Printer Friendly

Tragical dreamer: some dreams in the Roman historians.

There are many ways of classifying dreams.(1) This paper is concerned with only one, perhaps the most fundamental: one which also -- we are told -- captures the most important difference between modem and ancient dream-interpretation. Ancient audiences were primed to expect dreams to be prophetic, to come from outside and give knowledge, however ambiguously, of the future, or at least of the otherwise unknowable present. This sort of dream is hard to distinguish from the `night-time vision', and indeed it is sometimes hard with dreams in ancient literature to tell whether the recipient is asleep or not.(2) For modems, especially but not only Freudians, dreams come from within, and are interesting for what they tell us about the current psychology of the dreamer: for Freudians, the aspects of the repressed unconscious which fight to the surface; for most or all of us, the way in which dreams re-sort our daytime preoccupations, hopes, and fears. This distinction between ancient and modem was set out and elaborated a few years ago by Simon Price;(3) it was also drawn by Freud himself.(4) At the risk of oversimplification, we could say the first approach assimilates dreams to divination, the second to fantasy -- with all the illumination that, as we increasingly realize, fantasy affords into the everyday world, as it juggles the normal patterns of waking reality at the same time as challenging them by their difference.(5)

One must not overstate this contrast between ancient and modem. Ancient theorists too stressed that dreams can reflect the dreamer's current physiological and psychological state: the `Hippocratic' medical work On Regimen 4 is devoted to such interpretations. We might still be tempted to think that dreams in literature are not so interesting when they are of that sort. Thus time and again we find dreams which we naturally analyse as revealing or crystallizing pre-existent psychological states, but which the ancient dreamers themselves found interesting for the divine instruction which they unhesitatingly assumed: for instance, Jerome's dream of his Lord ordering a flagellation to terrorize him into reading the meagre scriptural fare instead of those seductively great classical texts.(6) The point is clearest in the distinction Artemidorus draws between enhupnia, dreams which spring from the dreamer's current predicament, and oneiroi, prophetic dreams which come from outside: one needs to identify enhupnia, but only to discount them in order to concentrate on the more interesting oneiroi.(7) At one point Artemidorus is quoting from his own experience, describing how he was bemused by the case of two men who kept dreaming of oral sex. It was only when he realized that was what the men actually did, that they were persons of unclean mouth, that he stopped worrying.(8)

That picture works well for Artemidorus; perhaps it just about works in the novel too, rich as that genre is in suggestive dreams. Quite often we find novelistic dreams which might, at least at first sight, reflect the dreamer's pre-existent thoughts and preoccupations. When Chariton's Callirhoe is in despair before her final court-appearance, she dreams back to visiting the shrine of Aphrodite as a virgin and then to her wedding-day with Chaireas, and that dream of earlier happiness is not hard to relate to her predicament; when Hehodorus' Thyamis dreams of Isis presenting Charicleia to him, it is easy to interpret it as a reflex of his interest in the girl.(9) But in the novel it usually becomes clear that there is more to it, and the dreams' narratological interest depends on our uncertainties, more or less skilfully exploited, about the ways in which they are going to turn out prophetic and true. Perhaps only one dream per novel proves simply to reflect the dreamer's psychological state.(10)

In this paper I shall ask whether Artemidorus' picture works for the historians too, and whether historiographic dreams are also. most interesting when prophetic. I shall argue that things change, and in a similar rhythm in both Greek and Latin historiography. At first dreams do matter most for their prophetic content, but by the Roman empire both Greek and Latin authors are finding the reflection of the dreamer's current psychology an interesting register as well. Indeed, the distinction itself may not always work: we are often left uncertain exactly what sort of a dream we are dealing with; and there are also cases where a dream is a bit of both, carrying an irreducible external element and also illuminating the pre-existing psychology of the dreamer.(11) We might compare the development within the nineteenth-century Gothic novel whereby the demonic' -- often in variations, more or less clear, of the Faustian myth -- was at first an invasive evil force from without'; but increasingly authors tended to treat such strangeness as originating within the tempted or agonized human soul, or at least to encourage their readers to toy with that reading. It is also typical of the second, more internalized `demonic' -- what Tzvetan Todarov calls the `uncanny' as opposed to the `marvellous"(13) -- to trade in uncertainty: the strangeness of the demonic' sensation or temptation is clear, but its origin and character are far more difficult to pin down. Todarov indeed specifies such readerly hesitation as a 'condition' for the fantastic, and emphasizes those cases where the reader's hesitation maps on to a similar hesitation on the part of a character in the text.(14) We have already noted a parallel between modem dream-interpretation and fantasy, and the analogy may extend to ancient dreams as well.(15)

There is only room to graze the Greek material. In Herodotus, divinely-inspired dreams are indeed the thing. It is not that he or his readers could have thought that all dreams are prophetic: it is always open to doubt, as the wise Artabanus doubts, whether a dream is prophetic or not.(16) And even if a dream is sent from outside, there may also be a danger that it is false. Narrator and audience had both read their Iliad 2, where Zeus sends his famous false dream to Agamemnon. But the one thing a reader immediately knows about a historiographic dream is that it must have been significant in some way, significant enough to have made it into the historical record. The reader would naturally infer that it belonged to the more interesting class of prophetic dream; and this will normally mean a true prophetic dream -- at least, if it is not to turn out true, we are entitled to expect some further explanation of a complex divine background. The reader is left in a position of strange superiority over the characters. He or she may understand their doubts, but will also know more than they do: by unspoken complicity with the narrator, the dream is indeed going to prove significant, and the only dubiety in the reader's mind centres on how it is going to turn out true.

