This pot, or vase, is formally called the Euphronios krater. It dates from about 515 BC – Euphronios was the painter, Euxitheos the potter – and it presents the death of Sarpedon as narrated in the Iliad.. Sleep and Death are come to take home the body of Sarpedon, the king of the Lykians who had come to fight for Troy, and lay it down in green pastures. It is a powerful scene, dense with allusions and metaphor, with the figure of Sarpedon unique in Greek vase painting.
. . . struck him as he first came forward beside the nipple
of the right breast, and the bronze spearhead drove clean through the shoulder.
He dropped then to the ground in the dust, like some black poplar,
which in the land low-lying about a great marsh grows
smooth trimmed yet with branches growing at the uttermost tree-top:
one whom a man, a maker of chariots, fells with the shining
iron, to bend it into a wheel for a fine-wrought chariot,
and the tree lies hardening by the banks of a river. 4.480ff.
In this simile, Simoeisios is transformed into a tree, and like the young man the tree falls, and like the young man it is cut down by iron and is made into a chariot and becomes itself a part of the war maching to continue making missing sons.
the shaft struck where the beating heart is closed in the arch of the muscles.
He fell, as when an oak goes down or a white poplar,
or like a towering pine tree which in the mountains the carpenters
have hewn down with their whetted axes to make a ship-timber. 16.481ff
. . . he lay there felled in front of his horses and chariots
roaring, and clawed with his hands at the bloody dust . . .
He died raging .
. . and Patroklos, stepping heel braced to chest, dragged
the spear out of his body, and the midriff came away with it
so that he drew out with the spearhead the life of Sarpedon.
Apollo ...When the Metropolitan acquired this pot, I travelled to New York from Washington to see it. In the two and a half years I taught in New York, I made at least 18 visits to take my students, and when it was about to be repatriated, I travelled to New York from Seattle to see it for the last time. So I was amazed and profoundly moved to encouter it in Athens, in the new Acropolis Museum, in an exhibit called Nostoi (Returns). All the other Homeric nostoi are of the living and they are in the Odyssey. Sarpedon's is the only nostos of a dead man.
lifting brilliant Sarpedon out from under the weapons
carried him far away, and washed him in a running river,
and anointed him . . .
then gave him into the charge
of Sleep and Death who are twin brothers, and these two
laid him down within the rich countryside of broad Lykia.