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The Greek pantheon was full of deities, each of which played an important role in their mythology.

In this lesson we’ll explore the god of sleep, Hypnos, and see how he impacted Greek mythology, and even their history.

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Hypnos

If you’re tired, and can’t sleep, you may call on Mr. Sandman.

Or, maybe you’re more of a sheep-counting kind of person. Well, if you were an ancient Greek, you could instead call upon Hypnos, the god of sleep. Hypnos was more than just the god of sleepiness: He was the very personification of sleep itself.

Hypnos
Hypnos and Thanatos carry a body from Troy on a Greek vase
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Hypnos’ other family members include his mother Nyx, goddess of night, and his father Erebus, god of darkness. He was married to Pasithea, a goddess of relaxation and hallucination. So, what do you get when you combine sleep and hallucination? Hypnos and Pasithea had three sons called the Oneiroi, which is Greek for the Dreams. One son could take human form in people’s dreams, one was the personification of nightmares, and one made fake dreams full of illusions.

Role of Hypnos in Greek Myths

Unsurprisingly, Hypnos’ role in Greek mythology is generally making others fall asleep.

This power has been used on a wide range of unsuspecting subjects. Most notably, Hypnos appears a few times to make Zeus, the supreme god himself, fall into deep sleeps so others can go behind his back. The first time, Zeus’ wife Hera came to Hypnos and asked for his help in getting revenge on Zeus’ son, Heracles, who had ransacked Troy. Hypnos put Zeus to sleep so that Hera could create a mighty wind that tormented Heracles as he sailed home. When Zeus woke up, he was furious, and Hypnos only survived by hiding with his mother, goddess of night.

Later, Hera came to Hypnos asking for help in tricking Zeus again so she could interfere in the humans’ Trojan War. This time, Hypnos was much more reluctant, so Hera promised him Pasithea’s hand in marriage. Hypnos made Hera swear an oath by the river Styx that she would uphold her end of the deal. To make Zeus vulnerable enough to not realize what Hypnos was doing, Hera dressed in a beautiful dress and wore a brooch enchanted by Aphrodite. She then asked Zeus if she could leave for a while because her parents were fighting and she needed to stop them.

Zeus agreed, and overcome with her beauty embraced her, letting his guard down enough for Hypnos to put him to sleep. With Zeus asleep, Hera and Poseidon were able to intervene, which according to tradition, is how the Greeks won the Trojan War. It’s amazing what a little sleep can do.

Fresco in Pompeii thought to be of the wedding between Hypnos and Pasithea
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Lesson Summary

In Greek mythology, Hypnos was the god of sleep and the personification of sleep itself.

He and his brother Thanatos, the embodiment of death, lived in a cave in the underworld . Hypnos appears throughout Greek mythology, making people fall asleep at opportune times. Hera gets Hypnos to help make Zeus fall asleep so that she and Poseidon can help the Greeks win the Trojan War.

Hypnos, who has tricked Zeus into falling asleep once before, is reluctant, but agrees when Hera promises to make Pasithea, a goddess of relaxation and hallucination, his wife. Hypnos tricks Zeus, the Greeks win the war, and Hypnos marries Pasithea without Zeus ever knowing what happened. Much more exciting than counting sheep.

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