From the Aquarium of Vulcan: On Dreams

From the Aquarium of Vulcan blogspot: the blogger claims to have “taken the audacious liberty of modernizing much of the spelling in this tract.”

“That there should be divine dreams seems unreasonably doubted by Aristotle. That there are demonical dreams we have little reason to doubt. Why may there not be Angelical? If there be Guardian spirits, they may not be unactively about us in sleep, but may sometimes order our dreams, and many strange hints, instigations, or discoveries which are so amazing unto us, may arise from such foundations. But the phantasms of sleep do commonly walk in the great road of natural & animal dreams; wherein the thoughts or actions of the day are acted over and echoed in the night. Who can therefore wonder that Chrysostome should dream of St. Paul who daily read his Epistles; or that Cardan whose head was so taken up about the stars should dream that his soul was in the moon!  Pious persons whose thoughts are daily busied about heaven & the blessed state thereof, can hardly escape the nightly phantasms of it, which though sometimes taken for illuminations or divine dreams, yet rightly perpended may prove butt animal visions and natural night scenes of their waking contemplations.

Many dreams are made out by sagacious exposition from the signature of their subjects; carrying their interpretation in their fundamental sense & mystery of similitude, whereby he that understands upon what natural fundamental every notional dependeth, may by sumbolicall adaptation hold a ready way to read the characters of Morpheus. In dreams of such a nature Artemidorus, Achmet, and Astrampsychus, from Greek, Egyptian, and Arabian oneirocriticisme, may hint some interpretation, who, while we read of a ladder in Jacobs dream, will tell us that ladders and scalarie ascents signify preferment, &while wee consider the dream of Pharaoh, do teach us, that rivers overflowing speak plenty, lean oxen famine and scarcity, and therefore it was butt reasonable in Pharaoh to demand the interpretation from his magicians, who being Egyptians, should have been well versed in symbols & the hieroglyphical notions of things. The greatest tyrant in such divinations was Nabuchodonosor, while beside the interpretation he demanded the dream itself; which being probably determined by divine immission, might escape the common road of phantasms, that might have been traced by Satan.
When Alexander going to besiege Tyre dreamt of a Satyr, it was no hard exposition for a Grecian to say, Tyre will bee thine. He that dreamed that he saw his father washed by Jupiter and anointed by the sun, had cause to fear that he might be crucified, whereby his body would be washed by the rain & drop by the heat of the sun. The dream of Vespasian was of harder exposition, as also that of the Emperor Mauritius concerning his successor Phocas. And a man might have been hard put to it to interpret the language of Aesculapius, when to a consumptive person he held forth his fingers, implying thereby that his cure lay in dates, from the homonomie of the Greek which signifies dates & fingers. We owe unto dreams that Galen was a physician, Dion an historian, and that the world hath seen some notable pieces of Cardan,  yet he that should order his affairs by dreams, or make the night rule unto the day, might be ridiculously deluded. Wherein Cicero is much to be pitied; who having excellently discoursed of the vanity of dreams, was yet undone by the flattery of his own, which urged him to apply himself unto Augustus.
However dreams may be fallacious concerning outward events, yet may they be truly significant at home, & whereby we may more sensibly understand ourselves. Men act in sleep with some conformity unto their awaked senses, & consolations or discouragements may be drawn from dreams, which intimately tell us ourselves. Luther was not like to fear a spirit in the night, when such an apparition would not terrify him in the day. Alexander would hardly have run away in the sharpest combats of sleep, nor Demosthenes have stood stoutly to it, who was scarce able to do it in his prepared senses. Persons of radical integrity will not easily be perverted in their dreams, nor noble minds pitifully things in sleep. Crassus would have hardly been bountiful in a dream, whose fist was so close awake. But a man might have lived all his life upon the sleeping hand of Antonius.
There is an Art to make dreams as well as their interpretations, and physicians will tell us that some food makes turbulent, some gives quiet dreams. Cato who doted upon cabbage might find the crude effects thereof in his sleep; wherein the Egyptians might find some advantage by their superstitious abstinence from onions. Pythagoras might have more calmer sleeps if he totally abstained from beans. Even Daniel, that great interpreter of dreams, in his leguminous diet seems to have chosen no advantageous food for quiet sleeps according to Grecian physick.To add unto the delusion of dreams, the phantastical objects seem greater then they are, and being beheld in the vaporous state of sleep, enlarge their diameters unto us; whereby it may prove more easie to dream of Giants then pygmies. Democritus might seldom of Atoms, who so often thought of them.
Helmont might dream himself a bubble extending unto the eighth sphere. A little water makes a sea, a small puff of wind a Tempest, a grain of sulphur kindled in the blood may make a flame like Etna, and a small spark in the bowels of Olympias a lightning over all the chamber.But beside these innocent delusions there is a sinful state of dreams; death alone, not sleep is able to put an end unto sin & there may be a night book of our Iniquities; for beside the transgressions of the day, casuists will tell us of mortal sins in dreams arising from evil precogitations; meanwhile human law regards not noctambulos; and if a night walker should break his neck, or kill a man, takes no notice of it. Dionysius was absurdly tyrannical to kill a man for dreaming that he had killed him, and ready to take away his life who had but fantastically taken away his. Lamia was ridiculously unjust to sue a young man for a reward, who had confessed that pleasure from her in a dream, which she had denied unto his awaking senses, conceiving that she had merited somewhat from his phantasticall fruition & shadow of herself.
If there be such debts, we owe deeply unto sympathies, but the common spirit of the world must be judge in such arreareges. If some have swounded they may have also dyed in dreams since death is but a confirmed swounding. Whether Plato died in a dream, as some deliver, he must rise again to inform us. That some have never dreamed is as improbable as that some have never laughed. That children dream not the first half year, that men dream not in some countries, with many more, are unto me sick mens dreams, dreams out of the Ivory gate, and visions before midnight.”

