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Morpheus – The Greek God of Dreams

By James

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There are gods and there are mortals, but there is only one lord of the Dreams. Morpheus is the one in charge of our sleep and our dreams, he is the one that can take on any shape in order to make our dreams appear before us.

He is the God that shaped and formed our hopes and dreams, and he is the one that speaks to you when the Gods wish to tell you anything.

But who exactly is this Morpheus, and is he a good God or is he a monster? If he is a good and caring God, why does he give us nightmares, and why do some dreams bring us so much hope if he is a bad God? That is what we’re here to find out.

But before we can get into the reasonings behind his existence, let us dive a bit deeper into the origins of Morpheus, the Lord of Dreams himself:

Morpheus – The Greek God of Dreams and Nightmares

Greek God of Dreams and Nightmares

While most people know him as the God of Dreams, Morpheus is also known to be the bringer of hope and despair, of peace and terror, he is the one that brings you news from the gods and when he does visit you, you can be sure of the fact that something grand is in your future soon enough.

As is common in Greek mythology, while they are Gods among men, they are all part of a grand family that each share their very own tasks and tribulations.

Morpheus is the son of Hypnos, the God of Sleep, and Pasithea, the Goddess of Relaxation and Rest. Interestingly enough, he is also not the only dream out there, as he also has two brothers besides him. The three are known as the Oneiroi, or the Dreams, and they are the rulers of the slumberland.

Morpheus is the leader of the Oneiroi, and while Phobetor (or Ikelos in some translations) was known as the creator of nightmares, Phantasus was the creator of unreal or phantasmic dreams.

While Morpheus can also create nightmares and unreal dreams though, the reason as to why he is the leader of their happy little group is the fact that he can influence the dreams of Gods, heroes and kings all the same.

This is how we can attest for the fact that he is stronger than his brothers, and why he is most often sought after by the other gods to send messages to humans or other gods that are out of reach for them.

The legend has it that every night, the Oneiroi show up from the palace of Hypnos, getting ready to pass through the gates that lead to every creature’s dreams. His brothers would always pass through the gate of ivory.

This is the gate that leads to dreams without true meaning. If you’ve ever had a random dream that made no sense, or maybe you just don’t remember any of it to begin with, chances are you were having one such meaningless dream.

Morpheus on the other hand takes a different path, he is the one that passes through the gate made of horn. This is the gate that leads him to every true or divine dream around, this is the gate that allows him to pass through the gods’ dreams and it is specifically made for him and no one else.

But before he would get to pass through this gate, Morpheus would sleep in a cave full of poppy seeds. This is where he would shape mortal dreams one by one, until everyone had their fair share of made-up reality.

Morpheus – The Greek God of Dreams

Many have speculated that this is the reason as to why the opium-based medicine for severe pain is known as morphine. On top of that, poppies have also been known to treat insomnia, which could be another reason as to why this myth was created in the first place.

But Morpheus’ family stretches even further than that, with his grandmother being NYX, the Goddess of the Night, and Thanatos being his uncle aka the God of Death himself.

All of them currently reside in the Underworld, and while they may be visited by other Gods off of Olympus, they never leave their own realm unless they do so through people’s dreams.

If anyone but the Gods of Olympus try to make their way to their realm, they would get attacked by two fearsome monsters that take on the shape of their deepest, darkest nightmares.

Interestingly enough, in the realm of Dreams you can also find the River of Forgetfulness and the River of Oblivion. This is why most of the time you won’t be able to remember your dreams and why you often times end up feeling groggy when you wake up.

Another fact about Morpheus that many people don’t realize is the fact that Morpheus may actually be one of the busiest deities around. While other Gods tend to waste their time doing whatever they wish to do at that moment, Morpheus is bound to his duty as the ruler of dreams.

He spends all of his time tailoring dreams for the mortals and when he isn’t doing this, he is carrying out messages from the Gods to the heroes or to other Gods.

While he is most often times seen alone, ruling over the realms, there have been some depictions of him alongside IRIS, the Goddess of Rainbows.

The two seem to be a couple in some stories, although for the most part he is seen alone due to how much time he spends creating dreams and nightmares for every one of us.

As far as his depictions go, you can usually see Morpheus sculpted with a one-winged ear. This is meant to represent him listening in on your dreams at all times through his normal ear while also listening to the word of Gods through his winged ear.

We spend most of our life sleeping, as it is said that a 75-year-old person has slept for around 25 years or 9,125 days in total. Strangely enough however, we don’t have that many stories or myths revolving around Morpheus out there.

Sure, he is present in a lot of tales but that doesn’t make him an active character that we can follow. He is usually just the messenger, the one that speaks the words of Gods, not the one speaking directly.

However, we do have a few stories that we would like to tell you about, including the following:

Agamemnon’s Dream

Nestor Appearing in a Dream to Agamemnon
Nestor Appearing in a Dream to Agamemnon by James Heath / wikipedia.org

One of the most popular stories revolving Morpheus is the Iliad of Agamemnon, the tale which states that just because it comes from a divine source, that doesn’t mean that you should follow the word of God blindly.

While Morpheus’s name is not directly brought up in this tale, he was the main messenger that Zeus used in the stories, which is why many believe that he is the one depicted here as the dream spirit.

