Greek mythology always has absolutely fascinating stories in store for us. And this is especially true when it comes to the afterlife and death! What is the role, symbols and meaning of Thanatos in Greek and Roman culture? What relationships does he have with the other gods? 💀
Welcome to Skull World! We are enthusiastic about topics that revolve around the afterlife and death. And it is natural for us to comment on the power of the god of death in an article. And that’s exactly what we’re going to do today!
Thanatos is the personification of death in ancient Greek religion and mythology. He is thus the god of death. His most famous myth is that of Sisyphus. He is the son of Nyx and Erebos, and specifically the twin brother of Hypnos (god of sleep) .
Therefore, in this article we will take a detailed look at the stories that Thanatos appears in together. His powers, what he looks like, his role in mythology, and his connections to other gods and demigods. After reading the following lines you will be able to perfectly describe the role of death in the story of Greek mythology.
Let the power of Thanatos accompany you by wearing this winged skull ring with his effigy!
God of death in Greek mythology
Thanatos was the god or spirit personified (daimon) of non-violent death. His touch was gentle, similar to that of his twin brother, Hypnos (sleep). Violent death was the domain of Thanatos’ sisters, the Keres, the spirits of death and disease. ☠️
- Greek Name: Death
- Latin name: Mors
- Roman name: Mors, Letum
- Translation: Death (Thanatos)
- God of: death
- Associated Symbols: Butterfly, Poppy, Sword and Inverted Torch.
- Weapons: sword and scythe
- Child: None
- Parents: Nyx (mother) and Érèbe (father)
- Brothers and sisters: Hypnos (twin brother), Moros, Eris and Moirae
Thanatos features prominently in two myths of Greek mythology. Once when he was supposed to fetch Alcestis (Alceste) from the underworld, he was driven out in a fight by Heracles (Hercules). Another time he was captured by the criminal Sisyphus , who put him in a sack to avoid dying.
Physical description of Thanatos
Thanatos is one of the oldest immortal gods , but he always remains in his everlasting youthful and ageless appearance with an androgynous face. He is slim but very toned under his clothing, which reflects a strong physique. He is relatively tall at 1.80m tall. He possesses massive wings that are usually hidden under a dark robe when in the Underworld.
He has the ability to change or hide his wings. They also change depending on the role he takes when approaching a soul. The wings can look angelic and gentle when taking on the role of a gentle and comforting Death, or demonic and draconian when taking on the role of a cold and cruel Death. 😈
Thanatos has a pale complexion that sometimes emits a soft glow. He has dark hair that often appears darker than it is due to his fair complexion. He has dark eyes that give him a penetrating gaze. Thanatos’ lips sometimes take on a blue tint, giving the appearance of wearing lipstick. It is the actual color of his lips that indicates how frigid death is.
Attribute von Thanatos
Let’s find out together what are the attributes of the god of death in Greek mythology. Despite being a god, he has both good and bad qualities. Let’s take a closer look.
✅ Traits: bold, noble, elegant, intelligent, selfless, generally kind when people are nice to him, respectful, neutral.
❌ Weaknesses: Anxious, frigid, workaholic, wants to believe in the inherent good in everyone.
In mythology he is described as loving: life, cemeteries, human souls, singing, animals (especially moths, butterflies and penguins), Halloween, leather and thunderstorms.
What he hates: cruelty for cruelty’s sake, stubbornness, cowards, confusion, people trying to buy him or cut a deal with him.
Get a bedding featuring the likeness of Thanatos with this beautiful skull and wings !
Representation of the personification of death
It should be noted that Thanatos was the Greek god of non-violent death . That is, he was never out to do evil. He always made sure that he « accompanied the souls » instead of taking them in a violent way like his sisters can do. In some myths he is also seen as a personified spirit of the dead rather than as a god. Thanatos’ touch was gentle and was often compared to the touch of Hypnos, who was the god of sleep. 😴
When Thanatos was depicted on vases, he appeared as a bearded, winged old man. In a few instances he was depicted as a beardless youth. There is a scene in the Iliad where he often appears with Hypnos to carry away the body of Sarpedon.
In theRoman mythology called Thanatos Mors or Letum. Roman sculptures depict Thanatos as a young man holding an inverted torch and wearing a butterfly or crown, symbolizing a dead man’s soul. 🦋
Thanatos and Hypnos often appear together in classical Greek mythology and literature. Their spirits were created to rid people of sorrow and pain through touch. Thanatos was not the same god as Hades . Although Hades ruled over the underworld, Thanatos was the god who brought peaceful death to the underworld.
In the Homeric poems, Thanatos does not appear as a separate deity, although he appears as the brother of the god of sleepis described as carrying the body of Sarpedon from the battlefield to the land of the Lycians. In Euripides’ Alcestis he is illustrated as a stern priest of Hades in dark robes and wielding the sacrificial sword, severing the soul of a dying man and dedicating him to the underworld.
By and large, the poets describe Thanatos as a sad creature. But the best Greek artists, avoiding anything that might harm the mythological image, abandoned the ideas that the poets suggested to them and presented death in a more pleasing light. Thanatos is therefore one of the most famous allegories of the mythology even today death of all time.
Story of Thanatos
Thanatos is first and foremost a creature of duty, an instrument of destiny. He does not judge and discriminate against a soul he takes, but only prepares to take it to bring to the land of the dead . Thanatos has a few different weapons at his disposal: an amulet that he wears around his neck, a sword, two daggers and a scythe. Although he doesn’t need them for gathering souls, the weapons are useful both in ceremonies and when he needs to fight or defend himself against those who attack him, or when souls are escaping him. 🗡
The amulet is a gift from his mother, Nyx, when he was a child. He got the sword from the darkness when he grew up. The two daggers were gifts from Hades when the Olympian dynasty began and the Styrians came under their rule. The scythe is mostly unused by Thanatos, although he sometimes uses it as a key when a door is left locked.
