Il sogno in Platone


  • Isabella Capitani


The dream in Plato.

In this paper the author analyses a few passages of the Platonic Dialogues
concerning dreams. This subject is not approached by Plato in a uniform
manner but from various perspectives. In some dialogues (Apology, Phaedo,
Crito) the idea of the dream appears as a message sent by gods in order
to guide human choices or to announce fate. Prophetic dream often looks
like personification and is widely documented by Homer and the Tragics:
it belongs to a tradition that connects dreams to the underworld and to the
sphere of divine. According to the Orphic-Pythagorean thought, during
sleep the soul – momentarily free from the prison of the body – gets access
to a superior knowledge and anticipates a condition that will be fully
achieved only after death. On the contrary, in the Republic the dream appears
as a manifestation of the worst part of the human soul, the one that
defies the rational control and, in particular in the case of ‘tyrannical man’,
shows in nocturnal visions its worst instincts. Elsewhere the condition of
the dreamer (as opposed to the waking state) is used to illustrate the problem
of knowledge and the relationship with reality, with a metaphor present
also in Heraclitus’ fragments: far from being a source of knowledge, the
dream is the ultimate illusion, because we believe something happening
that indeed does not exist. Sleeping and dreaming are associated with a
number of situations of ‘falsehood’, such as illness and madness (Theaetetus).
The dream is just appearance, image of sensible perception which is

illusory: like the prisoners, deceived by the shadows of the den, we think we are awake and instead we are sleeping. In the Timaeus the mechanism
of dreaming is described by a physiological point of view: the liver is like a
mirror that reflects the orders of the rational intellect. The highest part of the
soul communicates to the lowest through images, that is through the only
language it can understand. The same process is used by God to ennoble
the bottom of the soul with the gift of divination. In this case Plato regards
the dream as a place between body and soul, the same theory that we find
in texts of medicine and in Aristotle, but with completely different results.



Giornata in memoria di Aldo Bartalucci nel decennale della sua scomparsa (Pisa, 8 marzo 2013)