"Death." Latin Mors, a personification of Death. In the Homeric poems Death does not appear as a distinct divinity, though he is described as the brother of Sleep (Hypnos), together with whom he carries the body of Sarpedon from the field of battle to the country of the Lycians.1 In Hesiod2 he is a son of Night (Nyx) and a brother of Cer and Sleep, and Death and Sleep reside in the lower world.3
In the Alcestis of Euripides, where Death comes upon the stage, he appears as an austere priest of Hades in a dark robe and with the sacrificial sword, with which he cuts off a lock of a dying person, and devotes it to the lower world.4 On the whole, later poets describe Death as a sad or terrific being,5 but the best artists of the Greeks, avoiding any thing that might be displeasing, abandoned the ideas suggested to them by the poets, and represented Death under a more pleasing aspect.
On the chest of Cypselus, Night was represented with two boys, one black and the other white,6 and at Sparta there were statues of both Death and Sleep.7 Both were usually represented as slumbering youths, or as genii with torches turned upside down. There are traces of sacrifices having been offered to Death,8 but no temples are mentioned anywhere.
Thanatos was portrayed as a beautiful winged youth, carrying an inverted torch in one hand, and a wreath or a butterfly in the other. He and Hypnos appear frequently on Attic lekythos, funerary vases. A sculpted pillar at the Artemis temple at Ephesus (fourth century BCE) depicts Thanatos with two large wings and armed with a sword.
- Iliad xvi, 672; xiv, 231.
- Theogony, 211 ff., 756.
- Comp. Virgil. Aeneid vi, 277.
- Alcestis, 75, 843, 845.
- Horace. Odes, i, 4. 13; Satires ii, 1. 58.
- Pausanias. Description of Greece v, 18.1.
- ibid. iii, 18.1.
- Servius on Virgil's Aeneid xii, 197; Statius. Thebaid iv, 528; Lucan, vi, 600; Philostratus. Life of Apollonius of Tyana v, 4.
- Aken, Dr. A.R.A. van. (1961). Elseviers Mythologische Encyclopedie. Amsterdam: Elsevier.
- Smith, William. (1870). Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology. London: Taylor, Walton, and Maberly.
This article incorporates text from Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology (1870) by William Smith, which is in the public domain.