Source Collected Works of Sir Thomas Browne ed. Simon Wilkin pub. Fletcher and Son Norwich 1835-36″

I wish I could simply hit the re-blog button on this but it’s on Blogger and I haven’t worked out a way to do that!

Here’s the link: (it’s a great blog)


7 thoughts on “From the Aquarium of Vulcan: On Dreams

  1. There was a new translation into French of this short essay included among the many books representing the life and interests of Jorge Borges; as well as a huge door-step edition of ‘Oedipus Egypticus’ by Athanasius Kircher at the university of Geneva library in 1999.


  2. I’ve added a link to here on blogs I follow. I shall look forward to seeing how here develops over time. Slow and steady builds it up. We have interests in common !


  3. I credited the post to Aquarium of Vulcan in the intro and at the end, with a link to the page in your blog, but I’ve now also added it to the title. I’ll definitely share your article on Browne and Jung, thanks so much. I’ll endeavour to find a way to link the blogs. I’ll ask others on wordpress if they have found a way.


  4. Go ahead Abraxa8 and share an edited version of my essay on the relationship of Jung to Browne to here if you like. It’s one of my best. Just ask to share any of my previous posts more than a year old, you’d be welcome. I’d prefer you credited my post on the Layer monument as being from Aquarium of Vulcan blog – the post on Browne ‘On Dreams’ does not need however to be credited from there, it’s a short essay widely available online.

    Interested in your posts I’m sure I am able to link here with there to follow but have encountered link problems between blogger and wordpress before.


  5. Thank you for such a great blog! I’ve just been reading your post on Browne and Jung. I hadn’t realised the coincidence with the quote used in the preface of Memories, Dreams and Reflections, and have posted that quote before elsewhere – it’s one of my favourites. As I said in my blog post, I wish it was possible to re-blog from blogger to wordpress! I hope those who read my posts have followed the link the Aquarium of Vulcan!


  6. Thanks for the link. Browne was himself a lucid dreamer and may quite rightly be considered one of the earliest of all psychologists. He also has some curious and interesting connections to C.G.Jung.


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