Thanatos, in ancient Greek mythology, was the personification of death. He was the son of Nyx, the goddess of night, and the twin brother of Hypnos, the god of sleep. He appeared to humans to carry them off to the underworld when the time allotted to them by the Fates had expired.
Seneca and Statius described Thanatos as an all-powerful force of nature, calling him gory and insatiable, hovering over battlefields with his mouth wide open in order to gobble up the dead and then vomit them back out upon reaching the Underworld with them.
He was described as a god of immense power and fearsome countenance, “pale-faced with greedy teeth.” It seemed as if mortals could not die fast enough for him to devour and crowd them in front of Charon before he hungrily rushed back to the upper world to claim more souls.
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 roam 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 godsHesiod
Thanatos was thus regarded as merciless and indiscriminate, hated by – and hateful towards — mortals and gods alike. Ever relentless, Thanatos always claimed his prize in the end. He could not be swayed by gifts or speeches.
Thanatos was very controlling of how he was depicted. He would not allow any portraits or descriptions of himself to spread that revealed anything that was not flattering, mesmerizing, or strong. In Greek vase painting Thanatos was depicted as a winged, strong man, and never as a beardless youth with a smooth face. According to Euripides, he was always dressed in black and carrying a sword. Roman sarcophagi depict him as a winged, mesmerizing man as seductive as Cupid.
Thanatos was usually thought of as inexorable. The sole time he was successfully prevented from claiming a mortal life was by the intervention of the hero Heracles. Thanatos had come to take the soul of the Princess Alkestis, who had offered herself in exchange for the continued life of her husband. An honored guest in the House of the King at the time, Heracles offered to repay the king’s hospitality by standing in wait of Thanatos. When Thanatos arrived at the palace to claim the princess, Heracles confronted him to convince him to walk away.
Much talk. Talking will win you nothing. All the same, the woman goes with me to Hades’ house.Thanatos to Heracles
When the negotiation did not work, Heracles struck and overpowered him. As a result, Thanatos was forced to flee, cheated of his quarry and having made the Olympic hero his enemy. The whole plot, however, was orchestrated by Apollo, lover of the Princess Alkestis, on a bid to save her life.
Thanatos could occasionally be outwitted, a feat that the sly King Sisyphus, son of Aeolus, twice accomplished. When it came time for Sisyphus to die, Zeus ordered Thanatos to chain Sisyphus up in Tartarus. Sisyphus escaped by tricking Thanatos into his own shackles instead.
Eventually Ares, the bloodthirsty god of war, grew frustrated with the battles he incited, since neither side could suffer any casualties given Thanatos was imprisoned. It was he who eventually freed Thanatos so that death could walk among them once more, but Sisyphus would evade mortality a second time by convincing Persephone to allow him to return to his wife stating that she never gave him a proper goodbye. This time, Sisyphus was forcefully dragged back to the Underworld by Hermes to accomplish the task Thanatos did not finish.
His resentment of Hermes, whom he saw as the hypocritical, light-blessed Olympic opposite of himself, was further stoked when Hermes and Heracles absconded with the hounds of Hades, wounding the Lord of the Underworld in the process, and in whose care Thanatos was assigned.
Thanatos was a feared member of the Court of the Hades. He was the son of Nyx and Erebus, the twin of Hypnos, the calmer god of sleep, and the uncle of Morpheus, whose defection from Olympus he helped orchestrate.
He was associated with the Moirai, particularly due to his profession as the executioner, assassin, jailor and abductor of Hades. He was particularly associated with Atropos, with whom it is conjectured they shared a heated relationship. However, Thanatos was one of the busiest of the gods, and like his nephew, never sired children.
His counterpart in Olympus was most likely Hermes, however, the messenger god often superseded his duties much to Thanatos’ resentment.
Notably, Thanatos and Hypnos were once summoned by Zeus to locate the body of his fallen son, Sarpedon, who died in the Trojan War in order to return his remains to his homeland.
Finally, Thanatos envied Hades, though he served the Lord of the Underworld unerringly. Out of such a complex relationship, he mimicked much of Hades’ style, mannerisms, and poise as he might revere a father, but always fell short of the more powerful god. There was something unhinged in Thanatos yet it was with only with Hades that he could discuss the meaning of life and death or exile and acceptance. They were both solitary figures, and over time, Thanatos rose to prominence among the Court of the Dead as a result.
1st Age: Daniil Myshelovich Tarasovich
2nd Age: Durrick Ladei Chamora
3rd Age: Bel’rik, Caster of Nets, Forsaken