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In Greek mythology, the name Sarpedon referred to at least three different people.
The first Sarpedon was a son of Zeus and Europa, and is brother to Minos and Rhadamanthys. He was raised by the king Asterion and then, banished by Minos, his rival in love for the young Miletus or Atymnius, he sought refuge with his uncle, Cilix. Sarpedon conquered the Milyans, and ruled over them; his kingdom was named Lycia, after his successor, Lycus, son of Pandion II. Zeus granted him the privilege of living three generations.
The second Sarpedon, king of Lycia, a descendant of the preceding, was a son of Zeus and Laodamia, daughter of Bellerophon. Sarpedon became king when his uncles withdrew their claim to Lycia. He fought on the side of the Trojans, with his cousin Glaucus, during the Trojan War, becoming one of Troy's greatest allies and heroes.
He scolded Hector in the Iliad (Book 5, lines 471–492) claiming that he left all the hard fighting to the allies of Troy and not to the Trojans themselves, and made a point of saying that the Lycians had no reason to fight the Greeks, or no real reason to hate them, but because he was a faithful ally to Troy he would do so and fight his best anyway. When the Trojans attacked the wall newly built by the Greeks, Sarpedon led his men (who also included Glaucus and Asteropaios) to the forefront of the battle and caused Ajax and Teucer to shift their attention from Hector's attack to that of Sarpedon's forces. He personally held up the battlements and was the first to enter the Greek encampment. This attack allowed Hector to break through the Greek wall. It was during this action that Sarpedon delivered a noblesse oblige speech to Glaucus, stating that they had been the most honoured kings, therefore they must now fight the most to repay that honour and prove themselves and repay their loyal subjects. While he was preparing to plunge into battle, he told Glaucus that together they would go on to glory: if they were successful, the glory would be their own; if not, the glory of whoever stopped them would be the greater.
When Patroclus entered the battle in the armour of Achilles, Sarpedon met him in combat. Zeus debated with himself whether to spare his son's life even though he was fated to die by the hand of Patroclus. He would have done so had Hera not reminded him that other gods' sons were fighting and dying and other gods' sons were fated to die as well. If Zeus should spare his son from his fate, another god might do the same; therefore Zeus let Sarpedon die while fighting Patroclus, but not before killing the only mortal horse of Achilles. During their fight, Zeus sent a shower of bloody raindrops over the Trojans' heads expressing the grief for the impending death of his son.
When Sarpedon fell, mortally wounded, he called on Glaucus to rescue his body and arms. Patroclus withdrew the spear he had embedded in Sarpedon, and as it left Sarpedon's body his spirit went with it. A violent struggle ensued over the body of the fallen king. The Greeks succeeded in gaining his armour (which was later given as a prize in the funeral games for Patroclus), but Zeus had Phoebus Apollo rescue the corpse. Apollo took the corpse and cleaned it, then delivered it to Sleep (Hypnos) and Death (Thanatos), who took it back to Lycia for funeral honours.
One account holds that the first and second Sarpedon are both the same man, and that Zeus granted Sarpedon an extraordinarily long life that had to end at the Trojan War. However, the favoured account is that Sarpedon, brother of Minos, and Sarpedon, who fought at Troy, were different men who lived generations apart. A genealogical link is provided between the two Sarpedons, through Laodamia. Laodamia (called Deidamia in that particular account) is said to have married Evander, son of the first Sarpedon, and to have presented Evander with a son named Sarpedon (in reality her son by Zeus). In some accounts his mother was called Hippodamia while his father, Xanthus.
See: Iliad books: II, IV, XII, XVI.
A third Sarpedon was a Thracian son of Poseidon, eponym of Cape Sarpedon near the outlet of the River Hebrus, and brother to Poltys, King of Aenus. Unlike the other two Sarpedons, this Thracian Sarpedon was not a hero, but an insolent individual who was shot to death by Heracles as the latter was sailing away from Aenus.
Sarpedon was also the name of Cato the Younger's childhood teacher. Sarpedon—"a well-bred man, more ready to instruct, than to beat his scholars"—was implicitly credited with overcoming Cato's obstinate disposition and slowness of apprehension.
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