Assignment Eight, Vacation Necronomicon School: “Restless Nights” (Hypnos).
Your assignment today […] Knowing Lovecraft’s history [of childhood nightmares] it seems natural that he would make nightmares a recurrent theme in his work. Both of today’s selections […] concern the territory of sleep and dreams. Pick either reading assignment, then examine Lovecraft’s use of dreams as a theme, starting from the story you choose..
Loveman as a source for “Hypnos”
Hypnos was the Greek god of sleep, portrayed in the 19th century as a youth sleeping together with his older brother Thanatos (who is Death, but specifically the ‘good death’ of a quiet parting). Both were the sons of the goddess Nyx (Night). In literature, Forrest Reid’s Demophon (1927) gives a vivid updating of Hesiod’s original classical depiction of Hypnos…
Through the soundless twilight he could see into a cavern, where on a great throne of ebony, strewn with black feathers, Hypnos lay asleep. His pale limbs were relaxed, and on each side of him were empty dream shapes…
The cave is sometimes described (as by Ovid, Metamorphoses Book XI, ‘The House of Sleep’) as surrounded by opium poppies. Hypnos originally appears to have been described as winged, and as having black feathers, although later classical statuary of him seems conventionally human apart from cherub-like wings. This statuary is presumably why Reid can call him ‘pale’. His brother Death was originally white, although remnants of red feathers have recently been detected on one of his statues (classical statues were once heavily decorated and painted, and what we have now are mostly just the plain and pale marble with occasional flakes of paint).
Lovecraft’s extensive early reading on dreams and dream-lore, as well as on Greek and Roman mythology, no doubt meant that he was familiar with the name Hypnos from an early age. Perhaps Lovecraft was also aware of the portrayal of Hypnos in the visual arts. John William Waterhouse’s painting “Sleep and his Half-brother Death” (1874) is perhaps the most famous 19th century example of the portrayal of Hypnos and Thanatos, here shown as distinctly feather-less youths …
For now, just note the poppies in the hand of Hypnos. These feature as a potent grace-note at the end of Lovecraft’s story “Hypnos” and I will discuss them further later.
Lovecraft’s choice of Hypnos for the story now seems rather apt and timely, in relation to his own personal life…
Hypnos dwelled in the underworld with his mother. — Scott Littleton. Gods, Goddesses, and Mythology: Volume 1, p.709)
His home was in a cave […] Here it was always dark and misty — Michael Grant, Who’s Who in Classical Mythology, p.278.
At the time of writing the story Lovecraft was about to emerge from his dark reclusive hermitry of depression and the misty coast of Providence, and also from the shadow of his mother who had died less than a year before “Hypnos” was written. Also like Lovecraft, Hypnos was deemed to have “hundreds of sons” (in Lovecraft’s case, chastely surrogate ‘grandsons’ such as the gay Robert H. Barlow) involved in the inculcation of dreams — most prominent among these for Hypnos were the trio: Phantasos (animator of inanimate things in dreams); Morpheus (bringer of dreams, and animator of images of people in dreams); and Phobetor (bringer of nightmares, and animator of animals in dreams).
“Hypnos” was written around March 1922, just as Lovecraft was being enticed into his first-ever visit to the city of New York in April 1922. For the first time he would actually meet Samuel Loveman, his closest friend (by correspondence). The original dedication of “Hypnos” was to Samuel Loveman, although this dedication did not appear in either the May 1923 publication of the story in National Amateur, or in its appearance in the bumper 1924 May-June-July issue of Weird Tales.
Lovecraft then took the manuscript of “Hypnos” with him to New York in April 1922, met Loveman face-to-face for the first time, and read his new story to Loveman — who then told Lovecraft it was the best piece he had ever written. Lovecraft said the same about Loveman’s then-unpublished and uncompleted poem The Hermaphrodite. The two men shared an apartment during the stay, and Lovecraft’s letters state that these intimate works were read aloud, but not in the company of others. The Hermaphrodite would eventually be first published in 1926 in a limited run of 350 copies. As published, this has a section titled “Talent” which has a line in it strongly reflecting the theme of “Hypnos”…
I, who have neither hell nor paradise,
Breathe speech and beauty into hearts of stone.
One wonders if this was inserted after hearing Lovecraft read his “Hypnos”, a story about a sculptor who seems to breathe life into his own sculpture?
The story “Hypnos” would have appealed to Loveman on several levels, beyond the simple dedication. Loveman was a gay man who must have been acutely sensitive to art and literature with homoerotic undertows, and who was also deeply learned in the history of Ancient Greece and its poetry and myths. “Hypnos” is undeniably a story that depicts a deep and intimate and exclusive homosocial bond between two men, in which the beloved is (in the end) deemed to be ‘impossible’ in the eyes of English society even while society gazes upon his beauty — a conundrum not unlike the wider civilisational uses made of Ancient Greece while its attitudes to and practice of homosexuality were simultaneously denied. At the level of detail, the story also seems very open to speculation about the extent to which its several distinct touches of homoeroticism are ‘knowing’ or not.
One wonders if it was from Loveman that Lovecraft learned of the love of Hypnos for Endymion, a shepherd boy, since the story is clearly patterned on this version of the myth. Gay pioneer Karl-Heinrich Ulrichs had in 1879 pointed out that the Greek poet Licymnius of Chios…
‘suggests that it was the god Hypnos (Sleep) who loved [the shepherd boy] Endymion and lulled him to sleep with his eyes open so that the god might forever gaze into them.’ — GTBTQ Encylopaedia, “Endymion” (originally from Research on the Riddle of Man-Manly Love (1879) by Karl-Heinrich Ulrichs, and again in A Problem in Greek Ethics (1883) by John Addington Symonds.
