Hypnos, the god of Sleep

Hypnos is the Greek god of Sleep.

In many artistic works inspired by the Greek Mythology,  Hypnos was represented as a gentle young man, usually with wings attached to his temples or shoulders.

In Hesiod’s portray, Hypnos and his brother Thanatos, the god of Death, were both terrible gods and pretty much inseparable in their acts

Intangible as the sleep is, Hypnos himself could have been both, but in any case he had enormous power over mortals and immortals – including the God of the Gods, Zeus.

Hypnos was also the father of another powerful deity – Morpheus, deity of Dreams.

hypnos with wings attached to his head

The Family Tree of  Hypnos

Father: Erebus, the deity of Darkness

Mother: Nyx, the deity of the Night.

Wife: Pasithea, the deity of hallucinations

Sons:

  • Morpheus: The Winged God of Dreams, able to take any human form in dreams.
  • Phobetor: He was the one who created the scary dreams. He was the personification of nightmare, taking the form of huge and scary animals.
  • Phantasus: He was the one creating the fake and illusional dreams, and had no animus form.
  • Ikelos: He was the one creating the true dreams, making them more realistic.

Hypnos was the son of goddess Nyx (meaning “night”) and Erebus (deep darkness, or shadow). In Hesiod’s version though, Hypnos had no father.

Hypnos lived in the dark cave, in the Hades (Underworld), whose entrance was full of poppies and other hypnotic plants. One version suggests that Hypnos lived in the cave under one Greek island, Lemnos, and that through his cave the river of forgetfulness, Lethe, used to flow.

Hypnos and his mother Nyx

Hypnos and his mother Nyx

Hypnos was married to the youngest of the Graces – Pasithea (or Pasithee), a deity of hallucination or relaxation, depending on the interpretation. Their marriage was a direct result of Hypnos’s blackmail to Hera – in order to do her a very tricky favor regarding the Trojan War, Hypnos asked for Pasithea and Hera had no choice so she offered her to Hypnos.

There were rumors (well, they exist even in mythology!) that Hypnos and Pasithea had even a thousand children, but the most common belief is that they had four sons. Their sons – Oneiroi (meaning “dreams” in Greek) were: Morpheus, Ikelos, Phobetor, and Phantasos.

Oneiroi, the dream-bearing sons of Hypnos

The myth says that Oneiroi lived at the shores of the Ocean in the West, in the cave close to Hades. The cave had two gates – one made of the buckhorn the other of the ivory – so that they could choose what dreams to send. The latter was believed to be the gate for the false dreams. But before they were able to act, their father Hypnos had to do the work, putting people to sleep.

It seems that this family, including Hypnos’s brother Thanatos, really owned both the most dangerous and most desired abilities in Greek Mythology: sleep, dreams, fear and death.

Tales and myths about Hypnos

There are many tales related to Hypnos. One of the most known was related to Zeus, the mighty God, who had the influence over everything and anything. But Hypnos turned out to overpower him, and not only once. And both times Hera was involved.

The first time, Hera was so angry with Hercules and wanted to torture him, but Zeus was not supposed to see it. So, she asked Hypnos to do his deeds and he did. When Zeus woke up, he was so enraged and went on to look for Hypnos. But when he found him in the arms of his mother, Zeus gave up the revenge and only warned Hypnos not to try something similar again. But the temptation stroke again.

Hypnos’ role in the Trojan War

During the Trojan War, Hera had her own ideas again. She wanted to help the Achaeans who were losing the war at one point, and for that she needed Zeus to be distracted. Thus, she asked Hypnos for the same favor again: to put Zeus to sleep so she could proceed with her plans.

Hypnos was very reluctant to mess again with the father of the gods, and Hera tried to offer him various appealing gifts that he refused. Finally, they agreed: Hypnos would get Pasithea as his bride.

So, Hera transformed Hypnos into a bird. He hid on Mount Ida in Crete until Zeus was completely seduced by Hera, and then Hypnos put him to sleep.

Hypnos – bird flew to Poseidon to ask him to help the Achaeans since Zeus was asleep. Poseidon did help the Greeks, and the war changed its course.

Zeus never found out that Hypnos had done his magic on him for one more time…

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11 Responses to Hypnos, the god of Sleep

  1. kierra May 27, 2010 at 21:24 #

    I like that picture of Hypnos, it is beautiful

    • Angela December 12, 2012 at 03:10 #

      That picture is really beautiful, I agree with Kierra,and I like how the writer gave you a family tree, I needed that!

  2. Hannah White September 26, 2010 at 23:42 #

    I think he is a really interesting god. i would love to learn more!!!!

  3. AL.I November 14, 2010 at 02:29 #

    I think Hypnos may be my favorite god so far! (Because after all, I like to sleep late…LOL).
    I also drew a picture of him and his sons! It’s looks like anime, but it’s good

  4. Tyler Robitaille January 15, 2011 at 01:27 #

    blackmailing Hera and disobeying Zeus, gutsy but totally awesome

  5. jaime March 16, 2011 at 05:43 #

    i like this page especially becuse it helps me learn more about hypnos for my english project ;)

  6. jj pow way January 27, 2012 at 20:24 #

    I love hypnos, he is the best of all gods.

  7. bob bobykins April 15, 2012 at 00:50 #

    I am doing Hypnos for my social studies project and its so hard to find anything!!
    This page was helpfull – now i know the story of hypnos in greek mythology- but I’m confused about weather Hera turned him into a bird, or he could transform by himself. Different sites say different things and i cant take chances…

    • TKBaha September 25, 2013 at 04:34 #

      You should try the oneiroi. they are the group of sleep gods.

  8. Katriona March 21, 2013 at 23:45 #

    Here is some additional information :)

    Most sources say that Hypnos had only three sons – Morpheus, Phantasus and Phobetor. Ikelos/Icelus was the name the gods called Phobetor. Ikelos was one of the Oneiroi, however he only had the ability to appear in mortal’s dreams in the form of animals or monsters (personification of a nightmare). Hesoid claimed that Ikelos/Phobetor was actually the son of Nyx, but most sources disagree.

    Thanatos was the god of non-violent death and was the twin brother of Hypnos. Violent death was the domain of the Keres (spirits of slaughter and disease), and the sisters of Thanatos. He was depicted as a winged, bearded older man, or more rarely as a beardless youth. He often appears in a scene from the Iliad, opposite his brother Hypnos (Sleep) carrying off the body of Sarpedon.

    Morpheus was the leader of the Oneiroi (the spirits of dreams). He was often the tool of Hypnos due to his ability to shape the dreams of both mortals and immortals.

    Phantasos means “apparition” and appears in the dreams of mortals in the form of inanimate objects which the mortal desires.

    Hypnos is often depicted as a young man with wings on his shoulders or brow. His attributes included either a horn of sleep-inducing opium, a poppy-stem, a branch dripping water from the river Lethe (Forgetfulness), or an inverted torch.

  9. Anonymous November 24, 2014 at 23:33 #

    I loved learning more about Hypnos and the Oneiroi. I didn’t know about Pasithea either, or the stories involving Hypnos either.

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