Thanatos, the Greek god of Death
Who was Thanatos?
Thanatos was a god of Death who was feared and hated as the enemy of mankind and whose hard heart knew no pity. He was one of the primeval gods who was a son of Nyx was believed to be the mother of everything mysterious and anything that was inexplicable, such as death, disease, sleep, ghosts, dreams, witchcraft and enchantments. His father was Erebus, who reigned in a palace in the dark regions of the Underworld. His twin brother was Hypnos the god of sleep. According to Greek mythology he shared his cavernous palace in the Underworld with Hypnos. At the entrance of the palace were a garden of poppies which symbolized death. He is associated with non-violent death whereas his sisters, the terrifying Keres represented violent death. He is also associated with a role similar to that of the modern 'grim reaper' in which he escorted souls to the Underworld. This particular function was also conducted by Charon the Ferryman, Hecate and Morpheus.
Hypnos, the god of sleep, and his twin brother Thanatos, the god of death,
who represented a peaceful, passing away
Symbols of Thanatos
In Greek Art the god was often illustrated with images and pictures representing the attributes and symbols associated with him. The symbols associated with the god are:
- A wreath: A Wreath of Flowers were associated with birth and life after death.
- Inverted torches: The inverted torch symbolizes death
- Wings: His wings symbolized his role as the god of death, the power of flight and his role in escorting souls to the Underworld
- A Sword attached to his belt: The symbol of the sheaved sword represents the role of Thanatos to bring a non-violent death to mortals
- A butterfly: The butterfly is associated with the Greek goddess Psyche and was the name given by the ancient Greeks to the soul
Thanatos (Roman Counterpart was Letum)
When the Roman Empire conquered the Greeks in 146BC, the Romans assimilated various elements from other cultures and civilisations, including the gods and goddesses that were worshipped by the Ancient Greeks. Many of the Greek gods and goddesses, such as Thanatos, were therefore adopted by the Romans but were given Latin names. The Roman counterpart of Thanatos was Letum or sometimes Mors.
Thanatos in Ancient Greek Mythology
According to ancient mythology, although he was the god of death, Thanatos could occasionally be outwitted. A famous myth relating to this feat relates to Sisyphus, who was the son of Aeolus (the king of Thessaly) who tricked the god of death twice. When it was time for Sisyphus to die, he succeeded in chaining Thanatos up with his own shackles. Eventually Ares released Thanatos from his chains and handed Sisyphus over to him, but Sisyphus would tricked Thanatos again by convincing Zeus to allow him to return to his wife.