History of Dreamwork in Greece
Dream Research in Greece
Dream Groups in Greece
Dream Workers in Greece



A History of Dreamwork in Greece  

Temple of Apollo, Delphi, Greece : Picture by Richard Wilkerson, 1994

Temple of Apollo
Dephi, Greece

History of Dreamwork in Greece
by Pandelis Perakakis

In prearchaic Greece dreams are associated with religious cults directly connected with the worship of the Great Mother Goddess Earth (Gaia). In these early communities dream experiences belong to the capacity of man to communicate with the hyberbatic and the holy. Nocturnal life is not distinguished from daily experience and dreams are considered a transitional state to altered realities belonging to the kingdom of spirits.

Before the arrival of the Olympian deities, big cult centers as those of Dodona and Delphi are related with the adoration of the Earth and dreams play a central role in the functioning of religious proceedings. They are used as a path for the revelation of mysteries and the communication with the world of the dead. Incubation (ritual dreaming of healing dreams) is commonly employed as a way to contact the primordial elements of the Earth.

During the archaic and classical era, due to various social changes, cults and religiosity loose part of their prearchaic mystical character. The new Greek vision is distinguished by its persistent desire for system and clarity. Apollo, god of light and sobriety, gains over dark Gaia and wanton Dionysus. The two advancing trends of naturalism and rationalism signify the birth of philosophy and impel the development of a series of increasingly sophisticated theories to explain the natural world. Following this intellectual transformation dream experience is slowly marginalized and soon becomes an isolate and personal phenomenon. According to the new theogony Oneiros (dream) is son of Night and brother of Sleep and Death. He is a mediator of Apollo and of the healing Gods for announcing advises and healing treatments. Incubation is still practiced in certain religious sites, but is now a matter of personal orientation and decision. It is the time for the great Greek philosophers.


Plato was not systematically involved with dreaming although in many cases it is evident that he attributed great significance to it. Since there is not a detailed essay on dreams in his work, we have to abstract his general theory by studying separate pieces of information scattered around his literary work.
A section of Republic IX prefigures the Freudian concept of a dream as "wish-fulfillment". In this passage (571b-572b, cf. 574d-e) lethal and incestuous dreams are said to express desires harbored by outwardly decent people without surfacing in their waking thoughts. In other places Plato is referring to his ideal state as a "dream city" suggesting that dream fantasies indulge wishes in compensation for their non-fulfillment in waking life. Again in Republic IX, Plato is describing varieties of dreams in terms of parts of the soul operating independently of one another. Evil dreams are produced when lower elements of the soul assume control while the rational apparatus remains asleep. The opposite happens in the dreams of noble men when these lower elements are quiescent enabling thus the rational soul "to look for and reach toward the perception of what he does not know, be it past, present or future" (572a2-3). It is evident that Plato is influenced by the spiritual legacy of his ancestors that considered the world of dreams as an alternative objective reality where the rational soul attains a liberation to pursue the truth. This idea is also obvious in the Timaeus and the Sophist where Plato attributes dreams to divine agency.

In the Theaetetus Plato is raising another important question regarding dreams that has also been a fundamental argument in many eastern doctrines and traditions. The question is whether an acceptable decisive factor actually exists to judge if we are awake or asleep at any given moment. Dreaming and waking appearances are regarded as equally true for their respective subjects. Therefore many thinkers after Plato have referred to waking reality as nothing but another dream from which we might one day be awakened.


Aristotle composed three essays on sleep and dreams that belong to the collection of short treatises known as Parva Naturalia. The first essay (De Somno et Vigilia) reflects Aristotle's philosophy regarding the soul-body relationship. According to his view the soul and the body are undividable aspects, the "form" and the "matter" respectively, of a single living organism. Aristotle defines sleep as a state of perceptual incapacitation. He makes a distinction between sleep and other states of unconsciousness by reference to its physical cause.

The second essay (De Insomniis) takes a similar approach to dreams. Dream is assumed to be a psychological phenomenon that has to be understood by reference to its physical basis. In the beginning Aristotle raises the question whether dreaming is the work of perception or thought. His conclusion after systematic examination is that dreaming is neither the work of judgment nor of straightforward perception. Consequently dreaming "is the work of the perceptual part, but belongs to this part in its imagining (phantastikon) capacity". Judgment is impaired during sleep and therefore "what is like something is judged to be that very thing". Aristotle's final remark regarding dreams is as follows: "… it is an appearance (phantasma) that arises from the movement of the sense-impressions, while one is in the sleeping state…"
The third essay (De Divination per Somnum) presents Aristotle's inquiry in relation to divination from dreams. According to his analysis the dreams in question must be "either causes or signs of things that happen, or else coincidences;" Dreams may be signs of what is happening about the body so "… one should pay extremely close attention to dreams. And that is a reasonable assumption even for those who are not practitioners, but are pursuing a theoretical inquiry". Dreams may also be causes because "… movements in the course of sleep must frequently be origins of day-time actions, for the reason that our intention to do these has had the way paved for it in the appearances (phantasmata) at night". "Most of them, however, would seem to be coincidences, especially all that are peculiar or concern matters where no causal initiative lies in the dreamers themselves".

