Abstract

The puzzling nature of Horace's fifth and seventeenth epodes is well known among scholars. Recent studies have worked to interpret the poems in terms of contemporary magical practices and folkloric concepts. In this article, I aim to add an additional facet to our understanding of these texts: ancient perspectives on the “night-mare,” a perceived supernatural attack involving bodily paralysis, severe pressure on the chest, and extreme terror. I will first discuss a series of references to the night-mare in early medical texts and classifications of dreams, then turn to a possible night-mare simile in Virgil and, finally, the place of the night-mare in Horace's two magical epodes. Investigating how this phenomenon has been regarded and described through time enables us to better understand these enigmatic epodes and, more broadly, to explore how people of the past viewed a frightening affliction as old as humanity itself.

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