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In Greek religion, Thánatos (in Greek, θάνατος – "Death") was the dæmon personification of Death and Mortality. He was a minor figure in Greek mythology, often referred to but rarely appearing in person. His name is transliterated in Latin as Thanatus, but his Roman equivalent is Mors or Letus/Letum, and he is sometimes identified (perhaps erroneously) with Orcus.


[edit] In myth and poetry

Thánatos as a winged youth. Sculptured marble column drum from the Temple of Artemis at Ephesos, ca. 325–300 BC.

The Greek poet Hesiod established in his Theogony that Thánatos is a son of Nyx (Night) and Erebos (Darkness) and twin of Hypnos (Sleep).

And there the children of dark Night have their dwellings, Sleep and Death, awful gods. The glowing Sun never looks upon them with his beams, neither as he goes up into heaven, nor as he comes down from heaven. And the former of them roams peacefully over the earth and the sea's broad back and is kindly to men; but the other has a heart of iron, and his spirit within him is pitiless as bronze: whomsoever of men he has once seized he holds fast: and he is hateful even to the deathless gods. (Hesiod, Theogony 758 ff, trans. Evelyn-White, Greek epic C8th or C7th B.C.)

Homer also confirmed Hypnos and Thanatos as twin brothers in his epic poem, the Iliad, where they were charged by Zeus via Apollo with the swift delivery of the slain hero Sarpedon to his homeland of Lykia.

Then [Apollon] gave him [Sarpedon] into the charge of swift messengers to carry him, of Hypnos and Thanatos, who are twin brothers, and these two presently laid him down within the rich countryside of broad Lykia. (Homer, Iliad 16. 681 ff)

Counted among Thanatos' siblings were other negative personifications such as Geras (Old Age), Oizys (Suffering), Moros (Doom), Apate (Deception), Momos (Blame), Eris (Strife), Nemesis (Retribution) and even the Acherousian/Stygian boatman Kharon. He was loosely associated with the three Moirai (for Hesiod, also daughters of Night), particularly Atropos, who was a goddess of death in her own right. He is also occasionally specified as being exclusive to peaceful death, while the bloodthirsty Keres embodied violent death. His duties as a Guide of the Dead were sometimes superseded by Hermes Psychopompos. Conversely, Thanatos may have originated as a mere aspect of Hermes before later becoming distinct from him.

Thanatos was thought of as merciless and indiscriminate, hated by - and hateful towards - mortals and the deathless gods. But in myths which feature him, Thanatos could occasionally be outwitted, a feat that the sly King Sisyphos of Korinth twice accomplished. When it came time for Sisyphos to die, he cheated Death by tricking him into his own shackles, thereby prohibiting the demise of any mortal while Thanatos was so enchained. Eventually Ares, the bloodthirsty god of War, grew frustrated with the battles he incited, since neither side suffered any casualties. He released Thanatos and handed his captor over to the god, though Sisyphos would evade Death a second time by convincing Persephone to allow him to return to his wife. As before, Sisyphos would be recaptured and sentenced to an eternity of frustration in Tartaros.

King Sisyphos, son of Aiolos, wisest of men, supposed that he was master of Thanatos; but despite his cunning he crossed eddying Akheron twice at fate's command. (Alcaeus, Fragment 38a, trans. Campbell)

Thanatos is usually an inexorable fate for mortals, but he was only once successfully overpowered, by the mythical hero Herakles. Thanatos was consigned to take the soul of Alkestis, who had offered her life in exchange for the continued life of her husband, King Admetos of Pherai. Herakles was an honored guest in the House of Admetos at the time, and he offered to repay the king's hospitality by contending with Death itself for Alkestis' life. When Thanatos ascended from Hades to claim Alkestis, Herakles sprung upon the god and overpowered him, winning the right to have Alkestis revived. Thanatos fled, cheated of his quarry.

Thanatos : Much talk. Talking will win you nothing. All the same, the woman goes with me to Hades' house. I go to take her now, and dedicate her with my sword, for all whose hair is cut in consecration by this blade's edge are devoted to the gods below. (Euripides, Alcestis 19 ff, trans. Vellacott, Greek tragedy C5th B.C.)

[edit] In art and sculpture

Hypnos and Thánatos, "Sleep and His Half-Brother Death" by John William Waterhouse.

To Thanatos, Fumigation from Manna. Hear me, O Thanatos, whose empire unconfined extends to mortal tribes of every kind. On thee the portion of our time depends, whose absence lengthens life, whose presence ends. Thy sleep perpetual bursts the vivid bolds by which the soul attracting the body holds : common to all, of every sex and age, for nought escapes thy all-destructive rage. Not youth itself thy clemency can gain, vigorous and strong, by thee untimely slain. In thee the end of nature’s works is known, in thee all judgment is absolved alone. No suppliant arts thy dreadful rage control, no vows revoke the purpose of thy soul. O blessed power, regard my ardent prayer, and human life to age abundant spare. (Orphic Hymn 87 to Thanatos, trans. Taylor, Greek hymns C3rd B.C. to 2nd A.D.)

In the earliest mythological accounts, Thanatos was perceived by poets as a fearsome, sword-wielding spectre, shaggy bearded and fierce of countenance. He was a harbinger of suffering and grief, and his coming was marked by pain. But Greek artists did not often follow this grim conception of Death.

In later eras, as the transition from life to death in Elysium became a more attractive option, Thanatos came to be seen as a beautiful Ephebe. He became associated more with a gentle passing than a woeful demise. Many Roman sarcophagi depict him as a winged boy, very much akin to Cupid. Modern renditions of Thanatos often assume the stereotypical cloaked and skeletal visage of the Grim Reaper.

