Ancient Greece – Dream Beliefs
Antiphon, a Greek living in the fourth century BC., wrote the first known descriptive book of dreams. It was designed to be used for practical, and professional interpretations. He maintained that dreams are not created by supernatural powers but natural conditions. In the second century AD. a similar book was written by Artemidorus, a Greek physician who lived in Rome. He claimed to have gathered his information from ancient sources, possible from the Egyptian dream and the dream book dating from the second millennium BC. He may have used works from the Assurbanipal library, later destroyed, which held one of the most complete collections of dream literature. Artemidorus classified dreams into dreams, visions, oracles, fantasies and apparitions. He stated two classes of dreams; the somnium, which forecast events, and the insomnium, which are concerned with present matters. For the somnium dreams Artemidorus gave a dream dictionary. He said Abyss meant an impending danger, a dream of warning. Candle: to see one being lighted forecasts a birth; to exhibit a lighted candle augers contentment and prosperity; a dimly burning candle shows sickness, sadness and delay. This latter is taken from folklore of the times, and because dreams tend to use commonly used verbal images, was probably true. He maintained that a persons name – that is their identity, and the family, national and social background from which they arose – has bearing on what their dream means.
Plato 429 – 347 BC. said that even good men dream of uncontrolled and violent actions, including sexual aggression. These actions are not committed by good men while awake, but criminals act them out without guilt. Democritus said that dreams are not products of ethereal soul, but of visual impressions which influence our imagination. Aristotle 383 – 322 stated that dreams can predict future events. Earlier Hippocrates, the ‘father of medicine’ discovered that dreams can reveal the onset of organic illness. Such dreams, he said, can be seen as being illogically representing external reality.
Hippocrates was born on the island of Kos. On the island was the famous temple dedicated to Aesculapius the god of medicine. There were about 300 such temples in Greece alone, dedicated to healing through the use of dreams. Hippocrates was an Aesculapian, and learned his form of dream interpretation from them. In such temples the patient would have to ritually cleanse themselves by washing, and abstain from sex, alcohol and even food. They would then be led into what was sometimes a subterranean room in which were harmless snakes – these were the symbol of the god, and are the probable connecting link with the present day use of snakes to represent the healing professions. Prior to sleep the participats were led in evening payers to the god, and thus creating an atmosphere in which dreams of healing were induced. In the morning the patients were asked their dream, and it was expected they would dream an answer to their illness or problem. There are many attestations to the efficacy of this technique from patients.