The hero’s body in Sophocles

“I come with a gift for you,
my own shattered body…no feast for the eyes,
but the gains it holds are greater than great beauty.”
Oedipus at Colonus 649-651, trans. by Robert Fagles

“If he is really dear to you, and your heart mourns for him, allow him to be beaten down in the harsh crush of battle at the hands of Patroclus, son of Menoetius; but when his breath and life have gone from him, send Death and sweet Sleep to carry him away until they come to the land of broad Lycia, and there his brothers and kinsmen will give him proper funeral rites, with grave-mound and pillar, which is the privilege of the dead.” Iliad 16.450-457, trans. Anthony Verity

The second passage above describes events immediately preceding the death of Zeus’ son Sarpedon, which foreshadows the death of Patroclus. The friends of both heroes fight desperately to save their bodies, and both are eventually returned to their loved ones, though by different means. In Sarpedon’s case, Sleep and Death spirit his body home, while Achaean heroes deliver Patroclus’ to Achilles. The importance of funeral rites to the spirit’s afterlife journey helps explain why warriors fight so hard for their comrades’ bodies. Sophocles’ Theban tragedies suggest another layer of meaning, that the hero’s body has talismanic power.

Have you red Sophocles? If so, what do you think?

2 thoughts on “The hero’s body in Sophocles

  1. This incident of bodies being returned to their family’s reminds me of when Maximus Decimus Meridius was dying. He was thinking of his wife and son who were waiting on him in Heaven, at his home in Spain surrounded by wheat fields. And the beautiful Connie Nielsen who played Lucilla who loved him told him to go to them, and with tears in my eyes, she told the soldiers who were there, “Is Rome worth one good man’s life? We believed it once. Make us believe it again. He was a soldier of Rome. Honor him.”

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