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CAC2064 : Dreams and Dreaming in Ancient Greece

  • Offered for Year: 2019/20
  • Module Leader(s): Dr Stephanie Holton
  • Owning School: History, Classics and Archaeology
  • Teaching Location: Newcastle City Campus
Semester 1 Credit Value: 20
ECTS Credits: 10.0


Can we ‘unlock’ the meaning of our dreams and improve our lives? How do we ‘see’ anything while we are asleep? Can dreams be trusted? Do they come from our soul? Our brain? The gods?

Dreams and their interpretation posed as many questions in antiquity as they do today, and the dreams themselves took many forms: there was not simply the one standardised ‘Greek dream’. This module, then, examines the multitude of ways dreams and the dream experience appear across a wide variety of sources from Ancient Greece and beyond, led by two key questions: where do dreams come from, and what – if anything – do they mean?

The first half of the module focuses on literary depictions - taking a thematic approach through authors such as Homer, Hesiod, Aeschylus, Pindar, Herodotus, Aristophanes, Euripides - to establish the range of ‘dream-types’ and their usages across Greek literature. The second half of the module then looks at how the natural philosophers and early medical writers also treated dreams as part of their growing investigations into natural phenomena. Focusing on the Presocratics, Aristotle, and several Hippocratic texts, we will consider how dreams were understood to function – physiologically, psychologically, or both – and to what extent, if any, traditional literary depictions were resituated in this ‘scientific’ approach.

Alongside this, students will also be introduced to comparative beliefs and evidence from other ancient cultures to allow for critical reflection on ideas such as the culture-pattern, Hellenocentricism, and acculturation. Towards the end of the module, we’ll reflect on the longevity of our findings as we move from antiquity to the modern age, and consider whether dreaming is really, as it is so often called, a ‘universal’ human experience.

All texts will be studied in translation; there is no expectation or requirement that students have any knowledge of Ancient Greek or Latin.

Outline Of Syllabus

Week 1 Setting the Scene
Week 2 Visitors in the Night
Week 3 Culture Patterns
Week 4 Human Error, Divine Wisdom?
Week 5 Crossing the Boundary
Week 6 Early Greek ‘Science’
Week 7 Philosophical Dreams
Week 8 Doctors and Patients
Week 9 Gods and Patients
Week 10 Collecting and Classifying
Week 11 From Virgil to Vienna
Week 12 Commonality, Universality?

Teaching Methods

Teaching Activities
Category Activity Number Length Student Hours Comment
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesLecture221:0022:00N/A
Guided Independent StudyAssessment preparation and completion661:0066:0040% of guided independent study
Guided Independent StudyDirected research and reading321:0032:0020% of guided independent study
Guided Independent StudyDirected research and reading661:0066:0040% of guided independent study
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesSmall group teaching91:009:00Seminar
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesWorkshops22:004:00N/A
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesDrop-in/surgery11:001:00Surgery hours for final assessment
Teaching Rationale And Relationship

Lectures are used to introduce students to a wide range of authors and texts. The content will be supported by relevant contextual and historical information where necessary. They also introduce methods of interpretation and analysis, and draw attention to comparative models. Elements of group-work and student-teacher interaction will reinforce the delivered material.

Seminars are used to facilitate student-led discussion on a particular text and pre-circulated questions in a small structured environment. It provides the opportunity for students to explore the material for themselves, drawing on weekly lectures, and to enter into a dialogue with each other on the multifaceted nature of meaning and interpretation.

Workshops are used to ensure the assessment aims are clearly articulated and understood by students ahead of their submissions, and provide focused instruction and practice in developing specific skills: structuring an argument, finding relevant bibliographical sources, referencing classical texts, etc. They also allow for student-teacher dialogue on expectations, marking criteria, and feedback.

Assessment Methods

The format of resits will be determined by the Board of Examiners

Other Assessment
Description Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Case study1M25750 word case study due mid-semester
Essay1A502000 word essay due during assessment period
Reflective log1M251200 word reflective log due Week 15
Assessment Rationale And Relationship

The case study tests students’ ability to read and analyse relevant features of a text; it also encourages students to reflect creatively on the challenges of interpreting cultural meaning in a society much removed from our own. Additionally, it provides an opportunity for feedback and reflection ahead of the larger assessed component at the end of the semester.

The essay will encourage independent research, using lecture and seminar content as a foundation on which to build one’s own critical analysis. It provides an opportunity to test intended skills and learning outcomes at a level of detail and understanding beyond what is possible in a written exam, and allows engagement with the material over a sustained period of time.

Reading Lists