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The Dreams and Visions of Aelius Aristides


A Case-Study in the History of Religions


An analysis of the religious experiences of the Greco-Roman sophist, Aelius Aristides. As a member of the cult of Asclepius, Aristides recorded his nocturnal dreams, waking visions and spiritual healings in a diary entitled the Sacred Tales. A study of this diary sheds light on the spiritual environment of the Roman world in the first and second century CE.
Publisher: Gorgias Press LLC
Availability: In stock
SKU (ISBN): 978-1-4632-0232-3
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Publication Status: In Print

Publication Date: Aug 12,2013
Interior Color: Black
Trim Size: 6 x 9
Page Count: 168
Language: English
ISBN: 978-1-4632-0232-3
$125.00

The second century CE Greco-Roman sophist Aelius Aristides was a member of the cult of Asclepius, a popular religious cult of the Hellenistic world. In his diary, the Sacred Tales, Aristides presents a first-person account of the multitude of nocturnal and waking dream-visions and miraculous healings that took place in his life while belonging to this cult. An examination of Aristides’ religiosity, especially the accounts of the dream-visions and spiritual healings recorded in his dream diary, helps to shed light upon the spiritual environment of the Roman world in the first and second centuries CE. Furthermore, it may elucidate some of the reasons behind Christianity's appeal to the pagan masses, especially among the educated Roman upper classes to which Aristides belonged.

Previous scholarly studies have sought to explain away Aristides’ religious experiences described in the Sacred Tales in various ways, viewing the text as a rhetorical composition or the product of literary invention. Aristides has been labelled as “psychopathological” and the text as a creation of a deluded mind. However, the main premise of this book is that first and foremost, Aristides is an example of “homo religiosus” and that the Sacred Tales should be seen as a religious document. This approach highlights the religious dimension of the text. Rather than explain away Aristides’ religious experiences, this book incorporates a variety of methodological approaches in order to identify and elucidate the many socio-historical and psychological factors affecting the nature of Aristides’ religiosity and its symbolic articulation in textual form. Attention to the religious dimension of the text and an interdisciplinary perspective towards it reveals Aristides as less neurotic and eccentric as many have supposed him to be. In fact, Aristides is the “Not-So-Anxious Pagan”.

The second century CE Greco-Roman sophist Aelius Aristides was a member of the cult of Asclepius, a popular religious cult of the Hellenistic world. In his diary, the Sacred Tales, Aristides presents a first-person account of the multitude of nocturnal and waking dream-visions and miraculous healings that took place in his life while belonging to this cult. An examination of Aristides’ religiosity, especially the accounts of the dream-visions and spiritual healings recorded in his dream diary, helps to shed light upon the spiritual environment of the Roman world in the first and second centuries CE. Furthermore, it may elucidate some of the reasons behind Christianity's appeal to the pagan masses, especially among the educated Roman upper classes to which Aristides belonged.

Previous scholarly studies have sought to explain away Aristides’ religious experiences described in the Sacred Tales in various ways, viewing the text as a rhetorical composition or the product of literary invention. Aristides has been labelled as “psychopathological” and the text as a creation of a deluded mind. However, the main premise of this book is that first and foremost, Aristides is an example of “homo religiosus” and that the Sacred Tales should be seen as a religious document. This approach highlights the religious dimension of the text. Rather than explain away Aristides’ religious experiences, this book incorporates a variety of methodological approaches in order to identify and elucidate the many socio-historical and psychological factors affecting the nature of Aristides’ religiosity and its symbolic articulation in textual form. Attention to the religious dimension of the text and an interdisciplinary perspective towards it reveals Aristides as less neurotic and eccentric as many have supposed him to be. In fact, Aristides is the “Not-So-Anxious Pagan”.

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Contributor Biography

John Stephens

John Stephens received his Phd in religious studies from the University of California, Santa Barbara in 1982. He has taught at both the secondary and post-secondary levels for the past thirty years.He is especially interested in studying and researching in the areas of ancient Mediterranean religious traditions, early Christianity and methodological approaches to the study of religion.

  • Copyright Page (page 4)
  • Table of Contents (page 5)
  • Acknowledgments (page 7)
  • Part One: Religio-Historical Considerations (page 9)
    • Chapter 1: Aristides and His Book of Dreams (page 11)
      • Introduction (page 11)
      • The Nature of Religious Experience (page 14)
      • Reasons for the Study of Individual Religious Experience (page 15)
      • Aristides' Dream-Diary: The Sacred Tales (page 17)
      • Aristides' Ancient Biographers (page 20)
      • Aristides' Modern Biographers (page 22)
      • Methodological Questions (page 32)
    • Chapter 2: The Literary Dimension of the Text (page 35)
      • Aristides: An Example of Homo Religious (page 35)
      • The Sacred Tales and Ancient Autobiography (page 37)
      • Ancient Visionary Literature (page 43)
    • Chapter 3: The Problem of Individuality in the Sacred Tales: Comparing the Sacred Tales with Other Selected Ancient Christian and Pagan Autobiographical Doocuments (page 49)
      • Aristides, the Healthy-Minded Versus St. Augustine, the Sick Soul (page 49)
      • Pagan and Christian Sick Souls: Marcus Aurelius and St. Paul (page 57)
      • The Sacred Tales in Comparison to the Metamorphoses (page 61)
    • Chapter 4: Dreams and Miracles in the Sacred Tales (page 69)
      • The Sacred Tales and Religious Aretalogy (page 69)
      • The Sacred Tales and Early Christian Miracle Stories (page 79)
    • Chapter 5: Aristides and the Religious Climate of Late Antiquity (page 89)
      • True Believers in the Greco-Roman World (page 89)
      • Skeptics and Doubters in Ancient Times (page 93)
      • Systems of Dream Interpretation in the Sacred Tales and Elsewhere (page 95)
  • Part Two: Psychological Considerations (page 101)
    • Chapter 6: Analysis of the Manifest Contents of Aristides' Dreams (page 103)
      • The Manifest Contents of Aristides' Dreams (page 103)
      • Anthropological Approaches to the Dream (page 104)
      • Applying a Quantitative Approach to the Dreams of Aristides (page 106)
      • Frequency of Dream Images in the Sacred Tales (page 110)
      • Ancient Greek Dream Literature and the Sacred Tales (page 112)
    • Chapter 7: A Functional Analysis of the Personal Religion of Aelius Aristides (page 117)
      • A Psycho-social Perspective (page 117)
      • The Psychological Value of Aristides' Adhesion to the Cult of Asclepius (page 125)
      • The Paradoxical Divine Prescriptions (page 127)
      • Reductionist Studies of the Past (page 128)
      • Taking the Relativist Approach (page 131)
    • Chapter 8: An Analysis of the Laten Contents of Aristides' Dreams (page 137)
      • The Cross-cultural Application of Psychoanalysis (page 137)
      • The Psychoanalytic Interpretation of Aristides' Religiosity and Dreams (page 140)
    • Chapter 9: Concluding Remarks (page 155)
  • Bibliography (page 159)
  • Index (page 161)
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