Boreas, Hypnos, Thanatos, and the deaths of Sarpedon in the Iliad

  Gartziou-Tatti, Ariadni. 2023. “Boreas, Hypnos, Thanatos, and the deaths of Sarpedon in the Iliad.” In “Γέρα: Studies in honor of Professor Menelaos Christopoulos,” ed. Athina Papachrysostomou, Andreas P. Antonopoulos, Alexandros-Fotios Mitsis, Fay Papadimitriou, and Panagiota Taktikou, special issue, Classics@ 25.

I. Introduction

Sarpedon was escorted on his final journey by a noteworthy pair of “pallbearers”: the divine twins Hypnos and Thanatos, sent on the orders of the king of the gods to transport the hero’s corpse to Lycia. Zeus, who controlled the course of the war, ordered Apollo to clean Sarpedon’s corpse and have the twin brothers quickly transport the slain hero to Lycia for his family to perform the proper burial rites. This order was carried out immediately (Iliad 16.666–675 = 16.676–683).
The death and burial rites of the Lycian hero, who fought on the Trojan side and was killed by Patroclus, have been a frequent focus of Homeric scholarship, and the episode has been analyzed extensively. [1] Not quite so discussed, however, have been the presence and joint contribution of Hypnos and Thanatos, who were entrusted as intermediaries to carry the corpse of Sarpedon away from the battlefield at Troy to his home in Lycia, a topic that has been overlooked and not systematically explored. In addition, very little attention has been given to the description of the hero’s first “death” and resuscitation, thanks to Boreas, on the battlefield. Furthermore, scholars appear to have devoted no attention at all to the possible correlations, differences, as well as reasons for the participation of all these figures in the two-fold Iliadic narrative of the deaths of Sarpedon.
The present study focuses on the identification and joint examination of the individual and common attributes of those three forces, which link the world of heroes and that of the gods and function as bridges from mortal life to the beyond. Our effort will be presented in three sections. Initially we shall attempt to investigate Boreas’ contribution to Sarpedon’s return to life after being mortally wounded. Subsequently we shall delve into Hera’s prophesy regarding the necessity of Hypnos and Thanatos’ participation in the final, funeral journey of the hero from the battlefield to Lycia. Hera’s inclusion of all these forces in her scope necessitates a brief presentation of the overall anthropological, theogonic, and eschatological views on the attributes of Hypnos and Thanatos, as well as of the special relationship between Hypnos, Hera, and Zeus. Finally, the conclusions of the first two sections will further illuminate Zeus’ orders to Apollo regarding the care of Sarpedon’s dead body and its transportation to the hero’s homeland by the divine twin pallbearers. The overall objective of the present study is to interpret the mythological and potential eschatological perceptions connected with the intermediary figures which play a leading role in the two different, albeit complementary, accounts of the deaths of Sarpedon.

II. Boreas and the first death of Sarpedon

The prominent participation of the Lycians in the war is depicted in the conversation between Glaucus and Diomedes (Iliad 6.119–236), in which the description of the Lycians’ glorious past also includes a reference to Sarpedon’s divine provenance as the son of Zeus and Laodamia, daughter of Bellerophon (Iliad 6.196–198). This emphasis on Sarpedon’s divine origin as a son of Zeus is quite frequent in the Iliad (5.635, 662, 672, 675, 683, 13.292), though there does not appear to be any sort of reference, even implicit, to the tradition according to which Sarpedon was the son of Zeus and Europa and a brother of Minos and Radamanthys. [2]
This is clearly either a deliberate concealment or a lack of knowledge of the hero’s genealogy, despite Zeus’ declaration to Hera in the Dios Apate, which we shall discuss below, regarding the paternity of those two brothers (Iliad 14.322). [3] In fact, Sarpedon’s ancestry and divine parentage are the source of a certain dispute in the interaction between Tlepolemus and Sarpedon preceding their duel, in which Tlepolemus, a son of Heracles and a grandson of Zeus, alludes his parentage from Heracles (Iliad 5.628–676). Here the leader of the Rhodians (Iliad 2.653–670) accuses Sarpedon of not being a true son of Zeus, as he is inferior to the previous generations and especially to the generation of Heracles, [4] who distinguished himself during the first sack of Troy. The reference in the description of the verbal and physical confrontation between Tlepolemus and Sarpedon (Iliad 5.628–698) [5] to these past events is fleshed out with the addition of two further details in the repetition of the narrative in the Dios Apate episode. Here Hypnos, whom Hera petitions for help to put Zeus to sleep, refers to the crucial contribution of the winds and the storm they caused, which aided Hera to attack Heracles and drive him off to the island of Cos (Iliad 14.242–269). Zeus also mentions this aid and accuses Hera of plotting Heracles’ demise with the help of Boreas, necessitating his intervention to rescue Heracles and return him to Argos (Iliad 15.11–35).
The overall image in this analeptic narrative of the collaboration between the winds, Boreas, Hera, and Hypnos after Hercules’ sack of Troy constitutes the necessary mythological background for our understanding of Boreas and Hypnos’ involvement in the current and latest development in the war. Moreover, their connection to the death of Sarpedon is organized into two distinct stages. The first focuses on the role played by Boreas, who, after Sarpedon is mortally wounded, directly intervenes and “breathes” (ἐμπνύνθη) into him with a kind of “breath” (πνοιή), that breathed (ἐπιπνείουσα) life into him: [6]

τὸν δὲ λίπε ψυχή, κατὰ δ᾽ ὀφθαλμῶν κέχυτ᾽ ἀχλύς·
αὖτις δ᾽ ἐμπνύνθη, περὶ δὲ πνοιὴ Βορέαο
ζώγρει ἐπιπνείουσα κακῶς κεκαφηότα θυμόν.

