In order to understand the very nature of our dreams we need to go back in time and discover their meaning throughout history. It is important to examine and analyse the significance of dreams on the way of living, the customs and mythologies of ancient civilizations so that we can compare or even interpret our modern ways of comprehending our dreams.
Through this journey we will be able to find connections on viewpoints that have been made within the time space of thousand or more years. For example Sigmund Freud’s theory of dreams was highly influenced by that of Aristotle’s. Also the idea of dreams being interpret in a prophetic manner is a recurrent theory throughout the history with the only difference that for some civilizations this theory had greater importance than others.
In ancient Greek mythology the god Sleep was the son of the Goddess of Night and was born through parthenogenesis*. He lived in the island of Limnos. He was considered to be a god but also a demon by mortals and was either worshiped as a god or disapproved as a demon. As he was the brother of the god of Death, it was said that Sleep would help his brother carry the dead to Ades and thus he was a demon.
He was also a very powerful God as he could put to sleep not only the mortals but also all the Gods including the greater ones such as Zeus. He was sometimes imagined spraying sleep to the people and the Gods using a brunch that was dipped into the river of oblivion and other times just flapping his wings in order to put them to sleep. Once Hera swore to help the God of Sleep marry his beloved Pasithei (the goddess of calmness and rest) in exchange for the use of his powers over Zeus. And so it happened when Sleep was transformed into a bird and put Zeus to sleep as he was flying over him.
After their marriage Sleep and Pasithei had four children that were called Dreams. The Gods of Dreaming lived on the seaside close to Ades in a cave surrounded by poppies. They delivered dreams to both mortals and Gods through two gates. The first gate was made of horns and only true dreams, such as premonitions or signs within the dream could be delivered through it. The second gate was made of ivory and it was used for transferring fake dreams such as illusions, fantasies or desires.
The children of Sleep and Pasithei were four: Morpheus, Fear, Phantasos and Ikelos. Morpheus was the firstborn and his name derives from the word ‘Morphi’ that means ‘shape’ in the Greek language. Morheus had the ability to take any shape or figure in the dreams, form them in anyway and change any human figure that participates in them into something else. He was considered to be the most powerful of all the Gods of Dreaming as he could carry dreams even to Kings or Heroes. He also had the power to deliver messages from the Gods to the mortals through dreams.
Fear had the power to take the shape of animals or monsters and transform all dreams into nightmares. Phantasos on the other hand would take the shape of different objects and would represent phantasy. As an inanimate figure he would make the dreams seem imaginary and difficult to interpret. Ikelos would bring real elements into dreams creating a sense of truth and realism.
This quick glimpse into the ancient Greek mythology can bring out elements that are used thousands of years later by scientists in the journey for understanding our dreams. The different qualities of the Gods of Dreaming even though they seem to us now quite simplistic they could have been the basis for later theories of Great Psychologists claiming that dreaming should not be considered as something unknown, unexplained or even mystic but it should be categorized under the science of biology or the school of psychology.
*A form of asexual reproduction where growth and development of embryos occur without fertilization.