Words Crush Wednesday; S is for Sarpedon

Published April 22, 2015 by Iphis of Scyros

How did it get to be Wednesday already?  I have my second interview tomorrow, and I’ve only written half the questions!  Er, sorry.  Panic attack.  Right, so in today’s combination of Words Crush Wednesday and the April A-to-Z Blogging Challenge, I’ll be quoting the death of Sarpedon at you.

But first some background.  Sarpedon is the son of Zeus, fathered on the daughter of Bellerophon.  At least, in the Iliad he is.  Later authors said he was one of the three sons Zeus fathered on Europa (the others being, of course, Minos and Rhadamanthys) having been allowed to live for three generations, for no readily apparent reason.  Now, admittedly, the third son of Europa is (as far as I know) always called Sarpedon, but that’s no reason for them to be the same person; that doesn’t make sense, because how would the Cretan Sarpedon end up as King of Lycia?  (Exile from Crete seems to be the usual explanation, but…it feels a bit forced all around.)

Still, regardless of confusion over who his mother is, Sarpedon’s father is always Zeus.  And he’s always the leader of the Lycian contingent of Trojan allies.  And he always meets his death in that fateful battle inside the Achaian camp.

Now, some background on the situation, before I start the quoting.  Hector has broken down the wall into the Greek camp, and the Trojans and their allies are swarming through it, trying to set fire to the ships.  Patroclos has convinced Achilles to let him fight in Achilles’ armor, so that the fresh and rested Myrmidons can be properly led out into battle and the enemy can be routed yet Achilles won’t have sacrificed his honor by returning to the fight without having properly accepted Agamemnon’s apologies.  Achilles agrees, but on the condition that Patroclos not leave the camp:  once the enemy have been driven out of the camp, Patroclos is supposed to stop fighting and return to the safety of their hut.  While Patroclos is donning the armor, Achilles himself rallies the Myrmidons, and orders their charioteer Automedon to prepare the chariot.  In so doing, Automedon hitches up Xanthos and Balios, the immortal horses of Achilles, as well as a mortal horse, Pedasos.  (These two-horse chariots are frequently described as being pulled by three horses.  This was undoubtedly because of the tendency of the enemy to attack the horses in order to stop the chariot and weaken the fighting position of the men riding it.)  Patroclos and the Myrmidons immediately terrify and overwhelm the enemy, as I mentioned before, and great carnage ensues.

And it’s about here I’ll start quoting.  Book XVI of the Iliad, W.H.D. Rouse translation:

Sarpedon saw his countrymen falling–he knew them by their dress, for they wore no loin-guard–and he called to them in reproach:

“Shame, Lycians!  Where are you running?  Play up, men!  I will meet this man myself.  I want to know who he is that sweeps everything before him.  Look how many good men and true he has killed!”

Then he jumped out of the car in his armour; and Patroclos when he saw did the same.  They leapt at each other yelling, like a couple of vultures on a high rock shrieking and fighting with beak and claw.

At this point, there’s an exchange between Zeus and Hera, because Zeus loves Sarpedon more than his other sons, and is tempted to rescue him, even though he knows he’s fated to die at Patroclos’ hands.  Hera berates him for his selfishness, and tells him that if he truly loves his (illegitimate) son, then he won’t interfere with his fate, and will simply have Thanatos and Hypnos (Death and Sleep) rescue the body afterwards, so it can be properly buried.  For once, Zeus agrees with his wife, and we return to the action.

But he sent a shower of bloody raindrops upon the earth in honour of his dear son, whom Patroclos was destined to kill on Trojan soil, far from his native land.

When they were within reach, Patroclos struck Thrasymelos Sarpedon’s man in the lower belly, and brought him down.  Sarpedon cast at Patroclos and missed, but he hit the horse Pedasos in the right shoulder.  The horse fell crashing in the dust, and gasped out his life with a moan; the other two sprang apart with a crack of the yoke, entangling the reins above them.  Automedon mended matters by drawing his sword and cutting loose the trace-horse; then the others were righted and drew the reins taut.

The two men now came together again for their battle.  Sarpedon cast, and the spear passed over Patroclos’ left shoulder without touching.  Patroclos followed up, and there was no mistake about his cast:  he struck where the midriff encloses the beating heart.  Sarpedon fell, as an oak tree falls or a poplar, or a tall pine felled by a woodman to make a ship’s mast:  so he lay in front of his horses and chariot, moaning and clutching at the bloody dust.  Like a bull that a lion kills–he tracks a herd and leaps on the bull, and the strong-hearted creature groans in his death between the lion’s jaws, so under the blow of Patroclos the strong heart of the Lycian warrior struggled with death, and he called his comrade by name:

“Waste no time, Glaucos!  You are a warrior among men–now ply your spear and show yourself a warrior!  Now let dreadful war be your heart’s desire, if you are good at need!  First bring up all our best men to fight for Sarpedon; than fight yourself with your own blade.  I shall be your shame and disgrace all your days for ever, if the Achaians strip me fallen before their own ships.  Stand firm and bring up our people all!”

Even as he spoke the end came, and death closed his eyes and nostrils.  Patroclos set foot on his breast and pulled out the spear, bringing the midriff with it; he dragged out life and blade together.  His Myrmidons caught the panting horses, which would have run away now that the chariot had lost its masters.

I think there’s a typo in the book.  It really says “than fight yourself” but it ought to say “then fight yourself” so I think there’s a typo in this edition.  (Signet Classics is the edition.  Anyone got a different edition of this translation to verify?)

Uh, anyway, getting back to the subject at hand, Glaucos fails to protect Sarpedon’s body (on account of having already been shot in the arm by Teukros) even though he goes to fetch Hector and the others (as I quoted before in talking about Patroclos) and the armor of Sarpedon is taken by the Myrmidons.  (Usually, the heroes themselves don’t have time to waste on the armor and horses looted from their enemies, and their underlings handle that for them.)  However, Sarpedon’s body itself is rescued by Apollo, Thanatos and Hypos, whereupon it is washed, and returned to Lycia for mourning and burial.  And Glaucos hasn’t got all that many days left in which to suffer the “shame and disgrace” of having failed his cousin Sarpedon, because he’s going to be killed by Telamonian Aias over the corpse of Achilles.

Thus ends the tale of Sarpedon, the only son of Zeus to die in the Trojan War.


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