HelRaw: Marke Ahonen 2.10.2023

Ancient medical accounts of sleep paralysis

This semester’s second Helsinki Research on the Ancient World seminar (HelRaw) takes place with Marke Ahonen (University of Helsinki) 2nd day of October.

Ahonen will talk about “Ancient medical accounts of sleep paralysis” You are warmly welcome to join our speaker on Metsätalo or Zoom.



Sleep paralysis affects perhaps up to 20 percent of the general population at some point during their lifetime. The experience of sleep paralysis is well-known across cultures and history, with remarkably uniform presentation. During an episode, one resumes waking consicousness but is unable to move one’s body, and the experience is often accompanied by fear, feeling of suffocation, and certain types of hallucinations. An episode lasts no more than a few minutes, and the condition is not considered harmful.

In Greco-Roman antiquity, the experience of sleep paralysis could be associated with visitations of supernatural or divine beings. The condition is also discussed in ancient medical literature as a medical disorder. The Hippocratic On Sacred Disease appears to describe some symptoms of the condition, but the more explicit accounts come from late antiquity authors, Caelius Aurelianus and Greek medical compilators.

I will explore how the ancient authors discuss the condition, including its supernatural associations, the respective roles of body and mind, its explanation in terms of Methodist and Hippocratic theories, and its treatment. I will also discuss to which extent the ancient descriptions agree with the modern experience of sleep paralysis.


Time: Oct 2, 2023, 05:15 PM Helsinki

Where: Metsätalo, Room 5. (Unioninkatu 40)

or in Zoom:


Meeting ID: 622 3771 6271

Passcode: 782661


About the speaker

Marke Ahonen is the University Lecturer of Greek Language and Literature at the University of Helsinki. Her research interests focus on ancient philosophy and medicine and the interaction between the two. She has translated, e.g., Marcus Aurelius, Diogenes Laertius, Epictetus, Sextus Empiricus, Galen and Hippocrates into Finnish.