‘But Hypnos much delighted
In the bright beams which shot from his eyes,
And lulled the youth [Endymion] to sleep with unclosed lids.’ — Licymnius, Athenaeus (1854), giving Licymnius, translated by C.D. Yonge who gives the poem together with a frank discussion of Greek homosexuality.
Clearly this source would then play into the fact that Lovecraft and Loveman were then about to ‘have sight’ of each other. In respect of Licymnius’s line “the bright beams which shot from his eyes” it is then very interesting that Lovecraft draws a special and foreshadowing attention to what he calls the “burning eyes” of Hypnos…
“wildly luminous black eyes”
“the black, liquid, and deep-sunken eyes open in terror”
In the later part of the story Lovecraft even has a beam of light shooting into the eyes of Hypnos…
“a shaft of horrible red-gold light — a shaft which bore with it no glow to disperse the darkness, but which streamed only upon the recumbent head of the troubled sleeper […] “I followed the memory-face’s mad stare along that cursed shaft of light to its source”
The red-gold nature of this light might be a further indication of Lovecraft’s knowledge of the Hypnos-Endymion myth, since…
‘This [Hypnos-Endymion] myth led to the association of sunset with Endymion, who was seen as the setting sun’ — Christopher Dewdney, Acquainted With the Night : excursions through the world after dark (2005).
‘the name ‘Endymion’ refers specially to the dying or setting sun’ — Hélène Adeline Guerber, Myths of Greece and Rome, 1938.
The setting sun does, of course, have a… “red-gold light” and cannot “disperse the darkness”. Once one knows this version of the myth and the origins of the name, then this part of the story would seem to be clearly inspired by the myth of Hypnos looking directly into eyes of Endymion, the beautiful boy who is symbolic of ‘the sunset’.
There is also the story’s notable but brief motif of poppies, also red like the sunset, which appears at the climax of the story…
‘young with the youth that is outside time, and with beauteous bearded face, curved, smiling lips, Olympian brow, and dense locks waving and poppy-crowned.’
… but poppies are also implicitly present throughout the story in the form of the drugs taken, since opiate drugs are derived from poppies. Poppies are found in connection with Hypnos at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, in which there is apparently on display a certain carved sculpture of Hypnos, one of several there. Possibly Loveman may even have taken Lovecraft to see it, on that first visit to New York shortly after the writing of “Hypnos”. The carving features Hypnos holding a poppy over Endymion…
‘Hypnos, a bearded winged figure of ugly countenance, however, has been substituted for Night and holds a poppy over the sleeping Endymion. One [also] finds him on the other Endymion sarcophagus in the Metropolitan Museum…’ Millard Meissn, De Artibus Opuscula XL: essays in honor of Erwin Panofsky (1961).
One would love to know if the “ugly countenance” might bear any resemblance to Lovecraft himself, and if Loveman might have remarked on this resemblance in a letter? Sadly there only appears to be a picture of the other, more conventional, carving available online. Possibly the presence of the carving is just a co-incidence.
However that may be, all the other evidence in the text seems to indicate that Lovecraft’s attention had somehow been drawn to Licymnius’s queer version of the love of Hypnos and Endymion, rather than to some general non-queer account of Hypnos, and that he knew the subtler details of it. Given that Loveman was such a classical scholar and also a gay man, one has to assume that this somewhat obscure classical knowledge came from Loveman, and at some time shortly before Lovecraft’s visit to New York and their first actual meeting. If so, then Lovecraft may have been aware of the personal implication of such a revealing, and one then has to wonder if the story “Hypnos” was not partly his gently deflating and coded reply to Loveman’s timid and covert romantic overture? Loveman was then aged 34, and Lovecraft was 31.
Incidentally, Gavin Hallaghan writes that Lovecraft was a fan of at least one story by Ralph Adams Cram, an author who had written a “sometimes homoerotically-themed” 1895 horror story collection titled Spirits Black and White, the title referring to the brothers Hypnos and Death. Cram apparently was part of the Frederick Holland Day circle of homoerotic creative artists and writers, before he found Catholicism. But it appears that Lovecraft was not able to obtain a copy of the by-then very rare book.
Comte, Edward Le (1944). Endymion in England: the literary history of a Greek myth. King’s Crown Press, 1944.
Gross, Kenneth (1993). The Dream of the Moving Statue. Cornell University Press, 1993.
Hersey, George L. (2008). Falling in Love with Statues: Artificial Humans from Pygmalion to the Present. University of Chicago Press, 2008.
McInnis, John. (1990). “Father Images in Lovecraft’s ‘Hypnos'” Fantasy Commentator, 7.1, (Fall 1990), Vol.VII, No.1, pp.41-48. [Lovecraft Centennial Issue]
Stafford, E.J. (1993). “Aspects of Sleep in Hellenistic Culture”. Bulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies, 38, pp.105–120.
Stoichita, Victor I (2008). The Pygmalion Effect: From Ovid to Hitchcock. University of Chicago Press, 2008.
Whitbread, Thomas B. (2005). “Samuel Loveman : Poet of Eros and Thanatos”, The Fossil, July 2005.