Dreams and Memory

Orpheus journeys to the Underworld to retrieve his beloved wife, Eurydice. But as is the case with myths in general, the events and characters in this myth can be interpreted symbolically. If we interpret Eurydice not just as a person but as a symbol, we open up the possibility for a whole new interpretation of the myth in which Orpheus’ journey to the Underworld can be explained psychologically—as a foray into the dark recesses of our mind, the world of dreams and memory.

World of Dreams (1876) by Laura Theresa Alma-Tadema (1852-1909); [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons 

World of Dreams (1876) by Laura Theresa Alma-Tadema (1852-1909); [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons 


In this interpretation, Eurydice represents all our positive and possibly idealized memories of the past, memories we desperately want to re-live but which are lost to us forever. We can look back at them with longing, but any attempt to resurrect those moments and experience them again is as doomed as Orpheus’ attempt to resurrect his Eurydice. Our past is lost to us forever except in memories or through dreams. We cannot go back and re-live it, change it, or undo what has been done.

But perhaps more significant than our conscious attempt to re-live the past through the recollection of memories is the surfacing of the past through our dreams. Dreams consist of images, emotions, thoughts, ideas, and bits and pieces of memories buried in our psyche that speak to us during certain stages of sleep. They emerge from our underworld, the deep recesses of our subconscious mind. The nature of dreams varies. They can be frightening, soothing, bizarre, bewildering, sad, comforting, or inspiring. What happens in a dream or where it takes us is beyond our conscious control. 

Most dreams are forgotten as soon as we wake up. We see them recede into the darkness beyond our grasp. Like Orpheus reaching out to Eurydice, we reach out to hold on to our dream, to try to recall it. But the dream disappears before our eyes and we are left with nothing to hold on to except the knowledge that we experienced a vivid dream whose only contents we can remember are fragments of fleeting images. 


AuthorTamara Agha-Jaffar