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Daffodil Throughout Europe and North America the daffodil is among the first flowers

of the year, often appearing while snow remains on the ground and gone

before many other signs of early spring arrive. Shakespeares Perdita calls for

‘‘daffodils, / That come before the swallow dares, and take [charm] / The winds

of March with beauty’’ (WT 4.4.118--20). As ‘‘Daffadowndillies’’ they show up in

‘‘April’’ of Spensers Shepheardes Calendar (140). Herrick laments their brevity:

‘‘Faire Daffadills, we weep to see / You haste away so soone’’ (‘‘To Daffadills’’


Milton bids ‘‘Daffadillies fill their cups with tears’’ for drowned Lycidas

(150), though they would not have been blooming when he drowned (in

August). The most famous daffodils in English literature are the ten thousand

flowers dancing in the breeze along a lake that Wordsworth comes upon;

when he recollects them later, ‘‘then my heart with pleasure fills, / And

dances with the Daffodils,’’ but they seem to have no more specific symbolism

(‘‘I wandered lonely as a Cloud’’).

The name is misleading. It derives from asphodel, a very different flower; for

a time both ‘‘affodil’’ and ‘‘daffodil’’ were in use. Now the latter is restricted to

the Yellow Narcissus (Narcissus pseudo-Narcissus). Its symbolic resonances,

such as they are, should not be confused with those of either the asphodel or


See Asphodel.

Daisy Chaucer correctly explains the etymology of ‘‘daisy’’ in The Legend of Good

Women: ‘‘wel by reson men it calle may / The dayesye [days eye], or elles the

ye of day’’’ (F text 183--84); in Old English it appears as daeges ege. The flower

resembles a conventional depiction of the sun, often called the days eye itself,

and when the sun sets the ‘‘ray’’ of the daisy closes round the yellow


Chaucer says he loves the daisy most of all the flowers in the meadow

(41--42), and in the first of his ‘‘legends’’ he identifies it with Alceste (Alcestis),

the most faithful of wives. Perhaps because some of the other good women

were betrayed by their lovers, the daisy might have acquired the connotation

of unfaithfulness; Robert Greene mentions ‘‘the dissembling daisy, to warn

such light-of-love wenches not to trust every fair promise bachelors make

them’’ (A Quip for an Upstart Courtier); that connotation may account for

Ophelias giving away a daisy, among several other flowers, though she says

nothing about its meaning (Hamlet 4.5.181).

Wordsworth calls the daisy ‘‘The Poets darling’’ (‘‘To the Daisy’’ / ‘‘In youth

from rock to rock’’ 32), and it is true that English poets, at least, have often

mentioned daisies, though usually without a consistent symbolism.

Wordsworth devoted four poems to them, having sensed in them ‘‘some

concord with humanity’’ (‘‘To the Same Flower’’ 6).

In fourteenth-century France there was a brief cult of poetry, from which

Chaucer drew, mainly by Machaut, Froissart, and Deschamps, that praised the

marguerite (French for ‘‘daisy’’), where the flower, as in Chaucer, also stands for

a woman, named Marguerite. The name comes from Greek margarites (from

Persian), meaning ‘‘pearl’’; presumably the flowers color struck French

observers as pearly.

Dance In ancient literature as in modern almost any regular movement can be called

a dance. The goddess Dawn has dancing floors (Homer, Odyssey 12.3--4), perhaps

because the beams from the hidden sun seem to dance on clouds. War is a

dance: Ares dances ‘‘in the dance that knows no music’’ (Euripides, Phoenissae

791) and warriors are the ‘‘dancers of Enyo’’ (Nonnus 28.275). But Peace is also

‘‘queen of the dance’’ (Aristophanes, Peace 976).

The best established symbolic dance is the great cyclical pattern of the

heavenly bodies. Time is a movement, according to Plato, and the stars dance

in an intricate pattern (Timaeus 40c); the Athenian in Epinomis, attributed to

Plato, tells how the stars ‘‘move through the figures of the fairest and most

glorious of dances’’ (982e, trans. Taylor). Lucians ‘‘The Dance’’ extends the

metaphor (7). The fullest elaboration in English is Daviess Orchestra, or, a Poem

of Dancing, which explains how Love formed the ‘‘turning vault of heaven,’’

‘‘Whose starry wheels he hath so made to pass, / As that their movings do a

music frame, / And they themselves still dance unto the same’’ (130--33); ‘‘Who

doth not see the measure of the moon? / Which thirteen times she danceth

every year, / And ends her pavan thirteen times as soon / As doth her brother’’

(281--84). Milton speaks of the ‘‘starry dance’’ and the ‘‘wandering fires that

move / In mystic dance’’ (PL 3.580, 5.177--78; see Comus 112--14). The traditional

‘‘dance of the Hours’’ is the course of the seasons, but it is an eternal dance;

so Milton imagines that ‘‘universal Pan / Knit with the Graces and the Hours

in dance / Led on the eternal spring’’ (4.266--68). Emerson calls it ‘‘the mystic

seasons dance’’ (‘‘Monadnoc’’ 63). ‘‘Once the hungry Hours were hounds /

Which chased the Day, like a bleeding deer,’’ Shelley writes, ‘‘But now --’’ in the

eternity of love, ‘‘Oh weave the mystic measure / Of music and dance and

shapes of light, / Let the Hours, and the Spirits of might and pleasure / Like

the clouds and the sunbeams unite’’ (PU 4.73--79).

Greek drama included dancing, and indeed probably arose from the dance;

our theatre term ‘‘chorus’’ meant ‘‘dance,’’ while ‘‘orchestra’’ meant the

‘‘dance floor’’ before the stage. As dancing has always been a part of

weddings -- we see this as early as the description of Achilles shield (Iliad

18.491--96) -- and as Shakespeares comedies end in weddings, they also often

end in dancing; Benedick concludes Much Ado by calling ‘‘Strike up, pipers,’’


Jacques absents himself from the weddings of As You Like It by saying ‘‘I am for

other than for dancing measures,’’ and even the mechanicals play in Midsummer

Night’s Dream, though a tragedy of sorts, ends with a ‘‘bergomask’’

(5.1.347). Dancing in these instances is choral, communal, and thus an

obvious symbol of the uniting of the community around the couple. An

almost opposite meaning resonates from the Capulets masked ball, where

Romeo meets and dances with Juliet at the risk of his life.

In modern novels dances are often occasions for courtship, for coming of

age, and for significant discoveries, especially for the heroine. Natashas

development in Tolstoys War and Peace can be traced in part through her

dancing partners Pierre (1.20), Denisov (4.12), and, at the great ball, Andre

(6.14--17). There are several significant recognitions and misrecognitions, for

instance, at the balls of Jane Austens novels; the ball at Vaubyessard makes a

gap in Emma Bovarys life in Flauberts Madame Bovary.

