previous next
The opinion which is said to be Zeno's may deserve our consideration. He said that any one might give a guess at his proficiency from the observation of his dreams, if when asleep he fancied nothing that was immodest, nor seemed to consent to any wicked actions or dishonest intentions, but found his fancy and passions of his mind undisturbed, in a constant calm, as it were, always serene, and enlightened with the beams of divine reason. This very notion was hinted by Plato1 (as I interpret his words), where he is describing and delineating the soul which is tyrannical in its nature, and showing what manner of operations its fantasy and irrational appetite exert. When a man is asleep, he says, a vicious person designs the satisfying incestuous lust, has a longing for all sorts of meat indifferently, [p. 468] whether allowed or prohibited, and satisfies his appetite and desire in all manner of intemperance which is loose and unregarded, which, in the day-time, either the laws shame him out of, or fear to offend restrains.

As now those brute beasts that are accustomed to labor will not, if the reins be let loose, either turn aside or offer to leave the track or stumble in it, so it is with the brutal faculty of the mind; when it is once made tame and manageable by the strength of reason, then it is unwilling carelessly to transgress or saucily to disobey its sovereign's commands or to comply with any inordinate lusts, either in sleep or sickness; but it carefully observes and maintains its dictates to which it is accustomed, and by frequent exercise advances to perfect strength and intention of virtue.

We find even in our own nature the strange effects of custom. Man is naturally able, by much exercise and the use of a stoical apathy, to bring the body and all its members into subjection, so that not one organ shall perform its operation,—the eyes shall not burst out with tears upon the sight of a lamentable object, the heart shall not palpitate upon the apprehension of fear, and the passions shall not be roused at the sight of any beautiful person, whether man or woman. Now it is much more probable that the faculties of the sense may be so brought in subjection by undergoing such exercise as we speak of, that all its imaginations and motions may be smoothed and made agreeable to right reason, even when we are asleep and keep not sentry. It is reported of Stilpo the philosopher, that he thought he saw Neptune in his sleep, and that he seemed very much displeased with him, because he had not (as was usual with his priests) sacrificed an ox in honor of him. Not in the least daunted at the apparition, he thus boldly accosted it: Neptune! what's this business you here complain of? You come hither like a child, and are angry with [p. 469] me, because I did not borrow money and run in debt to please you, and fill the city with costly odors, but privately sacrificed to you in my own house such ordinary victims as 1 could get. At this confident reply, Neptune smiled, and (as the story goes) reached him his hand, as an assurance of his good-will to him, and told him that for his sake he would send the Megarians abundance of fish that season.

In the main we may conclude thus much, that those that have clear and pleasant dreams, and are not troubled with any frightful, strange, vicious, or irregular apparitions in their sleep, may assure themselves that they have some indications and dawnings of proficiency; whereas, on the contrary, those dreams which are mixed with any pain, fear, cowardly aversions from good, childish exultation, or silly grief, so that they are both frightful and unaccountable, are like the breaking waves or the billows of the sea; for the soul, not having attained a perfect evenness of temper, but being under the formation of laws and precepts from whose guidance and discovery it is free in time of sleep, is then slacked from its usual intenseness, and laid open to all passions whatever.

Whether this temper we speak of be an argument of proficiency, or an indication of some other habit which has taken deep root in the soul, grown strong and immovable by all the power of reason, I leave to you to consider and determine.

1 Republic, IX. p. 571 C.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

load focus English (Frank Cole Babbitt, 1927)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: