Limits


It makes sense that the famous inscription “Know Thyself” at the Temple of Apollo, at Delphi meant: “you are not a God, so you better chill out”. Or something like that. It is nonetheless remarkable that it could also be applied to the Gods themselves, and I cannot think of a case more paradigmatic than the one of Sarpedon. He is a son of almighty Zeus, but even the God himself feels powerless against his tragic destiny (Sarpedon is killed in battle by Patroclus):

“My cruel fate…
My Sarpedon, the man I love the most, my own son—
doomed to die at the hands of Menoetius’ son Patroclus” (1)

He thinks for a minute whether he should save Sarpedon, but Hera convinces him not to (unsurprisingly, since Sarpedon was the offspring of one of Zeus’s love affairs), less he wants to enrage the other Gods (they are losing their own sons at the battlefield too)

No,
dear as he is to you, and your heart grieves for him,
leave Sarpedon there to die in the brutal onslaught,
beaten down at the hands of Menoetius’ son Patroclus.
But once his soul and the life force have left him,
send Death to carry him home, send soothing Sleep,
all the way till they reach the broad land of Lycia (1)

That is exactly what ends up happening after the battle, and that is the subject of the Henry Fuseli painting shown above (the influence of Fuseli on Blake is quite apparent on that painting).

In some ways it brings to my mind the marriage of Henry VIII with Anne of Cleves. Though he liked her when he saw a painting of her done by Hans Holbein the Younger (the same guy who painted that incredible double portrait called “The Ambassadors”, a perfect summary of what the Renaissance was all about), Henry was less than impressed when he got  to meet her for the first time. Despite this he went on to marry her, even when he was one of the most powerful men in the world and we tend to think (wrongly) that perhaps he could have said “no way!!!”. The marriage was doomed of course, though compared to some of his other wives she ended up with a pretty sweet deal.

It is like the myth of Midas, or the story of Damocles and the sword. It may look great from the outside, but nobody, not even the Kings or Gods, can have it all.

The dream of a Sultan
The dream of a Sultan
His sad awakening
His sad awakening
He had nothing
A garden with roses and fountains
A garden with roses and fountains
A Moorish girl is dancing

His sad awakening
His sad awakening
He had nothing

lamma bada tasana
aman, aman, aman,
aman, aman, aman (2)

(1) Taken from The Iliad, book 16. translation by Robert Fagles

(2) Radio Tarifa, my own translation. I am not sure about Morita; it can be a name, but I have decided to go for a moorish girl dancing, since the root of that word is the one for moro (moor). I have no clue what the words at the end of the song mean.

On a random note; we can also find the figure of Death and Sleep in the poem Queen Mab, by Shelley:

How wonderful is Death,
Death, and his brother Sleep!
One, pale as yonder waning moon
With lips of lurid blue;
The other, rosy as the morn
When throned on ocean’s wave
It blushes o’er the world;
Yet both so passing wonderful!

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