By later antiquity, things have changed -- at least some of the time. Plutarch has many dreams which are stir clearly prophetic, oneiroi rather than enhupnia: the Vestal dreaming of her own death, Cicero's dream of a great young man, then next day seeing a lad with the same features, Octavian; and a host of others.(17) But there are also dreams that seem clearly enhupnia, and these too carry interpretative significance as they illuminate the dreamer's psyche: Marcellus so obsessed with fighting Hannibal in single combat that he dreams about it nightly; Theseus so niggled by Heracles' exploits that he cannot get them out of his dreams; Brutus not being able to get dreams of killing Caesar out of his head. In several of these cases it seems to be Plutarch himself who has introduced the dreams -- an extreme case of his typical 'creative reconstruction'.(18)

There are also several cases when we may be uncertain about the dreams. Take the dream of Marius (Mar. 45.5), which Plutarch explicitly relates to his macabre psychological state just before his death: thinking of all the new dangers and troubles ahead, he fell into terrible night-terrors, with the recurrent dream of a voice which says 'a lion's lair is dread, even when the lion' -- his enemy Sulla -- 'is away'. Does that come from outside or from inside? We could ask the same question of the dream of Sulla himself as he approached his death (Sulla 37.3). As he said in his Memoirs, completed only two days before his death, he had already been told by the prophetic Chaldaeans that he would die at the peak of his prosperity: then he dreamed of his son who had predeceased him, inviting him to cease his toilsome thoughts, for he would now live happily with his late wife and son in a new world. From outside or from inside? It certainly seems to matter that Sulla is himself anticipating and accepting his own death, and the dream reinforces the narrative's impression of an insight -- calmly acquiescent in Sulla's case, turbulent in Marius' -- into an approaching death."' In such cases, perhaps we need to deconstruct the outside or inside' distinction. We should be used enough to dual levels of explanation in Greek literature, human and divine, to accept that such dreams can both be a point about the fixed pattern of the cosmos, revealing the future, and expose a preexisting psychological state.(20) What is clear is that we no longer have to limit ourselves to the `from outside', oneiros register for the dreams to be interesting.

Or take the dream of Caesar on the banks of the Rubicon. He is uncharacteristically hesitant, his thoughts are tom this way and that as he thinks how great an enterprise he is undertaking; then, with a sudden impulse, he says `let the die be cast', and bursts on across the river. With an enigmatic lack of causal connective Plutarch goes on:

It is also said that, the night before he crossed, he dreamed a monstrous dream. It seemed to him that he was lying with his own mother -- the unspeakable union. (Caesar 32)

Plutarch cares about this dream. He has transposed it by a little matter of twenty years from the setting given it by Suetonius and Dio, during Caesar's quaestorship in Spain in 69 B.C.(21) He also makes it darker than Suetonius and Dio, who both make it propitious, encouraging Caesar on to great deeds on the grounds that the mother' stands for the earth, mother of all things.(22) One aspect of the new darkness is intertextual. This new setting will recall Hippias' similar dream on the eve of Marathon (Herodotus 6.107), and how disastrously that worked out for the hapless dreamer. But Plutarch's language anyway emphasizes that the dream is monstrous', or more literally `outside the ordinances of human experience' (ekthesmon), and the union `unspeakable'.

We surely relate the dream to Caesar's hesitation: but how? That lack of explicit causal connection leaves it an open question -- just 'it is also said that . . .' Does Caesar's uncharacteristic lack of resolve spring from a godsent dream -- would he have been as confident as ever if the dream had not come? Or, given that so many other Plutarchan dreams come from within, does the dream come from Caesar's inner worries, is it that he himself sees this as the monstrous significance of what he is doing? It may even be that the dream is to be taken as cementing the final resolve rather than the initial dubiety, as Brenk suggested.(23) The texture is beautifully uncertain: just as elsewhere in the pair Alexander-Caesar we are left uncertain what concern the divine is really showing for Alexander and Caesar -- is Alexander really of divine parentage, or is it all a sham or a self-deception? Are Calpurnia's dreams really significant enough to delay the senate on the Ides of March? Here too it is important to our response that this might be an enhupnion instead of, or as well as, an oneiros. We are left as uncertain about its significance as Caesar himself must have been.(24) That is a particularly skilful way of placing us in his shoes.

And so to Rome. From very early, dreams were features of Roman historiography: they were included by Fabius Pictor, Gellius, and Coelius Antipater.(25) And from early, they were disputed. The Sullan historian Sisenna claimed that dreams were untrustworthy, hitting perhaps at his predecessor Coelius, perhaps at Sulla himself, who included many dreams in his Memoirs.(26) So Roman dreams are a site for contestation even before we reach Livy; and here we might also remember Cicero's De Divinatione, whose first book supports and second book attacks dreams along with other modes of divination. One item of agreement in a mid-eighties flurry of scholarly activity on De Divinatione was that, whatever the views of Cicero the man, the authorial persona does not unequivocally endorse either side, and this is a text of exploration, investigating and establishing the terms of the discourse;(27) a site for contestation, once again.

