Our Dreams - Our Selves

Episodes

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01Morpheus Descending: Gods And Ghosts In The Ancient World2013092320170417 (BBC7)

Puzzling over the nightly drama of our dreams is one of the most enduring of all human endeavours. We suspect that our dreams are meaningless, and yet we can't resist the urge to interpret the most vivid, transporting or troubling of them. The way dreams have been understood tells us a great deal, both about long dead dreamers, and the worlds in which they lived.

Over the course of this week, Lucy Powell explores the history of dreams and what we think they mean, a hundred years after Sigmund Freud's great work 'The Interpretation of Dreams' appeared in English.

She'll be exploring medieval mystics, renaissance dreamers, Romantic nightmares and the latest findings in neuroscience, but today she returns to the gods and ghosts of the ancient Greeks.

Freud described psychoanalysis as a kind of archaeology of the mind, a search for buried pieces of the past that the analyst must carefully retrieve, pull up to the light, and unlock to reveal their hidden meanings. And on Freud's desk, in his north London study, are real archaeological treasures: figures from ancient Greece, Rome, and Mesopotamia, part of the collection of over 2000 antiquities he collected during his lifetime - statues and frescos and strange, goggle-eyed gargoyles. He called them his 'old and grubby gods' who aided him in his work. They make of Freud's study a strange kind of dream-scape, filled with fragments of the past. Because in seeking to forge a new theory of dreams, Freud reached right back to the earliest dreams in Western history.

Producer: Jane Greenwood.

A Loftus production for BBC Radio 4.

02Mystics And Melancholia: Radical Dreamers In The Middle Ages2013092420170419 (BBC7)

Lucy Powell returns to the great mystical dreamers of the Middle Ages.

Over the course of this week, Lucy Powell explores the history of dreams and what we think they mean, a hundred years after Sigmund Freud's great work 'The Interpretation of Dreams' appeared in English.

As well as investigating the impact of that book, she'll be exploring renaissance dreamers, Romantic nightmares, and the latest findings in neuroscience, but today she returns to the great mystical dreamers of the Middle Ages.

At no time in Western history have dreams been so divinely inspired, or as highly revered as in the Middle Ages. Our earliest literature is studded with transcendent, celestial dreams. They had the power to precipitate wars and reroute the fate of nations. They could confer extraordinary freedoms on ordinary medieval people. But they could also precipitate what seem to us intolerable physical restrictions.

Lucy visits the cell of Julian of Norwich, who chose to spend her life bound by four walls, contemplating the meaning of her divinely-inspired dreams. But while Julian's visions drove her to the complete seclusion of a contemplative, her Norfolk contemporary Margery Kempe, was propelled across the globe by her visions of Christ.

Producer: Jane Greenwood.

A Loftus production for BBC Radio 4.

03Renaissance Dreamers: Witches, Demons And The Troubles Of Eros2013092520170419 (BBC7)
20170420 (BBC7)

Lucy Powell explores the dangers of erotic and political dreams in the Renaissance.

Over the course of this week, Lucy Powell explores the history of dreams and what we think they mean, a hundred years after Sigmund Freud's great work 'The Interpretation of Dreams' appeared in English. She traces the shadowy, circuitous and often surprising history of dreams, from the oldest works of Western literature to the very forefront of neuroscience, and finds out where dreams have taken us in the past, and where they might transport us next.

In this programme, she explores the dreams of the Renaissance.

Nowhere do we feel as safe and shielded from the world as in our beds. They are witness to the most significant events of our lives, from birth to death. And our beds are also the theatres in which the nightly drama of our dreams plays out. But for the people of the Renaissance, the bed and the dreams that arrived in them were also sites of very real danger.

Lucy eavesdrops on Renaissance dreamers including Oliver Cromwell's grandmother and Samuel Pepys, to uncover the potential dangers of the erotic and the political dream. And she visits the great house of Knole in Kent to find out how Shakespeare used the dream to disguise dangerous statements about power and politics in Renaissance England.

Producer: Jane Greenwood.

A Loftus production for BBC Radio 4.

04Dark Romantics And Opium Dreams2013092620170420 (BBC7)
20170421 (BBC7)

Lucy Powell explores the fear and loathing, as Romantic dreams turn to nightmares.

Over the course of this week, Lucy Powell explores the history of dreams and what we think they mean, a hundred years after Sigmund Freud's great work 'The Interpretation of Dreams' appeared in English. She traces the shadowy, circuitous and often surprising history of dreams, from the oldest works of western literature to the very forefront of neuroscience, and finds out where dreams have taken us in the past, and where they might transport us next.

In this programme, she explores the dreams of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In this new, Enlightened era, the age-old notion that dreams might be divine emissaries or the dark nocturnal work of devilish spirits, would no longer hold cultural currency. All the demons that our dreams revealed would be our own. And yet, the Enlightenment also precipitated a scientific revolution that would see extremely powerful, psychomorphic drugs being routinely prescribed for a whole host of ailments. Crucially for dreamers, one of these was opium, which bore very particular, poetic fruits. From Coleridge's Kubla Khan to the nightmares of de Quincey and the dream which led to Frankenstein, dreams in this era proved to be both creatively inspiring and personally terrifying.

Producer: Jane Greenwood.

A Loftus production for BBC Radio 4.

05 LASTScience And Psychoanalysis: The Recurring Dream Of Sigmund Freud2013092720170421 (BBC7)
20170422 (BBC7)

Lucy Powell explores the history of dreams and what we think they mean, a hundred years after Sigmund Freud's great work 'The Interpretation of Dreams' appeared in English. She traces the shadowy, circuitous and often surprising history of dreams, from the oldest works of western literature to the very forefront of neuroscience, and finds out where dreams have taken us in the past, and where they might transport us next.

It's hard to imagine now just how radical 'The Interpretation of Dreams' was a century ago. For his contemporaries, dreams were just froth - 'trauma sind schaume'. But Freud accorded them meaning. The men and women who once lay on his couch came to Freud with disturbing symptoms that mainstream medical science couldn't cure. He decided to look, not at their bodies for the source of their malaise, but at their minds. In particular, he delved into the darkest reaches of their dreams. Freud's extraordinary claim was that dreams are 'the royal road to the unconscious'.

Lucy explores Freud's greatest work, and talks to Mark Solms, a neuroscientist at the cutting edge of research into dreams. She asks if Freud was right.

Producer: Jane Greenwood.

A Loftus production for BBC Radio 4.

Lucy Powell asks if Freud was right about dreams.