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The God Hypnos in Greek Mythology

Updated on July 30, 2016
Colin Quartermain profile image

Having travelled through Italy, Greece and the Aegean in his youth, Colin quickly became interested in the ancient mythology of the region.

The God of Sleep Hypnos

The names of many Greek gods and goddesses are still recognisable today; some names are recognised because of their role in Greek mythology, and some are known because their names are used today.

The Greek god Hypnos is an example of a god whose name might not be recognised from ancient accounts but because his name lives on in modern English, with the word hypnosis derived from the Greek name. Knowing this will enable many people to realise that Hypnos was the Greek god of sleep.

Hypnos and Thanatos

John William Waterhouse (1849–1917) PD-art-100
John William Waterhouse (1849–1917) PD-art-100 | Source

Nyx, Hypnos and Thanatos

Evelyn De Morgan (1855–1919) PD-art-100
Evelyn De Morgan (1855–1919) PD-art-100 | Source

The Lineage of Hypnos

The Greek god of sleep was a son of Nyx, the primordial goddess of the night; and where ancient writers named the father of Hypnos, it was generally agreed upon, that this was Erebus, the god of darkness.

Hypnos would also have a twin brother, Thanatos, the Greek god of peaceful death.

In terms of looks, Hypnos was normally depicted as an Adonis king of character, young and handsome, although belying this image, the god of sleep was also often portrayed with wings coming out of his temple.

Hypnos in the Underworld

Hypnos was one of the gods of the Greek pantheon who did not reside upon Mount Olympus, but instead had a residence in the Underworld, near to those of Nyx and Erebus.

The power of Hypnos was exhibited by the fact that one of the rivers of the Underworld, the River Lethe, flowed through and around the cave of Hypnos; and whilst it did so, the river would absorb some of the god’s powers. Subsequently, the River Lethe would be the river that the souls of the dead would drink of, in order that they should forget their previous lives.

Hypnos and the Endymion Myth

Hynpos would appear in the mythological tale of Selene and Endymion; for when Zeus refused to make the handsome shepherd Endymion immortal for the goddess of the moon, Zeus instead had Hynpos put the shepherd into an eternal sleep.

Endymion would not age, and would be able to sleep with his eyes open, this allowed him to gaze upon Selene, and also allowed Selene to forever see his beautiful face.

Nyx and Hypnos

Evelyn De Morgan (1855–1919) PD-art-100
Evelyn De Morgan (1855–1919) PD-art-100 | Source

Hypnos and Hera

Hypnos though is most prominent in Greek mythology in terms of his interaction with Hera, the wife of Zeus.

Hera would ask for the assistance of Hypnos in putting her husband to sleep, whilst she sought some revenge upon Heracles, the son of Zeus. Whilst Zeus slept, Hera would whip up a storm to endanger Heracles whilst he voyaged after sacking Troy.

Zeus of course would eventually wake up, and the god was greatly angered when he found out what had happened. Eventually, Zeus would direct his anger at Hypnos, and the god of sleep would have to flee to the cave of Nyx to avoid punishment. The power of Nyx was such that even Zeus did not contemplate angering her.

Zeus’ anger would slowly die down, but then Hera came to Hypnos to try the same trick again, this time during the Trojan War.

Hypnos though, was more reticent about angering Zeus this time, and so Hera tried bribing the god of sleep with a throne of gold. Hypnos though still refused to help, but the lure of being married to Pasithea, one of the Charities, and goddess of rest and relaxation did sway the god.

So whilst Zeus lay with Hera, Hypnos did his work, and so for a while the gods on the side of the Achaeans were able to influence the war, giving the Greeks the advantage.

Hypnos Carrying Sarpedon

Henry Fuseli (1741–1825) PD-art-100
Henry Fuseli (1741–1825) PD-art-100 | Source

Other Tales of Hypnos

Hypnos would also appear during the Trojan War, although not as a combatant, but as a transporter of the dead. Hypnos and Thanatos would transfer the body of Sarpedon, a son of Zeus, back to Lycia, when he died defending Troy.

Hypnos’ marriage to Pasithea would produce a series of sons, the Oneiroi, the 1000 daemons of dreams, and in later Roman mythology three of these sons would be named as Morpheus, Phobetor and Phantasos.

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