Translation copyright 2003 Neil W. Bernstein; all rights reserved.

That women in Rome did not swear by Hercules, nor men by Castor (1)

  1. Roman women do not swear by Hercules nor men by Castor in the ancient sources.
  2. It is not hard to understand why women did not swear by Hercules: because they do not participate in sacrifices to Hercules. (2)
  3. However it is not easy to say why men do not call on Castor when swearing oaths. A woman saying “By Hercules!” or a man saying “By Castor!” cannot be found anywhere in correct writers.
  4. However “edepol,” which is an oath by Pollux, is common to both men and women.
  5. But Marcus Varro (3) asserts that men of the distant past were neither accustomed to swear by Castor or by Pollux, but that this oath, sworn only by women, was taken from the Eleusinian mysteries (4).
  6. Little by little, nevertheless, through ignorance of ancient custom, men began to say “edepol,” and this became a habit of speaking. But “By Castor!” said by a man is to be found in no ancient source.


  1. Castor and his brother Pollux were worshipped at a temple in the Roman Forum. They were thought to have intervened on the Roman side at the battle of Lake Regillus in 484 BC (Cicero, On the Nature of the Gods 2.6).
  2. Cf. Propertius 4.9.69, Macrobius Saturnalia 1.12.28.
  3. The surviving works of Varro (116-27 BC), “the most learned of the Romans”, include an essay on farming (Res Rustica) and part of a treatise on the Latin language (de Lingua Latina).
  4. The Eleusinian mysteries, the cult of the goddesses Demeter and Persephone, were celebrated annually at Eleusis in Attica.

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