Livy himself is (characteristically, as we can now see from David Levene's treatment of other supernatural phenomena(28)) two-voiced on dreams. Sometimes he is sceptical, as when he treats Scipio Africanus' shrewdly judged night-time visions.(29) But sometimes he does have the full-dress prophetic dream. There is the dream shared by both consuls that one army will lose a commander and the other a battle (8.6.9-16): that leads to the religious self-sacrifice (devotio) of P. Decius Mus (8.9). Then there is the dream of Hannibal, which we can compare with Livy's source Coelius Antipater, at least as Cicero quotes him. First Coelius (fr. 11 P. = Cic. Div. 1.49):

The following too is found in the Greek history of Silenus, whom Coehus follows and who gave a most thorough narrative of Hannibal's career. Hannibal (he says), after taking Saguntum, dreamed that he was being called by jupiter into a council of the gods; when he arrived, jupiter ordered him to invade Italy, and gave him one of the assembly as his guide. He had begun the march, together with his army, under the guide's leadership; then that guide told him not to look behind him. He could not carry that through, and, borne away by desire, he had turned to look back: and he saw a vast, monstrous wild beast, twined around with snakes, destroying all the trees and shrubs and buildings wherever it went. Staggered, he had asked the god what such a monstrous thing could be. -Me devastation of Italy,' answered the god: go onwards, and do not worry about what is happening behind your back.'

Then Livy (21.22):

There (on the banks of the Ebro), so the story runs, during the night a young man appeared to Hannibal, godlike in appearance. He came to say that he had been sent by jupiter to guide Hannibal to Italy: so Hannibal should follow, and keep his eyes fixed upon him. Hannibal followed, at first nervously, without looking around him or behind him. But then a natural curiosity came upon him: what could be this thing which he was forbidden to look back on? He could not resist turning his eyes. And he saw behind him a snake of wondrous size, gliding onwards, and in its path a dreadful destruction of trees and bushes; behind the snake loomed a cloud, with a great crash of thunder. What could this massive thing be, he asked: what sort of sign was this? This was the devastation of Italy, he was told. He must continue onwards; he must ask no more questions; he should allow destiny to remain in darkness.

Delighted at that dream, he proceeded to cross the Ebro ...

Livy's first alteration of Coehus is the biggest: Coelius had Hannibal dreaming that he was summoned by jupiter to a council of the gods, and ordered to invade Italy: only then was he given his guide. For Livy there is no question of jupiter ordaining the war: that was decided on the human level, and jupiter provides only the guide. Then it is Livy who specifies the river Ebro: Coelius has only 'after taking Saguntum'. Rivers, crucial things to cross, are evidently an ideal setting for portentous dreams: remember the Rubicon. Then Coehus has a wild beast enveloped by snakes, a Medusa figure: Livy has just the snake (so much better for causing ground devastation). Coelius too has no following cloud or thunder, at least as Cicero quotes him. Nor does Cicero's Coelius have the final ominous 'he should allow destiny to remain in darkness', only a blander do not worry about what is happening behind your back'.

Levene argues that there is nothing negative in Livy's dream itself: it simply portends success, and Hannibal is thus far right to be `delighted' -- even though the reader again knows better than the participant, and notices that the dream has not promised ultimate triumph.(30) I am not so sure: perhaps we do also feel that Hannibal is missing something in the dream's signification, is over-sanguine in his pleased response. There is the looking around, with its hints of Orpheus which is not to say that the final defeat will be a punishment for such a dreamed act of disobedience, only that this introduces a note that all will not be well).(31) There is that ominous `allow destiny to remain in darkness'. And there is the wider narrative strategy of Book 21, whereby the formidable monstrousness of Hannibal portends both his initial successes (the formidable aspect) and his ultimate failure (the moral monstrousness). There need be no cosmic religious scheme here, only the artistic exploitation of moral sensibility familiar to anyone who has watched a war-film about Dunkirk. But if ultimate failure is already in our minds, we may be all the readier to sense a further hint of it here.

It remains uncertain how far we should relate the details of the vision to the later narrative. The devastation of Italy is explicitly presaged, of course: but is there also a hint of the later turning of the tables, as Rome emerges triumphant? Is it significant that Scipio Africanus, the ultimate victor, has his own snake-connections (26.19.7)? Or that devastation will later threaten Carthage as well as Italy (28.44.4, 29.29.3, 29.32.14)? Perhaps it is -- but one must admit that this is only lightly stressed in the narrative itself. What would be aesthetically pleasing would be for the devastation to begin as an obedient follower and end as a relentless pursuer, causing Hannibal himself the same problems as it initially caused the Romans. That would give a real double edge. I wonder if there was something of that in Coelius or in the ultimate source Silenus; but it is hard to argue that this is a dominant theme in Livy. Still, at least we should note that it is Livy who introduces the double following, first the snake and then (not in Coelius/Cicero) the storm: and it is left uncertain who will be threatened by the storm. That may be one of the questions Hannibal is forbidden to ask.

The reader is invited to speculate on such things; but, speculation apart, the important point here is that the prophetic element is irreducible. The interest in Hannibal's psychology focuses on his over-sanguine reaction: he is simply `delighted'. So psychology matters, but not in the sense that it may be generating the dream as well as reacting to it. This is sill an oneiros, not an enhupnion. We are in a world like that of Herodotus, not that of Plutarch's Caesar at the Rubicon.

Nor is this the world of Tacitus: but first a detour into the neighbouring genre of epic. Lucan's account of the battle of Pharsalus (48 B.C.) is flanked by two dreams. The first is that of Pompey at 7.7-28, the dream of his sitting in serene triumph in his own theatre back in peacetime.

On the night before the battle, the last happy hours that Pompey was fated to spend, he dreamed a pleasant but deceitful dream. He was in Rome, seated in the theatre which he had himself built, and heard his name enthusiastically shouted from every tier by an immense throng of fellow-citizens. It must have been the time of his first(32) triumph, many years previously, when he was still young and fresh from conquering the Spanish tribes on the Ebro: he had defeated in turn all the guerrilla forces which Sertorius) the Marian leader, brought against him. Order was now restored throughout the West and, though only a knight, he sat listening to the plaudits of Roman senators. His white peacetime robe exacted no less reverence than the embroidered robe of purple had done when he rode in the triumphal chariot.

