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Hypnos in the Iliad [reference]
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A Child of Nyx [Night]

Hypnos is one of the many children of Nyx [Night] and the twin brother of Thanatos [Death]. Hypnos enters the sleep of mortals and, at the bidding of the Olympians, gives them dreams of foolishness or inspiration, depending on the individual and their divine protectors or enemies.

Hypnos entered the adventures of Jason and the Argonauts when they were trying to take the Golden Fleece from Kolchis. King Aietes promised that Jason could take the Golden Fleece if he survived a confrontation with some supernatural bulls and a crop of Earth-Born warriors but, with the assistance of King Aietes's sorceress daughter Medeia, Jason was successful. King Aietes refused to honor his promise and Jason had to steal the Golden Fleece as he fled Kolchis. The Golden Fleece was guarded by a dragon which never slept so Medeia called upon Hypnos to cast a spell of slumber on the dragon so that Jason could take the Golden Fleece without having to fight the ever vigilant dragon. It's odd that Medeia, as the granddaughter of Helios [Sun], could summon Hypnos, a child of Nyx [Night], to do her bidding but her magical powers were considerable and Hypnos came to her aid without hesitation.

Hypnos is husband to Pasithea, one of the Graces, because he did a very dangerous favor for Hera. During the Trojan War, Hera wanted to distract Zeus from the battle so she could assist the Achaeans, who seemed to be losing the war. She wanted Hypnos to cast a spell of sleep on Zeus but he refused. At first Hera offered Hypnos a golden throne crafted by her son Hephaistos but she was forced to raise the ante when Hypnos reminded her of the only time he had dared cast sleep on Zeus. Long before the Trojan War, Hera was angry at Herakles and she had persuaded Hypnos to make Zeus sleep while she tormented the hero. When Zeus awoke he was in a rage. He searched for Hypnos and finally found him hiding in the arms of his mother, Nyx [Night]. Zeus overcame his anger and simply warned Hypnos not to try such a trick again and Hypnos went unpunished.

In preparation for this new deception, Hypnos made Hera swear oaths of her sincerity. He agreed to help her deceive Zeus for the hand of one of the Graces, Pasithea. He turned himself into a bird and, before Zeus could see him, hid in the tops of the trees on Mount Ida. He stayed hidden until Hera had seduced Zeus. When the father of gods was dulled by pleasure and sleep, Hypnos flew to Poseidon [lord of the sea] and urged him to increase his efforts in helping the Achaeans because Zeus was asleep and unaware of the Earth Shaker's meddling. Poseidon strode through the ranks of soldiers and urged them on. Finally, his bellowing and screeching roused Zeus from his slumber but, in that short time, the Achaeans had turned the battle back on the Trojans. Hera's trick had worked. Zeus never found out that Hypnos had again betrayed him.

When Zeus's son, Sarpedon, was killed at Troy, Zeus commanded Hypnos and Thanatos to retrieve him from the dirt and grime of the battlefield and return the cleansed body of his fallen son to his home in Lykia.

The Romans had a similar deity named Somnus.

Hypnos, Thanatos and Sarpedon

Hypnos [right] and Thanatos carry the dead body of Sarpedon from the battlefield at Troy.

Hypnos in the Iliad

[from four different translations]

Richmond Lattimore

Loeb Classical Library

Robert Fagles

Robert Fitzgerald

Hypnos and Thanatos

Hypnos and Thanatos carrying a dead man.

Other Text References


The Argonautika by Apollonius Rhodius

Description of Greece by Pausanias

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