Saturday, September 24, 2016

TFBT: Random Notes from Sarpedon's Death

In preparation for a CHS Open House: The Beauty of Homeric Similes, with Deborah Beck  I recent re-read the death of Sarpedon in Book 16 of the Iliad.  In my random notes I will just be discussing things I hadn’t thought about before.

 I wanted to discuss a simile mentioned in the recent blog-post hyperlinked aboe. 

“(Sarpedon] fell, as when an oak goes down or a white poplar,
or like a towering pine tree which in the mountains the carpenters
have hewn down”
  (Homer Iliad 16.482-92)

Maybe Homer never dropped a towering pine, but I have. I was sawyer on a firefighting crew. There is a moment,a terrible, awesome moment announced by a loud snap. That loud snap is as earthshaking as a thunderbolt. Sawyer and swamper hold their collective breathes. The tree might shatter its length and explode. It might kick back and swat away the sawyer and his therapon like a mother swatting a fly away. It might hesitate and wobble, the trunk heading downhill while hurling the top like an ashen spear back at the saw team. If it falls the way it should, the sawyer and his swamper quietly follow their escape away and then stop. As first there is no sound, as the pine falls towards the valley below. Then the rush of the wind in the branches begins to roar like the winds rushing through the forest. Then it slams into the slope below and shakes the earth, loosening boulders and shaking “widowmakers” out of the neighboring trees. The moment ends with the tinkling of loose rocks below and the crash echoing from the opposite hill. That’s how Sarpedon fell.

“(Sarpedon) spake, and leapt in his armour from his chariot to the ground. And Patroclus, over against him, when he beheld him, sprang from his chariot. “ 16.426

 Can you imagine leaping from a chariot dressed in full armor and racing at your opponent?  This is the apothrathic (spelling)  moment.  It is a big thing in the interpretation of myths.  It’s that moment between sky and earth, now and then, it is a momentary sacred spot. 

"I (Zeus) shall snatch him up (Sarpedon) while yet he liveth and set him afar from the tearful war in the rich land of Lycia."  Hera as Queen and leader of the more conservative faction on Olympus seriously objects and a big scene ensues.  Zeus is forced by political considerations to allow Sarpedon to die.  He wept dark tears of blood at this realization.  Hm, Apollo snatched up Aeaneas and Agenor without Hera objecting, what’s the difference? 

"horse shrieked aloud as he gasped forth his life, and down he fell in the dust with a moan, and his spirit flew from him"   Horses have souls? 

"Patroclus, of the shaggy heart"; Patrocus is hairy-chested like his cousin  Achilles as is Hephaestus apparently.  Not the way they are usually portrayed in films, paintings and sculpture.  

Then the mighty monster hobbled off from his anvil, his thin legs plying lustily under him. He set the bellows away from the fire, and gathered his tools into a silver chest. Then he took a sponge and washed his face and hands, his shaggy chest and brawny neck; he donned his chiton, (18.410]




  1. Hera's point was that Zeus wanted to intervene for the sake of his child, while other gods already had lost children in this war orchestrated by him. A god was allowed to intervene on behalf of his protege; there are numerous examples. However, the only example I remember of a god saving his child is Aphrodite with Aeneas. This was allowed, for Aeneas was to survive; even pro-Greek Poseidon would protect him.
    (I doubt, however, that Zeus was sincere in his wish to save Sarpedon.)

  2. Maya,

    Agenor was rescued by Apollo, no relationship. Agenor died later in the Iliad, of course. But, maybe you are right, maybe saving demi-gods is a rarity.


  3. Maya,

    Okay, how about Hippolytus (Virbios), ino, Melicertes, Helle and Diomedes?


  4. Some have been immortalized (though not all listed are unanimously considered immortalized; and only Diomedes is participant in the Trojan War).