It makes no odds whether this dream came as an escape from the anxious apprehension that his run of victories had ended [lit.: Whether it was that his mind, anxious and concerned now that his good days were over, fled back to the times of happiness ...]; or whether it was one more example of dream-contraries, the foretelling [lit.: his rest prophesied ...] of sorrows under the guise of joys; or whether the Goddess Fortune, knowing that he would never again see Italy in waking life, granted him this delightful vision of home as a last favour. The sentries and trumpeters did well not to disturb him-, his next night would be haunted by unhappy recollections of the day's fighting -- nothing but war and war ... (tr. Robert Graves)

When discussing Plutarch I suggested that the dream's nature was doubtful: here the doubtfulness becomes explicit. Perhaps this dream comes from outside, as in the last of Lucan's three possibilities ('the Goddess Fortune') and probably in the second (`dream-contraries'), though Lucan's language leaves open the possibility that Pompey's own sleepy consciousness generated this premonition 'his rest prophesied . . .'); or it may come from within, as in the first possibility, with his anxious mind rushing back to the happy days of old. Whatever it is, enhupnion or oneiros or both, it adds to the pathos of the doomed great man, and also to the macabre, defeatist atmosphere in which Pompey goes to battle.

`His next night' -- in Latin, crastina dira quies, and we shall have reason to remember that phrase -- may indeed be haunted by unhappy visions; and not his alone. The same is true of the victors, as we find at the end of the book (7.760-84).

That night ... turf beds prepared for patricians were occupied by bloodstained plebeians; couches spread for kings, by roughs from the ranks; and some men lay down where their murdered fathers or brothers had last slept.

Frantic nightmares haunted their sleep: all were obsessed with the wicked and cruel fighting in which they had taken part, their hands twitched ceaselessly as though still grasping swords. I am ready to believe that groans arose from the battlefield, that a miasma of death choked them, and that the ghosts of their enemies assembled to corrupt and darken the night air with Stygian terrors. Victory had demanded divine retribution [no 'divine] in the Latin); no one could sleep soundly for the torches swung by the Furies and the hissing of snakes upon their heads [lit.: sleep brings upon them ... ']. Each man was haunted by a different ghost [lit.: each man is oppressed by the image of his own terror ... ], sometimes old, sometimes young, perhaps his brother, perhaps his father -- but a whole spirit army crowded around Caesar's bed. He suffered as Orestes the forgive suffered from his mother's Furies (until purified by his sister Iphigeneia, priestess of Taurian Artemis), and his mind was no less disturbed that that of Pentheus king of Thebes, when Bacchus drove him mad, or than his mother Agave, when she came to her senses and found that she had tom him in pieces. All the swords drawn at Pharsalus, all the daggers that would be drawn in the Senate House when the day of vengeance dawned, were pointed that night at Caesar's heart, and the monstrous Furies scourged him without remorse. Yet he escaped the full punishment [ht.: how great the punishment meted out to him by his guilty mind . . . ] because, while this horde of ghosts was invading his sleep, Pompey continued alive.

('translated' by Graves)

From without or within? In this case the inadequacy of the question is clear. This is both. Initially the dreams seem to come from the dreamers' bad consciences ('all were obsessed with the wicked and cruel fighting in which they had taken part ... '); then the ghosts, the names and the manes, come to seem more than figurative; yet still 'each man's terror' and Caesar's own guilty mind' remain important, in Lucan if not in Graves. With the first dream of the book, Lucan could separate out the interpretative possibilities; by now the swirling confusion of tortured psychology has moved beyond such neat divisions. With Plutarch we were tentative: perhaps, we said, a dream can both be external and reflect a pre-existing psychological state. Here we can drop the tentativeness.

And Tacitus? He does have one or two prophetic dreams, but one way or another they tend to be distanced from his central field of vision. The cult of Persian Hercules on Mt. Sanbulos features night-time appearances of the god (Ann. 12.13.3); 'they say' that Ptolemy founded the temple of Serapis after a dream (Hist. 4.83); but in each case we are dealing with peoples who have a long way away, of whom we know very little. Even the day-time prophetic vision of Curtius Rufus is again in a distant land (Ann. 11.21, cf. Plin. Ep. 7.27).

When we are dealing with the elite and the court, the world seems rather different. One striking instance comes at the beginning of Book 16, the strange dream of Caesellius Bassus(33) -- still distanced, as this man is a Carthaginian (more on this in a moment). He dreams of a great cave, filled with gold ingots: he sails to Rome, tells his story, adds a conjecture 14 that this is Dido's treasure, buried a thousand years before -- and immediately there is a frantic response at Rome. Nero sends off representatives to collect the treasure, as if it were all absolutely certain: nor is it just Nero, for there is a frenzied increase in expenditure, with people counting on this new wealth. Eventually Caesellius, protesting that his dreams had never been false before, takes his own life.

This is not the first time that interest has fallen on the response to a dream: we remember the over-sanguine Hannibal. But the differences are clear. Here the dream is clearly false, and comes from within: Caesellius is batty, 'a man of disturbed mind' (mente turbida). The idea of Dido's treasure is not even part of the dream, but his own guesswork. And yet the impact is extraordinary. It is not where the dream comes from which matters, it is how it affects others.(35) This frenzied vision maps so perfectly on to the susceptibilities of the public, their preoccupation with wealth and luxury, easy money and easy having. Emperor and public are, as so often, playing the same game, they deserve one another; both are fertile ground for such battiness. Earlier dreams were important because they were true; now they are important because they are fantasy, but this fantasy is itself a historical point, sketching the nervy, unreal atmosphere of the court. And the contrast with the Pisonian conspiracy, immediately preceding at the end of Book 15, is suggestive. There too princeps and people did not know quite what to believe, clutched gullibly at straws. But there it was all much bloodier. No wonder escapism meshes with the mood of the age. There is a lot to escape from.

