January 29, 2008


Image credit: fromoldbooks.org.

Aside from the usual assortment of links and comments about current events, the theme of this week's Goat Rope is dreams and what they may or may not mean. If this is your first visit, please click on yesterday's posts.

When I was a little kid, I had an odd dream that stuck with me until the present. In it, I was sitting alone at night among old stone ruins. Though it was dark, there was some light from the moon and stars. The odd thing is that I wasn't afraid; awe might be a better word.

That dream kind of set the tone for me. I've always been drawn to things that are ancient or at least old enough to withstand the tests of time. While it's important these days to keep up with current events and the latest in science and research, I don't look much to the present for wisdom. I find all I can handle--and more--in Greek tragedy, Homer's epics, myths, the Bible, and ancient Western, Buddhist and Chinese philosophy.

Speaking of which, there's probably little in human history more ancient or universal than a fascination with dreams and what they mean. Dreams play a part in the folklore of many cultures and are mentioned in many ancient texts from places as diverse as Egypt, ancient Greece, Mesopotamia and China.

Dreams are prominent in several biblical stories, with several major ones in Genesis. During a time of troubles, the patriarch Jacob dreamed of a ladder to heaven with angels ascending and descending. A little later in the book, dreams and their interpretation both get Joseph into trouble with his brothers and into the good graces of Pharaoh.

The prophet Daniel was also portrayed as a great interpreter of dreams--even when he wasn't told what the dream was. It was written that God appeared to King Solomon in a dream offering him anything he wished. Famously, he chose wisdom.

Dreams are also frequently discussed in the Talmud, a collection of rabbinical writings and commentaries. One rabbi said there that "An uninterpreted dream is like an unopened letter" and another that "A man is shown in his dreams what he thinks in his heart."

Dreams play a major role in the early chapters of the Gospel attributed to Matthew. Joseph is warned in a dream to accept Mary as his wife though she is with child; to fly with his family to Egypt to avoid the wrath of King Herod; and to return from Egypt when Herod dies. The "wise men" were warned in dreams not to tell Herod of the child. Later in the gospel, Pilate's wife has a dream about Jesus and warns her husband to have nothing to do with him.

In ancient Greece, dreams were a major part of healing. In a practice known as dream incubation, a patient would sleep in a temple of the healer Aesculapius and the dream they received there was used as the basis of treatment.

In the second century BC or BCE, a Greek named Artemidorus wrote five volumes about dreams in a work called Oneirocritica, which described and attempted to interpret 3,000 different dreams. Although his interpretations strike us as odd today--for example, the thought it was good luck to dream of having a well-shaped nose (Holy Tristram Shandy, Batman!)--the work is still in print.

Of course, even in ancient times, there were those who dismissed dreams as stuff an nonsense (which admittedly many are). The Roman politician, writer and orator Cicero wrote

Let us reject...this divination of dreams...For, to speak truly, that superstition has extended itself through all nations, and has oppressed the intellectual energies of all men, and has betrayed them into endless imbecilities.

Whatever the case may be, we get one or more free indie movies every night.

COMMENT ON THE STATE OF THE UNION ADDRESS: Whatever. That was mine. Here's The Nation's.

ALGORITHMS OF LOVE? Has a mathematical computer program figured out compatibility? This would have vastly simplified Pride and Prejudice.

MATH AND GOD. This is a fun one on religion and mathematicians, complete with this great line from Nobel Prize-winning physicist Steven Weinberg:

With or without religion, good people will do good, and evil people will do evil. But for good people to do evil, that takes religion.

TORTURE AND DEMOCRACIES have often co-existed.

HEGEMONY CRICKET. Here's a long one from the NY Times magazine about the changing status of the US in the world during the Bush disaster.


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