Crisis & Decline
March 12, 2014
Ancient and modern scholars believe that oracles, magic and dreams were superstitions of the powerless while the elite centered themselves on philosophy. Everyone acknowledged the superstitious and even acted upon them. Imperial rulers used dreams to claim legitimacy to the throne; generals used oracles to rouse up his army before a battle. Christians used superstition to found their religious activities.
Modern scholars have claimed that the elite class did not believe in dreams revealing anything. However, scholars are wrong to make that statement because historians point out that Augustus was one ruler who believed in dreams, which were prophesying of an event expected to happen, so much that he ordered citizens who have dreams about the empire to speak about it at the market in their towns. Most philosophers did not believe in dreams. Plato explained dreams by saying, “in all of us, even the most highly respectable, there is a lawless wild beast nature, which peers out in sleep.’’ In dreams, one expresses the bestial desires (including incest with one’s mother) that are normally repressed in wakefulness. (The Dialogues of Plato, Vol. 2) Freud believed dreams come from “events of the previous day or the immediately preceding days” The dreams the elite classes received, were often used by emperors to legitimize themselves as rulers as well as used by generals attempting to rally troops before a battle1.
Plato and among others were saying that dreams are just the mind playing tricks on us. Scholars broadly proclaimed that dreams were dictated by our own experiences and passions and do not come from gods. However, the lower classes specifically the “Christians” valued every dream they received and believed it was from their god and acted upon those dreams. One religious scholar and historian who believed in dreams was Josephus, he believed all dreams legitimately interpreted were from the divine. Josephus believes that God communicates directly to certain Jews through dreams and allows others to reveal some divine communications to others, displayed throughout his work “The Antiquitates Judaicae.” Christians had plenty of uses for dream stories; according to Harris, the stories lend power to narratives of conversation and strengthen the courage of martyrs.
Christians were also a big believer in dreams displayed through Christian practices as well as also be encouraging to the poor by giving them hope. Divine dreams hold value in the Bible and are neither endorsed nor condemned. Two Old Testament stories feature dream interpretation as a tool to communicate with the divine. The first is the story of Joseph at the end of Genesis and the second occurs with the dream interpreter Daniel in his narrative in the Bible that dictates his interpretations of King Nebuchadnezzar. (Genesis 37) I believe the poor and uneducated were fascinated with dreams because it gave them an opportunity to connect with the divine. Scholars were right that the upper class relied more on philosophy to dictate their lives however, the ruling elite accepted dreams in order to further their goals and make the lower class accept what the elite were saying. Dream interpreters who many assumed were illiterate appear throughout the time of Homer and through the Hellenistic periods. Some interpreters interpreted the dream to mean something other than the obvious. Educated Romans believed dreams were meaningful if they properly understand them. Only saints and servants of god were able to receive revelation type dreams, according to Jerome. All classes believed in dreams; however, they rarely made serious decisions based on those dreams.
Scholars believe that the elite strayed away from witchcraft and instead stayed focused on philosophy; however, every Roman, free or enslaved needed to use magic at one point in their lives. Many frequently consulted a local magician for love potions, charms, spells or…