The solo dance of a woman, perhaps most beautifully rendered in Florizels

rapt praise of Perdita -- ‘‘when you do dance, I wish you / a wave o th sea, that

you might ever do / Nothing but that, move still, still so, / And own no other

function’’ (WT 4.4.140--43) -- became emblematic of what Yeats calls ‘‘unity of

being,’’ an unselfconscious harmony of mind and body, during the

nineteenth-century ‘‘aesthetic’’ movement. An interest in Salomes dance (from

Matt. 14.6--11) can be traced through Mallarme, Flaubert, Wilde, Symons, and

Yeats, who ends ‘‘Among School Children’’ with a rhetorical question: ‘‘O body

swayed to music, O brightening glance, / How can we know the dancer from

the dance?’’

For the Dance of Death, see under Death.

See Time.

Darkness see Light and darkness

Daw see Raven

Dawn Poets since Homer have delighted in describing dawn in all its glory. Perhaps

as a reflection of a religious cult common to Indo-European cultures, dawn

has been personified as a young woman, Eos, Heos, or Auos in Greek, Aurora in

Latin; the names are related to English ‘‘east’’ and ‘‘Easter.’’ In the Greek myths

she is variously the daughter of Hyperion and Theia, the daughter of Helios,

the sister of Helios, the mother of the four winds and of Eosphoros (or Lucifer)

the morning star, and lover of Tithonos, Orion, Kleitos, or Ganymede. In

classical poetic descriptions her connection with Tithonos has prevailed, but

for the most part she is described with her own attributes: rosy fingers, a

saffron robe, dew, a golden throne, a chariot with two white horses, and

so on.

Twenty-two times, mainly in the Odyssey, Homer describes Dawn with the

identical line: ‘‘When the early-born rosy-fingered Dawn appeared.’’ The

epithet rhododaktylos is perhaps the most famous in Homer. Another fine one

is krokopeplos, ‘‘saffron-robed’’: ‘‘At that time when the dawn star [Heosphoros]

passes across the earth, harbinger / of light, and after him dawn of the saffron

mantle is scattered / across the sea . . . ’’ (Iliad 23.226--27, trans. Lattimore). In

the Odyssey once (12.4) Dawn has ‘‘dancing floors,’’ perhaps referring to clouds

and mists through which sunbeams seem to dance. She is throned in gold at

Odyssey 22.197. Tithonos, granted immortality but not eternal youth, remains

in bed when Dawn arises: ‘‘Now Dawn rose from her bed, where she lay by

haughty Tithonos, / to carry her light to men and to immortals’’ (Iliad 11.1--2,

trans. Lattimore).

Virgil transfers the saffron color from robe to bed: ‘‘Soon early Dawn,

quitting the saffron bed / Of old Tithonus, cast new light on earth’’ (Aeneid

4.584--85, trans. Fitzgerald; identical to 9.459--60); ‘‘with pallid cheek Aurora /

Rises to leave Tithonus saffron bed’’ (Georgics 447, trans. Wilkinson). Aurora

has a red chariot in Virgil: ‘‘When Dawn tomorrow, borne from the Ocean

stream / On crimson chariot wheels, reddens the sky . . . ’’ (Aeneid 12.76--77,

trans. Fitzgerald). Euripides imagines Dawn with a single horse (Orestes 1004),

while Sappho seems to conceive her as on foot, and gives her golden slippers

(123). Ovid once (Met. 3.184) calls Dawn ‘‘purple’’ (purpureae Aurorae). (See

Purple, Saffron.)

Modern writers influenced by the classics liked to emulate the ancients in

dawn-descriptions. Here is Spenser, dutifully trying to get it all in: ‘‘Now when

the rosy fingred Morning faire, / Weary of aged Tithones saffron bed, / Had

spred her purple robe through deawy aire . . .’’ (FQ 1.2.7). Shakespeare achieves

some freshness with ‘‘the morn in russet mantle clad / Walks oer the dew of

yon high eastward hill’’ (Hamlet 1.1.166--67). The hill is also a frequent convention

in morning descriptions, as in Spensers ‘‘Phoebus fiery carre / In hast

was climbing up the Easterne hill’’ (FQ 1.2.1) and Popes ‘‘The Dawn now blushing

on the Mountains Side’’ (‘‘Spring’’ 21). Collins has an ‘‘oriental’’ variant of

the Dawn goddess in his Persian Eclogues (1.13--14): ‘‘When sweet and odorous,

like an eastern bride, / The radiant morn resumed her orient pride. . . . ’’ It

neatly reminds us that ‘‘orient’’ comes from a Latin verb meaning ‘‘rise.’’ (See

East and west.)

Classical writers seem not to have personified evening or sunset, and there

are few ancient descriptions of it. Many modern writers, such as Shelley, have

been fascinated by it.

In Job 41.18, and in a note to the Authorized Version of Job 3.9, dawn is

called ‘‘the eyelids of the morning’’; the ‘‘eye’’ must be the sun. (See Sun.)

Blake echoes this phrase when he has spring look down ‘‘Thro the clear

windows of the morning’’ (‘‘To Spring’’).

From the equation of a lifespan to a day, dawn or morning is infancy or

youth. Shakespeare imagines his love in old age, ‘‘when his youthful morn /

Hath traveled on to ages steepy night’’ (Sonnets 63). (More examples at East

and west.)

Dawn may stand for the moment of illumination, as when we say ‘‘it

dawned on me.’’ Wordsworth describes his struggle to compose a poem:

‘‘gleams of light / Flash often from the east, then disappear, / And mock me

with a sky that ripens not / Into a steady morning’’ (1805 Prelude 1.134--37).

Tieck writes, ‘‘Like dawn [Morgenrot] a blessed memory / Arises out of the dark,

silent night’’ (‘‘Improvised song’’ 4--5).

The ‘‘dawn song’’ is a genre that expresses the regret of lovers that the day

has come that must part them. It arose in twelth-century Provencal poetry:

the alba, French aube or aubade, all from Latin alba, ‘‘white,’’ presumably

modifying lux, ‘‘light’’; in German it is called the Tagelied, ‘‘day song.’’

Day see Dawn, East and west, Sun

Day star see Star

Death Death is one of the great themes of literature, perhaps more frequent even

than love. The myths of many ancient peoples centered on death and the

afterlife. Egyptian guidebooks, such as The Book of the Dead (not the Egyptian

name for it), and the Sumerian story of the descent of the goddess Inanna to

the underworld, are the earliest written records. The Mesopotamian epic of

Gilgamesh deals largely with the kings quest to find his dead friend Enkidu,

while Homers Iliad turns on Achilles grief for his friend Patroclus. Much

ancient poetry is lamentation or elegy. One of the most common terms for

‘‘human’’ is ‘‘mortal’’; what makes gods gods is their immortality. Descents to

the land of death are common epic features since the Odyssey; drawing on the

descent in book 6 of Virgils Aeneid, Dante devotes the whole of his Divine

Comedy to a journey through deaths three realms.

