Hypnos: The Greek God of Sleep
How much do you know about Greek mythology’s most “hypnotic” god? Keep reading to learn about Hypnos, the god of sleep!
Children in the modern world hear stories about the Sandman, a magical being that puts the people of the world to sleep each night.
In the ancient world, this role was filled by a god instead of a fairy-tale being. Hypnos was the Greek god of sleep.
He was one of hundreds of minor gods that influenced the world and the people in it. These spirits were defined by their role and typically had no true mythology beyond it.
As the Greek god of sleep, however, Hypnos played a more prominent role in life than many other minor gods and goddesses. All people, and even the gods, were influenced by him for a large portion of their lives.
Because of this, Hypnos played a role in several well-known stories. The most famous story of the Greek god of sleep showed that even the king of the gods was subject to the workings of Hypnos.
The Powers of Hypnos
Hypnos was the Greek god of sleep. He was a type of minor deity called a daimon that personified his domain.
The word hypnos meant “sleep,” and like other daimones he had little characterization beyond his function.
Fittingly, Hynos was the son of Nyx, the primordial goddess of the night. He lived in a cave in the realm of his father, the primordial darkness of Erebos.
Each night, Hypnos traveled around the world with his sons, the gods of dreams. There were uncountable Oneiroi, the daimones who brought both peaceful dreams and nightmares.
Hypnos appeared in several well-known stories, however, because he was essential to their plots. Because he induced sleep, he was more active in many stories than some of the more rarely-encountered daimones.
His most well-known appearance is in the Iliad. Homer tells the story of how Hera twice convinced Hypnos to work for her against Zeus.
The first time he helped Hera, her goal had been to punish Heracles for sacking the city of Troy. She asked the god of sleep to help her keep Zeus from seeing her wreck the hero’s ship.
When Hera asked Hypnos for help again so she could influence the Trojan War against his orders, the god of sleep was understandably hesitant to offer it. Zeus had been furious the first time he had been put to sleep and Hypnos had only escaped his anger by hiding with Nyx.
Hera tried to bribe the Greek god, but he would not accept her offer of a fine golden throne. Eventually, she won him over by promising a marriage.
She swore on the River Styx that if Hypnos helped her, he would be married to Pasithea. He had always been attracted to the young Grace, so he agreed to help Hera again.
Hera used a charm from Aphrodite, who she had also deceived, to make Zeus irresistibly attracted to her. He was so focused on his love for his wife that he did not notice Hypnos lulling him to sleep.
Zeus fell into a deep sleep with his wife in his arms. Hypnos, on Hera’s orders, sent the message to Poseidon that the Danaans could win a victory without opposition from Zeus.
The combination of Aphrodite and Hypnos’s powers had such a calming effect that Zeus never questioned them. Hypnos married one of the Graces and his role in influencing the Trojan War was never discovered.
My Modern Interpretation
Hypnos was one of many daimones in Greek mythology. While these were minor gods, his role was particularly important in Greek life.
As the Greek god of sleep, he was said to rule over nearly half of a person’s life. People spent as much time being directly influenced by him and his sons, the gods of dreams, as they did all the other gods combined.
Because he brought people rest, he was generally regarded as a kind and helpful god. However difficult a person’s life was, Hypnos could bring them relief during the night.
This is likely why he was said to live near the River Lethe, the Underworld’s river for forgetfulness. During sleep, people could forget their worries and the trials of the day for a period of time.
The characterization of Hypnos as a god who brought pleasant, forgetful sleep extended beyond the natural sleep that came each night. He was also the Greek god of artificial sleep.
Hypnos is recognizable in art because he often carries his sacred flower, the poppy. They were said by some writers to grow in large numbers near the entrance to the cave he lived in.
Poppies, of course, are the source of opium. Their medicinal value had been known for thousands of years by the time Greek writers pictured Hypnos with their flowers.
In addition to relieving pain, opium generally causes feelings of sleepiness. This made them the ideal symbol of the Greek god who caused sleep so that people could forget their struggles.
Poppies were also one of the reasons he was paired with Pasithea.
One of the younger Graces, she was the goddess of altered states of mind. While this could mean relaxation, it could also extend to hallucination and other forms of altered consciousness.
They were the parents of the Oneiroi, the daimones of dreams. While Hypnos inspired sleep itself, his sons filled people’s minds with images and feelings after he had visited them.
Hypnos was also paired with his twin brother, Thanatos. He was a Greek god of death who specifically brought a peaceful, calm end that was likened to eternal sleep.
Hypnos was therefore a god who was well-loved by the Greek people but was also to be treated with some measure of caution. While he could bring temporary peace in the form of a relaxing night of sleep, he could also be accompanied by hallucinations, frightening dreams, and even death.
Hypnos was the Greek god of sleep. He was one of the daimones, personifications of common elements of the world.
Because he played an important role in people’s daily lives, however, Hypnos had a more well-defined character and story than many other gods. He even played a role in one of Greek culture’s most well-known stories, the Iliad.
According to Homer, Hera called on Hypnos when she wished to distract Zeus from the ways she meddled in human affairs. The god of sleep had power even over Zeus, although he was reluctant to use it.
While Zeus was only lulled by Hypnos twice in the Iliad, common people were affected by him every day. They welcomed him as a gentle god who brought rest and relief from the struggles of daily life.
This relief was symbolized by the poppy, which was Hypnos’s sacred flower. It had the power to summon Hypnos to bring almost immediate relief from pain and peaceful sleep to people who used the opium extracted from it.
His wife was the goddess of altered consciousness, who could inspire both calming relaxation or worrisome hallucinations. Their sons were dream gods so similarly brought happy fantasies or terrible nightmares to sleeping people.
He was also paired with his brother, the god of a peaceful death. The family associations of Hypnos showed why he was a well-loved god who also had a potentially dangerous aspect.