But Sarpedon lost control of his psyche, and a mist came over his eyes.
Presently he came to again, for the breath of the north wind
as it played upon him gave him new life, and brought him out of the deep swoon into which he had fallen.

Iliad 5.696–698

While it is beyond our present scope to delve into the complex discussion regarding the eschatological meaning of the concept of the psyche in Homeric poetry [7] it is worth noting that the scene in question differs both from the other cases of heroes who lost their soul after being struck down in battle, such as Hyperenor (Iliad 14.518), Patroclus (Iliad 16.856), and Hector (Iliad 22.362), and from the later eschatological perceptions which established systematic associations between the fate of souls and the winds [8] .

Thus, the evident deviation from this perception in the scene in which Sarpedon is resuscitated by Boreas, the north wind, son of Eos and brother of Zephyrus and Notus (Hesiod Theogony 378–380), who aided Hera by blowing gusts of cold wind in pursuit of Heracles (Iliad 15.171, 19.356), comes as a surprise. In this instance Boreas, who is closely tied with the realm of the Trojans, having sired foals from the mares of Erichthonius, son of Dardanus (Iliad 20.219–229), confers a form of immortality upon Sarpedon after he has fallen on the battlefield. [9] Moreover, the bridge Boreas constructs between Sarpedon’s mortal and immortal natures assumes a greater significance when compared with how he, together with his brother Zephyrus, the West Wind, kindles the funeral pyre to cremate Patroclus upon the entreaties of Achilles and the intercession, intervention of Iris (Iliad 23.192–198). [10] This act, which speeds Patroclus’ soul on in its final journey (Iliad 23.221), is completed with the return of the two winds (Iliad 23.213 κλονέοντε, 23.215–216 ἱκέσθην… / … πεσέτην) to Thrace (Iliad 23.229–230). The fruitful collaboration between the two winds in their joint mission to the battlefield at Troy emphasizes the particular role played by intermediary figures such as the winds, [11] to express eschatological beliefs in the guise of mythic-epic narrative.

ΙΙΙ. Ηypnos, Thanatos, and Hera

And if Boreas, a power who, as mentioned previously, is part of the strife between Zeus and Hera over the fate of Heracles, occupies a prominent position in the first stage of the depiction of Sarpedon’s “death” and immortality, Hera’s proposal for Hypnos and Thanatos to participate in the transportation of Sarpedon’s corpse takes the spotlight in the second stage:

450    ἀλλ᾿ εἴ τοι φίλος ἐστί, τεὸν δ᾿ ὀλοφύρεται ἦτορ,
          ἤτοι μέν μιν ἔασον ἐνὶ κρατερῇ ὑσμίνῃ
          χέρσ᾿ ὕπο Πατρόκλοιο Μενοιτιάδαο δαμῆναι·
          αὐτὰρ ἐπὴν δὴ τόν γε λίπῃ ψυχή τε καὶ αἰών,
          πέμπειν μιν Θάνατόν τε φέρειν καὶ νήδυμον Ὕπνον,
455    εἰς ὅ κε δὴ Λυκίης εὐρείης δῆμον ἵκωνται·
          ἔνθα ἑ ταρχύσουσι κασίγνητοί τε ἔται τε
          τύμβῳ τε στήλῃ τε· τὸ γὰρ γέρας ἐστὶ θανόντων.

If, however, you are fond of him and pity him,
let him indeed fall by the hand of Patroclus,
but as soon as the psyche is gone out of him,
send Death and sweet Sleep to bear him off the field
and take him to the demos of Lycia,
and there his relatives and comrades will ritually prepare [tarkhuein] him,
with a tomb and a stele—for that is the privilege of the dead.

Iliad 16.450–457

The inclusion of this pair of escorts within Hera’s realm points once again both to the developing military action and to the deeper pre-existing correlations between Hera and Hypnos. To summarize the poetic design regarding Sarpedon’s martial activity, it is evident that having escaped death, the hero once again assumes the leadership of the Lycians (Iliad 2.876), in keeping with the values of warfare in the Iliad (12.101, 12.292–308, 12.392–399, 16.419–426). Indeed, in close collaboration with Glaucus (Iliad 2.876–877, 12.330), they lead the large ethnos of Lycians against the two Ajaxes (Iliad 12.331–435), in a direct reference to the expected martial behaviour of different kinds of pairs such as brothers, twins, half-brothers, or friends. [12] Sarpedon himself reveals his comprehensive familiarity with the “heroic code” when he declares to Glaucus that the best way to live is associated with the best way to die, and indeed that no man can elude death (Iliad 12.310–328). [13]

Thus, despite Zeus’ efforts to ward off his son’s death (Iliad 12.402–403) or his wish to snatch up his son from the battle and return him to Lycia (Iliad 16.433–438), the description of the duel between Sarpedon and Patroclus (Iliad 16.419–430 and 462–507) leaves no room for ambiguity regarding how events will unfold for our hero. Indeed, in Hera’s own words, saving Sarpedon would constitute a violation of μοῖρα (Iliad 16.440–442), a frame set by Zeus himself when he predicted (Iliad 15.67) the deaths of Sarpedon, Patroclus, and Hector (Iliad 16.459–461). Hera’s prophesy, which provides more detail regarding both the hero’s death and the means of performing his funeral rites, further confirms this perception. The goddess states that, after Sarpedon inevitably dies and his psyche and aion are gone out of him, sweet (νήδυμος) Hypnos and Thanatos will take him to his homeland and deliver him to his kinsmen. Hera’s poetic prediction of how Sarpedon is fated to die differs markedly from the previous description of his temporary death and resuscitation with the intervention of Boreas. Here both aion [14] and psyche are leaving the body exactly as Sarpedon himself had presaged in his plea for help to Hector (Iliad 5.684–88). Also noteworthy is the need for divine powers to accompany the deceased, an image somewhat reminiscent of the Orphic eschatological perceptions regarding the presence of Hermes on the soul’s final journey, when the aion leaves the body and the soul is flying, snatched up by the winds (fr. 339 Bernabé). [15]
A particularly salient point for the present discussion is represented by Hera’s suggestion, that the corpse of the hero be accompanied by two figures. Beginning, therefore, with our initial question, i.e. to comprehend Hera’s suggestion about the role played by these powers we must first discuss the underlying connection between Hera and Hypnos and the reasons for their collaboration. [16]
Hypnos first appears as a divine power allied with Hera in the well-known episode of the Dios Apate (The Deception of Zeus), [17] in which Hera requests the aid of Hypnos to distract Zeus and make it possible for the Greeks to win the war. Hera’s entreaty to the god, who lives on Lemnos, to help her to make Zeus fall asleep and the attributes she confers on him flesh out Hypnos’ identity as an all-powerful deity, capable of influencing the outcome of the war:

