HUMANS have been interpreting dreams at least since the beginnings of the written word. This is evident in ancient scripts and other documents, but also in the Old Testament, Genesis 41, where the Pharaoh’s dreams of seven fat cows being eaten by seven lean cows, plus seven healthy heads of grain being eaten by seven thin heads of grain, are interpreted by Joseph. Dany Nobus’ talk on dreams at the Onassis Cultural Centre on May 16 covered the many meanings and interpretations of dreams during the course of human history, and from many regions of the world, reaching of course right up to the present day. Certainly what remained as the essence of this truly inspiring talk, was how humans have always been fascinated by this neurological, biochemical, but also creative process carried out by the ‘cauliflower in our head’, while we are asleep.
The talk came under the umbrella of the multi-sided Hypnos Project, which runs till June 19. Nobus, an acclaimed psychoanalyst, Brunell University Professor and President of London’s Freud Museum, kicked off his talk, with an ancient Egyptian papyrus, known as the ‘Chester Beatty 3’, of the British Museum, which states that if you see a dream in which you have sex with your mother, this is a good omen. The Oedipal desires of the ancient Egyptians are therefore unequivocal. He moved on to Hinduism, where dreams are also considered to be either good or bad omens, especially if seen at dawn. The Chinese similarly believed in the prophetic nature of dreams, as did the Greeks, who also believed that sex with your mother was a good omen – as long as it was in the missionary position!
Nobus focused especially on the ancient Greek Artemidorus of Daldis, and his ‘Oneirokritiko’, (‘The Interpretation of Dreams’, written in the 2nd century AD), which was recognised by Freud, seeing as in this work Artemidorus focuses on how dreams can also say something about the dreamer, and so his/her particular circumstances should also be taken into account when analysing them.
Asclepius used dream therapy at his Asclepion, as did the Egyptians. Nobus likened the Asclepion to a 19th Century Sanitorium, or even a ‘modern day health resort’, where people were bathed, and allowed to relax and sleep, often in swaddling. The administration of certain herbs and substances were also allowed.
Nobus moved on to the Dream Catchers of South America, the way dreams are incorporated in the society, politics, civilisation of the Australian Aboriginals, before he moved to the West, to the dream therapy of Henry Reed and to Deirdre Barrett’s theory of dreaming as being a form of ‘thinking in a different biochemical state’.
Another interesting aspect in Nobus’ talk, was the creative side of dreaming – as being a form of ‘thinking outside the box’, a creative process via which the mind deals with reality. He also pinpointed examples of how various artists have drawn inspiration from their dreams: Paul McCartney first heard the tune for ‘Yesterday’ in a dream, Mary Shelley’s Gothic novel ‘Frankenstein’ of 1818, was inspired by a nightmare she had, at the young age of 19, whilst hanging out at Lake Geneva with Byron and the ‘gang’. The artists/writers of the Romantic period and of Surrealism in particular drew inspiration from their dreams, as do Aboriginal artists.
Aristotle’s naturalistic approach to the interpretation of dreams, as being ‘a form of perception’ was also examined, as was the importance of dreaming as opposed to mere sleeping. Playing with the words of Hamlet, Nobus posed the following dilemma: is it a case of ‘to sleep perchance to dream, or to dream perchance to sleep?’ Freud’s ‘Interpretation of Dreams’ was also explained. Nobus interestingly pointed out that in all the dreams that are referred to in this work, there are no references to sexual ones. Here, Nobus points out how maybe Freud was saving those for another work… Freud did however believe that dreams don’t always have a sexual sub-story, and as Freud claimed: ‘Sometimes, a cigar, is just a cigar’.
Lots more was said of course in this enlightening lecture. Dany Nobus also spoke tonight (May 17), at the Onassis Cultural Centre, on the subject of ‘language and utopia’. Maybe he should be persuaded to come back again and speak some more. Oh, he also mentioned humorously that according to the Greek dream symbolism, of the ‘Kazamias’ periodical, if you see Patsas (tripe soup) in your dream, that’s BAAAD…. So beware!
Below: Dali’s ‘Dream Caused by the Flight of a Bee Around a Pomegranate a Second Before Waking’.