Re-reading Jack London's Martin Eden for my project, I've come across this passage:

Martin had ascended from pitch to pitch of intellectual living, and here he was at a higher pitch than ever.  All the hidden things were laying their secrets bare.  He was drunken with comprehension.  At night, asleep, he lived with the gods in colossal nightmare; and awake, in the day, he went around like a somnambulist, with absent stare, gazing upon the world he had just discovered.
Martin Eden, chapter XIII. Emphasis mine.

This appears right after Martin discovers Herbert Spencer, whose works will play a major role in Martin's later life.

I can understand the sentences before the one with highlighted bit; I can also understand why he "went around like a somnambulist".

What I can't understand is the "nightmare" and "gods". If "nightmare" is used in a literal sense here, why would he have nightmares at all, especially with gods?

If the nightmares are meant in a more symbolic sense, then what do they represent? It is stated in the book that Martin resented sleep, seeing it as a waste of time, and thus sleeping for only 5 hours a day (even trying sleeping for only 4 hours, but that was too hard).

I just don't see why Martin would experience anything negative in his sleep, since everything thus far has only been good for him - Ruth, studying, writing, and now Spencer.

  • Fun fact: the word "somnambulist" was invented by thomas-hardy. – Rand al'Thor Apr 14 '17 at 18:52
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    @Randal'Thor Was it? A hack search indicates that "somnambulism" comes from Latin; I always imagined those variations of a word were coined all at once. Wiktionary lists an appearance of the word from a 1824 work by Sir Walter Scott, 16 years before the birth of Thomas Hardy (not that I'm claiming anything, since I'm as ignorant in this as it gets). – Gallifreyan Apr 14 '17 at 18:54
  • Hmm, I may be wrong. That's definitely what I read somewhere, either about "somnambulist" or "noctambulist". Might make for a good word-coinage question ;-) – Rand al'Thor Apr 14 '17 at 18:58
  • @Randal'Thor "Nocturnalist" also is attributed to late 18th century, at least by Google's own etymology box thingy. Might be worth a question, but I'm not ready to ask it :) – Gallifreyan Apr 14 '17 at 19:09
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    @Gallifreyan The online OED has a 1794 cite for somnambulist and a 1737 cite for noctambulist. – user14111 Aug 18 '18 at 11:50

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