Three classical myths to keep you awake
If you’re still trying to adjust to the start of Daylight Saving Time, we’d like to give you a little bit of advice: don’t let the mythological gods of Greece and Rome catch you napping. Seeing mortals sleeping seems to bring out the worst in them.
Here are three of the most notorious examples:
Endymion and Selene
Depending on whom you ask, Zeus either offered the beautiful shepherd Endymion a wish and Endymion chose to sleep and remain youthful forever, or the eternal sleep wasn’t a gift at all, but rather a punishment because Endymion had attempted to seduce Zeus’ wife, Hera.
Whatever the reason, the moon goddess Selene (or Diana in Roman mythology) didn’t waste any time in taking advantage of Endymion’s helpless state. She began visiting him every night while he lay sleeping in a cave on Mount Latmus. You can draw your own conclusions as to what she did on these visits, as she bore him 50 daughters.
Ariadne and Dionysus
Theseus arrived in Crete among the Athenian youths who were to be sacrificed to the Minotaur, a half-man half-bull who roamed the Labyrinth. Ariadne, the Minotaur’s half-sister, fell in love with the Athenian hero and offered her help in killing the monster. In return, Theseus promised to take Ariadne back to Athens and make her his wife.
Ariadne kept her end of the bargain, giving Theseus directions on how to find the Minotaur in the Labyrinth and a ball of thread to help him find his way back out. Deed done, Theseus took Ariadne with him and his rescues, but he didn’t quite keep his promise. On the way to Athens they made an overnight stop on the island of Naxos, and while Ariadne slept, Theseus and crew slipped away. Dionysus, the god of fertility and wine, fell in love with Ariadne when he saw her sleeping, and the two got married. Which perhaps isn’t so bad, but it’s still a little weird.
Rhea Silvia and Mars
Rhea Silvia was the daughter of Numitor, king of Alba Longa. Her evil uncle Amulius overthrew Numitor, seized the throne, and killed Rhea Silvia’s brothers. Afraid that Rhea Silvia would give birth to heirs who could challenge his rule, Amulius forced her to become a Vestal Virgin, sworn to celibacy for thirty years.
Rhea Silvia stuck to her vow, but Mars, living up to the behavior you’d expect from the god of war, impregnated her in her sleep. Rhea Silvia gave birth to the twins Romulus and Remus, who would go on to found Rome (and to get their revenge on Amulius). Meanwhile, Tiberinus, the god of the Tiber, rescued Rhea Silvia and made her his bride, which hopefully offered her a little consolation.
Classical mythology in the Artstor Digital Library
The images on this post come from several collections in the Artstor Digital Library: Scala Archives, Worcester Art Museum, National Gallery of Art, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Erich Lessing Culture and Fine Arts Archives, Ackland Art Museum, and Berlin State Museums (Staatliche Museen zu Berlin).
Learn how you can find more classical mythology-related images with our Classical Studies Subject Guide, or visit our Classical Studies Teaching Resource, featuring 100 curated images.
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