Wednesday, May 23, 2007

May 23: Sleep-in Day

Today is the birthday of Austrian physician Franz Mesmer (1734-1815) who discovered animal magnetism and whose work influenced the development of hypnosis. Animal magnetism was the term used to describe the mysterious magnetic powers that Mesmer claimed he could control to cure ailments. He did several public demonstrations of his art, but was pressured to leave Vienna by the medical community. He moved to Paris to continue his work, but in 1784 a scientific panel examined his practices and proclaimed that they had no basis in science.

Mesmer died in Switzerland in 1815, but thirty years after his death Scottish physician James Braid adapted Mesmer’s ideas and invented the procedure known as hypnosis. Braid also coined the terms hypnotism, hypnotize, and hypnotist (1).

Although Franz Mesmer is hardly a household name, he has become a part of the English lexicon. The verb mesmerize, meaning to 'spellbind or enthrall,' comes from Mesmer, his experiments, and his public demonstrations of his art. Mesmerize is another example of an eponym, a word derived from the name of a real or imaginary person (See Word Daze, March 28: Eponym Day).

James Braid might have used Mesmer’s name to describe his work; but instead, Braid turned to Greek mythology to describe his practice of inducing sleep in his patients. In Greek Mythology Hypnos was the god of sleep and the son of Zeus and Nyx, the goddess who personified night.

The Roman equivalent of Hypnos is Somnus, the source of the adjectives somniferous (inducing sleep) and somnolent (drowsy; sleepy). The Roman god of sleep also inspired the verb somnambulate, meaning to sleep walk.

The common word "sleep" as you might have guessed is from Old English.

Because sleep is an activity that we spend roughly one third of our life engaged in, it has been a frequent theme in literature. Probably the most famous example is Shakespeare’s Scottish play, where Macbeth, after he has killed King Duncan, rhapsodizes on the importance of sleep:

Methought I heard a voice cry 'Sleep no more!
Macbeth does murder sleep' -- the innocent sleep,
Sleep that knits up the raveled sleave of care,
The death of each day's life, sore labor's bath,
Balm of hurt minds, great nature's second course,
Chief nourisher in life's feast.
(Act II.ii.47-52)

Today’s Challenge: I’m Only Sleeping
Below are descriptions of literary characters (and one place) that come under the category of ‘sleep’ in The Oxford Dictionary of Allusions. See if you can identify the name of each character (2).

1. In Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, he snoozed all through the tea party.

2. Washington Irving character who slept for twenty years before waking.

3. From the Bible, its east of Eden and the place where Cain was banished after he killed Abel.

4. A Shakespearean character who sleepwalks and is troubled by guilt after urging her husband to kill the king.

5. A princess from a fairy tale who has a spell put on her by a wicked fairy.

6. Another Shakespearean character, she was queen of the fairies. While she sleeps Oberon drops magic flower juice in her eyes.

7. The Roman god of dreams, son of Somnus.

8. A character from children’s stories who sprinkles a magical substance in their eyes to make them sleepy.

Quote of the Day: Good communication is a stimulating as black coffee, and just as hard to sleep after. –Ann Lindberg

Answers: 1. The Dormouse 2. Rip Van Winkle 3. The Land of Nod 4. Lady Macbeth5. Sleeping Beauty 6. Titania 7. Morpheus 8. The Sandman

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2 - Delahunty, Andrew, Sheila Dignen, and Penny Stock. The Oxford Dictionary of Allusions. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.

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