We noticed how many of Tacitus' dreams are distanced from our main view. Here too we begin not in Rome but in Carthage: Carthage, Rome's traditional enemy, in historiographical tradition the great military threat which kept Rome morally upright for so long. Now Carthage is the site, not of formidable military power, but of empty tomfoolery. Yet it can still infect Rome with something of its own character. Once again, dreams are made historically telling.

Two more dreams should be taken closely together. The first is the dream of Caecina at Annals 1.65, when Caecina is being pressed by Arminius and the danger of re-enacting Varus' disaster is all too clear.

Many things disturbed the night: the barbarians filled the depressed valleys and echoing glades with the sound of their celebratory feasting, their gleeful singing, their murderous roars. On the Roman side there were failing fires and broken words, and the men themselves everywhere lying by the rampart, wandering aimlessly around the tents, sleepless rather than watchful. The general himself was terrified by a dreadful vision in his sleep. It was the sight of Quintilius Varus smeared with blood and rising from the marsh: he thought he heard Varus calling him, and he refused to follow and pushed his outstretched hand away.

(Tacitus, Annals 1.65)

'A dreadful vision': the Latin is dira quies, the same phrase as Lucan uses of the dreaming Pompey at Pharsalus. Here, from outside or from inside? The intertextuality with the Lucan passage may encourage us to ask. That was not merely a dream accompanying a day of decisive slaughter, but also a context where Lucan explicitly wondered whether Pompey's dreaming was self-generated or not. Here it is clear that we can make it self-generated if we choose. It is precisely the sort of dream which a man in terrifying danger might have: it has been stressed how much Varus is in everyone's minds.16 But, though we can take it that way, the narrative leaves it unclear. Instead it hurries on to the fraught action of the next day, and then finally the escape the day after that. Eventually this dream too, like Lucan's, proved false.

The second of these dreams comes a year later, just before the final encounters between Germanicus and Arminius. Germanicus has just done his Henry-V-before-Agincourt incognito tour of the troops, hearing everyone say what a lovely boy he is; and an arrogant German shout has just primed everyone for action. They are spoiling for the fight.

The same night brought a happy rest to Germanicus. He dreamed that he had just sacrificed, and his toga was spattered with holy blood; and he accepted another, finer one from the hands of his grandmother Augusta. He was strengthened (auctus) by the omen, and the auspices were also good: so he called the troops together ...

(Tacitus, Annals 2.14.1)

'A happy rest', laetam quietem: quies is not the most natural word to use in this sort of context (Goodyear has a lavish note deciding whether it can mean dream' or not(37)), but it aids the linkage between this and Caecina's earlier dira quies. The first dream presaged a dark crisis; this now presages the greatest success. Me first was threatening; this one is taken by Germanicus to be wholly propitious. Even the detail fits: might not that initial sacrifice and spattered blood point to the earlier reverses and losses, and suggest that they indeed constituted a sacrifice', playing an ordered part in the wider scheme of things by preparing for this 'finer' future?

What, though, do we make of the presence of Augusta? She is clearly crucial to the dream's interpretation: the verbal play Augusta ... auctus, playing on the idea of increasing' or strengthening' inherent in her title, suggests as much. Yet Tacitus uses Livia Augusta very sparingly, and normally with a hint of the sinister. If even she is propitious, then Germanicus can indeed feel relieved: when Germanicus was first introduced, almost the first point was his nervousness at the unspoken hatreds of his uncle and his grandmother, hatreds whose causes were the more acute for being unjust' (1.33.1). But how propitious is she now, really? The Varus dream turned out false; how much of the truth will be captured by this its counterpart? We already know that Tiberius is plotting to remove Germanicus from his devoted legions and expose him to new challenges and dangers in the East, ut ... dolo simul et casibus obiectaret (2.5. 1). By a bold structural stroke, the first five chapters of Book 2 had established that looming plot, then left it hanging in the air as the backdrop to the German successes. And, when Germanicus does reach the East, Livia will play a role too, priming her crony Plancina to oppose the enemy Agrippina.(38) The dream may web be propitious - for the moment; but the mention of Augusta is enough to make the reader wonder whether there is not more to it, whether any goodwill from this sinister figure can be any more than transient. Admittedly, any thoughts along these lines should only be tentative. But still Germanicus' uncomplicated delight at the omen may not capture everything the reader captures - rather like Livy's Hannibal, once again.

From without or within? We may well ask, especially if we asked the same question about Caecina. But if we do, it is hard to be confident either way. If it comes from outside, then it provides divination parallel to that of the auspicia of the next sentence. But perhaps there is again more to it, here as with Caecina, especially given the interest in psychology and morale in the surrounding narrative. If so, the conclusions we draw for Germanicus' pre-existent mentality would fit well with impressions given elsewhere: perhaps the anxiety we,saw at his introduction at 1.33, for here at a critical moment the question of Augusta's goodwill comes to his mind first: even more, the naivete and the unworldliness, if the reader is sharper than Germanicus to realize that this dream leaves a good deal about livia unsaid.(39) But the most important point is the lack of narrative clarity on all these questions. We do not even know what sort of conclusions to draw, about the cosmos or Germanicus' psychology or both. This is as riddling to the reader as it would have been to the dreamer himself.