Death may occasionally symbolize something else, but much more often

death is itself represented symbolically, usually as a person. In the brief space

of this dictionary we can trace only a few of the more common symbolic


In Greek literature death (thanatos) is dark. The epithet melas (‘‘dark’’ or

‘‘black’’) modifies thanatos several times in Homer, and is found in Hesiod,

Pindar, and the other early poets. Death is a dark cloud (Iliad 16.350) or

shadow (a dozen times) or night: ‘‘dark night covered over his eyes’’ (5.310). A

dead soul is a ‘‘shade.’’ In Euripides death is ‘‘dark-robed’’ (Alcestis 843); in

Sophocles the ‘‘dark eyes’’ of Eurydice mean she is dead (Antigone 1302). Hades

(the realm) is dark as well (Sophocles, Oedipus Tyrannus 29); no sun shines in it

(Odyssey 12.383). To die is to leave the light (Hesiod, Works 155, and see under


Death is not fully personified in Homer except once where he and his

brother Sleep remove Sarpedon from the battlefield and spirit him off to Lycia

(Iliad 16.672--83). The god Hades usually supplies this personification, though

he is not death strictly but the lord of the underworld; but death can also be

called the ‘‘lord of corpses’’ (Alcestis 843--44).

In Latin literature death (mors) is also sometimes dark, and sometimes

pale (e.g., Horace 1.4.13--14). (Orcus, god of the underworld, is also pale in

Virgils Georgics 1.277.) In Tibullus Deaths head is shrouded in darkness

(1.1.70). The phrase ‘‘black clouds of death’’ appears in Statius (Thebaid 9.851),

and clouds continue to be a characteristic into modern times: ‘‘the cloude of

death’’ sits on the eyes of someone in Spenser (FQ 1.3.39), in Shakespeare

‘‘Dark cloudy death oershades his beams of life’’ (3H6 2.6.62), and Tennysons

Oenone calls out, ‘‘O death, death, death, thou ever-floating cloud’’ (Oenone


Death is more frequently personified in Latin poetry, and is even considered

a god by Seneca and Lucan. From Homer and Hesiod (Theogony 756) comes the

idea that Death and Sleep are brothers, as in Aeneid 6.278. Death has a

dwelling and can be summoned from it; so Lucan: ‘‘Unbar the Elysian abodes

and summon Death / herself’’ (6.660--01, trans. Braund). Statius imagines

Death counting the dead shades for its master (Thebaid 4.528--29).


In the Bible, of course, death is not a god, and it is only glancingly

personified. Death has an abode, sheol (translated as ‘‘Hades’’ in Greek), but it

is not described much beyond its having gates (e.g., Isa. 38.10, Matt. 16.18). The

Lord asks Job, ‘‘Have the gates of death been opened unto thee? or hast thou

seen the doors of the shadow of death?’’ (38.17) (‘‘shadow of death’’ occurs

nine times in Job). Homer has the phrase ‘‘gates of Hades’’ (Iliad 5.646, 9.312),

Lucretius has ‘‘gates of death’’ (3.67), Virgil gives Orcus a ‘‘vestibule’’ (Aeneid

6.273). ‘‘To be at deaths door’’ remains a cliche today.

Sheol is personified in Isaiah: ‘‘Therefore hell hath enlarged herself, and

opened her mouth without measure’’ (5.14). Hell and Death are never satisfied

(Prov. 27.20, Hab. 2.5). Orcus has a throat (fauces) in Virgil (Aeneid 6.273), and

jaws in Apuleius (Met. 7.7.4). These passages are the origin of the commonplace

‘‘the jaws of hell’’ and the notion of death as ravenous. ‘‘Death the devourer of

all the worlds delight’’ is Spensers description (Clorinda 49); he also writes of

the ‘‘dreadfull mouth of death, which threatned sore / Her to have swallowd

up’’ (FQ 5.4.12). Death is a major character in Miltons Paradise Lost, and one of

his prominent traits is his hunger for flesh: ‘‘he snuffed the smell / Of mortal

change on earth (10.272--73), he pines with ‘‘eternal famine’’ (597) and yearns

‘‘To stuff this maw’’ (601). Tennysons Light Brigade charges ‘‘Into the jaws of

Death, / Into the mouth of hell’’ (24--25).

The ‘‘second death,’’ an expression found only in Revelation (e.g., 2.11, 20.6),

is equivalent to the ‘‘lake of fire’’ or hell. The shade of Virgil tells Dante that

he shall hear howls of despair as each damned soul laments his second death

(Inferno 1.117). Christ, however, ‘‘hath abolished death’’ (2 Tim. 1.10). John of

Patmos envisages the time when ‘‘death and hell were cast into the lake of

fire. This is the second death’’ (Rev. 20.14). If death swallows the living, God

‘‘will swallow up death in victory’’ (Isa. 25.8; see 1 Cor. 15.54). ‘‘One short sleep

past,’’ Donne writes, ‘‘we wake eternally, / And death shall be no more, Death

thou shalt die’’ (‘‘Death be not proud’’).

The final chapter of Ecclesiastes has several striking images of dying and

death: ‘‘man goeth to his long home, and the mourners goeth about the

streets: / Or ever the silver cord be loosed, or the golden bowl be broken [two

parts of an oil lamp], or the pitcher be broken at the fountain, or the wheel

broken at the cistern. / Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was’’


Death, a character in Euripides Alcestis, bears a sword to cut off the hair of

Alcestis (73) (normally done to a mourner rather than the dead). In later

literature it is usually a spear or ‘‘deathes eternall dart’’ (FQ 3.10.59); ‘‘And over

them triumphant death his dart / shook’’ (PL 11.491--92). Byron calls him ‘‘The

old archer’’ (Don Juan 4.95).

Since the Middle Ages death has often been portrayed in ghastly terms, as a

skeleton or mouldering corpse. Schiller, following Lessings essay ‘‘How the

Ancients Pictured Death,’’ writes that in Greece ‘‘No appalling skeleton was

standing / At the bedside of the dying one: / By a kiss the final breath was

taken / While a Genius let sink his torch’’ (1800 version 65--68).

It was during the Middle Ages that the ‘‘dance of death’’ or danse macabre

became a popular theme, probably in response to the bubonic plague or

‘‘Black Death’’; in it Death leads a dance of people of all ranks to the grave.

Scott sets ‘‘The Dance of Death’’ at Waterloo: on the eve of the battle

 ‘‘phantoms wheeled a revel dance / And doomed the future slain’’ (57--58).

Beddoes ends his play Death’s Jest-Book with a death dance. See also the poems

by Goethe and Anatole France and the play by Strindberg, all called The Dance

of Death. Paul Celans famous poem ‘‘Death-Fugue,’’ about the German death

camps, was first titled ‘‘Death-Tango.’’

‘‘Death circles on black wings,’’ Horace writes (Satires 2.1.58), and thus

enlists the imagery of ravens or vultures, ‘‘death-birds,’’ as Shelley was to

call them (Hellas 1025), for death itself. Statius expands: ‘‘Death, sent forth

from the Stygian dark, / Enjoyed the sky and as he flew oerspread / The battle

field and called the warriors / To his black maw’’ (Thebaid 8.376--81, trans.

Melville). Milton likens the scenting of Death to ‘‘a flock / Of ravenous fowl’’

lured to a battlefield by the scent of ‘‘living carcasses’’ (10.273--77). (See Raven).