230    Λῆμνον δ᾽ εἰσαφίκανε, πόλιν θείοιο Θόαντος.
          ἔνθ᾽ Ὕπνῳ ξύμβλητο, κασιγνήτῳ Θανάτοιο,
          ἔν τ᾽ ἄρα οἱ φῦ χειρὶ ἔπος τ᾽ ἔφατ᾽ ἔκ τ᾽ ὀνόμαζεν·
          «Ὕπνε, ἄναξ πάντων τε θεῶν πάντων τ᾽ ἀνθρώπων,
          ἠμὲν δή ποτ᾽ ἐμὸν ἔπος ἔκλυες, ἠδ᾽ ἔτι καὶ νῦν
235    πείθευ· ἐγὼ δέ κέ τοι ἰδέω χάριν ἤματα πάντα.
          κοίμησόν μοι Ζηνὸς ὑπ᾽ ὀφρύσιν ὄσσε φαεινώ,
          αὐτίκ᾽ ἐπεί κεν ἐγὼ παραλέξομαι ἐν φιλότητι.
          δῶρα δε τοι δώσω καλὸν θρόνον, ἄφθιτον αἰεί,
          χρύσεον· Ἥφαιστος δέ κ᾽ ἐμὸς πάϊς ἀμφιγυήεις
240    τεύξει᾽ ἀσκήσας, ὑπὸ δὲ θρῆνυν ποσὶν ἥσει,
          τῷ κεν ἐπισχοίης λιπαροὺς πόδας εἰλαπινάζων.»

She reached Lemnos, the city of noble Thoas.
There she met Sleep, own brother to Death,
and caught him by the hand, saying,
“Sleep, you who lord it alike over mortals and immortals,
if you ever did me a service in times past, do one for me now,
and I shall show gratitude to you ever after.
Close Zeus’ keen eyes for me in slumber
while I hold him clasped in my embrace,
and I will give you a beautiful golden seat, that can never
fall to pieces; my clubfooted son Hephaistos shall make it
for you, and he shall give it a footstool for you to rest
your fair feet upon when you are at table.”

Iliad 14.230–241

Throughout the scene a special relationship between Hera and Hypnos is established, which transports the reader of the poem to the age of the primordial strife and conflict between the Gods. The poetic description makes it clear that Hypnos, as the anax of all mortals and gods, and brother (κασίγνητος) of Thanatos, lives on Lemnos the island of Hephaestus. [18] This geographic indicator, which connects Hypnos with Hephaestus is further strengthened by the gifts Hera promises him, namely the golden throne fashioned by Hephaestus (Iliad 14.238–240), and the hand of Pasithea (IIiad 14.267–268). [19] This implicit connection recalls both the conflict between Hera and Zeus over the role of Hephaestus and his ejection from Olympus (Iliad 1.571–594), as well as their conflict over the fate of Heracles. The latter conflict, in which Boreas was embroiled as discussed previously (Iliad 15.26–30), initially gives Hypnos pause in his deliberations on whether to aid Hera. Similarly to Hephaestus (Iliad 1.590–594), Hypnos reminds Hera of the punishment from which he himself was spared by taking refuge with his mother, Nyx (Iliad 14.259–260). Indeed, it is this exact same punishment, which he fears will be imposed on him this time:

          Ζηνὸς δ᾽ οὐκ ἂν ἔγωγε Κρονίονος ἆσσον ἱκοίμην,
          οὐδὲ κατευνήσαιμ᾽, ὅτε μὴ αὐτός γε κελεύοι.
          ἤδη γάρ με καὶ ἄλλο τεὴ ἐπίνυσσεν ἐφετμή,
250    ἤματι τῷ ὅτε κεῖνος ὑπέρθυμος Διὸς υἱὸς
          ἔπλεεν Ἰλιόθεν, Τρώων πόλιν ἐξαλαπάξας.
          ἤτοι ἐγὼ μὲν ἔλεξα Διὸς νόον αἰγιόχοιο
          νήδυμος ἀμφιχυθείς· σὺ δέ οἱ κακὰ μήσαο θυμῷ,
          ὄρσασ᾽ ἀργαλέων ἀνέμων ἐπὶ πόντον ἀήτας,
255    καί μιν ἔπειτα Κόωνδ᾽ εὖ ναιομένην ἀπένεικας,
          νόσφι φίλων πάντων. ὁ δ᾽ ἐπεγρόμενος χαλέπαινε,
          ιπτάζων κατὰ δῶμα θεούς, ἐμὲ δ᾽ ἔξοχα πάντων
          ζήτει· καί κέ μ᾽ ἄϊστον ἀπ᾽ αἰθέρος ἔμβαλε πόντῳ,
          εἰ μὴ Νὺξ δμήτειρα θεῶν ἐσάωσε καὶ ἀνδρῶν·
260    τὴν ἱκόμην φεύγων, ὁ δὲ παύσατο χωόμενός περ.
          ἅζετο γὰρ μὴ Νυκτὶ θοῇ ἀποθύμια ἕρδοι.
          νῦν αὖ τοῦτό μ᾽ ἄνωγας ἀμήχανον ἄλλο τελέσσαι.

