Friday, 12 November 2021

Maybe it's because I'm a dreamer, By L.J. Trafford

A lion dreams of whatever it is lions dream of.

I have often felt the urge to start on this current project,” is the opening line of Artemidorus’ great work Oneirocritica. This fabulous book written in the 3rd century CE, which its author feared was an “overwhelming prospect” due to the scale and complexity of its subject, is a volume dedicated to the interpretation of dreams.
    It was probably just one of many such volumes available in the ancient world but Artemidorus’ Oneirocritica is the only complete book of dream interpretations that has survived to the modern day. We are fortunate indeed because it is quite stupendous.

The index shows the range of dreams Artemidorus covers

    In his work Artemidorus tackles an array of topics that might assault your mind in those hours of darkness, such as playing hoop & stick, cabbages, sundials, the gods, being struck by thunder and having sex with your mother. The latter of which you will be unsurprised greatly influenced Sigmund Freud. There is very little that he does not cover, except obviously television, space travel and portable communication devices that allow you to read super informative articles like this one and watch funny cat videos.

    The belief that your dreams held important information about your future was a view shared from the lowest in Roman society up to the highest. The biographer Suetonius tells us that the Emperor Augustus held great store by dreams, hardly surprising when one had once saved his life:

    "At the battle of Philippi, though he had made up his mind not to leave his tent because of illness, he did so after all when warned by a friend's dream; fortunately, as it turned out, for his camp was taken and when the enemy rushed in, his litter was stabbed through and through and torn to pieces, in the belief that he was still lying there ill". Suetonius

    Augustus was also the subject of a whole series of plot spoiling dreams foretelling his rise to prominence, starting with his parents:

    "Atia too, before she gave him birth, dreamed that her vitals were borne up to the stars and spread over the whole extent of land and sea, while Octavius dreamed that the sun rose from Atia's womb." Suetonius

Augustus looking dandy
        That ought to have alerted the whole world that he was going to be a big cheese. But clearly nobody had a copy of Artemidorus to hand (probably because it wasn’t written until two centuries later) because nobody cottoned on to his imminent big cheeseness until after cheeseness had been obtained and there was a doh and a collective slapping of foreheads
Enough about cheese! (interesting and necessary aside, if you should dream about feeding bread and cheese to your penis you will die a criminals death according to Artemidorus.)

    In a world where the gods’ plans for you were unknowable and where it was highly likely you would lose relatives to disease and illnesses that are readily curable today, it is hardly surprising that people sought out dream interpreters for help and reassurance about their lives, Not that reassurance was always forthcoming, as we shall shortly see, Artemidorus’ interpretations often predict unhappy fortunes for the dreamer which is indicative of the toughness and often shortness of life in antiquity.

    Artemidorus did not pluck these dream interpretations out of thin air, he treated it almost like a science. Travelling extensively across the empire he interviewed people about their dreams and what happened to them subsequently. From these interviews he compiled his encyclopaedia of dreams and their meaning.
        As he says himself, “The benefits I have derived from this welter of material is that in any given case I can respond with the simple truth and no long rigamarole and give clear evidence for whatever my comments might be.”

    Throughout his work Artemidorus references those numerous interviews, such as this tale: “I know of a professional performer on the lyre who was about to compete in the sacred games of Smyra and dreamt that he was going to take a bath but found no water in the bath house. What happened was that he was caught attempting to rig the contest and was fined and thrown out the games. This was what the dream signified for him, that he would not find what he was looking for with the bathhouse symbolizing the auditorium.”
    This disgraced lyre player however can be considered fortunate compared with the fate of this fellow Artemidorus interviewed. “I know of someone who was castrated after having this dream.” Blimey.
That is certainly one thing to be aware of with Artemidorus, he will interpret your dreams but you might not always like what he has to say.
    Disclaimer issued let us crack on and see if Artemidorus can offer us some illumination in the 21st century by seeing what he has to say about the most common dreams people have today.

Your teeth falling out.

Dreaming about your teeth falling out is, according to Dr Google, one of the most common dreams experienced. Let us see what our 3rd century dream interpreter makes of this dream.
Artemidorus actually has a lot to say about teeth. “The mouth must be thought of as a house and the teeth the people in it.”
The teeth on the right side of your mouth signify the men in your house, the left side teeth are the women. Your front teeth, the incisors are representative of the young members of your household, the grinders at the back the older members of your house.
    “The sort of teeth lost will be followed by the loss of the corresponding type of person.” he says. Yikes. 
    It gets worse, should you dream of all your teeth falling out your “household will be completely berefit of all its members at the whole time.” Double yikes. 
    Although maybe they’ve only all gone out to Thorpe Park for the day.

