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Published in: Journal Of Hellenic Religion, , Vol. 3, 7-17.


Ghost stories and stories of significant dreams are both important aspects of the Greek cultural imagination. This article asks whether dreams such as Achilles’ dream of Patroclus (Iliad 23.62-107) were imagined to be actual encounters with the spirits of the dead through the medium of the dream, or whether these dreams formed a separate category, understood as psychological experiences, rather than literal encounters. Did dreams form a bridge between the world of the living and that of the dead in the Greek imagination, or were these experiences thought of as reflections of the dreamer’s memories?

Drawing on my PhD research on dreams in the ancient world, this article explores dreams and the dead in the Greek cultural imagination. This term is used in preference to ‘belief’, because the ‘beliefs’ of long dead people are impossible to ascertain, but we can explore the place of dreams and ghosts in their cultural imagination. Developed from Jan Assman’s work on cultural memory, the concept of cultural imagination refers to religious ideas, in this case concerning dreams and ghosts, that are widely recognised, if not always believed in, which can be identified through the study of historical and imaginative literature and epigraphic evidence.

Keywords: greek-imagination,psychological-experiences,imaginative-literature,spirits-of-the-dead,cultural-memory,ghost-stories,patroclus,religious-ideas,phd-research,assman,iliad,achilles,ghosts,dreamer,reflections,preference,belief,these-dreams,memories,bridge

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