Βut I dare not go near Zeus,
nor send him to sleep unless he bids me.
I have had one lesson already through doing what you asked me,
on the day when Zeus’ mighty son [Heracles]
set sail from Ilion after having sacked the city of the Trojans.
At your bidding I suffused my sweet self over the mind
of aegis-bearing Zeus, and laid him to rest; meanwhile you hatched a plot against him [Heracles],
and set the blasts of the angry winds beating upon the sea,
till you took him to the goodly city of Cos
away from all his friends. Zeus was furious when he awoke, and
began hurling the gods about all over the house; he was looking more
particularly for myself, and would have flung me down through space into the sea
where I should never have been heard of anymore,
had not Night who cows both men and gods protected me.
I fled to her and Zeus left off looking for me in spite of his being so
angry, for he did not dare do anything to displease Night.
And now you are again asking me to do something on which I cannot venture.

Iliad 14.247–262

The special relationship between Hypnos and the primordial powers of creation such as Boreas and Nyx [20] is further fleshed out, according to the poetical narrative, with the recognition of Hera as the daughter of Cronus (Iliad 14.243) and the gesture of respect towards Oceanus, the origin (genesis) of the gods (Iliad 14.201 = 14.302) and the “origin for all” (Iliad 14.246), and his wife Tethys (Iliad 14.205).

Τὴν δ᾽ ἀπαμειβόμενος προσεφώνεε νήδυμος Ὕπνος·
“Ἥρη, πρέσβα θεά, θύγατερ μεγάλοιο Κρόνοιο,
ἄλλον μέν κεν ἔγωγε θεῶν αἰειγενετάων
εῖα κατευνήσαιμι, καὶ ἂν ποταμοῖο έεθρα
Ὠκεανοῦ, ὅς περ γένεσις πάντεσσι τέτυκται.”

Then sweet Sleep answered,
“Hera, great queen of goddesses, daughter of mighty Kronos,
I would lull any other of the gods to sleep
without compunction, not even excepting the waters of Okeanos
from whom all of them proceed.”

Iliad 14.242–246

Hera makes entreaties to these same powers for support (Iliad 14.200–205, 301–304), revealing, thusly, a markedly different cosmogonic perception from the common Homeric depiction of Oceanus [21] , in which Hephaestus puts “the great strength of the river Oceanus” around the edge of the shield (Iliad 18.607–608), and Hermes leads the souls towards the streams of Oceanus (Odyssey 24.11) or the Hesiodic version(Theogony 133–135) where Oceanus takes the place of Ouranos, and Gaia that of Tethys.

Hypnos’ and Hera’s description in this Homeric episode are rather closer to Orphic perceptions, despite the fact that Homeric allusions to Orphic cosmogonic structures are exceedingly rare and rather vague. Also, worth noting here is the relationship between Hypnos and Nyx, who is presented as a cosmogonic force, as are Hypnos’ views on Oceanus as the father of all, a dominant view in Orphism (Orphic Hymn to Oceanus 83). [22]
The poetic reiteration of the primordial forces permeates the conversation between Hypnos and Hera, over the course of which Hypnos demands that Hera swear by the dread waters of the river Styx (Iliad 14.270–276), daughter of Oceanus and Thetys (Hesiod, Theogony 361, 776–777), [23] while he himself, overcome by his fear of Zeus, camouflages and hides himself among the trees as a Scops Owl, a bird that is called χαλκίς by the gods, and κύμινδις by the mortals (Iliad 14.291). [24]
From this point onwards Hypnos plays an active role in the divine machinations of the current war [25] as he himself, without following any other divine order, attempts to convince Poseidon to assist the Argives while Zeus slumbers in Hera’s arms (Iliad 14.352–363). The extensive description of Hypnos’ previous escapades and his connections with Hera are more than sufficient to explain the goddess’ prophesy regarding the necessity of the support of a divine being with sedative powers. And while Hypnos’ presence as a power, which revolves around the equal-parts beneficial and fraudulent rapprochement between the gods, [26] justifies his inclusion in Hera’s proposal, it is nevertheless striking that he relates to the personified Thanatos to achieve the new mission. Hypnos’ collaboratiοn with his brother Thanatos to remove Sarpedon’s corpse from the battlefield and escort the hero on his final journey, constitutes a fascinating composite image (IIiad 14.231, 16.672, 682).
The description of Thanatos as the κασίγνητος brother of Hypnos without any other reference to his attributes necessitates certain interpretative observations. Τhe personification of the metaphorical image of death, [27] which is connected exclusively to the world of mortals, for which death represents an aspect of what happens when life stops, broadens the scope of the powers needed to escort Zeus’ son. In this case Thanatos is not connected either with the gods of the underworld, such as Hades, the brother of Zeus, or the place to which the souls of departed mortals go after their death. This coalition between Hypnos and Thanatos is more likely due to the overt similarities between the natural phenomena they represent which also resulted in their personified collaboration as powers that, from this point onwards, bridge the gap between divine immortality and the mortality of men. [28]
This idiosyncratic establishment of Thanatos as the brother of Hypnos was further developed by Hesiod, who described both as being directly descended only from Nyx (Theogony 212–213, 756–761), who birthed them without the participation of another deity (Theogony 213, οὔ τινι κοιμηθεῖσα θεὰ τέκε). [29] However, this theogonic perception also establishes that Hypnos and Thanatos are not identical twins. One is kindly, while the other has a heart of iron and is hateful even to the deathless gods (Theogony 758–766). As a result, the Homeric notions of Hypnos and Thanatos according to which the two powers are interrelated in the eschatological sphere of Sarpedon’s passing may be better understood if both their Hesiodic genealogy and their eschatological attributes, as they are expressed in the Orphic Hymn to Hypnos (87) and Thanatos (85), are considered. [30] Here the attributes of the two gods overlap due to their common placement in the service of mortals (Orphic Hymn 85.1–3, Orphic Hymn 87.1–2), where Hypnos offers a kind of temporary death (Orphic Hymn 85.7), and Thanatos for his part a form of eternal sleep (Orphic Hymn 87.3, 5).
Considering the above information, Hera’s proposal introduces a complex framework of protective powers for Sarpedon’s final journey, in which the calming and sedative power of Hypnos is complemented by the stony image of Thanatos, who comes for all men, not less for the son of Zeus. Zeus attempts to do away with this distinction between the worlds of gods and men, initially by having a rain of bloody drops [psiades] fall over the battlefield (Iliad 16.458–459). [31] Subsequently, Zeus honors his slain son by assuming responsibility for his last rites. [32] Thus, he covers the battlefield in a deep blanket of night to protect the corpse (Iliad 16.567–568) while the Myrmidons and the Trojans who are contesting Sarpedon’s dead body and his weapons are compared with myriad flies buzzing over a jug of milk. Faced with the prospect of Sarpedon’s body being defiled and brutally abused, Zeus agrees with Hera’s proposal.