An evocative simile in Job has had a long legacy. ‘‘Thou shalt come to thy

grave in full age, like as a shock of corn cometh in in his season’’ (5.6); also

man ‘‘cometh forth like a flower, and is cut down’’ (14.2). ‘‘All flesh is grass,’’

Isaiah adds, which will wither (40.6--8). The lines from Job, if not Isaiah, would

seem to imply that death is a harvester, the Grim Reaper, and so he is

commonly portrayed as a skeleton with a scythe. (See Time.) Byron

philosophizes: ‘‘All things that have been born were born to die, / And flesh

(which Death mows down to hay) is grass’’ (Don Juan 1.1755--56).

Death is the great leveller: mighty conquerors are laid low no less than the

wretched of the earth. Horaces pale Death ‘‘with impartial foot knocks at

poor mens hovels and princes castles’’ (1.4.13--14). In this life, writes Spenser,

‘‘death is an equall doome / To good and bad, the common In of rest’’ (FQ

2.1.59). In the graveyard Hamlet ponders this fact: ‘‘Alexander died, Alexander

was buried, Alexander returneth to dust, the dust is earth, of earth we make

loam, and why of that loam whereto he was converted might they not stop a

beer-barrel?’’ (5.1.201--05). Shirley writes, ‘‘Sceptre and Crown, / Must tumble

down, / And in the dust be equal made / With the poor crooked scythe and

spade’’ (‘‘The glories of our blood and state,’’ from Ajax and Ulysses). As Gray

famously puts it, ‘‘The paths of glory lead but to the grave’’ (‘‘Elegy’’ 36). Byron

wittily combines the agricultural imagery of the Bible with the political

connotation of leveling: ‘‘Death, the sovereigns sovereign’’ is the ‘‘Gracchus of

all mortality, who levels, / With his Agrarian laws, the high estate / . . . /

Deaths a reformer, all men must allow’’ (Don Juan 10.193--200).

As Sophocles Antigone prepares for her death, she laments that she is to

have no wedding song; ‘‘I shall marry Acheron’’ (816); she cries, ‘‘O tomb, O

wedding chamber’’ (891). Shakespeares Capulet tells Paris, ‘‘the night before

thy wedding day / Hath Death lain with thy wife. . . . // My daughter he hath

wedded’’ (Romeo 4.5.35--39). ‘‘Death is the supple Suitor,’’ says Dickinson, ‘‘That

wins at last’’ (no. 1445). In ‘‘Behind the Coffin,’’ Blok describes a woman in a

black veil following the coffin of her betrothed, ‘‘As though . . . she arrayed

herself in a bridal veil against the dust and awaited another Bridegroom’’

(trans. Obolensky).

Deer Deer have appeared in literature primarily as the object of the hunt, whether

literal or metaphorical. (See Hunting).

 ‘‘Deer’’ is the generic term, but many more specific terms arise in English

literature: ‘‘hart’’ or ‘‘stag’’ is the mature male (especially of the red deer),

‘‘hind’’ is the mature female, ‘‘fawn’’ is the young (especially of the ‘‘fallow’’

or pale brown deer), ‘‘buck’’ and ‘‘doe’’ are the male and female of the fallow

deer; ‘‘roe’’ is a species of small deer. In works devoted to the ‘‘love chase’’

this ample vocabulary allowed for many puns, notably on ‘‘hart’’ and ‘‘heart’’

(and the Middle English form of ‘‘hurt’’) and on ‘‘deer’’ and ‘‘dear.’’ Chaucers

Book of the Duchess, much of which takes place during a literal hunt, uses

‘‘hert’’ or ‘‘herte’’ 41 times in 1334 lines, usually with at least two senses.

Marvells ‘‘Nymph Complaining for the Death of her Fawn’’ has these perhaps

overly clever lines: ‘‘Look how your huntsman here / Hath taught a fawn to

hunt his dear’’ and ‘‘quite regardless of my smart, / Left me his fawn, but took

his heart’’ (31--32, 35--36).

A striking if implicit use of the woman-as-deer metaphor, without a hunting

context, comes in Wyatts poem that begins: ‘‘They flee from me that

sometime did me seek / With naked foot stalking in my chamber. / I have seen

them gentle, tame, and meek / That now are wild and do not remember / That

sometime they put themselves in danger / To take bread at my hand.’’ He

remembers a wondrous moment in the arms of his beloved, when she asked,

‘‘Dear heart, how like you this?’’

The stricken deer that dies apart from the herd sometimes carries symbolic

meanings. Shakespeares Jacques moralizes over ‘‘a poor sequestred stag / That

from the hunters aim had taen a hurt / . . . / The wretched animal heaved

forth such groans / That their discharge did stretch his leathern coat / Almost

to bursting’’ (AYLI 2.1.33--38). In a Christian allegory Cowper writes, ‘‘I was a

stricken deer, that left the herd / Long since; with many an arrow deep infixt /

My panting side was chargd, when I withdrew / To seek a tranquil death in

distant shades. / There was I found by one who had himself / Been hurt by

tharchers’’ (i.e., Christ) (The Task 3.108--13). The stricken deer is a favorite image

of Shelleys, who applies it to himself; e.g., ‘‘then, as a hunted deer that could

not flee, / I turned upon my thoughts, and stood at bay, / Wounded and weak

and panting’’ (Epipsychidion 272--74; cf. Adonais 297). James Joyce told a friend

that the animal he most resembled was a deer. In Ulysses Stephen Dedalus, as

a dog runs towards him, thinks of himself as a deer: ‘‘I just simply stood pale,

silent, bayed about’’ (chap. 3).

Desert see Forest

Dew In the dry lands of the Old Testament dew is always welcome, as rain is

welcome (indeed dew is taken as a kind of rain); both fall from heaven, and

are taken as gifts or blessings of God, like manna. When Isaac blesses Jacob (in

disguise), he prays, ‘‘God give thee of the dew of heaven’’ (Gen. 27.28); Moses

dying blessing includes, ‘‘Blessed of the Lord be his [Josephs] land, for the

precious things of heaven, for the dew’’ (Deut. 33.13). Zechariah at the end of

the Old Testament has the Lord promise that ‘‘the seed shall be prosperous;

the vine shall give her fruit, and the ground shall give her increase, and the

heavens shall give their dew’’ (8.12). (Dew is not mentioned in the New


Dew was thought of as life-giving, indeed as life itself, death being dry, as

bones are dry. A phrase from Psalm 110.3, ‘‘thou hast the dew of thy youth,’’

might be based on the equation of youth with morning, when dew is found,

but it also suggests that dew is something young people have within them.

There is a parallel in Greek thought. Homer once calls newborn kids hersai,

‘‘dews’’ or ‘‘dewdrops’’ (Odyssey 9.222), and Aeschylus, perhaps in imitation of

Homer, once refers to the ‘‘tender dews (drosoi) of lions,’’ meaning their young

(Agamemnon 141). A famous passage of Isaiah seems to rest on the notion that

dew is a vital force: ‘‘Thy dead men shall live, together with my dead body

shall they arise. Awake and sing, ye that dwell in dust: for thy dew is as the

dew of herbs, and the earth shall cast out the dead’’ (26.19).

