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Heavenly Dreams: Astronomical Elements in Oneirocritica

Tyson Sukava

(University of Delaware)

This paper explores the interrelation between the prophetic arts of astrology and dream interpretation across three periods. It argues that the place of astronomical elements in Greek dream interpretation treatises (oneirocritica) is owing to changing understandings of how the psyche (soul) relates to the eternal. Following an overview of the mechanics of dream and astrological prophecies in Greek thought, the paper begins with one of our earliest Greek treatises on dream interpretations, the Hippocratic Regimen 4 (also known as On Dreams, ca. late 5th cent. BCE). The author of this treatise outlines the psyche’s role in anticipating illness through dreams, spending the greatest space on astronomical imagery. The latent reason for this emphasis appears to be his notion that the composition of the psyche is similar to, and therefore in sympathy with, eternal celestial bodies which foretell events through their movements. Later, Artemidorus (2nd cent. CE), who also emphasizes the psyche’s prophetic capacities, likewise is interested in astronomical elements in dreams. Indeed, he establishes it as the fifth (and seemingly most encompassing) type: the “cosmological” dream. For Artemidorus, however, it appears that astronomical elements in dreams are because the psyche shares in the immortality of the heavens (cf. Platonic recollection) and chooses celestial revelations primarily for wide-reaching or temporally distant prophecies. In contrast to both, Byzantine dream manuals, including The Oneirocritica of Daniel (ca. 4th cent.) and the The Onierocritica of Nicephorus (9th cent.), have limited discussions of celestial elements, which mostly feature only the sun and moon. Despite the continued popularity of astrology in the Byzantine period, the psyche in their treatises does not foretell events because of its relationship with the immortal cosmos. Rather, it receives revelations solely from and at the pleasure of God, who apparently prefers more immediate terrestrial visions as media.

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