We sailed into Risan this week as we continue our sailing voyages of adventure and discovery. It is the oldest town in all of Montenegro and the only mosaic of Hypnos still known to exist in the world can be found here in Risan. This town also has the oldest road, with wonky cobbles that wend their way uphill between old buildings, many of which are now overgrown with fig trees forcing their branchy arms out of what once were windows.
The Oldest Road in the Oldest Village
The small village of Risan doesn’t get the kudos or exude the glamour of Kotor. It is often missed by boaties and tourists which meant we pretty much had the place to ourselves. It’s a pity that so many people miss it because hiding behind the architecture and deep in its foundations lie the remnants of some of the powerful empires that once ruled Europe. Way back then, that meant you pretty much ruled the entire world.
This once was the seat of the powerful Illyrian Queen Teuta who reigned between 231 and 227 BC. She is sometimes referred to as the ‘pirate queen’ as she bravely went to war against the Roman Empire. Risan is evidenced as an important site because archaeologists have been tooling their way around here since the 1820s. They have uncovered the remnants of past citizens and history from aeons gone by. They have found valuable mosaics. And one that is more than rare. It is unique.
Discovery of Second Century BC Hypnos in Mosaic
It is here in Risan that the mosaic Hypnos was unearthed. It is the only mosaic of the Greek God known to still exist. An artwork constructed in tiny little hand-hewn mosaic tiles, each measuring less than around half a centimetre. The art form of mosaic dates back at least 4,000 years to Mesopotamia and was heavily implemented as a way of decoration in ancient times, oftentimes as flooring decoration. And they are impressive even today.
Hypnos means ‘sleep’ in Greek mythology. It’s where our words like ‘hypnotic’ and ‘hypnotise’ originate. Their belief was that Hypnos had divine authority over the realm of sleep. It was thought that he could influence visions, and manipulate dreams and was the personification of slumber. He is usually depicted with wings rising from his shoulders, sometimes with a sleep-inducing opium poppy stem dripping water from the river Lethe.
He was rumoured to live near the river ‘Lethe’ which when translated means ‘forgetfulness’. The river is said to be located in the place where night and day meet. He dwelt beyond the gates of the rising sun, in Erebus – the land of eternal darkness. Of course, the words ‘Erebus’ hold a dark meaning for New Zealanders for other reasons, being the place of disaster where 237 tourists and flight crew crashed into Antarctica’s second-highest volcano that is named Mt Erebus in 1979.
So, this is it. The only image of Hypnos crafted in mosaic known to exist in the entire world. And he is splendid! He is depicted reclining against pillows and has been holding this pose for over 2,000 years now. It is dated to the second century BC, and besides being the only known mosaic in the existence of the Greek God Hypnos, this example is also particularly rare because it features three colours. This Hypnos was found in the villa foundations of a home that once belonged to a noble family and was likely located in the bedroom. The archaeologists have determined it was likely a nine-room house, with a central garden atrium. Several other mosaic carpet-like patterns have been found on the floor of other rooms of the same house but they only feature two colours. A modern outer building has been built over the entire foundations and garden to protect the mosaics in situ.
And so after going ashore, walking some ancient roads, and discovering ‘Hypnos’ it was a beer and pizza lunch. And we slept well in our peaceful anchorage in Risan that night.
And in fitting with the Greek God of sleep “Hypnos”, this is one of my favourite songs of all time. All hail the magnificently voiced, Mama Cass singing “Dream a little dream of me”. Not only was she a member of The Mamas and The Papas, but she also released five solo albums and was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
“Say, “Nighty-night” and kiss me
Just hold me tight and tell me you’ll miss me
While I’m alone and blue as can be
Dream a little dream of me”