The Interpretation of Dreams | Study Guide

Sigmund Freud

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The Interpretation of Dreams | Epigraph | Summary


Freud divided The Interpretation of Dreams into seven chapters; some are short and some are very long. He further subdivided the chapters into sections labeled with letters of the alphabet. Some of the lettered subdivisions are further subdivided.

Sometimes Freud added headings that are not labeled with a letter, such as "Preamble" and "Analysis." The editor and translator James Strachey wrote an introduction, and Freud wrote prefaces for seven editions.



The Latin epigraph "Flectere si nequeo superos, Acheronta movebo" is from Virgil's epic poem the Aeneid. One literal translation is "If I cannot deflect the will of higher powers, then I shall move the River Acheron." In Greek mythology the River Acheron flows through the underworld. Therefore many translations substitute "hell" for "Acheron"; for example, classics scholar Robert Fagles: "If I cannot sway heaven, I'll wake the powers of hell!" At the end of the book Freud's editor and translator James Strachey translates the epigraph as "If I cannot bend the Higher Powers, then I will move the Infernal Regions."

Editor's Introduction

British psychoanalyst James Strachey edited and translated this edition of The Interpretation of Dreams; he also edited an English edition of Freud's collected works. He starts his introduction with bibliographical information and remarks The Interpretation of Dreams was actually published in November 1899 but was postdated so it would carry the auspicious date 1900.

There were eight German editions of The Interpretation of Dreams in Freud's lifetime, the final one published some 30 years after the first. Strachey notes Freud kept changing and updating the book as his thinking and his theories changed. In the historical section of the introduction Strachey traces the writing of The Interpretation of Dreams and relates it to Freud's early drafts of "Project for a Scientific Psychology."

In the final section of the introduction Strachey describes the changes he makes to this edition. He adds dates and footnotes, where possible, to show the origin of Freud's changes. Strachey says he tried to make this a "variorum edition," which attempts to account for and explicitly mark all the changes a book has gone through in its different editions.


The epigraph comes from Virgil's Aeneid, an epic poem about the exploits of Aeneas, legendary ancestor of the Romans. The goddess Juno speaks this line in the poem. She is desperate to intervene in Aeneas's actions, and she sends an underworld god, a fury from "the Infernal Regions," to do her work.

Freud himself remarked the line from Virgil "is intended to picture the efforts of the repressed instinctual impulses." In The Interpretation of Dreams Freud analyzes many dreams in which something lower—a lower floor in a building, for example—symbolizes unconscious wishes. The underworld of the epigraph symbolizes Freud's interest in the unconscious.

Freud updated The Interpretation of Dreams many times over the course of 30 years. In 1900 Freud rejected the symbolic method of interpreting of dreams; in 1911 he added heaps of new material on symbolism. In footnotes, too, Freud added insights from his later discoveries. The result is a complex, layered book, a record of his changing ideas. As he wrote to his friend Wilhelm Fliess, "The whole thing [The Interpretation of Dreams] is planned on the model of an imaginary walk." In later editions, however, the path developed many new branches, switchbacks, and layers of overgrowth, fitting for the work of a man so interested in obscure regions of the mind.

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