The powers of the god Thanatos
There was a time when Thanatos was young and only serving destiny. Then came a time when other gods coveted more and wanted power over what was created and what already existed. This led to battles and wars.
After all these wars, a new empire was formed for Thanatos to serve. Since this was the will of fate, he did not question it. From then on he claimed the condemned, gathered their souls on earth and delivered them to the banks of the Styx , where they judged them to begin their afterlife journeys.
Thanatos und Sarpedon
On the orders of Zeus , Hypnos and Thanatos brought the corpse of Sarpedon from the battlefield to the land of the Lycians. This is the most famous story in Greek mythology that ties Thanatos and Sarpedon together. 👇
The goddess Hera converses with Zeus about the impending death of her son Sarpedon : « But after the soul and the years of his life have left him, send Thanatos to carry him away with Hypnos (god of sleep). Until they come with him to the countryside of great Lycia, where his brothers and countrymen will give him a dignified burial with a grave and tombstone. » ⚰️
During the Trojan War, Hypnos (sleep) and Thanatos (death), who were twin brothers, dropped him off in the rich countryside of Lycia. So, by order of Zeus, they took the son of Hera to bury him.
Thanatos and Sisyphus
Now let’s look at the connections between Thanatos and Sisyphus in Greco-Roman history.
According to the fabulous story, Sisyphus often killed travelers, breaking certain laws set by the gods. In addition, he had children with his niece, stole the right to the throne from his own brothers and betrayed Zeus… ⚡️ Because of all these things, Zeus ordered Thanatos to take care of his case. However, he was deceived by Sisyphus when he asked him to show him how the chains worked. Thanatos showed him, and Sisyphus imprisoned him using the same chains. Days went by and no one died because Thanatos wasn’t around. Ares soon discovered the problem before coming to free the god of death .
Thanatos and Alceste
Alceste and Admeto marry. On the evening of the wedding, Admetus was drunk and forgot to give his sacrifice to Artemis. She was angry and filled his bed with snakes and killed him. However, Apollo, who was to serve him for a year, intoxicated the Fates and saved him. However, now someone had to take his place….
Because no one else stepped forward, Alceste, who was a loyal and loving woman, stepped forward and sacrificed herself. A few days later, Heracles attended her funeral and found himself the beneficiary. Slightly upset, he descended into Hades and battled Thanatos. He won and took Alceste with him. Thanatos was upset by this, but he felt that Heracles had won fairly and therefore let him live.
Thanatos and other Greek gods
Most of the people living in the Underworld have close blood ties to Thanatos, with a few exceptions. Let’s look at it in detail:
- Nyx and Erebos are Thanatos’ parents.
- Hypnos is one of Thanatos’ closest brothers and his twin brother. In mythology it is said that they are for a time
- have shared a cave. He is the god of sleep.
- Styx is one of Thanatos’ sisters.
Morpheus is Thanatos’ nephew and leader of the Dreams. Thanatos loves his nephew.
- Moros: The Destiny of Darkness. Moros is Thanatos’ brother and the two get along relatively well.
- Ares, the god of war, freed the god of death when he was captured by Sisyphus.
- When Hermes was young, he was Thanatos’ apprentice and later his lover. Thanatos thinks highly of Hermes.
- Zelos, son of Styx and nephew of Thanatos.
- About Apollo and Hercules: Thanatos is angry with the mortals Alceste and Admetos when Apollo kills them. Hercules’ strength subdued Thanatos and prevented him from taking Alceste when Apollo intervened to save Admetos from his death and Alceste was promised in place of Admetos.
Hypnos and Thanatos
The sleep and death of his half brother. In Greek mythology, Thanatos had the role of a psychopompos who, together with his sisters, collected the spirit of the deceased. When the moires had decided that the individual’s life was ended. Thanatos then ensured that the spirit of the deceased mortal was transported safely to the underworld and to the banks of the Acheron.
Hypnos and Hercules
King Admetus had once been a kind host to Apollo and Heracles on various occasions. Thus Apollo had convinced the gods that Admetus could escape death if someone volunteered to die in his place.
When Thanatos collected Admetus in time, the king expected one of his older relatives to volunteer, but neither did. In his place, Alceste, wife of Admetus, volunteered. Admetus immediately regretted the agreement made by Apollo, because he did not want to live without his wife. But Heracles was there to help him. 👊
Heracles (Hercules) entered the mausoleum of Alcestis and met Thanatos there. This demigod fought against God, and eventually Heracles defeated Thanatos and forced death to free Alceste. So Admeto and Alceste could live together for many more years.
Death and the afterlife were important themes in Greek mythology, so it is not surprising that a powerful god, Hades, was given dominion over the underworld and the afterlife itself. Many other Greek gods and goddesses were associated with the afterlife, including Thanatos, of course.
In the underworld, Sisyphus was at his best and was able to convince Persephone that he needed to return to the surface of the world so he could scold his wife for not burying him properly. And Persephoneagreed to this request. Of course, back on the surface, Sisyphus had no intention of returning, and so a god had to be sent again to bring him back. But this time it was not Thanatos, but Hermes, who received this order, and soon Sisyphus began his eternal punishment…
Switch from a Greek to a Hindu god as you discover the incredible story of Mara .