ΙV. Hypnos, Thanatos, and Sarpedon’s Final Journey

Zeus’ supervision of the hero’s final journey is crucial. Overseeing the entire process, the king of the gods entrusts Apollo, who did not disobey his father, to take the necessary care for the hero’s funeral rites, which are carried out in three distinct stages:

          καὶ τότ᾽ Ἀπόλλωνα προσέφη νεφεληγερέτα Ζεύς·
          «εἰ δ᾽ ἄγε νῦν, φίλε Φοῖβε, κελαινεφὲς αἷμα κάθηρον
          ἐλθὼν ἐκ βελέων Σαρπηδόνα, καί μιν ἔπειτα
          πολλὸν ἀπὸ πρὸ φέρων λοῦσον ποταμοῖο οῇσι
670    χρῖσόν τ᾽ ἀμβροσίῃ, περὶ δ᾽ ἄμβροτα εἵματα ἕσσον·
          πέμπε δέ μιν πομποῖσιν ἅμα κραιπνοῖσι φέρεσθαι,
          Ὕπνῳ καὶ Θανάτῳ διδυμάοσιν, οἵ ά μιν ὦκα
          θήσουσ᾽ ἐν Λυκίης εὐρείης πίονι δήμῳ,
          ἔνθα ἑ ταρχύσουσι κασίγνητοί τε ἔται τε
675    τύμβῳ τε στήλῃ τε· τὸ γὰρ γέρας ἐστὶ θανόντων».

Then Zeus lord of the storm-cloud said to Apollo,
“Dear Phoebus, go, I pray you, and take Sarpedon
out of range of the weapons; cleanse the black blood from off him,
and then bear him a long way off where you may wash him in the river,
anoint him with ambrosia, and clothe him in immortal raiment;
this done, commit him to the arms of the two fleet messengers,
Death, and Sleep, who will carry him straightway
to the fertile demos of Lycia,
and there his relatives and comrades will ritually prepare [tarkhuein] him,
with a tomb and a stele—for that is the privilege of the dead.”

Iliad 16.666–675

In the first of these steps, Apollo is tasked to remove Sarpedon’s dead body from the battle and then to wash it in the river, anoint it with ambrosia and clothe it in immortal raiment. This special treatment of Sarpedon’s corpse by Apollo, a subject which has been repeated three times (Hera to Zeus, 16.450–457, Zeus to Apollo 16.666–675, narrator 16.677–683), brings to light Apollo’s duties at the first and most crucial part of the funeral rites, that is, the laying out of the body (prothesis). Here, Apollo’s task is correlated with both the overall image of the god in the Iliad [33] and the prominent position he occupies in the Lycian pantheon, [34] as is evident in the prayer whIch Glaucus, Sarpedon’s brother in arms, addresses to him (Iliad 16.513–526). [35]

Also, Sarpedon’s funeral journey differs from that of Patroclus or the other dead heroes of the Iliad [36] in that, under the watchful eye of Apollo, a unique ekphora (funeral procession) with ambrosial attributes unfolds. [37] The elaborate preparations, namely the cleansing of Sarpedon’s dead body in the Scamander River, its anointment with ambrosia (Iliad 16.680) to prevent decay and maintain its composition, and its envelopment in immortal raiment, all serve to deliberately convey a type of transient immortality.
In the next step of this unusual homecoming (nostos), Hypnos and Thanatos are entrusted with delivering the body of the hero to his homeland and kinsmen, his wife, and his son, whom Sarpedon has already mentioned in his conversation with Hector (Iliad 5.478–490). Despite the sparsity of information, the dense poetic description of Hypnos and Thanatos’ contribution to this funerary procession is illuminating:

πέμπε δέ μιν πομποῖσιν ἅμα κραιπνοῖσι φέρεσθαι,
Ὕπνῳ καὶ Θανάτῳ διδυμάοσιν, οἵ ά μιν ὦκα
θήσουσ᾽ ἐν Λυκίης εὐρείης πίονι δήμῳ,

Τhis done, he committed him to the arms of the two fleet messengers,
Death and Sleep, who presently set him down
in the fertile demos of Lycia.

