From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
In Greek mythology, Thánatos (in Greek, Θάνατος – "Death") was the daemon personification of Death. He was a minor figure in Greek mythology, often referred to but rarely appearing in person. His name is transliterated in Latin as Thanatus, but his equivalent in Roman mythology is Mors or Letus/Letum, and he is sometimes identified erroneously with Orcus (Orcus himself had a Greek equivalent in the form of Horkos, God of the Oath).
In psychology and medicine
According to Sigmund Freud, humans have a life instinct – which he named 'Eros' – and a death drive, which is commonly called (though not by Freud himself) 'Thanatos'. This postulated death drive allegedly compels humans to engage in risky and self-destructive acts that could lead to their own death. Behaviors such as thrill seeking, aggression, and risk taking are viewed as actions which stem from this Thanatos instinct. However, from a scientific viewpoint, the notion of Thanatos continues to be highly controversial.
Thanatophobia is the fear of things associated with or reminiscent of death and mortality, such as corpses or graveyards. It is also known as Necrophobia, although this term typically refers to a singular fear of dead bodies rather than a fear of death in general.
Thanatology is the academic and scientific study of death among human beings. It investigates the circumstances surrounding a person's death, the grief experienced by the deceased's loved ones, and larger social attitudes towards death such as ritual and memorialization. It is primarily an interdisciplinary study, frequently undertaken by professionals in nursing, psychology, sociology, psychiatry, social work and veterinary science. It also describes bodily changes that accompany death and the after-death period.
Thanatophoric dysplasia, so named because of its lethality at birth, is the most common lethal congenital skeletal dysplasia with an estimated prevalence of one in 6,400 to one in 16,700 births. Its name Thanatophoros, meanis 'death-bearing' in Greek.
Euthanasia, 'Good Death' in Greek, is the act or practice of ending the life of an individual suffering from a terminal illness or an incurable condition, as by lethal injection or the suspension of extraordinary medical treatment. The Thanatron, built by Doctor Jack Kevorkian, was a device used to aid in the suicide of his patients by euthanasia.
In the earliest mythological accounts, Thanatos was perceived by poets as a fearsome, sword-wielding spectre, shaggy bearded and fierce of countenance. He was a harbinger of suffering and grief, and his coming was marked by pain. But Greek artists did not often follow this grim conception of Death.
In later eras, as the transition from life to death in Elysium became a more attractive option, Thanatos came to be seen as a beautiful Ephebe. He became more associated with a gentle passing then a with a woeful demise. Many Roman sarcophagi depict him as a winged boy, very much akin to Cupid.
Thanatos has also been portrayed as a slumbering infant in the arms of his mother Nyx, or as a youth carrying a butterfly (the ancient Greek word for butterfly is psyche which in modern Greek means soul) or a wreath of poppies (poppies were associated with Hypnos and Thanatos because of their hypnogogic traits and the eventual death engendered by overexposure to them). He is often shown carrying an inverted torch (holding it upside down in his hands), representing a life extinguished. He is usually described as winged and with a sword sheathed at his belt. Thanatos was rarely portrayed in art without his twin brother Hypnos.
Modern renditions of Thanatos often assume the stereotypical cloaked and skeletal visage of the Grim Reaper, though this was hardly traditional.
"To Thanatos, Fumigation from Manna. Hear me, O Thanatos, whose empire unconfined extends to mortal tribes of every kind. On thee the portion of our time depends, whose absence lengthens life, whose presence ends. Thy sleep perpetual bursts the vivid bolds by which the soul attracting the body holds : common to all, of every sex and age, for nought escapes thy all-destructive rage. Not youth itself thy clemency can gain, vigorous and strong, by thee untimely slain. In thee the end of nature’s works is known, in thee all judgment is absolved alone. No suppliant arts thy dreadful rage control, no vows revoke the purpose of thy soul. O blessed power, regard my ardent prayer, and human life to age abundant spare." (Orphic Hymn 87 to Thanatos, trans. Taylor, Greek hymns C3rd B.C. to 2nd A.D.)