William V. Harris

 

On his book Dreams and Experience in Classical Antiquity

Cover Interview of October 14, 2009

A close-up

In truth, the best place to start is the beginning.  The book is carefully structured and non-repetitive, so it is best to read the Introduction first, and keep going.  Whether the dream-sending spell on page 1 works, I leave to readers to discover.

The next-best place to begin a non-fiction book is often the index.  In this case the index starts with Abraham and ends with Zulus.  On the way the index-reader will meet plenty of expectable items – anxiety dreams, Freud, Homer – and some possibly less expected ones – Chartres, demons, Scipio Africanus.

You will find in this book hardly any descriptions of my dreams, mainly because other people’s dream descriptions easily become tedious.  But I have sometimes kept a dream diary – a narcissistic habit, and also in my opinion a waste of time, unless you are writing a book about dreaming.

As for where to dip into the book, it depends who you are: if you know psychology, I guess that I probably want you to read the chapter about naturalistic explanations of dreaming offered by the Greeks and Romans.  And let me know what you think.

If you know the classics, it might be good to start with the most “scientific” chapter, which (aside from the Introduction) is Chapter 2.  If you are simply interested in dreaming, you might start with the epiphany dreams (Chapter 1). If you want to read some bizarre dream-descriptions, try for example page 50 or page 97 or 111 – in fact there are a few more.