Iliad 16.681–683

Having discussed the individual and common attributes of these two divine powers and the role they play in the communication between mortals and immortals, the particular emphasis on their twin nature here helps us understand the poetic agenda of their involvement in what is to follow. [38] In contrast to Boreas’ resuscitation of Sarpedon and the role played by the winds in the kindling of Patroclus’ funeral pyre, here Hypnos and Thanatos (Iliad 16.671–681) undertake a mission uniquely tailored to both their characters. [39] In line with Apollo’s order, the funeral rites to be performed for the dead hero are organized according to an unusual, wholly singular format. First his relatives and comrades will complete a kind of corporeal preservation (Ιliad 16.456–674, ἔνθα ἑ ταρχύσουσι κασίγνατοί τε ἔται τε). Τhe use of the verb ταρχύω, [40] which comes after Sarpedon’s dead body is given care by Apollo and transported by the twins Hypnos and Thanatos, signifies the establishment of a form of immortality of the Lycian hero in his homeland, far from the battlefield where such a process would be wholly impossible to undertake, even for a son of Zeus (Iliad 5.629–637). This episode sheds light on the poet’s choice to give the hero’s final journey a prominent position in the Iliadic plot. The special care reserved for Sarpedon’s body, i.e. its prolonged preservation in Lycia, might be the origin of the later mythological tradition according to which the hero lived for three generations. Also, it remains an open question whether this unusual connection between Sarpedon and myths involving a sort of immortalization after death, might be referring to myths which speak of a prolonged stay or the identification of the hero with a rocky isle located close to Oceanus, [41] an image to which Pausanias (10.31.5) also refers in his description of Memnon and Sarpedon sitting together on a rock in the underworld. [42] This may also explain the deeper correlations between Sarpedon and Boreas, who breathed life back into the dead hero, given that the god of the northern wind appears to have seized Oreithyia and snatched her away to a rock named Sarpedon (ἐπὶ τὴν Σαρπηδονίαν πέτραν τῆς Θρᾴκης). [43]

In any event, the inclusion of the first stop in Sarpedon’s after-life journey into the realm of immortality, guided by the twin deities, alludes to eschatological journeys such as these of the heroes who after their death travel to the Islands of the Blessed, which are located near Oceanus and are presided over by Cronus (Odyssey 10.511, Hesiod, Works and Days 170–174). A similar image, interrelated in the eschatological sphere, is that of the trip undertaken by Hermes, who led the souls of the dead suitors to the underworld, and past “the streams of Oceanus and the white rock” … to “the gates of the sun and the land populated by dreams” (Odyssey 24.11–12). [44] In this context, the role Hypnos plays in Sarpedon’s funeral rites becomes clear, not only thanks to his manifold correlations with the earlier primordial divine powers but primarily since he, as an escort rather than a psychopomp, offers a path which will ensure peace and release from worldly cares and worries for the hero and his body.
At the same time the presence of Thanatos on the hero’s last journey ascribes Sarpedon’s fate to necessity, the fate of death, sealed with the erection of a tomb and a stele—for that is the privilege of the dead. Τhis final part of the funeral rites, [45] where the honouring of the dead hero with a tomb and a stele (τύμβῳ τε στήλῃ τε), [46] in other words the establishment of a cult of Sarpedon in his homeland, is highlighted, [47] leaves Thanatos, who, as a personified power, has undertaken to ensure the definitive end of the hero’s life, in a unique position. Concurrently, the whole rite is affirmed with the use of the term γέρας (honor of the dead), [48] which both emphasizes the honors to be performed for the hero to the poem’s audience and suggests the distinctive manner in which they will be performed, with his relatives and comrades tasked with preserving his body through a form of immortality and the establishment of a heroic cult (Iliad 16.454–455 = 674–675), materialized with the erection of a monumental stele above his tomb. Thus, the successive aspects of the funerary rite in honour of Sarpedon submit and explain the necessary participation of the twin gods, who, both individually and collaboratively, serve the hero’s journey towards the afterlife by rendering it a final rite of passage.


The discussion of the prominent position, role, and contribution of Boreas to the resuscitation of Sarpedon during his first brush with death, similarly to the emphasis on the roles played by the twin divine powers Hypnos and Thanatos in transporting Sarpedon’s dead body to his homeland, has allowed us to illuminate the participation of these intermediaries in Sarpedon’s life and death, a topic which has not been the subject of systematic study. The investigation of the presence of these three entities, which belong to the primordial forces and serve to bridge the worlds of men and gods, initially through Hera and subsequently through Zeus’ proposal, shows the poet’s intention to depict Sarpedon’s experiences at the end of his life and in the afterlife in a prominent manner, different from that of the heroes who perish on the field of battle in pursuit of the heroic kleos. In fact, the inclusion in the story of eschatological perceptions also sheds light on the necessity for intermediary ancillary figures to aid the soul in its journey from life to death or vice versa, from death back to life.


