases were found in 1893 and 1894 near the Athenian Treasury; the second base was found reused in a wall of the Roman baths in 1907)
Summary: Kleobis and Biton
Object Function: Votive
Sculptor: Signed by [Poly]medes of Argos
Material: Marble
Sculpture Type: Free-standing statue: kouros
Category: Single monument
Style: High Archaic
Technique: In-the-round
Original or Copy: Original
Date: ca. 580 BC
Dimensions: H. of Statue A: 2.16 m, with base 2.35 m, W. of base 0.38 m, L. of base 0.70 m, H. of head 0.30 m; Restored H. of Statue B: 2.18 m
Scale: Over life-size
Region: Phocis
Period: High Archaic

Subject Description:

The twin kouroi dedicated at Delphi are most often identified as the brothers Kleobis and Biton. Their story is told be Herodotus (Hdt. 1.31), as it was related to Croesos by Solon, who named them as the second most blessed of men. They harnessed themselves to a wagon in place of oxen and pulled their mother 45 stades to the temple of Hera for a festival. Having accomplished this feat, they feasted, went to sleep in the temple and, at the urging of their mother, were granted the highest honor men may receive — death. Herodotus then tells us the Argives made and set up images of them in Delphi because of their excellence. An inscription on the base of Statue A, stating it was made by the sculptor [Poly]medes of Argos, suggests that these were the statues Herodotus saw. A fragmentary inscription on the other base may label that statue as Biton. The inscriptions have been much discussed and a number of readings argued, including a recent attempt to see many new letters which have not been confirmed by other scholars. Vatin has revived the suggestion that the kouroi represent the Dioskouroi.

The kouroi are naked except for boots, which distinguish them from images of Apollo and may mark them as travellers. They are stockily built, short though over-life-size, with broad shoulders and broad faces.. The heads are sub-Daedalic, i.e. triangular in form. The round eyes are set within curving upper and lower lids, the entire eye unit cut deeply into the head beneath heavy brows. The mouth is full. The large ears are set far back at the side of the head; the lobe is a flat disk. The transition between the front and sides of the head is very abrupt. A single row of large disk-like curls line the forehead. The rest of the hair, emphasizing the flat top of the head, is combed and then subdivided into large bead-like elements. In back the hair springs out from beneath the double cord which holds it in place, at the top of the ears and, again, at the base of the neck. Each of the tendrils, front and back, is neatly finished with a tie.

The abdomen is defined linearly. Another line sets off the triangular are of pubic hair above the genitals. The round knees are set off by incision as well as by modeling. The arms are held close to the body, the clenched hands securely attached to the thighs, the thumbs facing outwar

Form & Style: The stocky proportions and rounded forms are thought to be characteristic of the Argive style. To what extent the muscular appearance has been emphasized in order to characterize them, especially if these figures represent the Argive heroes whose fame rested on their brute strength, is not known.

Condition: Fragmentary

Condition Description: Statue A (inv. 467) (on the right as displayed in the Delphi Museum) is well preserved and nearly complete, missing only the feet, although the soles are intact on the base, providing the stance. Statue B (inv. 1524) is much more fragmentary: a large fragment comprises the head through knees, several joining fragments comprise the left arm and part of the base. The lower legs and remainder of the base are restored. The right arm and left leg are missing. the surface is heavily eroded.

Material Description: Island, Parian marble(?) (GuideDelphMu 1991, 33)


On the top of Base B (which goes with Statue A): a:[...]*M*E*D*E*S *E*P*O*I*V*E [epig-rough]*A*R*G*E*I*O*S, "[Poly]medes the Argive made me".

b: another line, including questionable letters ...*A*G*A*G*O*N*T*O*I*D*U*I*O*I....

On the top of Base A: ...*T*O*N *T...*T...*R*A..., "[Bi]ton...." (very conjectural). This reading is from Jeffery 1990, 405. Other, much more extensive readings have been claimed. See, e.g., Vatin 1977.

Sources Used: GuideDelphMu 1991, 33ff.; Jeffery 1990, 154ff.; Stewart 1990, 109,112; Faure 1985, 56ff.; Hurwit 1985, 200ff.; Vatin 1982, 509ff.; Boardman 1978a, fig. 70; Vatin 1977, 13ff.; Robertson 1975, 46; FdDelph 4.1, 5ff.