3 - The patristic dream  pp. 35-56

The patristic dream

By Steven F. Kruger

Image View Previous Chapter Next Chapter


In their consideration of dream experience, late-antique and medieval writers often concentrated attention on intermediate kinds of dream and on the middle realm that those dreams especially explore. Higher and lower dreams are relatively unambiguous in their ability or inability to reveal truth; but dreams like Macrobius's somnium raise a host of tricky questions about the relationship between the divine and the mundane, truth and fiction, abstract ideas and the figural means by which those ideas may be expressed. While not always addressing such questions directly, authors tended to treat the “middle” dream, with its difficulties, more completely and complexly than less problematic dream-types.

Macrobius and Calcidius themselves repeatedly focus attention on intermediate entities. Calcidius moves away from the extreme views of Aristotle and “Heraclitus” toward a middle ground where dreams are neither wholly mundane nor fully divine. Macrobius also emphasizes middle dreams: dividing the somnium into a hierarchy of sub-species (“personal, alien, social, public, and universal,” I.iii.10), he stresses the intermediate dream's ability to address a wide range of experience, from the self-concerned to the cosmic. In his reading of Cicero's Somnium Scipionis, too, Macrobius displays a particular concern with the middle dream: while he classifies Scipio's dream as simultaneously oraculum, visio, and somnium (I.iii.12), he treats it almost exclusively as somnium. After all, oraculum and visio reveal truth directly and thus do not demand interpretation.