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[ back ] 1. It is not our intention to discuss in detail Sarpedon’s participation in the war and his death (Iliad 6.198–203; 2.876; 5.628–698; 12.101–103, 290–308; 16.419–562, 666–675), a subject which has been thoroughly investigated. See Nagy 1983; Janko 1992:370–373, also 419–683; Lateiner 2002; Delattre 2006; Neal 2006: 122–132; Acetti 2008: 154–224; Schein 2011; Pucci 2018:32–41. For further references and commentary, see Brügger 2018:194–280, 419–683.
[ back ] 2. Sarpedon, who joined the Trojan War, was the son of Ζeus and Laodameia. Outside the Ιliad he was the son of Ζeus and Europa and brother of Radamanthys and Minos (Hesiod fr. 140 M.W., fr. 141 M.W. l. 8–19, Aeschylus’ Kares or Europe frr. 99–101 Radt, especially fr. 99.16–19, Apollodorus 3.1.1 etc.). According to Diodorus Siculus 5.79.3, the first Sarpedon, son of Europa, who preceded the war of Troy, went to Lycia where his son, Evander, married Bellerophon’s daughter, who bore him the second Sarpedon. For further discussion and a thorough bibliographical dossier on Sarpedon’s genealogy, see Wathelet 1988:973–989, no 302; Aceti 155–224; Wathelet 2008; Tsagalis 2017/2023; Slater 2020, and the commentary by Coray 2018, 214 at 456–457.
[ back ] 3. I should stress that the tradition which could associate Sarpedon with the realm of Hades and the Elysian fields where Μinos and Rhadamanthys rule (Odyssey 4.563–565), a familiar topic from Hesiod onwards, is clearly at odds with the image of the hero in the Iliad, which belongs to the realm of the heroes’ martial virtues.
[ back ] 4. For Heracles’ role in the Iliad, see Barker and Christensen 2019:97–130; Nesselrath 2020. See also the commentary by Coray 2018:61–63 ad 117–121a.
[ back ] 5. Bezentakos 1996:291–294; Kelly 2010; Tsagalis 2012:410–413; Brügger 2018:193 ad 416.
[ back ] 6. The ancient texts are cited from the Oxford Classical Texts edition and the translations, with minor adaptations, are from the revised translation of Samuel Butler by Soo-Young Kim, Kelly McCray, Gregory Nagy, and Timothy Power, unless otherwise noted.
[ back ] 7. For a comprehensive survey of the Homeric scholarship about the notion of psyche, see Böhme 1929; Bremmer 1983:14–63; Clarke 1999:27–47; Barra-Salvezo 2007:17–43; Cairns 2011; Edmonds 2014; Horn 2018. For further discussion see Long 2021; Fuller, Saunders, and Macnaughton 2021; Männlein–Robert 2021.
[ back ] 8. Worth noting here are the correlation Anaximenes made between the soul and the wind (DK fr. 13 Β 2, see Long 2021:41–48), a fragmentary inscription from Athens (IG I 3, 1179, II 6, dated to 432 BCE, see Bonnechere 2003:116-173) which states that the wind (ether) accepts the soul and the earthly bodies (αἰθὲρ μὲμ φσυχὰς ὑπεδέχσατο, σόμ̣[ατα δὲ χθὸν]) and the famous passage from Aristotle (De Anima 410b = OF 421 Bernabé, φησὶ γὰρ τὴν ψυχὴν ἐκ τοῦ ὅλου εἰσιέναι ἀναπνεόντων, φερομένην ὑπὸ τῶν ἀνέμων. [For the soul, it is there asserted, enters from the universe in the process of respiration, being borne upon the winds]) which references Orphic beliefs. For the complex web of orphic allusions to the souls and the winds, see Bernabé 2007; Purves 2010, especially 330–331; Megino 2011; Gartziou-Tatti 2020a:138.
[ back ] 9. See Barker 2011:330–331 and Barker 2022, who emphasizes the importance of the Lycian hero to the story of Troy.
[ back ] 10. For a detailed discussion of Iris’ role in the Iliad, see Γκάρτζιου–Τάττη 1994–1995.
[ back ] 11. For further considerations about the wind Boreas, see Kakridis 1949/1967:127–148; Kaempf-Dimitriadou 1986; Hunemorder 2008; Coppola 2010:9–33; Eidinow 2019:113–132.
[ back ] 12. Such as Achilles and Patroclus, Hector and Cebriones, Odysseus and Diomedes, Menelaus and Agamemnon, etc. See Trypanis 1963; Sforza 2007:70–74; Bierl 2012.
[ back ] 13. For the speech of Glaucus and Sarpedon, see Wathelet 2001; Clay 2009; Τsagalis 2012:394-400 (=2023); Montanari 2019; Kyriakou 2022.
[ back ] 14. On the usage of aion in Homer, see Lackeit 1916:6–37; Degani 1961:17-25; Nagy 1983:122–125; Šćepanović 2012:48–61.
[ back ] 15. See Gartziou-Tatti 2020a:138.
[ back ] 16. On Hera’s relationship with Hypnos, see Modiglio 2016:17–22; Krieter-Spiro 2018:116–117 ad 231–291; Pucci 2018:182–185. [ back ] For an overall image of Hypnos as the ancient Greeks perceived him, see Lochin 1990; Wöhrle 1995; Bažant 1997; Πόλκας 1998; Modiglio 2016; Becatti 2018; Wohl 2020; Holton 2022.
[ back ] 17. For Zeus’ Deception in the Iliad, see Janko 1992:197-207; Pirenne-Delforge and Pironti 2016:131–133, 237–243; Pironti 2017:76–79; Krieter-Spiro 2018:73–167 ad 153–353; Pucci 2018:171–190; Lesser 2022:161–169.
[ back ] 18. Regarding Hypnos’ presence on Lemnos and his relationship with Hephaestus (cf. Euripides Cyclops 599–601, Sophocles Philoctetes 827–831), see Alden 2001/2017:41–42; Krieter-Spiro 2018:116–117 ad 230–231, 139 ad 281; Hunter 2021:66-72; Theissen 2021.
