The Greeks (as well as the Egyptians) placed an extreme amount of emphasis on the presence of their gods in dream. Greek dream-books often contained numerous descriptions in which a divine instruction led the dreamer to perform tasks that were ultimately interpreted as prophetic messages send by the gods during sleep (Shushan, 2006). Death is also a recurring theme in the dream analysis records of ancient Greece; to the Greeks, dreams involving death and proper burials were in actuality signs of prosperity and favor from the gods (Shushan, 2006).
However, dreams were not only analyzed for their religious content in ancient Greece. Reviews on the dream archives of Ptolemaios, a Greek recluse alive during the third century BCE, suggest that dreams were sometimes analyzed for scientific purposes (Shushan, 2006). Philosophers such as Aristotle and Artemidorus were some of the first to attempt dream interpretation for scientific reasons. Both philosophers held specific theories on dreaming and the origin of dreams. Although born centuries apart, Aristotle and Artemidorus were two very important figures in ancient Greek dream interpretation.
Aristotle, greek philosopher during the fourth century BCE, suggested that dreams were not actually messages sent from a god; he argued that animals could dream and that a god would never send messages to anything less that the superior human. Instead, Aristotle emphasized imagination’s influence on dreams.
He included that dreams were extensions of reality during sleep, and that the imagination was responsible for the impossible feats that appear to be reality during a dream. Interestingly, Aristotle made references to lucid dreaming in his numerous treatises on dreaming. His work inspired many later philosophers and psychologists, including Sigmund Freud, who applied some of Aristotle’s principles to his own works on dream analysis.
Aristotle’s main impact on dream interpretation was his shift away from religious messages contained within dreams. Originally, the Greeks mirrored the Mesopotamians and Egyptians in their strong belief that dreams were messages sent from the gods (Shuttleworth, 2010). He, like Artemidorus, also held stock in the individuation present within dreams: personal and situational factors of the dreamer were important to Aristotle’s dream interpretations. Aristotle intitiated the some of the first scientific investigations on the content of dreams
Around approximately 100 AD, the Greek Philosopher, Artemidorus published the Oneirocritica (Interpretation of Dreams), a series of five books that discussed numerous symbolisms within dreams (Coolidge, 2006; Hoffman, 2004). Many of the principles found within Sigmund Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams were largely inspired by Artemidorus’s theories on dreaming and on his practicality in approaching the subject. Artemidorus placed emphasis on the true value of using the content of dreams to predict future events; he often compared his dream interpretations to events that actually transpired after the interpretation (Hall, 1992). The Greek philosopher made strides toward scientifically analyzing dreams. Within his dream analysis series, he emphasized the importance of individual influences in understanding one’s dreams.
For example, Artemidorus knew that the age, physical health of an individual, and previous events they experienced have an effect of the quality and content of their dreams (Coolidge, 2006). To this day, Artemidorus’s Oneirocritica continues to have an impact of the psychology of dreaming and dream analysis. The work’s shift toward more logical methods of dream interpretation laid the foundation for pioneering psychologists in later centuries.
The following video is a narration from one of Artemidorus’s dream records, performed by Nick Tosches:
By: Victoria Owens