In Athenaeus’ Banquet of the Learned, we read about a hedonist King named Sardanapalus, a somewhat legendary figure. While other historians write of him, Athenaeus seems to provide a complied account including variants of Sardanapalus’ death. Sardanapalus, by all accounts, was born into royalty, lived each day for pleasure and was killed/died due to a resentful soldier. Athenaeus writes:
And another king of this sort was Sardanapalus, whom some call the son of Anacyndaraxes, and others the son of Anabaxarus. And so, when Arbaces, who was one of the generals under him, a Mede by birth, endeavoured to manage, by the assistance of one of the eunuchs, whose name was Sparamizus, to see Sardanapalus; and when he with difficulty prevailed upon him, with the consent of the king himself, -when the Mede entered and saw him, painted with vermilion and adorned like a woman, sitting among his concubines carding purple wool, and sitting among them with his feet up, wearing a woman’s robe, and with his beard carefully scraped, and his face smoothed with pumice-stone (for he was whiter than milk, and penciled under his eyes and eyebrows ; and when he saw Arbaces, he was just putting a little more white under his eyes), most historians, among whom Duris is one, relate that Arbaces, being indignant at his countrymen being ruled over by such a monarch as that, stabbed him and slew him.
But Ctesias says that he went to war with him, and collected a great army, and then that Sardanapalus, being dethroned by Arbaces, died, burning himself alive in his palace, having heaped up a funeral pile four plethra in extent, on which he placed a hundred and fifty golden couches, and a corresponding number of tables, these, too, being all made of gold. And he also erected on the funeral pile a chamber a hundred feet long, made of wood; and in it he had couches spread, and there he himself lay down with, his wife, and his concubines lay on other couches around. For he had sent on his three sons and his daughters, when he saw that his affairs were getting in a dangerous state, to Nineveh, to the king of that city, giving them three thousand talents of gold. And he made the roof of this apartment of large Stout beams, and then all the walls of it he made of numerous thick planks, so that it was impossible to escape out of it. And in it he placed ten millions of talents of gold, and a hundred millions of talents of silver, and robes, and purple garments, and every kind of apparel imaginable. And after that he bade the slaves set fire to the pile; and it was fifteen days burning. And those who saw the smoke wondered, and thought that he was celebrating a great sacrifice; but the eunuchs alone knew what was really being done. And in this way Sardanapalus, who had spent his life in extraordinary luxury, died with as much magnanimity as possible.
… “Sardanapalus was the most happy of all monarchs, who during his whole life preferred enjoyment to everything else, and who, even after his death, shows by his fingers, in the figure carved on his tomb, how much ridicule all human affairs deserve, being not worth the snap of his fingers which he makes [missing word] anxiety about other things.”…
And Amyntas, in the third book of his Account of the Posts, says that at Nineveh there is a very high mound, which Cyrus leveled with the ground when he besieged the city and raised another mound against the city ; and that this mound was said to have been erected by Sardanapalus the son of King Ninus; and that on it there was said to be inscribed, on a marble pillar and in Chaldaic characters, the following inscription, which Chaerilus translated into Greek, and reduced to metre. And the inscription is as follows —
I was the king, and while I lived on earth,
And saw the bright rays of the genial sun,
I ate and drank and loved; and knew full well
The time that men do live on earth was brief.
And liable to many sudden changes,
Reverses, and calamities. Now others
Will have th’ enjoyment of my luxuries,
Which I do leave behind me. For these reasons
I never ceased one single day from pleasure.
Was Paul aware of this story when he wrote “Let us eat, drink, and be merry. For tomorrow we die.“? He was quoting Isaiah 22:13, but the context of his quote seems to fit Sardanapalus.
Pingback: Apologetics Thursday – God makes Kings | God is Open
What is the link between this writing on king Sardanapalus and Ecclesiastes?