In the second chapter Aristotle argues that dreams are not communications from God, or they would occur in the daytime and to more appropriate recipients. He also states "That many dreams are not fulfilled is in no way surprising… for if another movement should take place, prevailing over the one from which (when it was going to happen) the sign occurred, then the latter movement does not occur". Later Aristotle presents a theory to explain precognitive dreams: "When something has moved a portion of water or air, and this in turn has moved another, then even when the initial impulse has ceased, it results in a similar sort of movement continuing up to a certain point, although the original mover is not present. In this way it is possible that some sort of movement and perception reaches the souls of dreamers, coming from the objects… and thus they (images and emanations) produce perception in the body because of sleep, people asleep being more sensitive to even slight internal movements that cause appearances (phantasmata) from which people have previsions of what is going to happen…" This theory also explains why precognition occurs more often to average rather than intellectual people: "… on our account, one would expect it to be random subjects who have prevision. For the mind of such a person is not reflective, but is deserted, as it were, and completely vacant. Thus, once set in motion, it is led on according to the direction of its moving impulse".

Finally one last comment needs to be made in relation to Aristotle's famous reference on the phenomenon now called lucid dreaming or in other words the ability of the dreamer to perceive the dream as such while still dreaming. In De Insomniis 462a5-7 he mentions "For often something in the soul of a person asleep says that what is appearing is a dream". This is probably the first written report of the phenomenon of conscious dreaming. Noteworthy is the use of the word "often" to portray the lucid state since modern research has shown that volitional conscious dreaming is certainly not frequent, but is rather considered a special trait.


Artemidorus' work on dreams was composed in the mid to late second century A.D. and is divided into five books. For Artemidorus, dreams are a royal road to the future, to paraphrase the famous quote from Freud. In his work he draws a distinction between two types of dreams: Oneiroi and Enhypnia. Between the two only oneiroi hold any significance as they can be utilized to envisage the future, while enhypnia are indicative merely of a present state of affairs. Oneiroi include visions and oracular dreams and can be further distinguished into Theorematikoi, that predict the future directly and Allegorikoi, which predict allusively and require interpretation. Thus Artemidorus is principally concerned about this last categorization of dreams and bases the bulk of his work fundamentally in the discussion about their meaning and interpretation. His main endeavor was committed to producing credible principles for understanding allegorical dreams and his crucial argument is that "the interpretation of dreams is nothing other than the juxtaposition of similarities". These similarities lie between dream imagery and the actual outcomes predicted by the dreams while a web of metaphor connects dream reality with the real world.

Artemidorus also establishes certain practical strategies in order to make his basic principles effective. One of them, to avoid plausible errors and misinterpretations, is that only dreams that are remembered fully should be interpreted. Furthermore, the interpreter should be well informed about local customs for it is essential to place each dream in the appropriate cultural background. In addition the interpreter must be acquainted with the dreamer; who he is, what he does, his birth, property, state of health and age. He also has to know about his state of mind, his position in society, his mood and his habits. All this information is crucial because, according to Artemidorus, dreams may have a different meaning for different people. For example if a poor man dreams of gold he will become rich, while if a rich man dreams of gold he will be the victim of scheming. At this point it is important to note that for Artemidorus, the characteristics mentioned above are not considered as personality traits, but are rather viewed as isolated elements and that nowhere in his work is implied a conception of personality in the modern connotation.
In relation to the discussion about the origin of dreams, Artemidorus is not giving a clear answer. According to the analysis of S.R.F. Price: "Prophetic dreams have an ambiguous origin, in part arising from the soul, but also somehow and obscurely impinging upon the soul from outside. The psyche is a mirror on which the future is reflected".


Devereux, G. Dreams in Greek Tragedy

Dodds, E.R. The Greeks and the Irrational. Berkeley, 1959.

Gallop, D. (1991). Aristotle: On Sleep and Dreams. Broadview Press, Peterborough, Ontario, Canada.

Manos, A. (2001). The Aristotelian Doctrine on Dreams. Archeology and arts, 78, 41-46.

Oikonomidis, S. (2001). Prearchaic Greece and Dreams, Oneiric Lethargy, Psychic Waking, Political Wakefulness. Archeology and arts, 78, 31-35.

Price, S.R.F. (2001). The future of Dreams: From Freud to Artemidorus. Archeology and arts, 78, 8-22.




Quote from Plato:

“As for the man who believes in beautiful things but not in the existence of Beauty itself, nor is able to follow one who leads him to the knowledge of it, do you think that he lives in a dream (onar) or in a waking state (hypar)? I certainly think that the man who does this is dreaming”




Quote from Aristotle:

“For often something in the soul of a person asleep says that what is appearing is a dream”.


Statue of Asklepios at Epidavros - Picture by Richard Wilkerson, 1994

Asklepios at the Epidavros 
Dream Sanctuary

Quote from Artemidorus:

"The interpretation of dreams is nothing other than the juxtaposition of similarities".


Dream Research in Greece  


Section in progress.  If you wish to include additional information please contact perakakis@hotmail.com

Dream Groups in Greece  


Section in progress.  If you wish to include additional information please contact perakaki@hotmail.com 


Dream Workers in Greece  

Dream Workers in Greece




Pandelis Perakakis and Stanley Krippner

Pandelis Perakakis

I am a student in the Psychology Department of Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. I have been interested in dreaming and especially dreaming consciousness and the phenomenon of lucid dreaming since my first personal "lucid" experiences in my early childhood. Within the framework of my dissertation with subject: Personality differences/ Lucid dreaming, I am currently conducting a research on personality traits and the ability to induce lucid dreams using different induction techniques. I am an ASD member since 2001 and participated in the organization's conference in Santa Cruz, California in July 2001.

Contact information:

Ariadnis 2
Harilaou, 542 49

E-mail: perakakis@hotmail.com

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