Artemidorus of Daldis
Artemidorus of Daldis(dreams)
Dreams have fascinated the human mind throughout recorded history. The ancient Greeks were particularly interested in dreams, as the hundreds of dream temples dedicated to Aesculapius—the deified doctor who healed or provided healing advice in dreams—bear witness. It is thus fitting that the largest and most complete compilation of dream lore to survive from the ancient world, the Oneirocritica (The Interpretation of Dreams), should have been authored by a second-century Greek, Artemidorus of Daldis.
Little is known about Artemidorus beyond the few autobiographical remarks he makes in the Oneirocritica. He was a professional diviner and dream interpreter who was actually born in the Greek city of Ephesus (the location of the congregation to whom the biblical Ephesians is addressed), but signed his work Artemidorus of Daldis to honor the small town in which his mother was born. The Oneirocritica is a compilation of Greek dream lore up to Artemidorus’s time, with the addition of his own observations. The first three subdivisions (or books, as they are customarily called) of this work comprise a structured treatise on dream interpretation. The last two books were addressed to Artemidorus’s son, who was aspiring to follow in his father’s footsteps.
The Oneirocritica is largely a dream dictionary, but also contains some broader advice on how to interpret dreams. Artemidorus interviewed professional dream interpreters and purchased manuscripts from all over the known world to familiarize himself with what was known or believed about dreams up to that point. Unlike modern dream dictionaries, which are almost invariably arranged in a purely alphabetical order, Artemidorus’s work classifies the various items that may appear in dreams into certain categories. Thus he discusses, in a very literal “head to toe” manner, dreams related to various body parts. He then moves on to discuss the appearance of gods and deities, also covering types of animals, weather, fire, flying, and many others. For the sake of completeness, he also committed his third section, the last of the books meant for the public, to any dream he could not find a place for in the previous sections.
There were six pieces of information that Artemidorus considered essential to the proper analysis of a person’s dreams: whether the events of the dream were natural, lawful, and customary for the dreamer; what was happening at the time of the dream; and the dreamer’s name and occupation. It was Artemidorus’s belief that the associations evoked by the dream images in the mind of the interpreter were the keys to successful dream analysis. He was also the first to distinguish between dreams that stemmed from everyday life and the present state of the mind and body, the insomnium, and dreams that invoked deeper consideration of the dreamer’s life at a mystical level, the somnium. The second classification of dreams was believed to foretell future events. It is for his innovative thinking and his commendably flexible approach to symbolic interpretation that Artemidorus is recognized as a prominent figure linking ancient beliefs about dream interpretation to the modern world.
Artemidorus’s observations reflect an appreciation of symbolism and a grasp of the dreaming mind’s implementation of metaphors that make him as a worthy forerunner to such modern dream innovators as Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. Freud actually named his major work on dreams, The Interpretation of Dreams, as a way of indicating his debt to Artemidorus. As one of the very first individuals to employ an empirical approach to the analysis of dreams, Artemidorus is said to have investigated and analyzed no less then 3,000 dreams for the Oneirocritica.
Artemidorus believed that dreams were neither good nor bad. For this reason he did not touch on the specifics of nightmares. It is not the symbolism of a dream that makes it a nightmare. For instance, if a person suffering from arachnophobia dreamed about spiders she or he would more than likely awaken from that dream terrified and call it a nightmare. In contrast, a person not suffering from fear of spiders would probably not have the same reaction. It is because of considerations like these that Artemidorus stressed the importance of knowing the intimate details of the dreamer’s life.
Unlike contemporary dream books, which are psychologically oriented, Artemidorus’s book focuses on deciphering dreams as omens of the future. or messages from the gods. For example, Artemidorus (p. 125—see Sources) writes:
If the statues of the gods move [in a dream], it signifies fears and disturbances for all but those who are imprisoned or who intend to take a trip. It signifies that the former will be released, so that they can move about easily. It moves the latter from their dwelling place and leads them out.
In this passage and innumerable others, it is clear that the intention behind the interpretation is prediction of the future. Despite this overarching concern with omens of the future, Artemidorus’s remarks reflect an appreciation of symbolism and a grasp of the dreaming mind’s deployment of metaphors that make the Oneirocritica valuable reading for any serious student of dreams. Artemidorus’s volume and other such works composed in the classical world also had a broad influence on the tradition of Muslim dream interpretation—a tradition which survives to this day in various parts of the Islamic world.