Memnon, king of the Ethiopians and conqueror of the East. 3110: Memnon’s statue. Bernard Picart (1673-1733), Fabeln der Alten (Musen-Tempel), 1754.
Brazen-crested Memnon, a comely man according to Odysseus, is the King
of the Ethiopians who came with a great force to
help Troy against the
Achaean invaders, and was killed by Achilles.
Son of the immortal old man
Tithonus 1, they say, was snatched away by Eos (Dawn) for love, brought by the goddess to that Ethiopia which is not in Africa but in the east, and there he founded the city of Susa. Tithonus 1 was made immortal when Eos asked Zeus that Tithonus 1 should be deathless and live eternally. However, she forgot to ask youth for him, and for that reason he suffers the full weight of Old
Age, babbling endlessly and having no strength in his limbs. But before that, Tithonus 1 and Eos lived rapturously as lovers do, and they had children: Emathion 1 and Memnon.
His brother killed by Heracles 1
Emathion 1 became king of the Ethiopians, and is remembered for having attacked Heracles 1 when the latter, having slain Busiris 2 (the Egyptian king who used to sacrifice strangers), sailed up the river Nile.
Memnon in the East
But Memnon himself was, as Tithonus 1, related to the East, and he is said to have built a palace of many colored and shining white stones bound with gold in the city of Ecbatana. For Memnon, starting from Ethiopia, overrun Egypt and conquered the East as far as the city of Susa, which he surrounded by walls. So Memnon, although being king of the
Ethiopians, came to Troy,
not from what today is called Africa, but from
Susa, not far away from the river Tigris, in the
land that later became Persia. And when he made his
march to the west, he subdued all the peoples that
lived between Susa and Troy.
When Hector 1, the
pillar of Troy, was killed
by Achilles, there was
not much hope left for the Trojans, except that
provided by Memnon, who wearing an armour made by Hephaestus, arrived
from the east with a huge host to help the city. Memnon is said to have killed the Pylians
Ereuthus and Pheron, who followed Nestor to the Trojan War, and also Nestor's son Antilochus,
who died for his father's sake. For the horse kept Nestor's chariot from
moving, since it had been wounded by Paris, when Memnon
approached. Then Nestor shouted to his son Antilochus, who came to his
rescue, and saved his father's life at the price of
his own. For, as some say, Memnon slew him,
although there are those who say that Antilochus
was killed by Hector 1.
Nestor, who saw his
son perish, asked Achilles to rescue his
son's body and armour. That is why Memnon and Achilles fought against
each other in single combat, and although Memnon
wounded Achilles in the
arm, he himself lost his life when Achilles plunged his
sword beneath his breast-bone. But some say that it
was Achilles' spear
that killed Memnon.
RI.1-1265: Eos with the corpse of Memnon. Eos mit der Leiche Memnons (nach Wiener Vorlegeblätter Taf. VIII. Roscher, 1884.
Soldiers turn into birds
In any case, some have told that when Memnon died, the whole Ethiopian army vanished with his king, the soldiers turning into birds. Now, some may feel tempted to reason that this
is just a way of expressing the idea of the
Ethiopian army escaping or being disbanded. And
they may also feel that if the army was dispersed
it would be better just to say so instead of making
up capricious tales, which are most implausible.
But, whatever they may feel, the Achaeans and
Trojans were most amazed when they watched the
Ethiopian army fly away. For current things amaze
nobody, but extraordinary and impossible things do.
And that was a great marvel, unlikely to happen in
our time, as no one has ever since claimed to have
witnessed anything of the sort.
Eos begs Zeus for her son
Anyway, the death of this magnificent king
caused great grief to his mother, and because of
her pain the colours of the morning skies grew
dull, and the heavens were overcast with clouds.
And Eos came to Zeus and asked him to grant
Memnon special honours as consolation for his
death. Accordingly, the smoke of Memnon's funeral pyre
turn into birds, some of which killed each other
over the flames. These birds, which are called
Memnonides, used to return on stated days every
year to Memnon's grave, in a hill above the outlet
of the Aesepus River, which flows from the
mountains of Ida in the Troad, and sprinkle it with
the water of the river from their wet wings. But
others say that Memnon was buried in Paltus, which
is on the coast of Syria in front of the island of
Cyprus. Eos herself never ceased
to lament the death of her handsome son, who was
also a magnificent king. For the dew, they say, is
the tears shed by the goddess for the death of
Memnon. And yet it has also been told that Zeus bestowed immortality
upon Memnon at Eos' request.
Such is the story of Memnon. But others have
said that this son of Eos neither went to Troy nor died there, but that he died in Ethiopia after ruling the country for five generations. That may seem a long time. However, the Ethiopians, being the longest lived men on earth, deplored his death as premature, mourning him as a youth. They also tell that a wonderful statue of a young and still unbearded Memnon had been made out of black stone, and turned towards the sunrise. The sitting figure was represented in the very act of rising up, with the lips as about to speak. They affirm that the lips spoke when the sun's rays fell upon them at dawn, and that the eyes of the statue seemed to stand out and gleam against the light.