This paper focuses on Presocratic philosophy of sleep – that is, early Greek theories about physiology of sleeping and dreaming, the differences between being sleep and wake, and the relation between living, sleeping, and dying. At the beginning of his treatise On Sleep, Aristotle raises a series of questions physiologists of sleep should attempt to answer (1.453b10-25): Do all animals, or all living things, sleep? Can there be a state of endless sleep? Does sleep belong to the body or to the soul? What are dreams? Why do we forget them? And can dreams predict the future? In this paper, I propose to investigate the Presocratic views of sleep. The argument is that the Presocratics turn their attention to and first problematise the phenomenon of sleep insofar as it offers a unique access to and insight into the phenomenon of dying. Sleep is portrayed as a minor, temporary, and less extreme version of what happens at death. As such, sleep enables us to grasp, experience, and explain the biological and physiological processes of living and dying.
Chair: Lea Cantor
Workshop in Ancient Philosophy Convenors: Ursula Coope, Simon Shogry and Alexander Bown