Dissertation 7.


Daniel 2:1

Its Date. -- The assertion of the first verse has created some difficulty, in consequence of its not allowing time enough for the Jewish youth to become a man. Jerome attempts to solve it by supposing the point of departure to be not his reign over Judea, but of his dominion over other nations, as the Assyrians and Egyptians. He seems justified in this view by the words of Josephus, (Antiq., lib. 10 chapter 10. § 3,) who distinctly refers the dream to the second year "after the laying waste of Egypt." Rosenmuller objects to this explanation, and to that of C. B. Michaelis, and adopts that of Saadias, who supposes the dream to have happened in the second year, but not to be interpreted till the conclusion of the third.

Its Origin. -- Nothing is more difficult to reduce to philosophic laws than the theory of dreams and their interpretation. The researches of physical science have thrown more light on the subject than all the guesses of ancient or modern divines. Jerome, for instance, thought that in this case, "the shadow of the dream remained," a sort of breath (aura) and trace remaining in the mind of the king. It is of no use whatever to seek for much light on these subjects in the works of the ancients, whether Fathers or Reformers; they are constantly displaying their ignorance whenever they treat of subjects within the domain of psychological science. The physician has now become a far safer guide than the divine. Although Nebuchadnezzar's dream was supernatural in its origin, yet it seems like ordinary ones in its departing from the sleeper while he is completely unconscious of its subject.

Physical researches have proved the truth of Calvin's assertion on verse third, that "Scientia est generalis et perpetua." Explanations have happily passed away from the theologian and the metaphysician to the physician and the chemist. The brain is now admitted to be the organ through which the mind acts during both the activity and the repose of the body, and dreams are now known to depend upon physical causes acting through the nerves upon the brain. The late researches of the celebrated chemist Baron Reichenbach seem to have led us one step nearer to the true explanation of these singular phenomena; the discovery of odyle, a new imponderable agent, like caloric and electricity, has enabled the modern philosopher to trace some of the laws of natural and artificial sleep. The existence of odyle in magnets, crystals, and the animal frame, and its intimate connection with lucidity, and impressions conveyed to the sensorium during magnetic sleep, seems now to be received by the best psychologists; their experiments will, doubtless, lead to our ascertaining the laws which regulate dreaming; and if the results said to be obtained by Mr. Lewis, Major Buckley, and Dr. William Gregory of Edinburgh, are ultimately admitted as facts by the scientific world, a new method of explaining the operations of the mind in sleep will be completely established. -- See the "Letters" published by the Professor of Chemistry in the University of Edinburgh, 1 volume 12mo. 1851.

This contrast between the ancient and modern methods of explanation is strikingly exemplified by Calvin's reference to the Daimones on page 119, which requires some elucidation to render it intelligible to the general reader.

The philosophers of Greece held various theories concerning them, among which that recorded by Plato in the Phaedrus is the most singular. He commences by asserting the immortality of the soul, and its essential existence from all eternity. The explanation of this idea, as it really is, he treats as divine, but its similitude as human and readily comprehended. The simile is remarkable. The deities have all a chariot and horses, which are perfect, but ours have two horses, each of contrary dispositions. A whole armament of these winged spirits are led on under the concave of heaven, Jupiter himself leading the armament of gods and daimones. In attempting to ascend, the perfect horses of the deities succeed in reaching the convex surface, which no poet ever has described or will describe worthily; but some charioteers fail in their efforts, because one of their horses is depraved, and ever tends downwards towards the earth. In consequence of this depravity, the utmost confusion occurs -- the daimones loose their wings and fall to earth, and become human souls. But the various ranks which arise from them deserve especial notice. Those who have beheld most of the glories beyond the heavenly concave become philosophers, and the next to them kings and warriors. Seven other classes of men spring up in the following order: -- politicians, physicians, prophets, poets, farmers, sophists, and tyrants. After ten thousand years, the soul may recover its wings, and be judged -- some in heaven and others in courts of justice under the earth, while some pass into beasts and then return again to bodies of men. This notion of the origin of the soul from the daimones is a very singular one, and helps us to understand the double sense of the word, like that of angels among us, both good and bad. Though it is not difficult to perceive its connection with dreaming, as the medium of intercourse between the souls of men and the disembodied spirits, yet such conjectures throw no light whatever upon the king's dream before us.

The passages alluded to by Calvin from Cicero are found in the First and Second Books De Divinatione. They consist of extracts from Ennius, and relate the fabled dreams of Priam, Tarquinius Superbus, and the mother of Phalaris, as well as that remarkable one which the magi are said to have interpreted for Cyrus. In the Second Book, Cicero argues wisely and strenuously against the divine origin of dreams. To pay the slightest attention to them he deems the mark of a weak, superstitious, and driveling mind. He inveighs strongly against the pretense to interpret them, which had become a complete traffic, and displayed the imposture which always flourishes wherever there are dupes to feed it. He combats the views of Aristotle, which Calvin quotes, and supplies much material for discussion though but little illustration of our subject. The passages above referred to will be found quoted and explained in Colquhoun's History of Magic, volume 1, while some useful observations on sleep and dreams occur in page 60 and following.