We began with a comparison with the Gothic novel-, we may conclude with a parallel closer to home, Virgil's Aeneid. Take Dido's great dream at Aeneid 4.464-73.

She kept remembering the predictions of ancient prophets that terrified her with their dreadful warnings, and as she slept Aeneas himself would drive her relentlessly in her madness, and she was always alone and desolate, always going on a long road without companions, looking for her Tyrians in an empty land. She would be like Pentheus in his frenzy when he was seeing columns of Furies and a double sun and two cities of Thebes; or the Orestes, son of Agamemnon, driven in flight across the stage by his own mother armed with her torches and black snakes, while the avenging Furies sat at the door.

(trans. David West)

'From within', one would think, at least in large part: this is generated by Dido's own torment, what she is remembering', the thoughts of her husband, of what she has done and what Aeneas has done.(40) Still, this dream also mirrors that early dream of Sychaeus which came to Dido at 1.353-59, revealing his own death, the dangers, and the buried treasure. That dream came, at least predominantly, from outside, conveying information which Dido could not have possessed; yet the mirroring effect here encourages us to take the two dreams closely together.

The difference in their texture remains important, and we might well relate this to a wider pattern of the Aeneid, whereby the supernatural at first works in a more external and objectified way - the gods destroying Troy, Juno's storm, the Harpies, Hector appearing in a similar from outside' way to the sleeping Aeneas. Then as the poem progresses the real challenges focus increasingly on internal human psychology. By the end of Book 3 Scylla and Charybdis are felt as rather routine a threat, less chilling than in their Homeric prototype, whereas the real struggle will come from within' the tormented minds of Dido and Aeneas. Supernatural powers are still of course active, and the way in which outside and inside interact will often be elusive: we need only think of Allecto and Turnus in 7.406-74. But the internal register comes to be more insistent.

One way of putting the suggestions of this paper would be to claim a similar progression within the history of historiography, which first, with Herodotus in Greek or with Livy in Latin, focuses on dreams which reveal something objective about the cosmos: the interest in psychology there lies largely in the dreamers' response to these more objectified, 'from outside', dreams. But later the focus shifts to the humans, and the psychology plays a part - but often an uncertain and enigmatic part - in generating as well as in responding to those dreams: and this too is historically illuminating, capturing the nervous fantasy of a Neronian court or the shaken resolve of a Julius Caesar.

A further conclusion concerns the role of the reader. I initially talked of the Herodotean reader's superiority' to the characters of his narrative: even if the prophetic significance of dreams could be doubted in real life, the reader is in no doubt that they will be significant here. With Plutarch and Tacitus the readers' position is different. Readers still know that the dream is significant: dreams interact with other aspects to conjure an appropriate atmosphere, confident, defeatist, or simply macabre. But time and again we have found ourselves uncertain exactly how the dream is working, whether it generates the depression or the confidence or whether it is generated by them. The reader has no more insight than the dreamer.

Duris of Samos criticized Ephorus and Theopompus for their deficient mimesis (FGrH 76 fr. 1). He must have meant that they failed to instil in the reader an appropriate literary equivalent of the emotions which the original participants could have felt. Duris was thinking above all of questions of stylistic propriety,(41) but we can draw analogies in content as well. If there is anything in the argument of this paper, the reader of historical dreams is repeatedly cast back into the events to feel something of the perplexity which afflicted the original actors, as they puzzled what to make of their night-time oddities. This is high-level mimesis indeed.(42)


(1.) On ancient systems of dream-classification and the difficulty of reconciling one system with another, see now esp. Patricia Cox Miller, Dreams in Late Antiquity: Studies in the Imagination of a Culture (Princeton, 1994), 14-124, particularly 39-73, 77-91; also A. H. M. Kessels, Mnem. 4.22 (1969), 389-424, and E. R. Dodds, The Greeks and the Irrational (Berkeley, etc, 1951), 102-34.

(2.) For instance with the night-terrors of Aristomenes at Apul. Met. 1.11-14, where the uncertainly whether or not this is a dream contributes to a wider narrative play between reality and unreality. For similar uncertainties cf. E. L. Ehrlich, Der Traum im Alten Testament (Basel, 1953), 8-12;J. S. Hanson, ANRWii.23.2 (1980), 1407-9; and Cox Miller (n. 1), 133,206, writing of 'a dubious twilight.

(3.) S. R. F. Price, in Before Sexuality:the Construction of Erotic Experience in the Ancient Greek World (ed. D. M. Halperin, J. J. Winkler, and F. I. Zeitlin, Princeton, 1990), 365-87.

(4.) E.g. 77&e Interpretation of Dreams (1900: tr. and ed. J. Strachey, Harmondsworth, 1976, 59-61, 170); 'Five Lectures on Psycho-analysis', in Two Short Accounts of Psycho-analysis (Harmondsworth, 1962: first published 1910), 61.

(5.) For this approach, cf.esp. Rosemary Jackson, Fantasy: the Literature of Subversion London, 1988: first published 198 1); Ceri Sullivan and Barbara White (edd.), Writing and Fantasy (London, forthcoming); and in an ancient context Cox Miffer (n. 1). On the relation between dreaming, daydreaming, fantasy, and phantasy, see more fully H. Segal, Dream, Phantasy, and Art London and New York, 1991), esp. 16-17, 30, 64-5.

(6.) Jerome, Ep 22.30.2-5, productively analysed by Cox Miller (n. 1), 210-31 as crystallizing Jerome's own unease (she speaks of the dream as 'detective of the heart's secret'); she brings out the way in which erotic imagery there illuminates a particular ascetic mode of figuring the human body.

