Sleep and Death: beyond the Greek world

Latin literature too offers some examples of the close relationship between sleep and death also in Latin literature. In his Tusculanae Disputationes (1.92), Cicero repudiates the fear of death by recalling the Epicurean perspective: death does not concern he who is alive (for he is alive is not affected by death) nor he who has already died (for he can no longer perceive death). Cicero draws a parallel between the perception of death and the perception of sleep (cf. Lucr. De rerum natura3.919-30).

They who make the least of death consider it as having a great resemblance to sleep; as if any one would choose to live ninety years on condition that, at the expiration of sixty, he should sleep out the remainder […] You look on sleep as an image of death, and you take that on you daily; and have you, then, any doubt that there is no sensation in death, when you see there is none in sleep, which is its near resemblance?

In the sixth book of the Aeneid, Virgil recounts Aeneas’ descent to the Underworld, and among the infernal figures Virgil mentions (v. 278) (more…)

Codrus sacrifices himself for his own country

In his oration Against Leocrates, the fourth century BC Athenian orator Lycurgus accuses his fellow citizen Leocrates of having left the city just before the battle of Chaeronea in order to escape the dangers of war, thus failing his duties towards his country and his fellow citizens.

The passage belongs to the middle of the oration (chh. 84-7), when Lycurgus makes a list of mythical and historical examples which demonstrate the abnegation, the sense of duty, and the heroism of the Athenians of the past in order to emphasise by contrast Leocrates’ pusillanimity.

Domenico Beccafumi: Il sacrificio di re Codro
(Siena, Palazzo Pubblico. Fonte: Wikimedia commons)

The example of the heroic sacrifice of the last mythical Athenian king, Codrus, is interesting. The story is set during a famine, when the Peloponnesians declare war on Athens to conquer its territories and exploit its resources. Before embarking on military operations, the Spartans sent a delegation to Delphiin order to consult Apollo’s oracle on the outcome of the war. According to the tradition, the oracle replied: ‘Dear Spartans, you will overthrow Athensonly if you do not kill his king, Codrus’. The Peloponnesians, then, left the oracle self-confidently and warned their soldiers not to kill king Codrus for any reason. However, a certain Delphian called Cleomantis learned about the response of the oracle and secretly informed the Athenians.

Here is the text of the first part of the passage: (more…)