In Greek cosmological myth, dew is both generative and nurturing: it seems

to fertilize flowers and pasturage, insects were thought to spring from it, the

cicada feeds on it. According to Hesiod the Muses pour ‘‘sweet dew’’ on the

tongues of princes at their birth to make them eloquent (Theogony 81--84). In

Euripides and other authors various things can be ‘‘dewy,’’ such as spring

water, if they are pure or blessed by the gods.

It is but a step from the blessing of dew to blessing as dew. So Shakespeares

Belarius asks, ‘‘The benediction of these covering heavens / Fall on their heads

like dew’’ (Cym. 5.5.350--51). As a symbol of grace from on high dew could be

ascribed to any lofty giver, as when Spenser hopes that Love ‘‘will streame /

some deaw of grace, into my withered hart’’ (‘‘Hymn in Honour of Beauty’’


One of the great restorative blessings is sleep, which normally happens

during the night as dew falls, so not surprisingly sleep is sometimes likened

to dew. Spenser has ‘‘sweet slombring deaw’’ (FQ 1.1.36), Shakespeare ‘‘the

golden dew of sleep’’ (R3 4.1.83) and ‘‘the honey-heavy dew of slumber’’ (JC

2.1.230), and Milton ‘‘the timely dew of sleep / Now falling with soft

slumbrous weight inclines / Our eyelids’’ (PL 4.614--16).

Dew is usually thought of as silver, in part because of its association with

the moon. So Spenser: ‘‘Cynthia [the moon] still doth steepe / In silver deaw

his ever-drouping hed’’ (FQ 1.1.39). The assocation with the moon goes back at

least to the Greek lyrist Alcman, who in different fragments calls dew (ersa)

the daughter of Zeus and Moon and (as drosos) the son of Moon and Air.

If the moon brings dew, it was thought that the sun drinks it in the

morning. This notion underlies the allegory of Marvells ‘‘On a Drop of Dew,’’

where the sun takes pity on a homesick drop of dew and ‘‘exhales’’ it back to

the skies; it is also the basis of some of the imagery of Blakes The Book of Thel.

In poetry dew seems to have a special affinity for the rose, though the sheer

number of roses in poetry may be one reason for it; there is sometimes an

implicit pun on the Latin word for ‘‘dew,’’ ros. ‘‘Ill say she looks as clear / As

morning roses newly washed with dew,’’ says Shakespeares Petruchio (TS


In Greek and Latin poetry dew is often a metaphor for tears. ‘‘Thickly fall

the tears whose pale dew she sheds,’’ writes Sophocles (Trachiniae 847--48). Ovid

has the phrase ‘‘the dew of tears’’ (lacrimarum rore) (Met. 14.708; see 10.360),

and Seneca writes, ‘‘her cheeks are made wet with constant dew’’ (Phaedra

381--82). In an elaborate conceit Shakespeare combines tears with rose: ‘‘but

see . . . / My fair rose wither -- yet look up, behold, / That you in pity may

dissolve to dew, / And wash him fresh again with true-love tears’’ (R2 5.1.7--10).

Milton develops the conceit a little differently: Dalila ‘‘with head declind /

Like a fair flower surchargd with dew, she weeps’’ (Samson Agonistes 727--28).

Shelley frequently identifies tears with dew, notably in Adonais.

Also common in Greek and Latin poetry is the comparison of dew with

blood. Agamemnons blood is a dew, in Clytemnestras wild imagination, and

she is the sown field (Aeschylus, Agamemnon 1390--92). In Virgils Aeneid ‘‘the

rapid hooves scatter bloody dews’’ (12.339--40), while in Lucans Civil War there

is a ‘‘bloody dew from the gore of the dripping Medusa head’’ (9.698).

‘‘Dew’’ and ‘‘dewy’’ became such staples of Romantic and Victorian poetry --

Keats has ‘‘etherial dew,’’ ‘‘pearliest dew,’’ and ‘‘nectarous dew’’ among nearly

thirty instances in Endymion alone -- that rebellion was inevitable. In ‘‘The Man

on the Dump’’ Wallace Stevens discards the traditional imagery of lyric poetry,

including his own early poems, and especially dew: ‘‘how many men have

copied dew / For buttons, how many women have covered themselves / With

dew, dew dresses, stones and chains of dew, heads / Of the floweriest flowers

dewed with the dewiest dew. / One grows to hate these things except on the


See Cicada, Rain.

Dice A die, or pair of dice, can represent both chance and fate: chance if the

emphasis is on the throw (assuming the dice are not ‘‘loaded’’), fate if on the

result, which is unalterable. The word ‘‘die’’ comes via French dй from Latin

datum, ‘‘what is given’’ or ‘‘fate.’’ ‘‘Human life is like shooting dice [ludas

tesseris],’’ a character in Terences Adelphoe says; ‘‘If the dice dont turn up as

you hoped, you have to make the most of how they did’’ (739--41). As he

crossed the Rubicon, Julius Caesar famously said, ‘‘The die is cast’’ (see River).

Since then the image has seemed especially appropriate to the hazard and

fatefulness of battle. Spensers Knight describes his victory over a foe: ‘‘his

harder fortune was to fall / Under my speare: such is the dye of warre’’ (FQ

1.2.36). Shakespeares Richard III, in the midst of his final battle, defiantly

cries, ‘‘I have set my life upon a cast, / And I will stand the hazard of the die’’


Coleridge imagines Death and Life-in-death dicing for the ships crew in The

Rime of the Ancient Mariner: ‘‘the twain were casting dice; / The game is done!

Ive won! Ive won! / Quoth she, and whistles thrice’’ (1834 version 196--98),

thus dooming the mariner to a purgatorial life amidst the dead fellow sailors.

Mallarmes mysterious poem, Un coup de dйs jamais n’abolira le hasard (‘‘A throw

of dice will never abolish chance’’) seems to be about the act of thinking, or

writing a poem: like the captain of a ship on a stormy sea, the poet cannot

rely on skill or control alone but must yield to unpredictable chance.

Dog Dogs have long aroused contradictory feelings. Words for ‘‘dog’’ in Hebrew,

Greek, and Latin literature frequently served as terms of abuse, as they still do

in modern languages. Abishai calls someone a ‘‘dead dog’’ in 2 Samuel 16.9;

Jesus enjoins us to ‘‘Give not that which is holy unto the dogs’’ (Matt. 7.6; see

also 1 Sam. 17.43, Rev. 22.15). A disgusting canine habit inspired the still

common saying, ‘‘As a dog returneth to his vomit, so a fool returneth to his

folly’’ (Prov. 26.11, 2 Pet. 2.22). A similar habit led to Horaces report that a

man known for eating rotten olives and drinking sour wine was rightly called

‘‘the Dog’’ (Satires 2.2.56).

The indiscriminate mating often seen among dogs gave another edge to

insults. In Deuteronomy 23.18 ‘‘dog’’ means ‘‘sodomite.’’ In Homer dog-terms

are applied mainly to women or goddesses, with the distinct suggestion of

sexual looseness. In the Iliad Helen calls herself a ‘‘horrible dog [or bitch]’’

(6.344), Zeus tells Hera ‘‘there is nothing more doglike than you’’ (usually

translated ‘‘shameless’’) (8.483), Hera for her part later calls Artemis a ‘‘brazen

dog’’ (21.481). In the Odyssey Helen calls herself ‘‘dog-faced’’ (4.145), and

Agamemnon uses the same term for the faithless Clytemnestra (11.424).