(7.) On Artemidorus' distinction and the use he makes of it see Price (n. 3), esp. 371-2; J. J. Winkler, The Constraints of Desire (New York and London, 1990), 17-44; G. W. Bowersock, Function as History: Nero to Julian (Berkeley, Los Angeles and London, 1994), 77-98; Cox Miuer (n. 1), 77-91.

(8.) Artemidorus 4.59: cf. Price (n. 3), 374; Winkler (n. 7), 29, 38.

(9.) Chariton, Callirhoe 5.5.5, and Heliodorus, Aethopica 1.18.3-4; both passages are discussed by S. MacAlister, Dreams and Suicides: The Greek Novel from Antiquity to the Byzantine Empire London, 1996), 34-6 and 78-81.

(10.) Thus MacAlister (n. 9), 71-3, in the course of a most illuminating discussion of the novelists' technique. Bowersock (n. 7) would put the figure much higher, but takes an uncomfortably reductionist view of the dreams' narratological function.

(11.) That may also be true of some of the novelistic dreams, such as those mentioned in n. 9: if we initially suspected that a dream might reflect the dreamer's state, that suspicion may be supplemented rather than displaced by increasing clarity about its prophetic quality.

(12.) On this progressive internationalization of the demonic' see e.g. Jackson (n. 5), esp. 53-60; then the second half of her book is largely devoted to this process through individual authors. Addicts of an adjacent genre may also think of Obi-Wan Kenobi's words to Luke Skywalker in Star Wars (1 977), A young Jedi knight by the name of Darth Vader ... betrayed and killed your father'; by the end of Return of the Jedi (1 983) we have grasped that Darth Vader is Luke's father, and the destruction was internal.

(13.) Tzvetan Todorov, 7he Fantastic: a Structural Approach to a Literary Genre tr. R. Howard, London 1973), esp. 41-57: cf. Jackson (n. 5), 24-32.

(14.) Todorov (n. 13), esp. 24-34, 76.

(15.) Above, p. 197. I pursue this question of focalization further in an article on Modern Fantasy and Ancient Dreams' in Sullivan and White (n. 5): cf. also n. 42 below.

(16.) So, rightly, S. R. West, CQ 37 (1987), 264. At Herodotus 7.16 [Beta] .2 Artabanus suggests that dreams can simply reflect what one fl" about during the day. That idea was clearly familiar enough for Aeschylus' disingenuous Clytemnestra to make use of it at Agamemnon 892-4: she has been so agitated for Agamemnon's safety that she has dreamed about his imagined wounds - so she says. On Herodotean dreams in general, cf. P. Frisch, Die Traume bei Herodot (Meisenheim, 1968), with the scathing review of W. Marg, Gnomon 42 (1970), 515-7; I discuss Artabanus' scepticism in my paper in Sullivan and White (n. 15), and another pair of prophetic dreams, those of Astyages at 1. 107-8, in CQ 46 (1996), 68-77.

(17.) Vestal dreaming of her own killing: Rom. 2.5. Cicero dreaming of young Octavian: Cic. 44.3-4. Host of others: e.g. Themistocles' elaborate dream of safety, Them. 26.3; Pyrrhus dreams of Sparta blasted by a thunderbolt, Pyrrh. 29.1-4; other interesting cases at Per. 3.3, Cimon 6.5 ~ 18.2-3, Pomp. 32.6, Alex. 18.6-8 and 41.5 the last not exactly prophetic, but revealing unknown facts). On Plutarchan dreams in general see the discussions by F. Brenk in Lat. 34 (1975), 336-49, and In Mist Apparelled (Mnem. Supp. 48, 1977), 214-36; for creative reconstruction, Peuing in Antonine Literature (ed. D. A. Russell, Oxford, 1990), 19-52.

(18.) Marc. 28.4-5 (nothing on dreaming in the parallel account in livy); Thes. 6.9 (no dreaming in the nearest parallels, Isoc. 10.23 and D. S. 4.59.1); Brut. 13.2 (does this then tie into the Life's later discussion about visions and phantoms at 37.4?).

(19.) But there is more to the contrast than this: I discuss it more fully in Sullivan and White (nn. 5, 15).

(20.) As Brenk (n. 17) argued for such cases as Mithradates' dream at Pomp. 32, where the dream can illustrate the dreamer's anxiety as well as the irreducibly from outside' new information, and Demetr. 19, Medius' dream of Antigonus' steadily diminishing success: The dream illustrates the curious characteristics of anxiety, prediction, and vision of the future which we find in so many dreams of the Lives' (In Mist Apparelled, 222). Hanson (n. 2), 1407, 1419 gives some other instances where a dream is particularly suited to the dreamer's preoccupations; in several the dreamer is also given otherwise unknowable information.

(21.) Suet. Div. Iul 7.2 and Dio 37.52.2.

(22.) That emphasis might seem odd to us, but for Artemidorus too (1.79) dreams of mother-intercourse are a good sign for politicians and office-holders: this is because the mother signifies the native land, and in the dream is figured as obedient and willing. Artemidorus finds mother-intercourse dreams particularly complex to interpret, and variations of sexual position carry vast differences of signification. Cf. Winkler (n. 7), 37-8, 42; Bowersock (n. 7), 83-5.

(23.) Brenk (n. 17), Lat. 34 (1975), 346 = In Mist Apparelled 226.

(24.) Compare Dostoevsky's reaction to Pushkin's Queen of Spades: (cit. jackson (n. 5), 27): You believe that Herman really had a vision ... however, at the end of the story, i.e. when you have read it through, you cannot make up your mind. Did the vision come out of Herman's nature or was he really one of those who are in contact with another world, one of the evil spirits hostile to mankind?' That uncertainty is important to Dostoevsky's admiration of the work as 'a masterpiece of fantastic art'.

