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Synesius, On dreams


Mosaic depicting an angel. Museum of Ptolemais. Photo Marco Prins.
Mosaic depicting an angel. Museum of Ptolemais
Synesius of Cyrene (c.370-c.413) was a Neo-Platonic philosopher who became bishop of Ptolemais in the CyrenaicaHe left behind a small corpus of texts that offer much information about daily life in Late Antiquity, and about the christianization of the Roman world. His treatise On dreams is offered here in the translation by A. Fitzgerald.
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On dreams 10

Such categories of dreams, then, are more divine, and are either quite clear and obvious, or nearly so, and in no wise stand in need of the diviner's science. But they may come to the help only of such men as live according to virtue, whether that be acquired by wisdom or ingrained by habit, and if at a given moment they should come to any other, it would be with difficulty, though they might so come.

It is not for some trifling purpose that a dream of this higher order will come to the chance recipient. Further, a frequent and a very widely shared class will be the enigmatic. To this the science of divination must be applied, for its genesis was, so to speak, strange and portentous, and as it has sprung from such sources, its development is most obscure.

Now its character is as follows. From all that nature possesses, all things that are, that have come into being and that shall be (since this too is a phase of existence), from all these things, I say, images flow and rebound from their substance. For if each perceptible thing is form coupled with matter, and if we discover an escape of matter in the combination, reasoning shows that the nature of the images is also canalized, so that in both cases perceptible things renounce the dignity of real being. Now the imaginative pneuma is a powerful reflecting mirror of all the images that flow off in this way. For, wandering in vain and slipping from their base, on account of the indefiniteness of their nature, and because they are recognized by no being of real existence, whenever these fall in which psychical pneumata, the which are images indeed, and have a seat fixed in nature, then they lean upon them and take their rest as though at their own hearthstone. Of those things, therefore, which have come into being, inasmuch as they have already passed into the activity of existence, the images sent forth are distinct, until in the fullness of time they become faint and evanescent. Of existing things, inasmuch as they are still standing, the images are more tenacious of life and more distinct, but those of future events are more indefinite and indistinguishable. For they are the advanced waves of things not yet present, efflorescences of the unfulfilled nature, as it were, riddles of closely stored seeds, skipping away and darting out.

Thus also art is needed with a view to coming events, for the images which proceed from them are only shadowed, and the symbols are not as clear as in the case of already existing things. Nevertheless they are of a wonderful nature, even as they stand, wonderful in that they have come into existence from things that have not yet existed.

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Online 2006
Revision: 11 Nov. 2006
Livius.Org Anatolia Carthage Egypt Germ. Inf. Greece Judaea Mesopotamia Persia Rome Other