Enjoy the honey-heavy dew of slumber

One of the interesting themes that often emerge in pre-industrial texts is a notably positive attitude toward sleep. There is something about writing that comes along before the invention of the lightbulb that embraces sleep as a blessing, as opposed to a nuisance.

Consider Athena, giving relief to Odysseus, showering

sleep upon his eyes…sleep in a swift wave
delivering him from all his pains and labours,
blessed sleep that seals his eyes at last.
(Homer, Odyssey, 5.544-7, trans. Robert Fagles, 2006[1996])

Shakespeare is often celebratory of sleep:

Enjoy the honey-heavy dew of slumber.
Thou hast no figures nor no fantasies,
Which busy care draws in the brains of men.
Therefore thou sleep’st so sound.
(Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, Act 2, Scene 1)

Neuroscientist Russell Foster asks how humanity’s attitudes about sleep devolved from Shakespeare’s sweet “honey-heavy dew of slumber” to Thomas Edison’s belief that “Sleep is a criminal waste of time, inherited from our cave days.” Foster observes that many of us treat sleep like an enemy, instead of a gift. But perhaps things are changing? TED Talks, in fact, even have an entire playlist dedicated to the emerging reprioritization of sleep in contemporary science.

There may just be some kernels of wisdom in those pre-scientific writings when it comes to the incomparable value and blessedness of a good nights sleep.

Hence it is well to interpose the night and sleep, to make an adequate interval and intermission, and to wake up fresh again, as at the beginning… (Plutarch, Table Talk 655d)

By now the sun’s chariot had covered the last leg of its course, and surrounding myself to the evening hush I was overcome by sweet sleep. (Apuleius, The Golden Ass, or Metamorphoses, 10.35, trans. E.J. Kenny, 2004[1998])

The timely dew of sleep
Now falling with soft slumb’rous weight inclines
Our eyelids.
(John Milton, Paradise Lost, Book IV, line 615.

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