1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Memnon

MEMNON, in Greek mythology, son of Tithonus and Eos (Dawn), king of the Aethiopians. Although mentioned in Hesiod and the Odyssey, he is rather a post-Homeric hero. After the death of Hector he went to assist his uncle Priam against the Greeks. He performed prodigies of valour, but was slain by Achilles, after he had himself killed Antilochus, the son of Nestor and the friend of Achilles. His mother, Eos, removed his body from the field of battle, and it was said that Zeus, moved by her tears, bestowed immortality upon him. According to another account, Memnon was engaged in single combat with Ajax Telamonius, when Achilles slew him before his warriors had time to come to his aid (Dictys Cretensis iv. 6; Quintus Smyrnaeus ii.; Pindar, Pythia, vi. 31). His mother wept for him every morning, and the early dew-drops were said to be her tears. His companions were changed into birds, called Memnonides, which came every year to fight and lament over his grave, which was variously located (Ovid, Metam. xiii. 576–622; Pausanias x. 31). The story of Memnon was the subject of the lost Aethiopis of Arctinus of Miletus; the chief source from which our knowledge of him is derived is the second book of the Posthomerica of Quintus Smyrnaeus (itself probably an adaptation of the works of Arctinus and Lesches), where his exploits and death are described at length. As an Aethiopian, Memnon was described as black, but was noted for his beauty. The fight between Achilles and Memnon was often represented by Greek artists, as on the chest of Cypselus, and more than one Greek play was written bearing his name as a title. In later times the tendency was to regard Memnon as a real historical figure. He was said to have built the royal citadel of Susa, called after him the Memnonion, and to have been sent by Teutamus, king of Assyria, to the assistance of his vassal Priam (Diod. Sic. ii. 22). In Egypt, the name of Memnon was connected with the colossal statues of Amenophis (Amenhotep) III. near Thebes, two of which still remain. The more northerly of these was partly destroyed by an earthquake (27 B.C.) and the upper part thrown down. A curious phenomenon then occurred. Every morning, when the rays of the rising sun touched the statue, it gave forth musical sounds, like the moaning noise or the sharp twang of a harp-string. This-was supposed to be the voice of Memnon responding to the greeting of his mother Eos. After the restoration of the statue by Septimius Severus (A.D. 170) the sounds ceased. The sound, which has been heard by modern travellers, is generally attributed to the passage of the air through the pores of the stone, chiefly due to the change of temperature at sunrise. Others have held that it was a device of the priests. Strabo (xvii. 816), the first to mention the sound, declares that he himself heard it, and Pausanias (i. 42, 3) says “one would compare the sound most nearly to the broken chord of a harp or a lute” (Juvenal xv. 5, with Mayor's note; Tacitus, Annals, ii. 61).

The supporters of the solar theory look upon Memnon as the son of the dawn, who, though he might vanish from sight for a time, could not be destroyed; hence the immortality bestowed upon him by Zeus. He comes from the east, that is, the land of the rising sun. On early Greek vases he is represented as borne through the air; this is the sun making his way to his place of departure in the west. Both Susa and Egyptian Thebes, were there was a Memnonion or temple in honour of the hero, were centres of sun-worship. “Eos, the mother of Memnon, is so transparently the morning, that her child must rise again as surely as the sun reappears to run his daily course across the heavens " (G. W. Cox, Mythology and Folklore, p. 267)

See J. A. Letronne, La Statue vocale de Memnon (1833); C. R. Lepsius, Briefe aus Ägypten (1852); “The Voice of Memnon” in Edinburgh Review (July 1886); article by R. Holland in Roscher's Lexikon der mythologies.