This all takes place during the Trojan War, where Zeus wanted to give Achilles the glory that he had demanded over the years. He wanted to prove himself as a great warrior, and he had done so multiple times over, but he was still unsatisfied.

He wanted to take down Agamemnon, the king of Mycenae or Argos, and the son of Atreus himself. The problem with this though is that Agamemnon was too smart to meet Achilles on the open field, he wanted to use his wits to win this battle with ease.

As such, Zeus decided to step in. This is why he sent over Morpheus to deliver a false dream of hope to Agamemnon, one that would depict him experiencing a glorious victory after battling Achilles and his troops.

Agamemnon believed this to be the word of Zeus himself as he decided to support him in battle and give him divine strength from the Gods. As such, he roused up his army and went on to charge at Achilles’s troops.

This proved to be a fatal mistake however, one that would soon lead to Achilles’s victory and more importantly, to the loss of many of Agamemnon’s soldiers.

Iris Calls on Morpheus

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Morpheus awakening as Iris draws near by René-Antoine Houasse

Another interesting tale that we would like to bring up for your entertainment is the story between Iris and Morpheus.

In this myth, Morpheus was actually summoned by Iris, the Goddess of the Rainbow, to do Hera’s bidding for her. Hera was known as the Queen of all Gods, as the wife of Zeus, and she wanted to deliver the news of Ceyx’s death to Alcyone.

But that’s not where the story actually begins, as it first starts with a happy couple that loved each other plenty. Ceyx and Alcyone were deeply in love with one another, to the point where they even referred to each other as “Zeus” and “Hera” endearingly.

While they didn’t think much of this gesture though, Zeus was definitely not a fan of taking his name in vain, which is why he decided to punish the two for even attempting to compare themselves to the Gods of Olympus.

But Zeus was never known as an impulsive and stupid God, if anything he was actually quite brilliant when it came to enacting his vengeance upon his enemies.

As such, he waited for a while, until he decided that the moment was perfect for him to punish the couple for their transgressions.

The moment came when Ceyx decided to set sail and go on a sea voyage. Alcyone begged him to either stay at home or to bring her with him because she could feel that something bad was about to happen.

Ceyx refused however, knowing that if something bad was amidst, he would never want Alcyone to lose her life over his own mistakes.

As soon as he set sail though, Zeus sent over a monstrous storm which took down Ceyx’s boat, drowning him in the process.

Seeing that this was the will of the Gods, Ceyx was ready to accept his fate, with his last request being for his body to wash ashore so that his wife could find him and bury him.

If the body were to be left to rot at the bottom of the sea, he could never find a peaceful afterlife, which is why he begged the Gods to help his body make its way to the shoreline.

Hera was the only God that decided to lend a helping hand in the matter because his prayers were so pure and just.

As such, she told Morpheus to send news to Alcyone of Ceyx’s death, even going as far as to tell her where she can find her late husband’s remains so she could bury him.

When he showed up in her dreams, Morpheus transformed into Ceyx so that she wouldn’t be startled too much by his visit.

She tried to hug him after he told her that her husband had passed, but before she could grasp him, he dissipated into thin air as she woke up from her slumber.

She ran to where Morpheus told her to go, and as she saw the body of her late husband, Alcyone threw herself into the ocean so they could be together in the afterlife.

Zeus had watched the whole event play out in front of him, and because he felt guilty, he decided to metamorphosize the two into a pair of kingfishers, allowing them to live together once again.

The Sandman

The Sandman book of dreams
The Sandman: Book of dreams by Neil Gaiman

While we did mention his close relationship with the other Gods, what we didn’t go over is the fact that Morpheus was also special due to his ability to perfectly imitate the human form. He was able to become a human being in people’s dreams, a feat which no other Oneiroi was capable of achieving.

Because of this he was named Morpheus, from the word “morphe” which means “to shape”. His role over the years started to evolve further and further, to the point where he even became known as the creator of all dreams.

This led to the creation of Neil Gaiman’s most popular comic book, known as the Sandman. This story follows Dream, aka Morpheus, as part of a family known as the Endless.

He rules over the Dreaming, the realm in which everything that isn’t reality resides in, and interestingly enough he is depicted as being a creature far above the Greek Gods. When asked if he is a God himself, he merely replies by stating that dreams are where Gods are made, not the other way around.

A Sandman series was also commissioned by Netflix recently, reigniting the love for the character and bringing new fans to the already popular series.

Because of this readaptation, the myth of Morpheus has actually become somewhat more poignant than it was in Greek mythology.

That is not to say that Morpheus was not important as a God, but more so that he was never the main focus of any story. He was a messenger, and nowadays he is hailed as the ruler of the Dreaming, and quite possibly the creator of the Gods themselves.

Conclusion

Regardless of which version of Morpheus you enjoy reading about though, let’s just say that you are still going to get a healthy dose of shapeshifting and reality-bending stories which are sure to pique your interest.

So, keep reading your stories and don’t forget to thank Morpheus for his hard work, because without dreams, without imagination as a whole, the world would be a very dreary place now, wouldn’t it?

About James

A lifelong fan of mythology and all things ancient, James has always been fascinated by the rich stories and legends of different cultures, and he loves nothing more than diving into a good mythological tale. Learn more about MythNerd's Editorial Process.

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