Delacroix’s painting The Death of Sardanapalus was inspired by the great Romantic poet Lord Byron’s 1821 play, Sardanapalus. The following is an except:
That’s a black augury! it has been said
For ages, ” That the city ne’er should yield “To man, until the river grew its foe.”
I can forgive the omen, not the ravage. How much is swept down of the wall?
Some twenty stadii.
And all this is left
Pervious to the assailants?
For the present
The river’s fury must impede the assault;
But when he shrinks into his wonted channel,
And may be cross’d by the accustom’d barks,
The palace is their own.
That shall be never. Though men, and gods,- and elements, and omens,
Have risen up ‘gainst one who ne’er provoked them,
My fathers’ house shall never be a cave For wolves to horde and howl in….
You have done your duty faithfully, and as
My worthy Pania! further ties between us
Draw near a close. I pray you take this key:
[Gives a key.It opens to a secret chamber, placed
Behind the couch in my own chamber. (Now
Press’d by a nobler weight than e’er it bore—
Though a long line of sovereigns have lain down
Along its golden frame—as bearing for
A time what late was Salemenes.) Search
The secret covert to which this will lead you;
‘Tis full of treasure; take it for yourself
And your companions: there’s enough to load ye,
Though ye be many. Let the slaves be freed, too;
And all the inmates of the palace, of
Whatever sex, now quit it in an hour.
Thence launch the regal barks, once form’d for pleasure,
And now to serve for safety, and embark.
The river’s broad and swoln, and uncommanded
(More potent than a king) by these besiegers.
Fly! and be happy!
Under your protection! So you accompany your faithful guard.
No, Pania! that must not be; get thee hence, And leave me to my fate…
Dr. Beth Harris and Dr. Steven Zucker provide a description, historical perspective, and analysis of Delacroix’s The Death of Sardanapalus.
Eugène Delacroix, The Death of Sardanapalus, 1827, oil on canvas, 12′ 10″ × 16′ 3″ (3.92m × 4.96m), (Musée du Louvre, Paris).