According to Hesiod, Pandora was given the mind of a bitch (Works and Days

67). In later Greek ‘‘dog’’ was a common term for ‘‘prostitute’’ (e.g.,

Aristophanes, Knights 765). Catullus wants a ‘‘dirty adulteress’’ to blush on her

‘‘dogs face’’ (42.16--17).

To go to the dogs, to die like a dog, to lead a dogs life -- these and similar

phrases are common expressions of the miserable status of dogs. Many of

Shakespeares characters resort to dog-terms to express contempt and anger:

‘‘Out, dog! Out, cur!’’ (MND 3.2.65); ‘‘you bawling, blasphemous, incharitable

dog!’’ (Tempest 1.1.40); ‘‘You ruinous butt, you whoreson indistinguishable cur’’

(TC 5.1.28--29). ‘‘Bitch’’ and ‘‘son of a bitch’’ are such frequently heard insults in

English today that ‘‘bitch’’ has almost lost its original sense.

On the other hand, the dog has always been treasured for its loyalty. ‘‘Fido’’

(Italian for ‘‘faithful’’) is still considered the typical dogs name, though it is in

fact rare. The first named dog in western literature is Odysseus dog Argus,

who provides perhaps the most touching recognition scene in the Odyssey:

‘‘There the dog Argos lay in the dung, all covered with dog ticks. / Now, as he

perceived that Odysseus [in disguise] had come close to him, / he wagged his

tail, and laid both his ears back; . . . // But the doom of dark death now closed

over the dog, Argos, / when, after nineteen years had gone by, he had seen

Odysseus’’ (17.300--02, 326--27, trans. Lattimore). Many ancient heroes and even

gods had dogs for hunting or just for companionship.

Both wild and domesticated dogs notably hunt in packs. Over a dozen

similes in Homers Iliad compare battle situations to hunting with dogs, the

quarry being a lion, a boar, or a hapless fawn. Ares and Mars are sometimes

portrayed as having dogs. Shakespeares Antony prophesies that Caesars spirit

will ‘‘Cry Havoc! and let slip the dogs of war’’ (JC 3.1.273).

As both hounds that harry sinners and as symbols of the bestial side of

fallen human nature dogs belong to hell: Milton refers to ‘‘dogs of hell’’ and

‘‘hell hounds’’ (PL 10.616, 630), and his character Sin, like Scylla, is partly made

of dogs: ‘‘about her middle round / A cry of hell hounds never ceasing

barked / With wide Cerberian mouths full loud’’ (2.653--55); Milton is alluding

to Cerberus, the classical watchdog of Hades. In medieval allegories the devil

is sometimes likened to a dog, usually black. Wittily suggesting the urbanity

of the modern devil, Goethe has his Mephistopheles emerge from a poodle

(Faust I 1147ff.). If the devil is the hound of hell, God might be, as Francis

Thompson titles his best known poem, ‘‘The Hound of Heaven.’’

Dog star see Star

Dolphin Homer mentions dolphins (Greek delphis or delphinos) only twice, once as prey

for Scylla (Odyssey 12.96) and once as a devouring sea-beast in a simile for

Achilles (Iliad 21.22), quite untypical of its later benign associations. The

Homeric Hymn to Apollo connects the dolphin, one of Apollos guises, with the

gods oracle at Delphi (495--96); the etymology is questionable, though it is

possible that both words are related to delphys, ‘‘womb.’’ The Hymn to Dionysus

tells how the pirates who captured that disguised god leapt overboard when

he turned himself into a lion, whereupon they were turned into dolphins; it

is retold by Ovid in Metamorphoses (3.607--86).

The Greeks believed that dolphins like music -- Euripides calls them

‘‘oboe-lovers’’ (Electra 435--36) -- and so they escort ships on which music is

playing. With more plausibility, it was thought that a person might be saved

from drowning at sea by a dolphin, as Plato notes (Republic 453d). The most

famous example is the poet Arion, who, when about to be tossed overboard by

thieves, begs and gains the privilege of singing a last song, which attracts the

dolphins, who then rescue him; it is told by Herodotus (1.23--24) and Ovid

(Fasti 2.79--118), and cited by Spenser (FQ 4.11.23), Shakespeare (12N 1.2.15),

Shelley (Witch of Atlas 484), and many others. Another example is that of

Palaemon, son of Leucothea (Ovid, Met. 4.31; Statius, Thebaid 1.121, 9.331). The

sea nymph Thetis rides a dolphin (Met. 11.237); in Shakespeare it is a singing

mermaid (MND 2.1.150).

In Christian symbolism the dolphin means salvation or resurrection and is

sometimes linked with the whale of Jonah, himself a type of Christ; in

iconography the souls of the dead were portrayed as riding on the backs of

dolphins. Milton evokes both the Christian symbol and the classical link with

poets as he asks, ‘‘O ye dolphins, waft the helpless youth,’’ that is, Lycidas, the

drowned poet (‘‘Lycidas’’ 164). Keats imagines Lycidas in a cave of the Hebrides,

where dolphins come to pay devotion (‘‘Staffa’’ 31--33).

Perhaps because Nereids ride them (Plato, Critias 116e), or because the

beautiful nymph Galateas shell-chariot is portrayed as drawn by them, or

because they swim in groups, or because the sea itself is seen as the source of

life (and of Venus), dolphins are sometimes associated with love or generation.

Ovid calls the dolphin a ‘‘go-between in loves intrigues’’ (Fasti 2.79). Gellius

claims that dolphins form amorous passions for attractive boys (6.8). Goethe

makes much of the erotic and generative connotations in Faust Part II where

Proteus changes himself into a dolphin and bids Homunculus climb aboard

(8316--20); after Galatea passes by, Homunculus throws himself into the sea in

a kind of sexual ecstasy. In Blake ‘‘jealous dolphins,’’ representing a jealous

lover, sport round his beloved (Visions of the Daughters 1.19). Yeats adopts the

dolphin as escort of dead souls but seems to take it also as the body or fleshly

vehicle of the soul, which may be purged and reincarnated in the sea:

‘‘Astraddle on the dolphins mire and blood, / Spirit after spirit!’’ riding on the

‘‘dolphin-torn’’ sea (‘‘Byzantium’’ 33--34, 40; see also ‘‘News for the Delphic


Dove It is a happy accident that ‘‘dove’’ rhymes with ‘‘love’’ in English, for the dove

has been the bird of love for as long as we have record. It was the bird of

Ishtar and Astarte, the Babylonian and Syrian love-goddesses, as well as of

Greek Aphrodite and thus of Roman Venus. Their gentle cooing and apparent

faithfulness to their mates made doves, and especially turtle-doves, inevitable

symbols not only of love but of the kindred virtues of gentleness, innocence,

timidity, and peace.

