From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
In Greek mythology, Memnon (Greek: Mέμνων) was an Ethiopian king and son of Tithonus and Eos. As a warrior he was considered to be almost Achilles' equal in skill. At the Trojan War, he brought an army to Troy's defense and was killed by Achilles in retribution for killing Antilochus. The death of Memnon echoes that of Hector, another defender of Troy whom Achilles also killed out of revenge for a fallen comrade, Patroclus. After Memnon's death, Zeus was moved by Eos' tears and granted her immortality. Memnon's death is related at length in the lost epic Aethiopis, composed after The Iliad circa the 7th century BC. Quintus of Smyrna records Memnon's death in Posthomerica. His death is also described in Philostratus' Imagines.
Memnon in Quintus of Smyrna's Posthomerica
Memnon arrives at Troy in the immediate aftermath of an argument between Polydamas, Helen, and Priam that centers on whether or not the Aethiopian King will show up at all. Memnon's army is described as being too big to be counted and his arrival starts a huge banquet in his honour. As per usual the two leaders (Memnon and, in this case, Priam) end the dinner by exchanging glorious war stories, and Memnon's tales lead Priam to declare that the Aethiopian King will be Troy's saviour. Despite this, Memnon is very humble and warns that his strength will hopefully be seen in battle, although he believes it is unwise to boast at dinner. Before the next day's war, so great was the divine love towards Memnon, Zeus makes all the other Olympians promise not to interfere with the fighting. In battle, Memnon kills Nestor's son, Antilochos, after Antilochos had killed Memnon's dear comrade, Aithops. Seeking vengeance and despite his age Nestor tries to fight Memnon but the African warrior insists it would not be just to fight such an old man, and respects Nestor so much that he refuses to fight. In this way, Memnon is seen as very similar to Achilles - both of them have strong sets of values that are looked upon favourably by the warrior culture of the time. When Memnon reaches the Greek ships, Nestor begs Achilles to fight him and avenge Antilochos, leading to the two men clashing whilst both wearing divine armour made by Hephaestus, making another parallel between the two warriors. Zeus favours both of them and makes each man tireless and huge so that the whole battlefield can watch them clash as demi-Gods. Eventually, Achilles stabs Memnon through the heart, causing his entire army to flee in terror. In honour of Memnon, the Gods collect all the drops of blood that fall from him and use them to form a huge river that on every anniversary of Memnon's death bears the stench of human flesh. The Aethiopians that stayed close to Memnon in order to bury their leader are turned into birds (which we now call Memnons) and they stay by his tomb so to remove dust that gathers on it.
Memnon in Africa
While Roman writers and later classical Greek writers such as Diodorus Siculus believed Memnon hailed from "Aethiopia" (a place corresponding to areas in Africa, usually south of Egypt), earlier Greek writers placed Memnon in "Asia", which most of them equated with "Cissia", which corresponds to the Bronze Age Kassite state and to modern Khuzestan in southwest Iran. These Greek writers also widely credited Memnon with founding Khuzestan's main city, Susa. For example, Aeschylus (cited by Strabo) and Ctesias (summarized by Diodorus Siculus) both identified Memnon as a Cissian and founder of Susa, whereas Herodotus called Susa "the city of Memnon" (5:54, 7:151), but distinguished between Cissia and Asiatic Ethiopia, which he placed in the 17th Persian satrapy together with Paricanians (3:94), which can be deduced to be somewhere in what is now Iran, as he also included Paricanians in the 11th satrapy along with the Medes (3:92). Greek myths also interpret Memnon as having been a king of the Kaska in north-central Anatolia, which is by some scholars identified as the country called Cush in chapter two of the Book of Genesis. This country of Cush is said to be surrounded by the river Gihon, said to be one of the four rivers flowing out of Eden along with the Tigris, Euphrates and Pishon. Among the rivers that have sources near those of the Tigris and Euphrates is the Yesilirmak, which flows west across Anatolia and then north into the Black Sea, roughly encompassing where ancient Kaska was located. There is a passage in Herodotus which points to a possible identification of Memnon as Hittite. Herodotus describes two similar tall carved human figures in separate locations in western Anatolia, one of them on the road from Smyrna to Sardis, which Herodotus said were believed by some of his contemporaries to represent Memnon, although Herodotus himself believed they represented an Egyptian pharaoh (2:106). A carved figure matching his description has been found near the old road from Smyrna to Sardis, and it is Hittite. The renowned professor of classics, Frank Snowden however establishes later Greek and Roman tradition as placing Memnon's ties firmly to African "Ethiopia". Snowden points out that according to Greek tradition, Memnon was actually the progenitor of the Ethiopians, which in this context referred to African people. He cites that the Asiatic provenance of Memnon was swiftly abandoned as depictions of him on vases and war scenes depicting the Trojan war showed him as an African, also citing physical descriptions of him as relayed through accounts of the Trojan war as well as numerous Roman authors who state with out dissent that Memnon was an Ethiopian from Sudan and Egypt.