The dream of reason

El sueño de la razon produce monstruos
Francisco de Goya y Lucientes

I have lost count of the number of times I have seen the title of this etching mistranslated as “The sleep of reason…”

Sueño can mean either sleep or dream depending on the context.

“The dream of reason calls forth monsters” is the correct interpretation.

When you are asleep you are unconscious and brain activity is flat. When you are dreaming, the subconscious is actively creating pleasantries or nightmares according to your inner true nature, as in the scene above.

Goya lived through a turbulent period in European history and, even though he was a proponent of the political enlightenment and freedoms promised by the French Revolution of 1789, he became aware of the Terror that followed, where Reason prevailed and the old ways were swept away.

The peninsular War brought that terror to Spain and was witnessed by Goya. In 1808 he wrote in his diary-

No one is innocent once he has seen what I have seen. I witnessed how the noblest ideals of freedom and progress were transformed into lances, sabres, and bayonets. Arson, looting and rape, all supposed to bring a New Order, in reality only exchanged the garrotte for the gallows.

After the defeat of Napoleon in 1814, Goya sought to commemorate Spanish resistance to Napoleon’s armies during the occupation of 1808 with this painting. Along with its companion piece of the same size, El dos de mayo de 1808 en Madrid (La carga de los mamelucos en la Puerta del Sol) it was commissioned by the provisional government of Spain at Goya’s suggestion.


El 3 de Mayo de 1808 en Madrid. (Los fusilamientos en la montaña del Príncipe Pío)

As Goya noted, the ideal of reason does not produce reasonable behaviour.

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5 comments for “The dream of reason

  1. June 21, 2011 at 22:40

    When you are dreaming, the subconscious is actively creating pleasantries or nightmares according to your inner true nature, as in the scene above.

    Fascinating area, dreams. Often the way I am sleeping, smothered by bedding, face down, whatever, determines if it is a nightmare or not.

  2. June 22, 2011 at 08:15

    The ideal of reason is for sure not alone in not producing reasonable behaviour.

    The ideals of religion as often produce cruelty, opression and atrocity.

    we should always wary of anyone who knows the absolute rightness of some philosophy or religion with a steely conviction.

    Dreams tho.. they can be a wild ride can’t they, better than TV. ^_^

  3. Lord T
    June 22, 2011 at 10:43

    I tend to have good dreams and do a lot of my problem solving in them. Go to sleep thinking about something wake up with a solution, sometimes in the middle of the night which is why I keep a notepad by my bed.

  4. June 23, 2011 at 04:50

    As Goya noted, the ideal of reason does not produce reasonable behaviour.

    I like that.

  5. June 23, 2011 at 13:05

    Yes, I do too and shall quote it.

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