Hypnos played his own role in Greek mythology. As the personification of sleep, this deity represents an essential aspect of human life. Hypnos was the son of Nyx and Erebus. Hypnos' family tree would not be complete without his twin brother Thanatos. Thanatos was the famous god of death. Together they had the power to grant people peace and rest, and to end a life. Hypnos can be found in all aspects of the ancient Greeks' daily lives. From stories and prayers to art and religious practices, nothing is left out. In this article, we will analyze all aspects of Hypnos in ancient Greece. So without further ado, let’s get started!

Hypnos, Guardian of Dreams: The Exploration of Divine Kinship

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Hypnos - Greek God of Sleep - Credits: delcarmat/Shutterstock

According to Greek mythology, Hypnos is the god of sleep. He is described as a calm and gentle deity who brings rest and peace to people. Interestingly, the word “Hypnos" comes from the word "hypnosis". In Roman mythology, he is also called “Somnus”. Hypnos’ mother was Nyx, the ancient goddess of the night, and Erebus, the god of darkness. It is therefore obvious why he plays an essential role in the day cycle. His twin brother is Thanatos, the god of death. The two of them work closely together and help people to avoid suffering and die peacefully while they sleep. 

Homer, Iliad 16. 453 ff : [Hera speaks about his son Sarpedon's death :] “But after the soul and the years of his life have left him, then send Thanatos, and Hypnos, who is painless (Hypnos), to  carry him away".

Hypnos is described in various myths living in different places, such as in the underworld where his brother rules, on the island of Lemnos or in a dark and musty cave. The god of sleep is married to Pasithea. Pasithea is one of the youngest Charites, and the goddess of meditation and relaxation and thus symbolizes the connection between sleep and rest. Hypnos and Pasithea had many children, known as the Oneiroi. Oneiroi represented dreams. The most famous among them is Morpheus, who is known for his ability to shape dreams according to the desires and fears of mortals.

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Other children are Icelus, who is responsible for dreams in which animals appear, and Phantasus, who conjures up dreams with inanimate objects. The Muses regarded Hypnos as their best friend! Muses are the goddesses of creativity in literature, science and art. This connection could help people by giving them inspiration through dreams. Overall, Hypnos plays a crucial role in Greek mythology as the god of sleep. By providing both the gods and humans with a peaceful sleep, he ensures that they remain healthy. He also has the power to heal and inspire through the world of dreams.

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Morpheus Renaissance marble statue 3d illustration - Credits:Yueh Chiang/Shutterstock

Hypnos in Greek Mythology

Symbols and Attributes of Hypnos

Like every other god in ancient Greek mythology, Hypnos had various symbols and attributes that represented his power over mortals and immortals. His power and influence over people was noticeable. For example, he is often depicted with wings at his temples or on his shoulders, symbolizing the speed and silence with which he could spread sleep across the world. One of his greatest symbols is the poppy flower, which is associated with sleep and dreams. This flower has hypnotic properties. The dark cave of Hypnos is located on the banks of the river Lethe (oblivion), at the entrance to the underworld. The cave is surrounded by opium poppies and other sleep-inducing herbs, which is why this landscape was associated with Hypnos.

Festivals and Ceremonies Engaging Hypnos

Although there is no specific festival dedicated exclusively to Hypnos in ancient Greek mythology, there were general religious practices and festivals in which deities associated with sleep and dreams were worshipped, which could include Hypnos. One such festival, for example, was the festival of Choes, part of the Anthesteria, an ancient Athenian festival dedicated to Dionysus. The Choes was believed to be a time when spirits, including those associated with sleep and dreams, were active. Participants performed rituals to invoke the protection of various deities, possibly including those related to sleep.

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As a divine figure associated with sleep, Hypnos was often invoked in prayers and rituals at bedtime. The ancient Greeks regularly invoked Hypnos to grant them a restful sleep and protect them from harm during their sleep. It was also customary to dedicate offerings to Hypnos in the form of poppies or other symbols associated with his attributes.

Explore Ancient Sites Related to Hypnos

Athens

The city of Athens holds a rich history of Greek mythology, and as a result, you can discover various landmarks related to Hypnos. While touring Athens Mythology Tours, you can delve deeper into the stories of Hypnos and his connections with other gods like Poseidon and Heracles. These sites offer fascinating insights into the ancient Greeks' beliefs about sleep and dreams.

Delphi

Delphi, known as the center of the world in ancient Greece, has a strong association with various gods, including Hypnos. While Hypnos isn't directly associated with the well-known Oracle of Delphi, his impact is obvious in the many myths and legends of the region. The comprehensive nature of Delphi's religious significance may have encompassed worship related to sleep and dreams.

Olympia

Olympia, home to the ancient Olympic Games, also contains important temples and monuments related to Greek mythology. Hypnos, is not directly tied to athletic competitions, but his presence can be felt in the wider context of the gods who were essential to the ancient Greeks. Don't miss the opportunity to learn more about ancient Greece's mythology and the impact of Hypnos on their belief systems when you visit this historical location.

Hypnos in Arts

Hypnos, the Greek god of sleep, has been a subject of interest in various forms of art throughout history. Hypnos was an appealing theme for artists not only in ancient times, but even today.

In ancient Greek art, Hypnos is depicted as a man, young in age with wings on his shoulders or even in his head. The winds symbolize the fleeting and quick nature of sleep. Moreover, during the classical period, a depiction of Hypnos can be found at the British Museum. In this, a sculpture of Hypnos and his twin brother Thanatos, provide a glimpse into the ancient world's interpretation of these mysterious figures.

Moreover, Hypnos was an interesting topic even for classical literature and pots like ancient Greek poet Hesio, and Roman poet Ovid. Hesiot, in his work Theogeny, explainsthe geneologic tree of Hypnos. On the other hand, Ovid, in his work Metamorphoses, shows the close relationship of Hypnos to his twin brother, Thanatos. The most important thing is that sleep is vital for both mortals and immortals, which shows what binds them together. 

Wrap Up

This article uncovers the essence of the god of sleep. Born of Nyx and Erebus, Hypnos personifies tranquility and guides both gods and mortals into peaceful sleep. His influence extends to the underworld, entwined with symbols like wings and the opium poppy. Despite the absence of dedicated festivals, Hypnos is invoked in bedtime rituals, emphasizing the Greeks' belief in the importance of rest. From Athens to Olympia, the remnants of ancient sites resonate with the enduring legacy of Hypnos in art and mythology.