God of Sleep
At the end of each day, after busting your hump to get through whatever work has come your way, your brain starts to wind down. As the sun begins to set and the night takes hold of the earth, the majority of we humans turn in, climb into bed, and hope for a blissful sleep to kick in throughout the late hours. After a crazy day, we want nothing more than to sleep off the effects of a long and often nutty day. Sleep is definitely all well and good; even the ancient Greeks knew the benefits of a good night of rest and recharging, and as with all else, they firmly believed that someone out there was looking out for them as they closed their eyes, rolled over and surrendered to sleep.
In this case, they always prayed a bit to a very special, yet-little-discussed god, the one god who could provide heavy eyelids and a cozy bed; HYPNOS, the Greek god of sleep!
As anyone who has ever been bushwhacked after an insanely grueling day of work, school, play or whatever might come your way on daily basis, sleep is a necessity. No sleep makes a human being a real pain in the rump to deal with.
The Greeks couldn’t have agreed more. Hypnos was the one who came to each and every human every single night (and we’re presuming, even the ones who managed to get little daytime naps in, too!) and brought sleep to them. These days, we have a similar story about a supernatural being called “The Sandman,” who sprinkles magic dust and conks you out for the count; Hypnos is the one dude we base that character off of. He’s not ruling the universe, or keeping track of the kingdom of the dead, but his job as an Olympian god was HUGE! EVERY person in the world? Every night?
Yep. Which explains why the guy sleeps it all off during the day. Making certain that WE’RE taken care of in the sleep department has to be exhausting!
Hypnos was usually described as a young, spry man, but with a few extra oddities that made him rather unique! He was shown as having a nice set of wings, but not attached to his back;
Hypnos’ wings sprouted out of his forehead (in some cases, he’s shown with both!)! As he probably needed the extra speed to get to every human being on earth at the time, it makes sense that he’d have a little extra wing-power to get him there faster. As mentioned, Hypnos had the power to knock every single creature on earth out cold…and then some.
See, he had a secret weapon that no other god could come close to matching; the power to put even the gods to sleep! Didn’t matter who it was, how big they were or how important, Hypnos could put them flat on their back with a thumb in their mouths with the flick of a switch. Including the King of the gods himself, Zeus. (Oh, there’s a story there and we’ll get to it in a minute!)
Hypnos came from a rather interesting family within the mythological tangle that was the Greek gods. His mother was Nyx, the goddess (formerly Titan) of night, and his dad was Erebus, the Titan of Darkness. No wonder he was born to deal out the gift of sleep! His brother, Thanatos, was the god of death (not an evil guy, just the guy who came for you when it was your natural time to go…)
Most of his other brothers and sisters via Nyx had jobs related to the night as well. The whole family lived comfortably in the underworld, in some rather interesting real estate: as was fitting for a group of gods and goddesses who lived life by the rules of darkness, they called home a giant, pitch black cave within the deepest part of the underworld (that section was actually called Erebus, after Hypnos’ dad!)
Inside that cave existed a gigantic black-bricked mansion that according to the Greeks, did “not see the rising, nor the setting sun, nor does it see the "lightsome noon."” So, yeah, it was DARK down there! Hypnos’ shadow-palace dwelling had not one door or gate so that during the day while he was sleeping, the possibility of creaking hinges wouldn’t wake him up. At the entrance to the cave, surrounding the palace was a vast field of poppies (think of those red plants that made Dorothy, the Cowardly Lion and their pals fall asleep in the Wizard of Oz…that's what poppies do.
See, poppies are flowers used to make a drug called opium, which puts a person into a deep sleepy trance. Poppies=falling asleep=Hypnos?) and a whole slew of other hypnotic plants. The finishing touch on this rather bizarre yet quietly beautiful acreage was the River Lethe, one of the underworld’s main rivers, which snaked right through the poppy fields in the underworld and flowed right out of his cave. It shouldn’t come as much surprise that the River Lethe’s claim-to-fame was forgetfulness. One dip in that river and you’d forget everything and everyone you’d ever known…sort of like when you go to sleep at night.
There are many seldom-heard tales related to the sleepy god but the one that was most well-known had to do with a little kerfuffle Hypnos had with Zeus, the king of the Olympians. Zeus, of course, had his kingly influence all over everything in the known universe and could have stomped on Hypnos at pretty much any moment he wanted to…or could he? As we know, the god of sleep's mojo was sharp enough to overpower even the greatest of the gods when it came to bestowing sleep! And not once, but TWICE!!! How’d it happen? Exactly WHAT happened? Stick with it for a second.
To add a little spice to the story, we’ll toss in Hera, Zeus' jealous (with good reason) wife, who really put Hypnos on the spot with her scheming. Now you KNOW the story’s going to get crazy…when Hera’s on the scene, even the bravest of gods step out of the way. Her temper was legendary, and that’s putting it mildly.
