Dreams in ancient Greek Medicine

Here we present the ‘Abstract‘ of the corresponding paper by Laios K, Moschos MM, Koukaki E, Vasilopoulos E, Karamanou M, Kontaxaki MI, Androutsos G.

Abstract

Dreams preoccupied the Greek and Roman world in antiquity, therefore they had a prominent role in social, philosophical, religious, historical and political life of those times. They were considered as omens and prophetic signs of future events in private and public life, and that was particularly accentuated when elements of actions which took place in the plot of dreams were associated directly or indirectly with real events. This is why it was important to use them in divination, and helped the growth of superstition and folklore believes. Medicine as a science and an anthropocentric art, could not ignore the importance of dreams, having in mind their popularity in antiquity. In ancient Greek medicine dreams can be divided into two basic categories. In the first one -which is related to religious medicine-dreams experienced by religionists are classified, when resorted to great religious sanctuaries such as those of Asclepius (Asclepieia) and Amphiaraos (Amfiaraeia). These dreams were the essential element for healing in this form of religious medicine, because after pilgrims underwent purifications they went to sleep in a special dwelling of the sanctuaries called “enkoimeterion” (Greek: the place to sleep) so that the healing god would come to their dreams either to cure them or to suggest treatment. In ancient Greek literature there are many reports of these experiences, but if there may be phenomena of self-suggestion, or they could be characterized as propaganda messages from the priesthood of each sanctuary for advertising purposes. The other category concerns the references about dreams found in ancient Greek medical literature, where one can find the attempts of ancient Greek physicians to interpret these dreams in a rational way as sings either of a corporal disease or of psychological distress. This second category will be the object of our study. Despite the different ways followed by each ancient Greek physician in order to explain dreams, their common intention was to give a rational answer for the creation and content of dreams setting aside any supernatural beliefs. In addition they tried to explain in a scientific way the correlation that could have emerged between the story that took place in dreams and the events that happened in everyday life. Nevertheless, ancient Greek physicians focused especially on nightmares, which were associated with physical problems. For those physicians these nightmares included information about the corporal disease of the patient, which had a reflection in the dream, and they could help them to diagnose the problem in order to restore balance of the body.

(Source: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27837575)

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