[ back ] 19. For Hera’ s promise of a golden throne and a wife to Hypnus, see Krieter-Spiro 2018:120–122 ad 238–240, and 131–132 ad 267–268.
[ back ] 20. See Krieter-Spiro 2018:129 ad 259–261; Pirenne-Delforge 2018.
[ back ] 21. For Oceanus as a cosmogonic power, see Verzina 2015; Krieter-Spiro 2018:101–106 ad 200–209 and 124 ad 246; Ali 2019. Contra, Kelly 2008:277–279.
[ back ] 22. For the Orphic perspective of Oceanus, see Chase and Brisson 2018.
[ back ] 23. Krieter-Spiro 2018:133-139 ad 271-280; Gartziou-Tatti 2020b:39–40.
[ back ] 24. Chantraine s.v. χαλκίς and s.v. κύμινδις; Johansson 2012:133–136; Krieter-Spiro 2018:141–143 ad 290–291.
[ back ] 25. Note especially the Olympians’ memories of their violent past, which influence their behaviour in the Trojan war. See Kostecka 2021: especially 128–129; Lesser 2022.
[ back ] 26. Cf. Odyssey 13.80, Hesiod Theogony 762–763. See Lochin 1990:591-592; Pigné 2009.
[ back ] 27. Thanatos as personified God appears also in the myth of Sisyphos (Pherekydes FGrHist 3, F 119), and in Euripides’ Alcestis (29–38). Regarding the Homeric perception of Death as the final stage of life, see Bažant 1994; Mirto 2012; Zografou 2017; Nesselrath 2019; Ekroth and Nilsson 2018; Gazis 2018; Létoublon 2020; Gazis, Hooper 2021. For the relevant iconography, see González 2021.
[ back ] 28. Cf. Iliad 2.19 ἀμβρόσιος κέχυθ’ ὕπνος, Iliad 11.241 πεσὼν κοιμήσατο χάλκεον ὕπνον, Odyssey 13.79–80 καὶ τῷ νήδυμος ὕπνος ἐπὶ βλεφάροισιν ἔπιπτε, / νήγρετος, ἥδιστος θανάτῳ ἄγχιστα ἐοικώς, etc.
[ back ] 29. Ramnoux 1959:51-59; Lauriola 2004:15-17.
[ back ] 30. For the text of the Orphic Hymns, see Athanassakis and Wolkow 2013.
[ back ] 31. Lateiner 2022.
[ back ] 32. For the discussion on the Διὸς βουλή, see further Allan 2008; Marks 2016; Nagy 2016a.
[ back ] 33. For a survey of Apollo’s major role in the Iliad, see Graf 2009:9-25; Brügger 2018, especially 293-298 ad 666-683.
[ back ] 34. For more on Apollo᾽s cult in Lycia and his relationship with Sarpedon, see Delattre 2006:265-268; Aceti 2008:150–154; Bachvarova 2016:447-453; Berthou 2017.
[ back ] 35. For Glaucus’ prayer to Apollo, see Brügger 2018:235–246 ad 508–536.
[ back ] 36. This image is similar to that of the care given to Hector’s body after his death by Aphrodite (Iliad 23.184–187), who anoints it with ambrosial oil, and Apollo, who covers the part of the battlefield where Patroclus fell with a dark cloud which remained day and night and the winds blew to kindle the funeral pyre. Note also that Thetis instills ambrosia and nectar into Patroclus’ nose to preserve his body (Iliad 19.37–39).
[ back ] 37. For ambrosia designating the notion of immortality, see Thieme 1913/2021:15–34; Graf 1996; Bader 2003; Grand-Clément 2018.
[ back ] 38. Ιt should be noted that a considerable volume of scholarship has been produced concerning the role of twins in ancient Greek civilization and literature. For a comprehensive survey of the subject, see Dasen 2005; Dasen 2017; Modesti 2016/2017. For salient comments on the Homeric perception of twinship, see especially Frame n.d.; Nagy 2020.
[ back ] 39. For an extensive summary of the pictorial evidence of Hypnos and Thanatos from the sixth century onward, see Vermeule 1979:145–178, especially 145–152; Mintsi 1991; Shapiro 1993:132–158; Mintsi 1997; Albinus 2000:90–97 and 200–201; Kavvadias 2000:133–134; Giudice 2003; Dasen 2005:134-136; Tsingarida 2009; Cousin 2015; Spiney 2019.
[ back ] 40. For more on the meaning of the verb ταρχύω (cf. Iliad 7.85), see Chantraine s.v. ταρχύω; Νagy 1983:131–141; Bader 2002; Bachvarova 2016:446–449 and the commentary by Brügger 2018:215 ad 456–457.
[ back ] 41. Cf. Cypria fr. 33 Bernabé (=Herodian 2, 914, 15 Lenz): τῶι δ’ ὑποκυσαμένη τέκε Γοργόνας, αἰνὰ πέλωρα, / αἳ Σαρπηδόνα ναῖον ἐπ’ Ὠκεανῶι βαθυδίνηι, / νῆσον πετρήεσσαν. For the major references and the relevant discussion see Debiasi 2004:115–118; Verzina 2015; Davies 2019:334–335.
[ back ] 42. Memnon’s journey to immortality, with which the Lycian hero’s experience is often compared, is wholly different. For a recent discussion on the immortalization of the heroic figure of Memnon, as is presented in the Aethiopis (Proclus Chrestomathia 172 =Test. 12, in Bernabé 1987:67-69), with a full bibliography of earlier scholarship, see Aceti 2008:231–262; Tsagalis 2012:420–440; West 2013:129–162; Rengakos 2015; Currie 2016:58–72; Davies 2016:30–36, 98–105; Sforza 2018.
[ back ] 43. Scholia to Apollonius of Rhodes 1.211-215 = Pherecydes FGrHist 3 F 145.
[ back ] 44. See Gartziou-Tatti 2020a; Gazis 2021:117–118.
[ back ] 45. For the ancient Greek conception of the corporeality of the dead, see recently Liapis 2021.
[ back ] 46. See Garcia 2013:243–289; Schnapp-Gourbeillon 2016.
[ back ] 47. For more on the heroic cult of Sarpedon in Lycia, see Nagy 1983; Nagy 2012; Bachvarova 201: 445–449; Hülden 2016; Rondholz 2020.
[ back ] 48. For the word geras in association with what is due to the dead, see Garland 1982; Garcia 2013:243–258.