Venti oche e un’aquila: il sogno di Penelope

Giulio Guidorizzi


An eagle and twenty geese: Penelope’s dream

The dream in which Penelope sees twenty geese killed by an eagle in Od. 19.535-553 is the earliest reflection about dreams in Greek culture. Unlike usual Homeric dreams, where the dream appears as a vision external to the dreamer’s mind, here it is described as a psychological experience inside Penelope’s dreaming mind, and the notion arises that the dream conveys its meaning through a system of symbols which must be interpreted – namely, that it has a manifest content and a latent content.
This episode can be said to inaugurate the interpretation of dreams in Greek culture, not least because, unlike other Homeric dreams, Penelope’s dream is not situated in the actual narrative, but is reported by the dreamer – Penelop – according to her subjective viewpoint. Moreover, the dream of the geese also contains its own explanation, as if the description of the dream took place in two distinct phases: first the dreamer sees the dream in mind, and then interprets it within the dream. Thus, the dream explains itself within the dream; the dreamer merely remembers it. This episode is part of a game of fictions and tricks in which Penelope and Odysseus challenge each other throughout the whole 19th book of the Odyssey, whence it can be assumed that she has already recognised her husband under his beggar’s disguise, and wants to put him to the test. Indeed, Penelope narrates the dream that Odysseus would like to hear, and interprets it as Odysseus would like it to be interpreted: as an omen of victory. This dream is made to reassure the suspicious Odysseus, as if Penelope wanted to open up a part of her soul to him and let her husband look inside.

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