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According to Dante This is the Best Time of day for Creativity (and for Prophetic Dreams)


If there’s a propitious hour for creative activities, this is it.

Does creativity prefer certain hours of the day? Most likely there’s no single answer to the question. Among artists and writers, to mention but two occupations where creativity is among the principle tools, there have been some who prefer to work early in the morning, and others who do so under the cover of night. The two extremes share something in common; silence is the norm; the world is quiet. Points at either end of sleep, they testify to what is seen on the other side.

And though today it may seem strange, for a long time the exercise of creativity was concentrated in the first parts of each day. Perhaps for ourselves, closer in time as we are to Romanticism with its taste for shadows, it’s more common to think that the night is conducive to writing, to composing or to dreaming. But this was not so for the ancients. At least since the time of classical Rome, they argued that dawn was the moment preferred by the muses for visiting those mortals whose poiesis led them to imitate the gods.

At that thought, Dante Alighieri, at least in one heroic verse of his Inferno, took note. In Canto XXVI, he wrote:

Ma se presso al mattin del ver si sogna,

Longfellow put the English thus:

But if when morn is near our dreams are true

The ancients believed that dreams, at dawn, were even prophetic.

Scholars and researchers have noted the continuity across Greco-Roman antiquity in the placement in those early hours of dawn as the propitious moments for creation. Curiously, at least from our perspective, there’s also something prophetic. Gratissima Aurora musis: “Dawn is pleasing to the Muses.”

Later, already by the seventeenth century, Luis de Gongora would say in his “Fable of Polyphemus and Galatea” through Talia, the muse of idyllic poetry,

in the purple hours

Pink is daybreak and rosy the day

The cultural form the poet adapted for the naming of those early hours of dawn, when the sky bears something reddish, even salmon, refers to the same time, as Alfonso Reyes put it, relied upon by “the poets and sages,” for “inspirations that are more easy and authentic.”

This is certainly an attitude towards creativity very different from those of our own time, when there’s so little room for Romanizing a creative life and a creativity that’s required to be present at all times and under any circumstances. It’s as if being creative is to be treated only this way, and then, more as a kind of personality type, as a distinctive feature like someone’s smile or the way they walk, and far less as a quality of spontaneity and whimsy dependence on external stimuli or inspiration.

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