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Morpheus, painted by Jean-Bernard Restout

Morpheus ('Fashioner', derived from the Ancient Greek: μορφή meaning 'form, shape')[1] is a god associated with sleep and dreams. In Ovid's Metamorphoses he is the son of Somnus and appears in dreams in human form. From the Middle Ages, the name began to stand more generally for the god of dreams, or of sleep.[2]



The only ancient mention of Morpheus occurs in Ovid's Metamorphoses, where Ovid tells of the story of Ceyx and his wife Alcyone who were transformed into birds. In Ovid's account, Juno (via the messenger goddess Iris) sends Morpheus to appear to Alcyone in a dream, as her husband Ceyx, to tell her of his death.[3]

Ovid makes Morpheus one of the thousand sons of Somnus (Sleep).[4] His name derives from the Greek word for form (μορφή), and his function was apparently to appear in dreams in human guise. According to Ovid "no other is more skilled than he in representing the gait, the features, and the speech of men; the clothing also and the accustomed words of each he represents."[5] As with other gods associated with sleep, Ovid presents Morpheus as winged.[6]

Ovid called Morpheus and his brothers, the other sons of Somnus, the Somnia ("dream shapes"), saying that they appear in dreams "mimicking many forms".[7] Ovid gives names to two more of these sons of Sleep. One called Icelos ('Like'), by the gods, but Phobetor ('Frightener') by men, "takes the form of beast or bird or the long serpent", and Phantasos ('Fantasy'), who "puts on deceptive shapes of earth, rocks, water, trees, all lifeless things".[8]

The three brothers' names are found nowhere earlier than Ovid, and are perhaps Ovidian inventions.[9] Tripp calls these three figures "literary, not mythical concepts".[10] However, Griffin suggests that this division of dream forms between Morpheus and his brothers, possibly including their names, may have been of Hellenistic origin.[11]




See also

  • Hypnos – Personification of sleep in Greek mythology
  • Oneiroi – Personification of dreams in Greek mythology


  1. ^ Griffin, p. 249; Grimal, s.v. Morpheus, p. 296; LSJ s.v. μορφ-ή.
  2. ^ Kearns, s.v. Morpheus p. 968; Griffin, p. 248.
  3. ^ Ovid, Metamorphoses 11.585–677.
  4. ^ Grimal, s.v. Morpheus, p. 296; Tripp, s.v. Somnus, p. 534; Ovid, Metamorphoses 11.633–677.
  5. ^ Ovid, Metamorphoses 11.633–638.
  6. ^ Grimal, s.v. Morpheus, p. 296; Griffin, p. 243; Ovid, Metamorphoses 11.652–653.
  7. ^ Ovid, Metamorphoses 11.613.
  8. ^ Griffin, p. 249; Ovid, Metamorphoses 11.638–643.
  9. ^ Griffin, p. 249.
  10. ^ Tripp, s.v. Somnus, p. 534.
  11. ^ Griffin, pp. 179, 249.


  • Griffin, A. H. F. (1997), A Commentary on Ovid, Metamorphoses XI, Hermathena, vol. 162/163, Dublin: Trinity College Dublin, pp. 1–290, JSTOR 23041237.
  • Grimal, Pierre, The Dictionary of Classical Mythology, Wiley-Blackwell, 1996, ISBN 9780631201021.
  • Kearns, E. (1996), "Morpheus", in S. Hornblower; A. Spawforth (eds.), Oxford Classical Dictionary (3rd rev. ed.), Oxford, ISBN 9780198661726{{citation}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link).
  • Ovid. Metamorphoses, Volume II: Books 9-15. Translated by Frank Justus Miller. Revised by G. P. Goold. Loeb Classical Library No. 43. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1916. Online version at Harvard University Press.
  • Tripp, Edward (June 1970). Crowell's Handbook of Classical Mythology (First ed.). Thomas Y. Crowell Co. ISBN 069022608X.