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In season 4 episode 102, the two enemies Gajeel fought talked to Erza about Zeref being in a "dormant" state or that he was technically "asleep".

What happened to make him this way?

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They were wrong. He wasn't dormant/asleep, he just was busy elsewhere and wanted himself cut off from Humanity. Since he didn't interact with humanity but his deeds were legends, Grimoire Heart assumed he was dormant because of no news of any activity.

This is revealed by Zeref himself at the end of the Arc. This is what he says in Chapter 250 of Manga.

chapter 250

Referring to the Synopsis of Tenrou arc. Source: Spoiler Heavy: Zeref - Wikia.

At the end of the war, an enraged Zeref sneaks aboard the Grimoire Heart airship and confronts the remainder of the Seven Kin of Purgatory, including their Guild Master, Hades, about the horror they have brought upon the world. While there, Zeref reveals that he was never "asleep", but, rather, he was always "awake". He also reveals that when he understands the weight of human life, his cursed body will eliminate his surroundings; but when he forgets about it, he is able to fully control his terrible Magic. He blames Grimoire Heart for the summoning of Acnologia, claiming that it will now end the current era. He then tells the group to repent for their unforgivable sins and casts a spell on Hades

What he was doing while he was "awake" can be covered in a detailed answer which will contain spoilers from Fairy Tail: Zero and the "Alwarez Empire" Arc.

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  • It's actually my second time watching the anime and I just couldn't find that part anywhere! I remember him saying that it was their fault that they summoned Acnologia, just not him explaining in full detail about why they were wrong about him being "dormant". And now that you mention it the Fairy-Tail Zero arc explains it all. I had never made that connection and only thought of that arc as explaining Mavis' conditions and how Fairy-Tail came to be. Thank you! – MrCandyCane93 Dec 1 '16 at 4:23
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    Np. Read the wiki link for more, but take any information that is note referenced with a grain of salt. Wikia has a habit of assuming a lot of things. Also added the Manga Panel where Zeref explicitly states this. – Arcane Dec 1 '16 at 4:28

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