Hypnos in Greek Mythology — The Greek God of Sleep

Hypnos in Greek Mythology — The Greek God of Sleep

Who is Hypnos in Greek Mythology?

Hypnos (“Sleep”), in Greek Mythology, was the son of Nyx, the night goddess, and the brother of Thanatos (“Death”). Morpheus, the god of dreams, was his son. Hypnos lived in the underworld, the realm of Hades, and never saw the sun. His roman counterpart was Somnus (“Sleep”).

On several occasions, Hera asked Hypnos to lull her husband Zeus to sleep so that she could attack his son Heracles. Hypnos usually refused to anger Zeus, possibly because he had already come close to having a thunderbolt hurled at him. He was saved by taking refuge with Night (Nyx), whose power Zeus always respected.

Origin of Hypnos

Hypnos, the son of night and darkness, the brother of dreams and nightmare, secluded in his cave by the sea—a silent and empty place to be.

We’ve previously discussed Nyx and some of her children, and today, it is another one of those children that we’ll be examining, Hypnos, the spirit and personification of sleep.

Siblings and Sons of Hypnos

Hypnos is taken directly from the Greek word meaning “sleep”, and as his name suggests, he was indeed the ancient Greek version of The Sandman. He was also a brother of Thanatos, the personification of death, and among his numerous brothers and sisters with Oneiroi, a collection of deities responsible for bringing dreams.

Hypnos and Thanatos, Sleep and His Half-Brother Death by John William Waterhouse
Hypnos and Thanatos, Sleep and His Half-Brother Death by John William Waterhouse

These began as hypnos’ siblings, but many believed that his sons also became part of the Oneiroi:

  • Morpheus, the master of Dreams.
  • Phobetor, whose name originates from the Greek word meaning “frightening”, was responsible for creating nightmares. Still, in some variations, he was instead referred to as Hegellos, and he would make dreams seem more realistic.
  • Lastly, Phantasos, whose name derived from the Greek word meaning “fantasy,” would be responsible for creative and fantastic dreaming.

Hypnos Residence and Consort

It was believed that Hypnos resided in Erebus, the land of eternal darkness, which in some accounts was even considered to be his father. He made his home in a dark cave, blind in opiate blooms, such as the opium poppy and the bread seed poppy.

There is another variation of this cave located under the island of Lemnos, where the river forgetfulness would flow, which ties into the idea that sleep is a time when we could forget our problems. Hypnos would rise into the sky with his mother Nyx and bring sleep to all those below when the night did come.

He would eventually take a wife known as Pasithea, who was the youngest of all Graces, promised to him by the goddess Hera. Pasithea was regarded as the goddess of meditation, relaxation and hallucination. So, naturally, it makes sense that these two gave birth to children who are heavily associated with dreaming.

Hypnos Depiction

Hypnos Depiction

When Hypnos was depicted as a physical being, he was seen as a young man with wings on his shoulders or even on his brow. The idea of these wings covering his eyes in all the forensic sleep is quite interesting.

He was often depicted carrying around several objects that would aid him to send people into a slumber: a horn that contained sleep-inducing opium that would cause sleep when blown; a branch dipped in the river of forgetfulness; occasionally, an inverted torch and a poppy stem.

Hypnos and Zeus

There aren’t many mentions of Hypnos in Greek mythology, but he does play a small run Homer’s Iliad during the Trojan War.

Hera wanting to help the Achaean people and the forces of Troy, seduced her husband Zeus and had Hypnos place him into a deep slumber. However, Hypnos wasn’t able to keep Zeus asleep for very long, and when he awoke, he was furious, pursuing Hypnos endlessly until he fled to his mother’s cave.

Nyx was eventually able to convince Zeus to forgive her son and forget their conflict.

When Hera witnessed her attempts to help the Trojan people were largely in vain because Heracles had sacked the entire city, she blames Zeus for his son’s actions, and she once again asked Hypnos to play Zeus into a deep slumber.

This time, Hypnos was quite unsure as he barely escaped the wrath of Zeus on the previous occasion. She was able to finally convince him by offering him Pasithea, the youngest sister of all of the Graces, whom he always wanted to marry. So, once again, Hypnos placed Zeus to sleep; this time, it was for much longer and words spread to Poseidon, who helped the Achaean people victory when Zeus lay sleeping.

When Zeus eventually awoke, he heard the news that the Trojan War had been turned in Hera’s favour, but he never learnt of what Hera and Hypnos had done.

Roman Counterpart, Somnus

Let’s now touch upon some of the cool little facts and titbits that we have come across. The Roman iteration of Hypnos was known as Somnus, which is where the English word for insomnia actually comes from, with ‘in’ meaning ‘not’ and ‘Somnus meaning ‘sleep’.

Hypnosis is derived from Hypnos’ name, with Hypnos meaning ‘sleep’ and ‘osis’ meaning condition. And the same can be said for hypnotic medicine, which is known to induce sleep.

In Conclusion

Hypnos’ is definitely an interesting deity who doesn’t seem to receive much attention.

Image Sources: EmanuellaKozas, Aurora "DiesVitae" Scaioni.

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