Hello Morpheus, I Think I’m Going Down


In addition to the major deities, Greek mythology is full of minor gods who are basically just personifications of certain concepts, rather than having fully fleshed-out personalities. It seems that a lot of these are old deities who remained in the religion and the stories for some reason, probably because many of them filled niches that the better known deities didn’t fit. One of these niche gods was Morpheus, who was in charge of dreams.

Well, some dreams, anyway. Morpheus was the oldest of several brothers known as the Oneiroi, all of whom had powers associated with dreams. He specialized in dreams focusing on people, especially those relaying prophecies and other messages from the gods, and was able to take any human form within a dream. His younger brother Phobetor specialized in nightmares, while Phantasos created the unreal aspects of dreams. Some sources also mention a fourth brother, Icelus, who was responsible for the realistic parts. Actually, Ovid refers to a lot of Oneiroi, but I believe only the four have been named. Early sources make Morpheus and his brothers the sons of the primordial night goddess Nyx, but the more common genealogy shows them as sons of the sleep god Hypnos (Somnus in Latin), and hence grandson of Nyx. One of Hypnos’ own brothers was Thanatos, the personification of death.

In his true form, Morpheus was a winged being, and sometimes carried his flightless father.

Picture by Elsie Russell
He lived in the world of dreams, which was located somewhere in the underworld, and was known to sleep in a cave full of poppies. It was sometimes thought that he married Iris, divine messenger and goddess of the rainbow, although her more common counterpart was Zephyrus.

Perhaps because dreams have played a significant role in fiction as long as anyone can remember, Morpheus tends to show up from time to time, despite his fairly minor role in classical mythology.

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5 Responses to Hello Morpheus, I Think I’m Going Down

  1. vilajunkie says:

    In The Sandman graphic novels, Morpheus/Dream’s siblings are instead Destiny, Death, Desire, Despair, Destruction, and Delirium (once Delight). There’s a King Morpheus in Little Nemo in Slumberland. And to bring it back together, one of the issues of The Sandman features a character dreaming in the style of Little Nemo.

    • Nathan says:

      Well, Death is Morpheus’ uncle in Greek mythology, and perhaps his brother in some alternate interpretations. I can’t say I really know anything about Gaiman’s characters, but I know some girls love Delirium for whatever reason.

      • vilajunkie says:

        Delirium is the ultimate Perky Punk Girl, just as Death is the ultimate Perky Goth Girl. In fact, Death may have inspired some of the goth style in the 90’s. I really don’t think the huge fandom for both girls (if immortal and slightly-less-immortal Anthropomorphic Personifications can really be called “girls”) goes far beyond the cute factor. However, Death is usually the most commonsensical, humane character in the series–she serves as a psychopomp, not as the cause of death-the-process–and Delirium is a Cloud Cuckoolander that occasionally shows more wisdom than her older brothers and sisters, as is usual with characters that are pronounced insane in-universe. Despite Dream having the most knowledge into the human consciousness other than Death, he’s the least likable and human other than his brother/sister Desire (he/she is gender-neutral, but can transform into either gender, whereas the other Endless always take on the same gender no matter what species they transform into). Desire, of course, is the Anthropomorphic Personification of the id, and so has no sense of right and wrong, only what’s fun, making him/her the most sadistic being in the universe. Destiny is the least connected to the human condition, as he wants no part in shaping the universe, and it’s possible that he doesn’t even have control over his own actions, so you can’t really like him or hate him–he’s just there. Despair and Destruction aren’t the most likable characters, because of their realms of power, but they’re easily pitiable, because neither one of them enjoys using their power to control people. In fact, Destruction left his realm because he saw that humans could shape the world without him being directly involved, and the original Despair may have died because she took her power over humans to an extreme level that threatened to destroy the order of the universe. Well, that latter part I’m not sure of, but it’s confirmed that the original Despair enjoyed human suffering, whereas the current Despair empathizes with the human condition.

  2. Pingback: They Haven’t Yet Built the Man That’ll Keep Old Johnny Down | VoVatia

  3. Pingback: Mr. Sandman, Bring Me a Dream | VoVatia

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