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Dreams and Experience in Classical Antiquity

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Dreams and Experience in Classical Antiquity

By William V. Harris

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Format: Hardback, 332 pages
Other Information: 9 halftones
Published In: United States, 01 June 2009
From the "Iliad" to "Aristophanes", from the gospel of "Matthew" to "Augustine", Greek and Latin texts are constellated with descriptive images of dreams. Some are formulaic, others intensely vivid. The best ancient minds - Plato, Aristotle, the physician Galen, and others - struggled to understand the meaning of dreams. With "Dreaming and Experience in Classical Antiquity" the renowned ancient historian William Harris turns his attention to oneiric matters. This cultural history of dreams in antiquity draws on both contemporary post-Freudian science and careful critiques of the ancient texts. Harris traces the history of characteristic forms of dream-description and relates them both to the ancient experience of dreaming and to literary and religious imperatives. He analyzes the nuances of Greek and Roman belief in the truth-telling potential of dreams, and in a final chapter offers an assessment of ancient attempts to understand dreams naturalistically. How did dreaming culture evolve from Homer's time to late antiquity? What did these dreams signify? And how do we read and understand ancient dreams through modern eyes? Harris takes an elusive subject and writes about it with rigor and precision, reminding us of specificities, contexts, and changing attitudes through history.

Table of Contents

* Preface * Abbreviations * Introduction: Then and Now From Epiphany to Episode: A Revolution in the Description of Dreams * Epiphany or Messenger Dreams * Definition and Origin of the Epiphany Dream * Varieties of the Epiphany Dream * Distinguishing the Epiphany Dream from the Modern Dream * Other Kinds of Greek and Roman Dream Reports * The Force of Convention * Actual Epiphany Dreams? * The Epiphany Dream in DangerGalen and Aelius Aristides * Late-antique Stimuli * Epiphany Dreams in the Middle Ages * The Early-Modern Demise * Explaining the Change Greek and Roman Dreams That Were Really Dreamt * Is this Tale Tall? * An Essential Question * The Matter of Authenticity * The Problem of Memory * Dream-like Dreams * Mendacious Historians and Biographers * Some Strong Candidates * Perpetua * Artemidorus * Constantine * Augustine ** Aelius Aristides * Writing Good Stories Greek and Roman Opinions about the Truthfulness of Dreams * What They Believed and What We Believe * Truth * Belief * The Interpreters * Metaphors * The Greeks before the Sophists * Fifth-century Athens * Ordinary and Extraordinary Athenians in the Fourth Century * Plato and Aristotle * Hellenistic Impressions * Predictive Dreams in the Context of Greek Divination * The Roman Republic down to Sulla * Lucretius, Cicero and the Late Republic * Incubation and the Doctors * Augustus to the Flavians * A Victory for Religion?100-250 AD * What Dreams Were Good for under the Roman Empire * Late Antiquity * A Conclusion Naturalistic Explanations * Introduction * The Origins of Naturalistic Thinking about Dreams * The Preplatonic Philosophers *'Hippocratic' Doctors * Back to Plato * Aristotle Uncertain * The Epicureans * Other Hellenistic Voices * The Reasons for a Failure * A Note on Galen * What Does a Swallow Mean? * A Complete Halt * Conclusions * Bibliography * Index * Illustrations

Promotional Information

With dreams, Harris has come into a world of mirrors and uncertainties, where traditional boundaries between truth and fantasy, reality and fiction, reportage and invention have all but disappeared. I cannot think of any other ancient historian who would have dared to undertake a book like this. Its undoubted success is due as much to the clear thinking and crisp exposition of the author as to the vast erudition that underlies it. -- G. W. Bowersock In Dreams and Experience in Classical Antiquity, William Harris takes on the whole culture of ancient dreaming with characteristic wit and erudition, against a background of modern scientific, psychological and psychoanalytical theories. His wide learning gives him the ability to see the important intellectual contributions made by some ancient theorists even as he goes against the grain of contemporary thought. This is classic Harris. -- Mary Beard

About the Author

William V. Harris is Shepherd Professor of History at Columbia University and Director of the Center for the Ancient Mediterranean.


The 5th century BC Greek philosopher Empedocles famously proposed that dreams dealt with "the day's residue." In his wonderful Dreams and Experience in Classical Antiquity, W. V. Harris describes the ancient world's fascination with the phenomenon. -- Peter Jones Evening Standard 20091119

EAN: 9780674032972
ISBN: 0674032977
Publisher: Harvard University Press
Dimensions: 23.62 x 16.26 x 3.05 centimetres (0.70 kg)
Age Range: 15+ years
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