    But hold on Artemidorus has a caveat from these grim outcomes, teeth can also signify property. So dreaming of losing a tooth doesn’t necessarily mean the loss of a relative, it could signify the loss of property. I prefer this interpretation, let’s stick with it.
    “For debtors any teeth falling out signify the repayment of their debt,” says Artemidorus. But how easily this debt is paid off depends on whether you dreamed of a painless loss of teeth (you will repay from your wages) or painful (you’re going to have to sell some of your stuff to repay the debt

Being unable to find a toilet

Joyfully Artemidorus has a whole chapter entitled “dung, defecation” which is most informative. Thus I can tell you that dreaming of having a poo in the toilet is “auspicious for all – it signifies great relief from the burdens of anxieties and anything troubling one, as the body does indeed become lighter after it has relieved itself”

        Artemidorus then lists the meaning behind defecating in various places – which I’m interpreting as being unable to find a toilet, else why would you be having a poo there?

To summarise:
  • Pooing in your bed – inauspicious and signifies a long illness.
  • Pooing on the floor – If it’s on the floor of your house it signifies ‘no further enjoyment of the house’ which I think we can all get behind. A domestic clear up of that nature is bound to linger in the memory and also likely on the rug.
  • Pooing in a temple – this is very inauspicious meaning you will encounter “serious disgrace and significant financial loss” and also “the wrath of the gods” which anyone with a passing knowledge of mythology will know is unlikely to be much fun.
  • Pooing on the seashore, on country roads/fields - profitable says Artemidorus because “these places are not harmed by the man defecating there and they give the man himself the opportunity to drop his load without embarrassment.” Although I guess this depends on what seashore you choose, Scarborough beach on a hot July afternoon is one to presumably avoid,


Icarus who had no fear of flying,
      Ok first up, no flying as in planes or other aircraft. The closest we get is to dream of flying with wings which is auspicious, but flying without wings is ”a danger and a source of fear for the dreamer.”
To dream of flying with the birds “signifies spending time in foreign parts” UNLESS you are a criminal, in which case “it means punishment, often even crucifixion for the guilty.” 
Which may be causing some panicked morning wakings from those of you with outstanding speeding fines.

     Other inauspicious flying dreams include “taking flight when pursued by a wild animal, man or demon” and dreaming of flying whilst sitting on a chair “signifies that the dreamer will contract some serious illness or be paralysed or no longer have the use of their legs”
    On the happier, auspicious side if you dream of flying high you will become a high flyer in life and be like properly prosperous.


Being married to Boris Johnson and wandering about the Conservative Party Conference in your dressing gown

    OK this is one of my dreams that my ever helpful subconscious provided for me knowing that I was writing this article. So let us turn to Artemidorus to unpick my strange, and it has to be said somewhat disturbing, dream.
    “If a woman who has a husband imagines herself marrying another man, [] she will bury her husband or be separated from him in some other way.”

    Oh dear, well I suppose at least it’s not crucifixion. But what about the dressing gown motif? The closest I can find from Artemidorus is a section on the meaning behind dreaming of wearing clothes inappropriately which a dressing gown at the Conservative party conference certainly is. He says to dream of inappropriate clothing is:
    “Malign for all and signifies that in addition to unemployment the dreamer will have to endure ridicule and mockery”

So to recap, my 2022 will involve divorce, unemployment and mockery. Well, I suppose that’s no worse than what the last two years have brought. Heigh ho!

List of Illustrations
1) Sleeping lion, Wikicomms
2) Index of Artemidorus' dream interpretations, author's own photo.
3) The Emperor Augustus from the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. Author's own photo.
4) Permanent teeth, wikicomms
5) A light box in Miaoli County, Taiwan using the less common term for "toilet", Wikicomms Hippietrial
6) Daedalus and Icarus. Engraving by AGL Desnoyers after CP Landon. Public Domain. Wellcome Collection.
7) Official portrait of Boris Johnson

L.J. Trafford writes about Ancient Rome. Quite a lot. She has written four fiction books covering the year of the four emperors, 69 CE and two non fiction works, How to Survive in Ancient Rome and her latest book, Sex and Sexuality in Ancient Rome. 

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