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Use of dreams in medicine

March 23, 2013

Oberhelman concludes in Dreams in Graeco-Roman Medicine that ‘While the dream as such may have been in origin and conceptualization a cultural artefact, it became in function an integral part of the Graeco-Roman physician’s practice’ (1993:156). In considering this conclusion, whilst undertaking research into the topic of miracle cures, I believe I would take this view a step further; in respect of the patient not the physician. Given the lack of understanding regarding the nature of illness in antiquity I am of the view that dreams gave hope to patients. Having a belief that the gods were watching over you and were able to send cures via dreams provided comfort to individuals. This is in part supported by the assertion of Jounanna (1999:200) who observes that where some physicians would refuse to treat a patient, as they considered the illness incurable, the Sanctuary of Asklepios would welcome all suppliants. Through incubation they would receive a message from the god with details of what to do to be cured, there being numerous records of such dream cures and miracles. The hope provided in these ‘messages from the god’ may have had a placebo like effect in some cases curing the person. Therefore, reinforcing the affect of the sanctuaries healing power and the credence of dream healing.

Jouanna, J. (1999) Hippocrates Baltimore:John Hopkins UP

Oberhelman, S.M. (1993), “Dreams in Graeco-Roman medicine” ANRW II.37.1, 121 – 156.


From → Ancient Medicine

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