Thanatos has also been portrayed as a slumbering infant in the arms of his mother Nyx, or as a youth carrying a butterfly (the ancient Greek word "ψυχή" can mean soul, butterfly, or life, amongst other things) or a wreath of poppies (poppies were associated with Hypnos and Thanatos because of their hypnogogic traits and the eventual death engendered by overexposure to them). He is often shown carrying an inverted torch (holding it upside down in his hands), representing a life extinguished. He is usually described as winged and with a sword sheathed at his belt. In Euripides' Alcestis (438 BCE), he is depicted dressed in black and carrying a sword. Thanatos was rarely portrayed in art without his twin brother Hypnos.

[edit] In psychology and medicine

According to Sigmund Freud, humans have a life instinct - which he named 'Eros' - and a death drive, which is commonly called (though not by Freud himself) 'Thanatos'. This postulated death drive allegedly compels humans to engage in risky and self-destructive acts that could lead to their own death. Behaviors such as thrill seeking, aggression, and risk taking are viewed as actions which stem from this Thanatos instinct. However, from a scientific viewpoint, the notion of Thanatos continues to be highly controversial.

Thanatophobia is the fear of things associated with or reminiscent of death and mortality, such as corpses or graveyards. It is also known as Necrophobia, although this term typically refers to a singular fear of dead bodies rather than a fear of death in general.

Thanatology is the academic and scientific study of death among human beings. It investigates the circumstances surrounding a person's death, the grief experienced by the deceased's loved ones, and larger social attitudes towards death such as ritual and memorialization. It is primarily an interdisciplinary study, frequently undertaken by professionals in nursing, psychology, sociology, psychiatry, social work and veterinary science. It also describes bodily changes that accompany death and the after-death period.

Thanatophoric dysplasia, so named because of its lethality at birth, is the most common lethal congenital skeletal dysplasia with an estimated prevalence of one in 6,400 to one in 16,700 births. It's name is derived from Thanatophoros, meaning 'Death Bearing' in Greek.

Euthanasia is the act or practice of ending the life of an individual suffering from a terminal illness or an incurable condition, as by lethal injection or the suspension of extraordinary medical treatment. Euthanasia means 'Good Death' in Greek. The Thanatron, built by Doctor Jack Kevorkian, was a device used to aid in the suicide of his patients by euthanasia.

[edit] In popular culture

The name Thanatos often appears in popular culture, usually with some connotation of Death but with little real connection to the Greek Myths. Thanatos is a common name for characters in various fictional works, including video games, TV shows, anime, and comic books.

Incarnations of Immortality is an eight-book fantasy series by Piers Anthony. In the first book, On a Pale Horse, the office of Death is assumed by a suicidal photographer named Zane, after he kills the previous holder of the title. The name Thanatos is used here as something of an official title for the erstwhile Incarnation of Death. Zane, as Thanatos, appears in a supporting role in the other books.

Thanatos is one of the antagonistic deities featured in the universe of the Manga Saint Seiya, authored by Masami Kurumada, that was later adapted to Anime. As in Greek mythology, he is the personification of mortality and death, and the twin brother of Hypnos. In Kurumada's mythos, he is a subordinate of Hades, the Emperor of the Darkness and ruler of the Underworld. He is a sworn enemy of the protector goddess of the Earth, Athena.

Thanatos appears as one of the main Protagonist's Personae in the video game Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3. When the main character first summons Orpheus, Thanatos brutally dismembers him, like in the legend of the death of Orpheus. Thanatos is the final persona from the Death Arcana and is obtained by completing the social link with Pharos. Also, Thanatos' appearance is that of a grim warrior surrounded by a mantle of metal coffins.

In the computer game Chaos Legion, Thanatos can be controlled by the player as one of the Legion, but it is shred into many pieces that the player must collect throughout the game. In Disciples II: Dark Prophecy, Thanatos is a monster that the Undead Horde can summon.

Thanatos features as an adversary or class of enemy in the MMORPGs Ragnarok Online and MapleStory. He appears as a boss in Secret of Mana, Resident Evil: Outbreak and Tales of the World: Narikiri Dungeon 2.

Thanatos is the name given to the Carrier class capital ship of the Gallente race in the MMORPG EVE Online, and the name is used for a class of Battlemech in the fictional BattleTech universe.

In the story album Moira by the Japanese band Sound Horizon, Thanatos is played by Revo. He is portrayed as "god of death" and the "dead man's king". He is the last son of Moira, the goddess of fate, and seeks to "save" humans from her cruelty by bringing them to his kingdom.

The name Xanatos occurs infrequently as a variation of Thanatos in fiction. The machiavellian millionaire David Xanatos is a frequent nemesis (and occasional benefactor) of the main protagonists in the Gargoyles animated series. A recurring antagonist in the Jedi Apprentice series by Jude Watson is named Xanatos. Xanatos was Qui-Gon Jinn's first failed Padawan, who is commonly attempting to get revenge on either Qui-Gon or the entire Jedi Order.

The song Ghostflowers by Otep uses the line "I will give you sanctuary in these hymns of Thanatos."

In the 2007 anime "Dragonaut: The Resonance", Thanatos is an asteroid that contains extraterrestrial lifeforms that are identified as dragons.

In Star Ocean: The Last Hope has a character called Arumat P. Thanatos. Not only does his name reference the God of Death, but death is a strong theme for Arumat's character as he refers to himself as death incarnate, due to the death of his comrades in the past and how he has killed many people in battle. Arumat's weapon is a scythe which is a further reference to death, though it is more of a reference to the Grim Reaper as opposed to Thanatos.

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