Aeneid VI and Medieval Views of Dreaming

Lola Sharon Davidson


Virgil's Aeneid was the most popular classical text preserved by the Middle Ages'· Like many classical works, it abounds in dreams and so it is not surprising that it should have influenced medieval thought concerning them. Perhaps even more importantly, the Aeneid was seen by medieval scholars as resembling a dream, in that it was a falsehood that concealed a truth, and in this respect it was representative of all pagan and indeed fictional literature. Virgil's contribution to medieval dream theory derives preeminently from Aeneid VI, which both provides a model of an otherworld journey and makes metaphoric statements about the nature of dreams. Virgilian imagery figures in Gregory the Great's account of Stephen's vision, in the popular Visio San Pauli, in Gregory of Tours account of Sunniulfs vision, in the visions of Prudentius and W etti, in the twelfth-century visions of Tundale and St.Patrick's Purgatory, and, of course, in Dante's Divine Comedy where Virgil guides Dante through HeiJ2. Aeneas' descent to the otherworld through a cave with an ecstatic priestess as guide suggests incubation such as medieval Christians practised at St.Patrick's Purgatory. Virgil's account was inspired by Plato's vision of Er, itself a literary version of a shamanistic soul journey3 Aeneid VI begins with Daedalus, whose flight Neoplatonic commentators saw as symbolic of that of the soul, and ends with Aeneas and the Sybil emerging, curiously enough, from the Gate of False Dreams. Between these two points Virgil not only makes several references to dreams but also presents a Platonic myth of the eternal cycle of the soul's incorporation, purification and release. The nature of this allegory, and the meaning of the Gate of Ivory and the fa/sa insomnia which pass through it, excited the interest of medieval commentators as they continue to puzzle modems. 

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