The myth of Sarpedon, the son of Zeus who died fighting in the Trojan War

Sarpedon

Sarpedon, the son of Zeus, is famed in Greek mythology for fighting gallantly on the side of the Trojans in the Trojan War

In the Iliad, a work by ancient Greek poet Homer, Sarpedon is described as the warrior and son of Zeus and Laodamia.

Sarpedon’s father Zeus is the chief of the gods in Greek mythology; while his mother Laodamia was the daughter of Corinthian hero Bellerophon. Through his mother’s side, he was the grandson of Poseidon as some accounts of the story portray Bellerophon as the son of Poseidon. What this means is that – not only was Sarpedon the son of Zeus, he was also the grandnephew of Zeus.

Sarpedon in the Trojan War

When the Trojan War broke out, Sarpedon travelled from his hometown in Lycia to lend his support to the Trojans, who were fighting the Greeks. His decision to fight in the Trojan War is said to have left his mother Europa very worried.

Sarpedon led his Lycian forces to defend the city of Troy. He was joined by his cousin Captain Glaucus. Glaucus’ father, Hippolochus – son of Bellerophon – sent Glaucus to team up with Sarpedon to fight on the side of the Trojans.

Due to how valiantly Sarpedon and Glaucus led the Lycian forces in defending Troy, the two men quickly became important Trojan leaders. In the myth, Galucus even reprimands Trojan warrior-prince Hector for not leading Trojan warriors well enough and leaving the difficult task of defending all in the hands of Trojan allies like the Lycians.

Read More: Top 12 Heroes from Greek Mythology

Sarpedon’s speech about Noblesse oblige

Sarpedon is also known for giving his Noblesse oblige speech to lift up the spirits of his comrade Glaucus. Noblesse oblige is French term used to describe how nobility goes beyond social entitlement; thus the term entreats nobles to fulfill some very important social responsibilities to their subjects, including helping the poor and vulnerable, and protecting one’s subjects.

In Sarpedon’s speech to Glaucus, he calls on Glaucus and his men to rise up to the occasion as the time had come for them to repay their subjects with their blood for the honor that was shown them in the past.

Sarpedon

Sarpedon’s Noblesse oblige speech in Homer’s Iliad. He also gave an inspiring speech to Trojan nobles to fight bravely as that was the time for them to repay their subjects for the honor that was shown them in the past.

Sarpedon breeches the Greek’s encampment

Sarpedon was heavily involved in the battle that saw the Trojans attack a recently built wall by the Greeks. Fighting was so intense that Greek hero Ajax and his brother Teucer joined the fray to help the Greeks withstand the onslaught from the Trojans. Sarpedon and his men’s effort allowed Trojan warrior Hector to breach the Greek’s encampment.

How did Sarpedon die?

Sarpedon

The death of Zeus’s son Sarpedon, depicted in Lycian attire, at the hands of Greek warrior Patroclus. Red-figure hydria from Heraclea, c. 400 BCE

With the Trojans getting increasingly bolder and fiercer, the Greeks were put on the back foot. Most likely this was due to the fact that the Greek warrior and demigod was not fighting at the time. According to the Iliad, Patroclus, a friend and wartime companion of Achilles, persuaded Achilles to let him wear his armor in order to lead the Myrmidons. Achilles ordered Patroclus to make his way back after halting the Trojan ships. Patroclus did not heed his companion’s words and continued fighting, killing several Trojan warriors and allies, including Sarpedon. Patroclus had pushed the Trojans all the way back to the gates of Troy. It was there that Sarpedon met his end at the hands of Patroclus, who stabbed him with a spear.

Perhaps saddened by the death of his half-brother Sarpedon, Greek god Apollo took away the capabilities of Patroclus, preventing the warrior from dodging the spear that was thrown at him by Euphorbos. Hector then finished off Patroclus.

A burial fit for a warrior

According to the myth, Zeus grieved over the death of Sarpedon. To honor his son, Zeus commanded the gods Thanatos (Death) and Hypnos (Sleep) to transport the body of Sarpedon to his hometown in Lycia, where it was giving the honor fit for a warrior.

Why didn’t Zeus save Sarpedon’s life?

Sensing that Sarpedon was about to meet his end, Zeus contemplated stepping in to save his son. However, Zeus’ wife Hera quickly kicked against that. The Queen of Mount Olympus reminded Zeus that by saving Sarpedon’s life, he, Zeus, would be acting in a biased manner as other children of the gods had died fighting in the Trojan War. Hera warned that if Zeus spared his son, then other gods would follow suit and save their sons. Hera’s counsel was taken by Zeus, and Sarpedon’s life was not sparred.

More on Sarpedon

Sarpedon – the Lycian hero from Greek mythology. Image: Sarpedon carried away by Sleep and Death, by Swiss painter Henry Fuseli, 1803.

  • Before Sarpedon died he managed to slay the only mortal horse of Achilles.
  • Also before the death of Sarpedon, his father Zeus caused bloody raindrops to fall over the heads of the Trojan fighters. This was Zeus’ way of communicating to the Trojans of an impending doom, i.e. the death of Sarpedon.
  • According to Homer’s Iliad, Sarpedon’s mother Laodamia was the daughter of Bellerophon, the Corinthian hero who slew the Chimera.
  • In another account, Sarpedon was the son of Zeus and Europa. In this account, his siblings are Minos and Rhadamanthus. He was thus the third son of Europa and Zeus. In this version, Sarpedon and his siblings are adopted by Asterion, the king of Crete. The story also states that Sarpedon’s mother Europa married Asterion. When it was time to succeed Asterion a succession crisis ensued between Sarpedon and Minos. In the end, and with the help of Poseidon, Minos came out the victor, forcing Sarpedon to leave Crete for Lycia.
  • In Lycia, at a place called Xanthos, the inhabitants had a temple of Sarpedon. Similarly, the ancient city of Troad (present day Canakkale Province in Turkey), a temple and an oracle in honor of Sarpedon was erected.
  • Sarpedon, the son of Zeus, is different from the Thracian Sarpedon, the son of Poseidon and brother of Poltys, King of Aenus. The latter was the eponym of Cape Sarpedon, near the River Hebrus. In the myth, the Thracian Sarpedon was an incorrigible young man who was killed by Heracles.
  • In some other legends, Sarpedon is the son of Princess Laodamia and Xanthus (also known as Scamander, the great river of Troy).

Sarpedon’s armor and corpse

Following the death of Sarpedon, a huge struggle over the body and armor of Sarpedon erupted between the Greeks and the Trojans. Image: The death of Sarpedon, depicted on the obverse of Euphronios Krater, also called the Sarpedon Krater, c. 515 BCE

Worried that the two sides – the Trojans and the Greeks – would likely fight over his body and armor, Sarpedon made a last request to his cousin and comrade Glaucus to protect his body and armor. Ultimately, the Greeks were able to get Sarpedon’s armor. The timely intervention of Zeus prevented the Greeks from laying their hands on Sarpedon’s corpse. Zeus ordered his son Phoebus Apollo to retrieve the body and make provision for all the necessary funeral rights. After that was done, Apollo handed Sarpedon’s body to Thanatos and Hypnos, who later buried it in Sarpedon’s hometown of Lycia.

Did you know?

There is an asteroid called 2223 Sarpedon which dwells in the Trojan camp of asteroids. The asteroid takes its name from Sarpedon in Greek mythology. This D-type asteroid, which is approximately 90 kilometers (56 miles) in diameter, was discovered on 4 October 1977, by astronomers at the Purple Mountain Observatory in Nanjing, China.

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