Human beings have long been fascinated by dreams and their meanings. The earliest dream interpreters believed that dreams were a means of communication with the gods. During the l2th dynasty (c. 1991-1786 BC), Egyptian thinkers began to record the symbols that appeared in people's dreams, and to ponder their meanings. The Babylonians and the ancient Hebrews were also fascinated by the world of dreams, and took some of their inspiration from the Egyptian writings. The ancient Hebrews took dream analysis a step further and considered the influence of the dreamer's waking life as well including the person's family life, personal qualities, and occupation.
"Up go, thou baneful Dream, unto the swift ships of the Achaeans, and when thou' art come to the hut of Agamemnon, son of Atreus, tell him all my word truly, even as I charge thee."
The Iliad - Dream messages
In the 8th century BC, Homer's epic poem, "The Iliad," referred to a dream message. Zeus, the King of the gods, sent a message in a dream to Agamemnon, the commander of the Greek forces at Troy. Like the Egyptians, the Greeks believed that dreams held curative powers. People in need of healing would sleep in temples for long periods of time in the hope of experiencing a dream that would forecast recovery.
In the 5th century BC. ideas about dreams began changing, and the role of the supernatural in dream interpretation became less prominent. Some Greek philosophers proposed that dreams were products of the individual, and were unconnected to others-even to the world of the gods. Plato (c. 428-348 BC) was especially interested in the influence of dreams on a person's mental and physical life, and believed that dreamed messages could signal how a person should lead his or her life. In his famous dialogue Phaedo, he noted that Socrates's decision to follow music and the arts was the result of a dream.
Metaphors and medicine
For Aristotle (384-322 BC), dreams were usually not prophetic; rather, they related to memories of the dreamer's waking day. Aristotle also wrote of dreams being "ignited" by the human senses. If a person became very hot when sleeping, for example, he or she might dream about heat or fire. Aristotle thought that metaphor was crucial in dream analysis. He suggested that dream images were not simply reflections of the waking world, but metaphors for other images and situations. This view forms the basis of modern dream analysis.
Before Aristotle, the physician Hippocrates (c. 460-357 BC)-the founder of modern medicine-believed in dreams as a diagnostic tool. Other Greek thinkers also subscribed to this theory; as a result, many ancient Greeks were medically treated based on dreams that featured ailing parts of their bodies.
In ancient Egypt, people who were emotionally troubled would sometimes have their dreams analyzed by a priest-an interesting precursor to Freudian psychoanalysis.
Around 150 AD, the Roman scholar Artemidorus compiled a five-volume work entitled Oneirocriticon ("The Interpretation of Dreams"). In this work, he espoused the theory that dreams were rooted in the dreamer's waking world. When a dream was interpreted, therefore, the dreamer's social status, place of work, and mental and physical condition should all be considered when attempting to decipher its content and meaning.
Perhaps the best known dream in the Old Testament is Jacob's dream of a ladder resting on top of the Earth reaching up to the heavens-the means of communication between God's angels and the Earth.
Old Testament dreams
Many dreams and dream symbols feature in the Old Testament. In one well-known story, Jacob's favorite son Joseph was said to possess the power of predictive dreams. Since they often contained images of Joseph's superiority to his brothers, the dreams were responsible for a serious bout of sibling rivalry. Joseph's brothers contrived to exile him, while convincing their father that Joseph was dead. Joseph's skills at dream analysis proved useful, however, when he was able to help the mighty Pharaoh of Egypt interpret a troubling dream.
Daniel was another famous dream interpreter, and was asked to interpret a dream for the King of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar. In the dream, a message from Heaven ordered that a beautiful tree, which sheltered all the animals of the universe, should be cut down, and that Nebuchadnezzar should be chained to the remains of the tree. Daniel interpreted the dream as a message to the King that despite his position of majesty, he must accept a greater power in heaven as the ultimate ruler.
New Testament visions
Some of the most striking illustrations of the New Testament portray biblical dream visions. In an interpretation of the New Testament written in the 4th century AD, St. John Chrysostom stated that God revealed Himself and His message through dreams. St. John also believed that people were not responsible for the content of their dreams, and thus should not feel guilty about any shameful images appearing therein.
Dreams are significant in Islam as well. The prophet Mohammed, the founder of Islam, is said to have become aware of much of the Koran's contents from a dream. He was also well known for interpreting the dreams of his disciples.
Originating from India is a long Buddhist tradition of dream interpretation. The Buddha's mother had a dream in which a tiny white elephant entered her womb. Brahmins claimed that this dream predicted the birth of a great ruler.
For Zoroastrians, dreams are linked to their time of occurrence, so that a dream's place within the monthly cycle will affect its interpretation.
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