(25.) Fabius Pictor had a dream of Aeneas, apparently prophesying everything that happened to him: Cic. Div. 1. 43 = fr. 3 P., cf. Cic. Div. 1.55 = fr. 15 P. Then Coelius had dreams of Hannibal (Cic. Div. 1.49 - fr. 1 1 P.), Latinius (Cic. Div. 1.55 = fr. 49 P.), and C. Gracchus (Cic. Div. 1. 56 fr. 50 P.); Gellius of Latinius (Cic. Div. 1.55 = fr. 21 P.).

(26.) Cf. Cic. de Div. 1.99 = fr. 5 P. (Cicero's 'Quintus' is indignant at Sisenna's line): discussed by E. Rawson, Roman Culture and Society (Oxford, 1991), 381-2 = CQ 29 (1979), 341). For the last of Sulla's dreams, see above, p. 200.

(27.) See M. Beard, FRS 76 (1986), 33-46; M. Schofield, JRS 76 (1986), 47-65; N. C. Denyer, PCPS 211 (1985), 1-10.

(28.) D. S. Levene, Religion in Livy Leiden, New York, and Koln, 1993).

(29.) 26.19.4, neatly and doubly picked up in his speech at 26.41.18-9.

(30.) Levene (n. 28), 45-7, relating the dream to Hannibal's recent piety at Gades (21.21.9).

(31.) Cf. W. Herrmann, Die Historien des Coelius Antipater (Meisenheim, 1979), 73-86, though he is inclined to make the outcome a punishment for that disobedience.

(32.) Graves in fact has last', but his footnote shows that he meant to print first' (Lucan's primi). Pompey's first triumph was in fact over the Numidians in 81 B.C., some time before he went to Spain in the seventies; and his theatre was not built till the late fifties in any case. But dreaming is like that.

(33.) The following two paragraphs abbreviate a discussion in my paper in Sullivan and White (nn. 5, 15).

(34.) The touch is delicious: this is only conjecture - as if the first part of his report, the dream itself, were somehow solid fact. The text is here doubtful, though the point is clear enough. Professor Woodman puts to me that we should read ut coniectura demonstrat, and regard this as part of the indirect speech. Thus Caesellius Bassus is made to explain 'this is Dido's treasure, as conjecture makes clear . . . .

(35.) Notice also Ann. 11.4, one of the hapless Petra brothers suffers for having a dream illomened to Claudius; 2.27.2, Libo Drusus consults somniorum interpretes. In neither case are we encouraged to think the dreams are truly prophetic; if emperor and/or argued dissident takes them seriously, the significant point is again that response, this impact on others rather than any truth in the dreams themselves.

(36.) The near re-enactment here of Varus' disaster is most suggestive: cf e.g. A. J. Woodman, Rhetoric in Classical Histography (London and Sydney, 1988), 174. Arminius too cries that this is a second Varus delivered into his hands, 1.65.4. Tacitus may have fmessed the detail of Varus' camp to bring it into closer contact with Caecina's: so Peuing (n. 17), 49 and n. 83.

(37.) F. R. D. Goodyear, The Annals of Tacitus ii (Cambridge, 1981) on 1.65.2. He regards the parallel at Lucan 7.26, discussed above, as crucial.

(38.) 2.43, 77, 82: then she and Tiberius do not go into public when the ashes of Germanicus return, something which made Tacitus most suspicious and inquisitive (3.2); at 3.15 and 3.17 Livia begs off Plancina cf. 6.26). For Livia's continuing feud with Agrippina, cf. then 4.12.

(39.) I have discussed this unworldliness of Germanicus' characterization in Tacitus and the Tacitean Tradition (cd. T. J. Luce and A. J. Woodman, Princeton, 1993), 59-85.

(40.) Apollonius' Medea was so entranced by Jason's beauty that his image stayed in her mind in dreams and day-dreams, Argon. 3.442-58: again,'from within'. The Argonautica is so important an intertextual referent for Aeneid 4 that the contrast of the two women's obsessions, in affairs which are by now so very different, adds a further dimension here.

(41.) So V. J. Gray, AJP 108 (1987), 467-86.

(42.) But that is not to say that the mimesis is carried through crudely, by having the reader's bemusement map simply or straightforwardly on to the dreamer's own experience: the reader's role is not (in Todorov's phrase) entrusted to' a character in this way (Todorov (n. 13), 33). Our writers are subtler than that: this is sharing of perceived experience, not of the perception itself. The relation of reader's dubiety and character's dubiety is in fact most complex and shifting. I discuss this more fully in Sullivan and White (nn. 5, 15). - This paper was first delivered to the Classical Association in Nottingham in April 1996, then in Lampeter in November 1996 and in Groningen in March 1997; I am grateful to all three audiences for lively discussion, and to Professor Tony Woodman for enlightening me on several aspects of the Tacitean passages.


MARTIN CROPP: teaches Classics at the University of Calgary, Canada.

SCOTT PEAKE: Head of Classics, Dollar Academy, Scotland.

RICHARD ALSTON: Lecturer in Classics, Royal Holloway, University of London.

M. R. GALE: Lecturer in Classics, Royal Holloway, University of London.

CHRISTOPHER PELLING: Fellow and Tutor in Classics, University College, Oxford.
COPYRIGHT 1997 Cambridge University Press
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1997 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Pelling, Christopher
Publication:Greece & Rome
Date:Oct 1, 1997
Previous Article:The shield of Turnus ('Aeneid' 7.783-92).
Next Article:The Oxford Classical Dictionary.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2019 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters