- Dreaming and Historical Consciousness in Island Greece by Charles Stewart
Dreaming and Historical Consciousness in Island Greece has a beautiful cover illustration: brown and gray mountains beneath a deep blue sky on the island of Naxos. Gashes on the mountains show where emery mining has taken place since ancient times. Charles Stewart’s meticulous, thought-provoking study of the mountains’ history resulted in this remarkable book, which is part of the “Cultural Politics, Socioaesthetics, Beginnings” series of Harvard’s Early Modern and Modern Greek Studies program.
Defining historical consciousness as “the historical information that people know, the narratives of the past that they maintain in consciousness” (p. 1), Stewart argues that it is necessary to make dreams and stories about dreams part of our definition of history. Like Amira Mittermaier, whose Dreams That Matter: Egyptian Landscapes of the Imagination won the Chicago Folklore Prize in 2011, he examines accounts of dreams and related narratives with impressive insight. Both the depth of his ethnography and the breadth of his reach across historical periods are impressive.
The island of Naxos has a long history of prophetic dreaming and pilgrimages. Every year on the Friday after Easter Sunday in the village of Kóronos, thousands of pilgrims celebrate the feast day of the Panagía (the All-Holy Mother of God) by visiting Argokoíli, where visionary experiences and discoveries began in the 1830s. Three shepherds from Kóronos—a sister and two brothers—reported in 1831 that the Panagía had told them to search for an icon buried on the side of a mountain. Many other visions and searches for icons followed, and in the spring of 1836, villagers unearthed four icons. A deaf-mute boy who was hoping to find a divine cure discovered the icon that inspired pilgrimages to Argokoíli. By the 1850s, a church had been dedicated to the Panagía, and healers were attempting to cure people nearby.
In chapter 4, “An Epidemic of Dreaming,” Stewart insightfully analyzes what happened in the 1930s, a hundred years after the first visions and dreams. The fact that Katerína, a schoolgirl, and Nikiophóros, her brother, searched for icons after dreaming showed that villagers were “still ruminating on historical events” (p. 73). Their dreams and searches increased when four 13-year-olds, age-mates of Katerína, described their dreams and asked people to search for an icon of Saint Anne and a spring of holy water at Argokoíli. Evdokía, a woman known as a visionary prophet, kept a dream notebook and became the children’s organizer, encouraging them to keep dream notebooks of their own. As Stewart’s detailed examination of sketches of dream images shows, the search for signs became more and more intense as time passed without more momentous discoveries. Feeling [End Page 109] “a desire for grace, dignity and enrichment,” children and adults shared dreams that nurtured a myth (p. 104). Stewart notes “a diachronic interaction between myths and dreams of lost icons stretching back through the fall of Constantinople, past iconoclasm, and coming to rest in the paradigmatic myth of the life and resurrection of Christ” (p. 105).
Chapter 6, “The Fortunes and Misfortunes of Emery,” places the myth-dream of Naxos in historical and economic context. In ancient times, Naxos was famous as a source of this hard, abrasive mineral. Known to many as the substance found on emery boards used to file fingernails, emery also has important industrial uses. During the 1930s, there was an emery boom that stimulated the economy of Kóronos; emery was needed for manufacturing weapons for World War I. Emery sales also increased as World War II approached, but the Italian and German occupations of Naxos brought disaster to the island. During 1941 and 1942, almost four hundred villagers died of starvation in Kóronos. Now, industries use synthetic forms of emery, and the “once promising emery industry has become a Byzantine system through which politicians buy votes for pension and health care...