Wednesday, May 1, 2013

TFBT: Tears of Blood, Tears of the Deep

“Alas, that it should be the lot of Sarpedon, whom I love so dearly as to perish at the hands of Patroclus.” Iliad 16:430

A bunch of us participate in a free online course from Harvard, thanks to edX;  “The Ancient Greek Hero”  During classroom discussion about the laments of the goddess Thetis for her doomed mortal-son Achilles,  one participant suggested that Zeus’ debate over the death of his mortal son Sarpedon could be a mini-lament.  So, below I attempt to compare Zeus’ laments for Sarpedon to Thetis’ for Achilles.

1.     At Iliad 16:430 Zeus looks down on the battle before Troy with pity for his doomed son and speaks the words above.  Thetis has a similar bout of pity of her son at Iliad 18:51 

2.     Zeus says “I am in two minds whether to catch him up out of the fight and set him down safe and sound in the fertile district of Lycia or let him now fall” (16:435)  In comparison at Iliad 9:499-505 Thetis is reported actually discussing with Achilles the two ways his fate could turn.  There is no indication that Thetis will be unable to alter Achilles Fates.  As Laura M Slatkin argues in “The Power of Thetis” ; Thetis seems to occupy a unique position in the hierarchy of the Greek gods.  Colluding and conspiring Olympians can thwart the will of Zeus (Iliad 1:393) but Thetis in turn overthrew their will.  If the will of the collective Olympians is greater than Zeus and Thetis’ greater than theirs it follows that Thetis’ will is great than Zeus.  And note that on both occasions when Thetis wishes to change the course of events there is not physical attack on her person nor harsh words about her, even behind her back. (Iliad 1:393, 496).  Thetis can get her way.  Unlike Sarpedon, Achilles has a choice of destinies.

3.     At 16:440 “O most dread son of Cronus, what are you saying?” questions his sister and wife Hera.   Another classmate references the Muses at Achilles funeral being there “for the record”.  An interesting phrase here, because Hera very much seems to being in the Sarpedon conversation “for the record”; representing the status quo and the Olympic community’s expectations.  In contrast, although no one like Hera or the Erinnyes question Thetis effort to insure her son outlives his destiny; goddesses of significance attend his funeral in a formal capacity; the muses insuring his chosen destiny; unwilting glory and endless fame. (Odyssey 24:57-97) 

4.     At 16:459 “The sire of gods and men assented (to Sarpedon’s death) but he shed a rain of blood up on the earth.”  Zeus assented to Sarpedon’s death; allowed his life to end, something Thetis never did.  Both deities shed tears before their sons’ actual death (Iliad 18:94 and 1:413 respectively). 

5.      Following the above quote about Zeus’ nod;  “nor did Zeus turn his keen eyes away from one moment from the fight but kept looking at it all the time for he was settling how best to slay Patroclus.”  Zeus watches and plots revenge, Thetis does neither. 

6.      At 16:665-684 Zeus gives direction for his son’s funeral with no indication he attended the event.  Whereas, Thetis came forth from the sea with the immortal sea-nymphs; the daughters of Nereus the old man of the sea wailing piteously.  She and her sisters clothed Achilles in ambrosial robes.  For seventeen days and nights Thetis immortal gods and mortal men in lament.  After the cremation upon a pyre Thetis provided “ a two-handled, golden urn,” and gave instructions for the burial of Achilles, Patroclus and Antilochus, in a “great and goodly tomb,” And convinced the gods to provide the gifts for the funeral games.  (Odyssey 24:57-97) 

7.     Per Zeus’ instruction Sleep and Death fly Sarpedon’s body off to Lycia.  In some traditions Thetis snatched Achilles from the pyre and flies him off to the Isle of Leuce.  (Aethiopis) 

So, in summary both god and goddess pity their doomed offspring, consider alternative fates for them, are visited by witnesses to that fate, weep, make funeral arrangements and see that they are snatched away from this world at the end.




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