Anna Della Subin at The Millions:
Fasten a mast to the bed, let the sheets catch the wind. It is possible that, if you drift long enough on the waves of sleep, you will awaken into a world that has changed — though who can say for the better? The Greeks told of the boy Epimenides, who was searching for his father’s stray sheep when he stopped for a noonday nap in a cave. When he awoke, fifty-seven years later, everything that he once knew had vanished. Across Crete, news spread that Epimenides must be particularly loved by the gods to have slept so long. For Aristotle, he was proof of the impossibility of the passage of time without the occurrence of change.
Christian martyrs have dozed longer still. The eighteenth chapter of the Quran — and an earlier Syriac legend — tells of a group of young Christian men who, fleeing the persecution of a Roman Emperor, escaped into a cave, where they slumbered for three hundred and nine years. Rising from their long sleep, they found their beards had grown long, Christ’s name was openly spoken, and all of their loved ones were dead. In 1933, the Egyptian playwright Tawfiq al-Hakim dramatized their swim through the oceanic night in The People of the Cave. Awakening into a world where they are hailed as saints, the stiff-limbed sleepers find they cannot live in this strange, undreamt future. “We are like fish, whose water has changed from sweet to salty,” the saints protest, as they retreat into their cave.
Languishing in a French prison in 1883, Paul Lafargue observed that a strange mania had lately gripped mankind.