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Nocturnal Haircuts

Dreamed 96 AD by two of Pliny the Younger's young servants

SOURCE: a letter by Pliny the Younger to his friend Sura, in Letters (Bk VII), cited in The Dream World (ed. Rodolphe Megroz, 1939)

I have a freedman, who is not without some knowledge of letters. A younger brother of his was sleeping with him in the same bed. The latter dreamed he saw some one sitting on the couch, who approached a pair of scissors to his head, and even cut the hair from the crown of it. When day dawned he was found to be cropped round the crown, and his locks were discovered lying about.

A very short time afterwards a fresh occurrence of the same kind confirmed the truth of the former one. A lad of mine was sleeping, in company with several others, in the pages' apartment. There came through the windows (so he tells the story), two figures in white tunics, who cut his hair as he lay, and departed the way they came. In his case, too, daylight exhibited him shorn, and his locks scattered around.

Nothing remarkable followed, except perhaps this, that I was not brought under accusation, as I should have been, if Domitian (in whose reign these events happened) had lived longer. For in his desk was found an information [accusation] against me which had been presented by Carus; from which circumstance it may be conjectured--inasmuch as it is the custom of accused persons to let their hair grow--that the cutting off of my slaves' hair was a sign of the danger which threatened me being averted.

I beg then, that you will apply your great learning to this subject. The matter is one which deserves long and deep consideration.

--Pliny the Younger


My own "long and deep consideration" is that one brother cut off the other's as a prank, and the pages copied him as kids will.

But that simple explanation has its problems. Each victim would have to sense his hair being cut in sleep, experience the haircut in a dream--yet not wake up! And the timing and symbolism of these phantom haircuts really is startling, given that no one in the house knew yet of the accusations in the Emperor's desk. Really, I'm as bewildered as Pliny seems to have been.

The rarity of dream-accounts this old (especially from non-aristocrats!) plus the sheer weirdness of the two dreams' circumstances, made me post them. As we sort dream-phenomena into neat categories (as if that will tame them) it's good to be reminded that some weird little dreams just won't fit.

--Chris Wayan

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