I came across some interesting notes I had scribbled down some years ago. I had misplaced the notebook and just came across it. I think some daimonic reality wanted me to think about it. The notes concerned a particular section of Plato’s dialogue, The Sophist. Theaetetus and a Stranger are discussing, basically, a theory of art which distinguished between so-called “real things” and images or “image-making.”
Here is the particular section my notes pertained to:
We know that we and all the other animals, and
fire, water, and their kindred elements, out of which natural objects
are formed, are one and all the very offspring and creations of God, do
And corresponding to each and all of these there are images, not the things themselves, which are also made by superhuman skill.
What are they?
The appearances in dreams, and those that arise by day and are said to be spontaneous—a shadow when a dark object interrupts the firelight, or when twofold light,
from the objects themselves and from outside, meets on smooth and bright
surfaces and causes upon our senses an effect the reverse of our
ordinary sight, thus producing an image.
Yes, these are two works of divine creation, the thing itself and the corresponding image in each case. (266b,c)
My scribbles had to do with something I’d been reading by Robert Avens, who, discussing this section of The Sophist, as referring to “shadows, dark patches interrupting the light and leading us to see a kind of reflection.” To this, I asked myself, “Are dream images shadows?”
The predominant theory of art in classical Greece was called mimesis, which means “to imitate.” The interlocutors were discussing this very theory. Göran Sörbom, professor emeritus in Aesthetics at Uppsala University in Sweden, comments:
The theory of mimesis is now generally regarded as the oldest theory of art. But the theory of mimesis as we ﬁnd it in ancient texts is not a theory of art in a modern sense; it is rather a theory of pictorial apprehension and representation.
The basic distinction for the ancient theory of mimesis was that between mimemata and real things. For example, a house is a real thing whereas a painting or a sculpture representing a house is a mimema, a thing which looks like a house but is not a house. And a piece of music which sounds like sorrow is not a real or genuine (expression of) sorrow but just gives the impression of sorrow. The mimema as a thing is a sort of vehicle for ‘man-madedreams produced for those who are awake’, as Plato suggestively formulates it (Sophist 266C). Neither the dream nor the mimema is a real thing. (The Classical Concept of Mimesis).
I’m skeptical about this, saying that dreams and other images are not “real things.” I like my idea that dreams and images are indeed real, they’re just real on a different vibratory level. But the claim that dreams are shadows is fascinating. If this is true, what are they shadows of?
Jung talked about the Shadow archetype, which we know is very real indeed. Saying that dreams are not real is akin to saying that evil is simply the absence of light (privatio boni). Evil is very real and so are dreams, in my humble experience.
I had also jotted down that James Hillman had commented on this section in The Dream and the Underworld, page 54. In Part II, I will continue with that discussion.