The return of turtle-doves to Palestine in April was a sure sign (and sound)

of spring, as we see in Song of Solomon 2.12: ‘‘The flowers appear on the earth;

the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in

our land.’’ ‘‘Turtle’’ by itself means the turtle-dove, not the reptile; its names

in Hebrew (tor), Greek (trugon), and Latin (turtur, whence ‘‘turtle’’) seem derived

from its call. In the same chapter of the Song (2.14) the beloved is summoned

as ‘‘my dove, that art in the clefts of the rock,’’ alluding to its preference for

dwelling on cliff-sides and in caves; it may be a different bird (yonati in

Hebrew, probably the rock dove) but it has much the same connotation. As a

term of endearment ‘‘dove’’ is found in Greek and Latin as well.

The earliest references to Aphrodite in Greek literature say nothing about

doves (and vice versa); in fact the birds that accompany the goddess in

Sapphos great Ode to Aphrodite (early sixth century) are sparrows. In Homer

doves bring ambrosia to Zeus (Odyssey 12.63). But doves were associated with

the sites of the Aphrodite cult (especially Paphos and Amathus on Cyprus)

much as owls were with Athens. The ‘‘timid dove’’ who escapes a hawk in

Apollonius Argonautica (3.541--50) is identified as the ‘‘gentle bird’’ of Cypris (a

standard name for Aphrodite).

In Latin literature the link is routine. When two doves lead Aeneas to the

golden bough he knows them to be his mother Venus birds (Aeneid 6.190ff.).

Near the end of the Metamorphoses Ovid lists three gods birds, Junos peacock,

Joves eagle, and ‘‘Cythereas doves’’ (15.385--86) (Cytherea is another common

alternative for Venus/Aphrodite). Martial mentions ‘‘Paphian doves’’ (8.28.13),

Propertius the ‘‘doves of my lady Venus’’ (3.3.31), and so on. They are yoked to

Venus chariot in Apuleius (Met. 6.6.2). Chaucer describes doves flitting about

the head of Venus (Knight’s Tale 1962), Spenser has ‘‘Venus dearling dove’’ (FQ 4

Proem 5), and Shakespeare has ‘‘Venus doves’’ (MND 1.1.171), ‘‘Venus pigeons’’

(MV 2.6.5), and, like Martial, a ‘‘dove of Paphos’’ (Per 4 Gower 32). In the final

stanza of Shakespeares Venus and Adonis, Venus, weary of the world, ‘‘yokes her

silver doves’’ to her chariot and flies to Paphos (1189--94). Ancient lovers gave

doves to their beloveds (e.g., Theocritus 5.96--97). As the bird of Venus the dove

occasionally represents lechery (as in Catullus 29.7--8), but that role is usually

played by Aphrodites other bird, the sparrow.

Aristotle wrote that doves are monogamous (Historia Animalium

9.7.612b33ff.), and faithfulness to one mate became part of the lore of doves,

especially of turtle-doves. Chaucer names ‘‘the wedded turtil, with hire herte

trewe’’ (PF 355). ‘‘As true as turtle to her mate’’ was a proverb by the

Renaissance; ‘‘so turtles pair / That never mean to part’’ (Shakespeare, WT


When it is named in Homer, the dove (peleia) is usually accompanied by the

epithet ‘‘fearful’’ or ‘‘trembling’’ (treron), as it is in Apollonius much later. (But

it is possible that treron is an old word for ‘‘dove’’ itself, related to trugon,

‘‘turtle,’’ and so on.) In Homer and tragedy, too, the dove is often linked with

the hawk, eagle, or another bird of prey. When Hector loses his nerve and

flees Achilles, ‘‘As when a hawk in the mountains who moves lightest of

things flying / makes his effortless swoop for a trembling dove . . . // so Achilles

went straight for him in fury’’ (Iliad 22.139--43; trans. Lattimore). A typical

omen is the sight of ‘‘a high-flown eagle, [which] carried a tremulous dove’’

(Odyssey 20.243). The chorus of Aeschylus Seven Against Thebes fears the

besieging army as an ever-timorous (pantromos) dove fears serpents for her

nestlings sake (292--94). In Euripides Andromache, the Trojans turn their backs

in flight ‘‘like doves seeing a hawk’’ (1140--41).

It is a widespread image in Latin literature. Omen and simile combine in

Virgils Aeneid: ‘‘So easily / A hawk . . . / Will strike a soaring dove high in a

cloud / And grip her as he tears her viscera / With crooked talons’’ (11.721--23).

Ovid has ‘‘thus the lamb the wolf, the deer the lion, / the doves on trembling

wing flee the hawk’’ (Met. 1.505--06).

Another connotation derives from the Bible. Noah sends a dove forth three

times to find out how far the waters of the Flood have receded (Gen. 8.8--12);

the second time the bird returns with a fresh olive leaf in its beak, a sign that

the waters have shrunk enough to reveal olive groves. In classical tradition the

olive came to represent peace, and so had the dove -- Horace calls it

inbellem . . . columbam, ‘‘unwarlike dove’’ (Odes 4.4.31--32) -- and that symbolism

seconded the connotation of the dove in the Noah story as confirming the

new covenant of the Lord. Thus hope was joined with peace. (See Olive.)

Jesus enjoins his followers to be ‘‘wise as serpents, and harmless as doves’’

(Matt. 10.16). The Church father Tertullian called the dove the ‘‘animal of

simplicity and innocence’’ (De Baptismo 8). In passages of great future

importance to Christian imagery, all four Gospels describe the spirit of God as

‘‘descending like a dove’’ on Jesus at his baptism (e.g., Matt. 3.16). The dove

came to symbolize the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity, as we see in

countless medieval and Renaissance paintings of the Trinity or the

Annunciation. In Genesis ‘‘the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the

waters’’ (1.2). To those Christians inclined to take the Spirit of God as dovelike

it was significant that the Hebrew verb translated as ‘‘moved’’ (AV) occurs later

(Deut. 32.11) as ‘‘fluttereth,’’ used of an eagle over her young; that led to the

idea that the Spirit incubated the face of the waters. That idea underlies

Miltons famous address to the Spirit, who ‘‘with mighty wings outspread /

Dove-like satst brooding on the vast abyss / And madest it pregnant’’ (PL

1.20--22). Hopkinss sonnet ‘‘Gods Grandeur’’ ends, ‘‘the Holy Ghost over the

bent / World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.’’

Two passages from the Psalms -- ‘‘Oh that I had wings like a dove! for then I

would fly away, and be at rest’’ (55.6) and ‘‘Though ye have lien among the

pots, yet shall ye be as the wings of a dove covered with silver, and her

feathers with yellow gold’’ (68.13) -- inspired the title of Henry Jamess novel

The Wings of the Dove, whose main character, Milly Theale, is dovelike in her

gentleness and power to comfort.

Dragon see Serpent

Dream Dreams are a ubiquitous feature of ancient, medieval, and modern literature

beginning with Enkidus dream in the Epic of Gilgamesh. Agamemnon and

Achilles have dreams in the Iliad, Penelope and Nausicaa in the Odyssey,

Aeneas and Dido in the Aeneid; Jacob dreams of the ladder to heaven and the

promise of the Lord; the stories of Joseph and Daniel turn on dreams and the

art of dream interpretation; three of Aeschylus surviving plays have significant

dreams; we could add examples endlessly. In older literature dreams are

very often prophetic, and their message may be straightforwardly literal or

couched in a dark symbolism that demands a decipherer. Very often they are

sent by the gods. It is thus often impossible to distinguish between a dream

and a vision, which in turn might be either a waking dream (or trance) or a

real heaven-sent revelation.

