"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Friday, October 17, 2014

If I Dream of Byzantium Am I Really Dreaming of Deflowering My Sister?

More than twenty years ago now, I thought seriously about becoming a traditional, five-times-a-week-on-the-couch psychoanalyst--traditional in method, if not entirely in theory. By that I mean that I shared Christopher Lasch's judgment that Freud, in attending to phenomena in the individual psyche in a clinical setting, gave us often startling and brilliant insights of singular and lasting value; but the Freud of wide-ranging cultural theories (think Moses and Monotheism, Totem and Taboo or The Future of an Illusion or, more widely,  Civilization and Its Discontents) was completely out of his depth and can be safely ignored.

Thus, in broader matters I could never identify completely with Freud, and aligned myself (as noted previously) with other "neo-Freudian" figures such as the late Nina Coltart, author of the delightful collection, Slouching Towards Bethlehem. Nevertheless, Freud's classical, and much abused and much mocked text The Interpretation of Dreams, remains very valuable in some ways. It came back to mind (!) tonight in reading of a new book released just last week: Christine Angelidi and George Calofonos, eds., Dreaming in Byzantium and Beyond (Ashgate, 2014), 232pp.

About this book we are told:
Although the actual dreaming experience of the Byzantines lies beyond our reach, the remarkable number of dream narratives in the surviving sources of the period attests to the cardinal function of dreams as vehicles of meaning, and thus affords modern scholars access to the wider cultural fabric of symbolic representations of the Byzantine world. Whether recounting real or invented dreams, the narratives serve various purposes, such as political and religious agendas, personal aspirations or simply an author's display of literary skill. It is only in recent years that Byzantine dreaming has attracted scholarly attention, and important publications have suggested the way in which Byzantines reshaped ancient interpretative models and applied new perceptions to the functions of dreams. This book - the first collection of studies on Byzantine dreams to be published - aims to demonstrate further the importance of closely examining dreams in Byzantium in their wider historical and cultural, as well as narrative, context. Linked by this common thread, the essays offer insights into the function of dreams in hagiography, historiography, rhetoric, epistolography, and romance. They explore gender and erotic aspects of dreams; they examine cross-cultural facets of dreaming, provide new readings, and contextualize specific cases; they also look at the Greco-Roman background and Islamic influences of Byzantine dreams and their Christianization. The volume provides a broad variety of perspectives, including those of psychoanalysis and anthropology.

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