Thanatos was the Greek god of nonviolent deaths. His name literally translates to “death” in Greek. In some myths, he’s considered to be a personified spirit of death rather than a god. The touch of Thanatos was gentle, often compared to the touch of Hypnos, who was the god of sleep. Thanatos and Hypnos are twins; this is where the saying, “Death, and his brother, sleep,” comes from.
Thanatos has a dominant role in two Greek myths. There’s a myth wherein he was sent to bring Alkestis back to the underworld. However, Heracles drove him off through combat. In another myth, Sisyphus was a criminal who trapped Thanatos in a sack so that he wouldn’t die.
When Thanatos was depicted on vases, he was shown to be a bearded and winged old man. In some rare cases, he was depicted as a young person without any beard. In the Iliad, there’s a scene where he often appears with Hypnos to carry away Sarpedon’s body.
In Roman mythology, Thanatos was named Mors or Letum. Roman sculptures depict Thanatos as a young person with an upside-down torch in his hand and a butterfly or wreath symbolizing the soul of a dead person.
Most literature states that Thanatos was the son of the night goddess Nyx, and that he had no father. Rather than being the offspring of gods, he was a broken-off piece of Nyx’s essence or spirit. Some other myths contend that Thanatos was a son resulting from the union between Nyx and Erebos.
Thanatos and Hypnos often appear together in both mythology and classic Greek literature. Their spirits were made to deliver humans from sorrow and pain through gentle touch. Thanatos was not the same god as Hades; though Hades ruled the underworld, Thanatos was the god who brought peaceful deaths to the underworld.
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