Bryn Mawr Classical Review 02.06.06

David Gallop, Aristotle on Sleep and Dreams: A Text and Translation with Introduction, Notes, and Glossary. Petersborough, Ontario and Lewiston, NY: Broadview Press, 1990. Pp. xiii, 201. ISBN 0-921149-60-3. $36.95.

Reviewed by David Sider, Fordham University.

In aim and format, this book serves as a companion to R. Sorabji's Aristotle on Memory (London 1972), both offering new translations of generally neglected works from Aristotle's Parva Naturalia, along with introductions and commentaries written more with the philosopher in mind than the philologist or historian of science. And both Gallop and Sorabji's books can stand alongside of those in the Clarendon Aristotle Series. Gallop alone offers a facing Greek text, as in the Phoenix Presocratic Series (to which Gallop has contributed the volume on Parmenides). The text is largely that of Ross, but, as in the Phoenix series, deviations are noted and defended in footnotes to the translation. (Those unfamiliar with these short works should also note that their straightforward Attic style would make any of them an excellent undergraduate introduction to Aristotle.)

The works Gallop has translated are On Sleep and Wakening, On Dreams, and On Divination in/through Sleep, which, as the introductory words to the first and the closing words to the last treatise indicate, form a close trio, and which in turn follow naturally upon the treatise on memory, as images and visions play an important role throughout. Even in Sleep, perception in general is an important consideration, for this, a form of kinêsis like all bodily functions or affections, needs rest for the sake of the continued health of body and soul. Since, Aristotle points out, sleep often follows upon eating, which is also necessary for health, the resulting triangle of sleeping, perception, and health is a very economical one (though not in fact one that Aristotle makes anything of). The nature of eating leads to another thread common to the three treatises, namely the role of blood and the heart in the retention and release of images.1

Although sleep is first defined in terms of the occurrence or a bsence of perception, the existence of dreams shows that perception (or better, phantasia) is not altogether suppresed. Rather, images which are always present in the body but too feeble to stand up to waking images can be perceived during sleep. They bubble up in the blood "just like those artificial frogs that float upwards in water as the salt dissolves" (461b15). That blood is important for the transmission of images is also shown by the fact (or so Aristotle took it to be) that a new or very clean mirror will take on a reddish color when gazed at by a menstruating woman (459b24ff.).

The particular form of dream images is determined by the primary images received during waking hours. In turn, however, waking thoughts and actions can derive from dream images, so that, although dreams themselves are mere appearances which we do not judge at the time, the belief arose that when we wake we may look to them for mantic value, a belief which, too polite to dismiss outright, Aristotle regards as highly unlikely.

Gallop's introduction provides a survey of Greek thought on dreams up to and including Aristotle; he is particularly good, here and in the commentary, on setting the dream works into the larger background of Aristotle's theories of phantasia. The translation is straightforward and smooth, although there are occasional rough spots; e.g., 462b29 "the moon in relation to the sun's being eclipsed," when the Greek clearly means "the moon as a cause of the sun's being eclipsed"; 454b19 kai ta entoma is not translated; the emphatic point of some -per's are ignored; occasionally the reference of an "each" or "both" is unclear. The bibliography is full, but missing is S.S. Tigner, "Plato's philosophical uses of dream metaphors," AJP 91 (1970) 204-212.

In sum, a most useful book on Aristotle's theories of dreams and sleep.


  • [1] Important background for which can be found in G.E.R. Lloyd, "The empirical basis of the physiology of the Parva Naturalia," now reprinted in his Methods and Problems in Greek Science.