Too Early: Sleep-Compounds from Ancient Greek


My four-year old son talks in his sleep. And I don’t mean that he merely makes sounds–he holds entire conversations with himself. Sometimes there are arguments. As I discovered this morning, however, there is no Ancient Greek word for “sleeping-talkng” or “sleep walking”.

Based on the compound “walking on air” (ἀεροβατεῖν) I propose ὑπνολέγειν (“sleep-talking”) and ὑπνοβατεῖν (“sleep-talking”). But I must admit that my faith is a bit rattled. So, here are some sleep-compounds from ancient Greek.


ὑπνομαχέω: (hupnomakheô) “fight against sleep”

ὑπνοποιός: (hupnopoios) “sleep-making”

ὑπνάπατης: (hupnapatês) “cheating of sleep”

ὑπνοφόβης: (hupnophobês) “frightening in sleep”

ὑπνοφόρος: (hupnophoros) “sleep-bringing”

ὑπνοδεσμήτος: (hupnodesmêtos) “bound-by-sleep”

ὑπνοτραπἑζος: (hupnotrapezos) “table-sleeper” (an epithet for a parasite)


Gorgias on Sleep and His Brother (Aelian, Varia Historiia 2.30)

“When Gorgias of Leontini was at the end of his life and, extremely old, he was over taken by a certain weakness, he stretched out in his bed slipping off to sleep. When one of his attendants who was looking over him asked how he was doing, Gorgias replied “Sleep is now starting to hand me over to his brother.””

Γοργίας ὁ Λεοντῖνος ἐπὶ τέρματι ὢν τοῦ βίου καὶ γεγηρακὼς εὖ μάλα ὑπό τινος ἀσθενείας καταληφθείς, κατ’ ὀλίγον ἐς ὕπνον ὑπολισθάνων ἔκειτο. ἐπεὶ δέ τις αὐτὸν παρῆλθε τῶν ἐπιτηδείων ἐπισκοπούμενος καὶ ἤρετο ὅ τι πράττοι, ὁ Γοργίας ἀπεκρίνατο ‘ἤδη με ὁ ὕπνος ἄρχεται παρακατατίθεσθαι τἀδελφῷ.’

Gorgias of Leontini was an orator who lived nearly one hundred years. In Greek myth, Sleep (Hypnos) and Death (Thanatos) are brothers. Here’s the Euphronios Krater that shows the pair carrying off the mortally wounded Sarpedon.


3 thoughts on “Too Early: Sleep-Compounds from Ancient Greek

  1. Prof Christensen, Thank you for this interesting post. “Altered states of conscieousness” interests me, and I also enjoyed your discussion on proverbs at the recent CHS open house.

    From your research into the compound words related to sleep, there seems to be no Greek equivalent of “sleep talking”. I am wondering if the phenomenon was not seen by the ancient Greeks as Gods speaking to the sleeper, or as the prophecy/messages given by Gods, using the sleeper as the medium during sleep and dream. We know the ancients attributed special qualities to the meanings of dreams in general.

    Here’s an interesting post by neuroscientists, aimed specifically for kids. Your 4 year old son may find this article amusing. In the article, they said “The ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus of Ephesus already observed someone sleep talking about 2,500 years ago, so it is not a very recent discovery.” Would this be worth pursuing?

  2. Thanks! I believe you meant this to read (“ὑπνοβατεῖν (“sleep-talking”))” ‘sleep-walking’?

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