There is so much to be said about dream interpretation in ancient Greece. This article focuses on the Oneirocritica, the earliest book devoted to dream analysis written by a Greek , Artemidorus in the second century A.D. the first two books contain theoretical and technical accounts of dream interpretation. The rest contain a collection of 95 dreams and their interpretations.
According to Artemidorus there are two kinds of dreams: the first is a continuation of the day’s activities, called enhypnia. These are frequently prompted by bodily needs or by recent psychologically significant events which are represented directly in the dream. These are in no way prophetic but are examples of the mind going over situations and events that are important in the recent past. Oneiroi, the second type of dreams foretelling the future. These are further divided into three categories. The first or prophetic dreams. They mean exactly what they say. The second are dreams that are in response to a prayer or asking the gods for a prediction or advice. The third of dreams that contain images of the gods is dream symbols. These require careful interpretation and he warns against the disrespectful attitude towards the gods implied in magical dream divination or fraudulent books allegedly containing collections of double-blind divine prescription popular in his day.
What is most interesting are his collection of 95 dreams and their interpretations. Here we find some of the earliest examples of the same type of dream analysis developed by Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. The only difference between Freud’s psychoanalytic technique and that of Artemidorus is that Freud allowed his clients to do the Association to their dreams by themselves while Artemidorus insisted on doing all the interpretation himself.
According to Artemidorus dreams are unique to the individual and a person’s daily waking life will affect the symbols of his dreams. Artemidorus said that the dreamer shows awareness in his sleeping state and that dreams have a capacity to use metaphors in explaining his message. The first three books of the Oneirocritica divides dreams into major groups. Book one is dedicated to dreams of physical desires, human anatomy and psychological desires. It has 82 sections interpreting the appearance and dreams of subjects like head size, eating and sexual activity. As an example section 52 describes a dream of one activity of the body, “all tools that cut and divide things and have signified disagreements, factions, and injuries… Tools that smooth out services predicted an end to enemities.”
The weather, animals and God’s as well as flying are objects and events in the natural world and the focus of book two. The section on animal dreams includes mammals “domestic and wild”, sea creatures, reptiles and those that fly. It provides great detail as in section 12 which reads, “there is an affinity between all wild animals and our enemies. A Wolf signifies a violent enemy… A Fox indicates that the enemy will not attack openly that will plot underhandedly.” Artemidorus’ third book contains miscellaneous symbols not covered any of the three.
The fourth book is devoted to technique of dream interpretation rather than dream content. It stresses that the interpreter needs to know the background of the dreamer including his occupation, health, status, habits and age. Any dream content should be considered in reference to the dreamer’s background. The interpretation should find out how the subject feels about each component of the dream. This concept of using associations while the dreamer is awake to further understand what the dream symbols and plot means was adapted directly by Freud in his interpretation of dreams and considered one of the primary methods of dream interpretation to this day.
Artemidorus was a Stoic and emphasized the empirical nature of his dream interpretations. “I did not rely upon any simple theory of probabilities but rather on experiences and testimonies of actual dream fulfillments.” His capacity to analyze dreams, show their associations as a way of developing greater meaning and categorize dreams into various specific categories was a profound early attempt at bringing greater meetings to dreams.
My website provides free dream interpretation by a clinical psychologist. There’s a form for you to write down your dream in as much detail as you can. Interpretation will be sent to you confidentially an email.