The symbols in a dream or vision may draw from any of the traditional

meanings that this dictionary presents, or they may refer to particular

situations unique to the dreamer and interpretable only in context. Dreams

are the occasions for interpolated tales within larger narratives; the tales

may be told in a different mode, usually more symbolic or allegorical, and

they may bear oblique and subtle connections to their frameworks. As

dreams are seldom symbols in themselves, but rather gates into the realm of

symbols, this entry will be much briefer than the subject might seem to


In the Middle Ages many whole works were dreams, notably the dream

allegories, of which the French Romance of the Rose by Guillaume de Lorris and

Jean de Meun is the leading example; it begins with a defense of the truth of

dreams, and the rest of the long poem is, in Chaucers translation, ‘‘such a

swevenyng [dream] / That lyked me wonders wel’’ (26--27). Dream allegories in

English include Pearl; Langlands Piers Plowman; Chaucers Book of the Duchess,

House of Fame, and Parliament of Fowls; and Bunyans Pilgrim’s Progress. The most

influential ancient source of dream narratives is Ciceros Somnium Scipionis,

‘‘The Dream of Scipio,’’ along with a commentary on it by Macrobius.

The formulaic phrase for introducing a dream in English literature was

‘‘methinks’’ or ‘‘methought,’’ which does not quite mean ‘‘I think’’ or ‘‘I

thought’’ but rather ‘‘it seems/seemed to me,’’ hence ‘‘I see/saw as in a dream

or vision’’ (sometimes ‘‘me seems/seemed’’ was used). Chaucer, for example,

introduces the dream within The Book of the Duchess: ‘‘thys was my sweven. / Me

thoghte thus: that hyt was May’’ (290--91). Eve uses ‘‘methought’’ four times in

recounting her dream to Adam in Miltons Paradise Lost (5.35--91).

There are ancient conventions about dreams and where they come from.

They are often sent by gods, as when Zeus sends a destructive dream to Agamemnon

in Homers Iliad (2.1--34); the Dream is personified and obeys Zeuss

command like any servant, and then takes the form of Nestor in the dream.

Athena sends a dream-figure to Penelope in the guise of her sister (Odyssey

4.795--841). In Homer also we find the two mysterious gates of dreams, the

gate of ivory (elephas), though which deceptive dreams pass, and the gate of

horn (keras), through which true ones pass (Odyssey 19.560--67); the gates are

‘‘explained’’ through puns on elephairomai, ‘‘deceive,’’ and kraino, ‘‘fulfill.’’ Virgil

adds to the mystery by having Aeneas and the Sibyl depart the underworld

(Hades) through the gate of ivory. Since the underworld is the realm of Death,

brother of Sleep, it may be appropriate that it has those gates, but it raises

questions about the truth of the prophecies Aeneas hears in the underworld

that he should leave by the dubious exit. Perhaps, since he and the Sibyl are

not dreams, or shades, but still alive, they may be considered false dreams

themselves, that is, not really dreams.

Ovid has an elaborate description of the Cave of Sleep, where empty dreams

lie about in great number; at Iris behest Sleep summons Morpheus (‘‘Shaper,’’

from Greek morphe) to impersonate Ceyx in his wife Alcyones dream (Met.

11.592--675). This account is the main source of Spensers similar story, where

Archimago sends a sprite down through the bowels of the earth to Morpheus

house to wake him and order a false dream; Morpheus summons one from his

‘‘prison dark’’ and the sprite returns with it through the ivory gate (FQ


It is tempting to speculate that there is a deep similarity between the

experience of dreaming and the rapt state of attentiveness that ancient oral

poetry and song elicited, the ‘‘charm’’ or ‘‘spell’’ (kelethmos) that Odysseus casts

over his audience (Odyssey 11.334); if that is so then the fact that dreams play

so large a part in literature should not surprise us. The notion that a play

enacted on a stage is a kind of dream, an ‘‘insubstantial pageant,’’ is evoked by

Shakespeare and other playwrights (Tempest 4.1.155). Robin Goodfellow concludes

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, for instance, by calling himself and his

fellow actors ‘‘shadows’’ (‘‘shadow’’ and ‘‘shade’’ were often synomyms for

‘‘dream’’) and inviting the audience to take the whole play as a dream

(5.1.414--19). Since a play or any other work of literature was an imitation of

life, life itself could be taken as a dream. ‘‘We are such stuff / As dreams are

made on,’’ Prospero says, ‘‘and our little life / Is rounded with a sleep’’ (Tempest


It does not need the analogy with story and drama, of course, to set one

thinking that life is a dream; looked at from ones old age, lifes brevity and

the evaporation of lifes illusions readily suggest the equation. Pindar wrote,

‘‘man is a shadows dream’’ (Pyth. 8.95--96); ‘‘shadow’’ (skia) might mean ‘‘shade’’

here, a shade being a ghost, in which case there is a suggestion that our lives

are dreamt by the dead. Walther von der Vogelweide wondered if he had

dreamt his own life: ‘‘ist mir mˆın leben getroumet?’’ (‘‘Owˆe war sint verswunden’’

2). Petrarch wrote in a letter to Colonna that his life seemed ‘‘a light

dream, a most fleeting phantasm.’’ Calderon gave his view in his most famous

play, La Vida es Sue˜no (‘‘Life is a Dream’’): its leading character, Segimundo,

concludes that ‘‘all of life is a dream, / and dreams are dreams’’ (2.2186--87).

Poe went one better by concluding (and echoing his title) that ‘‘All that we see

or seem / Is but a dream within a dream.’’

Poe in part expressed the Romantic view, inherited by psychoanalysis, that

dreamers enter a deeper or truer reality than the world of consciousness or

reason, that ‘‘gleams of a remoter world / Visit the soul in sleep,’’ as Shelley

put it in ‘‘Mont Blanc’’ (49--50). Shelley wonders if death, that resembles sleep,

might be the portal to truth. After his entranced hearkening to the nightingale,

Keats asks, ‘‘Was it a vision or a waking dream? / Fled is that music: --

Do I wake or sleep?’’ The first of Yeatss collected poems laments the loss of

the ancient world of dreams, ‘‘old earths dreamy youth’’ (‘‘Song of the Happy

Shepherd’’ 54), and one of the last poems reviews his works and concludes

‘‘when all is said / It was the dream itself enchanted me’’ (‘‘The Circus

Animals Desertion’’ 27--28). In conferring great, if equivocal, value on the

dream in the face of rationalist disparagement, the Romantics were restoring

it to its ancient prestige, though without the divine agency that guaranteed it.

In the wake of Freud, many twentieth-century writers (notably the surrealists)

have exploited the dream in many ways; Joyces Finnegans Wake, for instance, is

(perhaps) one long dream.

Dust see Clay