Nights in Ancient Greece
But looking back 2,700 years to the time when Hesiod wrote his Theogony has made me see the issue in a different light. Night, says Hesiod, was the mother of a spectacularly unsavory brood. Not only did she produce the brothers Sleep and Death. She also gave birth to the forces of Doom, Ridicule, Woe, Deception and Strife. And wouldn’t you know it, Strife went on to outdo her mother in pernicious progeny, giving birth to Famine, Combats, Contentions and Murders, not to mention Lawlessness, Lies and Recklessness.
Did many ancient Greeks sleep through the night in peace and tranquility? I have my doubts.
Let’s not forget the famed Trojan horse, whose hidden warriors emerged at night, opened the city gates to their warrior fellows, and so conquered Troy. Or the frightful nights of the Middle Ages, when the rear watchman patrolling the streets by torchlight offered scant protection from evil supernatural forces or criminal and political violence.
More Infamy at Night
“Night,” the Canadian poet Christopher Dewdney has written, “has been the traditional shelter for revolutions, military attacks, freedom fighters, and various insurgencies but it has also covered pogroms, suppressions and vigilantes. The lynch mobs of the American Wild West rode at night, as did the Ku Klux Klan.” Kristallnacht occurred at night, Dewdney points out, as did many Nazi atrocities committed against Jewish families in the Warsaw ghetto.
What about disasters caused unintentionally by human hands? The poison gas leak in Bhopal began shortly after midnight. The Exxon Valdez ran aground shortly after midnight as well. The partial meltdown of the nuclear reactor at Three Mile Island began around 4 in the morning.
Most murders occur at night. A majority of domestic violence and rapes do, too. Most deadly residential fires occur between midnight and 6 a.m.; most sudden infant deaths, between 10 p.m. and 10 a.m.
The mystery is not that 10 to 15 percent of us have persistent insomnia. It’s that normal sleepers sleep so well.