Morpheus (in ancient Greek Μορφεύς / Morpheús, from μορφή / morphế, “form”) is, in Greek mythology, the divinity of prophetic dreams.
He is, according to some ancient theologians, the son of Hypnos (Sleep) and Nyx (Night), and the principal divinity of the thousand Oneiroi (dreams) generated by Nyx alone.
(winged figurine on his head)
Morpheus and the Oneiroi
Morpheus is the leader of the Oneiroi, who like him are winged creatures. Like a flock of bat flight, they emerge every night from the depths of the Erebus, the land of eternal night beyond the rising sun, through a door. Those who passed through the horn door brought premonitory dreams and those who passed through the ivory door brought dreams without precise meaning.
He would have three important brothers, Icelus, Phantasus and Epiales, all members of the Oneirois.
Its brothers seem to specialize in a very specific field:
- Phantasos had the ability to appear in dreams as inanimate objects.
- Iceleus and Epiales brought nightmares and appeared as monsters.
Unlike his brothers Morpheus, he decides the future of his father’s dreams. He decide if a dream must pass through the ivory door or pass through the horn door and take the sleep of a mortal. He is also the one of his brother that might appear as human appearance for mortals.
What Morpheus is the god of?
Morpheus, father of the Songes and brother of Death, lives on the island of Lemnos according to Homer, or, according to Ovid, in the land of the Cimmerians. This god would slip so mysteriously into our being, making us forget our sorrows, our fatigue, and repairing our strength, resting himself, under the guise of a child or an ephebe, at the bottom of a silent cave and impenetrable in the daylight. With one hand he held a tooth, with the other a horn of plenty; and the Songs, his children, slept scattered here and there on poppies around his bed.
Messenger of the gods, he usually appears in the sleep of kings as a human in the form of a fantasy. He may have been at the origin of the dream sent by Zeus to Agamemnon in the Iliad, but in this passage he is not explicitly named.
Facts and myths about Morpheus:
He also plays an important role in the history of Alcyone and Ceyx:
Ceyx went to Claros to consult an oracle, but drowned during the crossing, pronouncing his wife’s name before he died.
Hera, unable to bear the sight of the wife who was praying for her husband’s return, sent Iris to Hypnos. The latter asked his son Morpheus to appear in a dream to Alcyone in the guise of Ceyx, to describe his shipwreck and ask him for a funeral. This apparition leads Alcyone to believe in the reality of this story.
Alcyone goes to the shore in search of her body, screaming her husband’s name. The waves will push Ceyx’s body back at his feet.
Taken with pity in the face of his grief, the gods transformed the couple into kingfishers. The couple will be reunited and will nest in the winters, during the “days of the alkyon” period during which Aeolus, Alcyone’s father, calms the sea for seven days.
Morpheus and the beautiful sleeping girl
Orpheus’ symbols and appearance
He is often depicted as a young man holding a mirror in his hand and soporific poppies in the other, with butterfly wings flapping quickly and silently allowing him to fly. It gives sleep by touching a person with its poppies (the name “morphine”, an alkaloid with soporific properties derived from the poppy, comes from Morpheus, itself from “morphe” which, in Greek, means “shape”), thus plunging them into a sleep favourable to dreams. It also gives mortals dreams for the night.
Despite the combined effects of Hypnosis and Morpheus, some spirits who have remained awake will wonder why this god was called Morpheus or, indirectly, “in form”. Well, to those, we will answer that it was because Morpheus could take different forms for each one, each one being free to choose the arms in which he wished to fall asleep.
The expression “in the arms of Morpheus”
It is also said that, like his father, Morpheus had the power to put people to sleep. All he had to do was touch them with the poppies, and they fell into a deep sleep. All he had to do was suggest his premonitions to them.
However, Morpheus is not the god of sleep, but of prophetic dreams.
Thus the role of Morpheus is slightly distorted in the expression “in the arms of Morpheus”: it should have been to bring the dream and not the sleep, which is his father’s task. What would best correspond to Morpheus should be “take to the land of dreams” or then the expression should be “in the arms of Hypnos”!
When mythology enters today’s world.
Nowadays, Morpheus takes many forms and is declined in expressions or terms that seem to us more or less distant from the original legend…
- Falling into Morpheus’ arms: falling asleep from a deep sleep,
- morphology: form,
- Morphine: a drug used in medicine and with strong soporific power,
- Morpheus, character of Matrix, played by Laurence Fishburne, is the one who “frees” Neo from his sleep.