So, in the beginning of this rather complicated story, Hera, Zeus’ routinely-ticked-off wife, was putting some serious hate on one of Zeus’ many out-of-wedlock kids, the infamous Greek hero, Hercules. Why? Because out of general principle, Hera despised any of Zeus’ kids that weren’t hers; Zeus cheating on her was a mega-no-no.
She couldn’t take it out on the Big Guy, so she took her rage and frustration out on the women he’d been sneaking around with instead, and even more so on the kids they had together. Hercules was the one she hated beyond all the others, no question, and her hatred grew all the time because no matter what she pulled, Hercules always somehow found a way to avoid the damage.
To make things even crazier, Hercules was Zeus’ favorite kid, and so he made sure to also aid him whenever Hera attempted to lay a finger on him. Hera was willing to try anything to get a crack at Herc, so she turned to the one god who could possibly shut Zeus down for a while; she came a-callin’ on Hypnos, all sweet and innocent, asking for a favor…
The favor was simple: zonk out the king of the gods for a few years so I can mess with Hercules while he’s off suffering through his Twelve Labors. Hypnos was a bit nervous about helping out he queen of gods, mainly because at some point, even if he was to conk out Zeus, the Big Guy would wake up and KNOW it had been him that did the deed. Yet Hera was persuasive and begrudgingly, Hypnos agreed.
He sent the mighty god to dreamland and put him into a deep sleep that was to last quite a few years, while Hera gleefully (psycho) went after poor Herc. As Hypnos had feared, when Zeus woke up and found out what had happened, he was ticked beyond belief and went out to hunt the god of sleep down. Luckily for Hypnos, his mom, Nyx, the Goddess of Night, stuck up for him and got right up in Zeus’ business.
Still fuming, Zeus knew that messing with Nyx would be a bad idea (she WAS after all, a Titaness from the old days before his rule and DID control the forces of the night…) and he gave up on revenge, letting Hypnos off easy with a strongly worded warning…
Hera, naturally, somehow avoided getting Zeus’ anger poured on, but she wasn’t done with Hypnos quite yet. Years later, the Queen of Olympus swung around again to ask the tired god of sleep for another favor, this time having to do with a little spat called the Trojan War, the fisticuffs between Greece and the city of Troy.
Zeus was siding with the Trojans (as the Greeks had started the whole thing) and Hera, naturally, took the opposite side, favoring the Greeks. Once again, she needed an edge to allow her side to come out victorious in the ten-year-long war. To do that, she’d need to take out Zeus for a little while and quietly take him out of the fight. So, again she begged Hypnos for the same favor: to put Zeus to sleep so she could proceed with wily scheme.
Naturally, Hypnos was completely against the idea, seeing as how the last time he’d helped Hera, he’d almost been squashed into oblivion by Zeus. This time around, Hera was going to have to seriously sweeten the deal, and she decided that she’d offer up anything that Hypnos desired…which in this case turned out to be Hera and Zeus’ youngest daughters, Pasithea, the goddess of relaxation (and reportedly, hallucinations, too!), as his bride. Hera agreed to the deal and once again, Hypnos made plans to drop Zeus to the floor in a deep sleep.
Hera put on her slinkiest tunic and flirted with the King of Gods to distract him while Hypnos hid up on top of Mount Ida on the island of Crete to wait for the perfect moment. One Zeus was completely seduced by Hera’s charms, Hypnos swooped in and shanghai’d him, worked his magic, and out went the lights! Afterwards, as an extra side favor, Hypnos transformed into a bird and flew out to sea to ask the sea god Poseidon to also help out the Greeks (who HAD been getting their butts kicked by the Trojans…). Poseidon, who was always a bit jealous of his brother Zeus’ position as king, decided to throw his cap into the ring and assist the Greeks, sinking a huge number of Trojan boats, and the war changed in its course.
And, if you follow THAT story, you know that eventually the Greeks wind up taking out Troy (the Trojan Horse, anyone?) and wind up burning the entire Trojan nation to the ground. Zeus eventually woke up woozy and stumbled around to find his Trojans mopped up. This time, Hypnos got extremely lucky; even though he knew something had gone down, Zeus could find no proof and Hypnos let out a huge sigh of relief!
As promised, Hypnos was given the hand of Pasithea in marriage and the two settled in together quite nicely. As it turned out, they couldn’t have been matched up better, seeing as how he was the god of sleep and she was the goddess of relaxation! Mutual hobbies! The sleepy couple went on to have a son, Morpheus, who was the god of dreams and who wound up working in the family business with his mom and dad, providing a little extra kick to the whole sleep experience.
In modern day, Hypnos is still with us (especially after an excruciatingly long day), and we get a few words from his name, such as “hypnosis” and “hypnotize” (all having to do with sleep, obviously!) So, the next time you come home from a marathon day of work-induced mayhem, thank Hypnos for a very restful and well-deserved night’s sleep to come!
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