How did the ancients decipher dreams?

The man didn’t wait to lie down on a shrink’s couch to analyze the hidden meaning of his dreams…

The key to Egyptian dreams

“If a man dreams that his bed catches fire, he is going to chase his wife away. This interpretation is taken from the papyrus chester Beatty III, a manual of dreams from 1275 BC. JC. To decipher premonitory dreams, Egyptians consulted a priest who used this type of “dream key”. Thus, if a man sees himself slaughtering an ox with his hand, it is because he will kill his adversary; and if he has an erotic dream, it is a sign of mourning to be taken very seriously.

The Order of Dreams

In Antiquity, we heal ourselves with our dreams. The sick go to the temple of Asclepius, the Greek god of medicine, to sleep and receive in a dream indications on the way to healing. Upon awakening, priests are on hand to interpret the divine ordinance. The Greek doctor Hippocrates drew a guide to medicine from it: Hippocrates’ treatise on hygiene or the art of predicting diseases of the human body by the state of sleep. According to him, seeing a rough sea in a dream prognosticates the affection of the belly. If dead trees appear, the seminal fluid is corrupt.

The Dream Police

In the 1st century, the Roman emperor Tiberius forced dream interpreters to be assisted by an observer. These spies were tasked with exposing seditious dreamers. The historians Tacitus and Suetonius thus report several cases where the simple account of a dream served as a pretext for conviction for the crime of lèse-majesté.

God’s messaging

In 312, the Emperor Constantine set out to conquer Italy, then in the hands of his rival Maxentius. On October 28, his armies were stopped near Rome, in front of the Milvian Bridge. Christian tradition says that Jesus appeared to him in a dream the day before the battle and showed him a chrism – the initials of Christ in Greek letters, khi (X) and rho (P) – accompanied by this message: “By this sign you will win. The next day, Constantine had the shields of his legionaries branded, won the victory, and was proclaimed sole august Roman of the West.

It is forbidden to dream

In the early days of the Church, dreams were a threat to the faithful: only god could know the hidden meaning of things. resorting to divination would therefore amount to addressing the devil! from the beginnings of Christianity, the interpreters of dreams were hunted down. in 304, the first council of Ancyre condemned them to five years of penance. in 506, the Council of Agde definitively banishes them from the Church. the tradition will continue. article r34 of the napoleon code punishes with a fine “people who make it their business to guess and predict or explain dreams”. This article will not be removed from the new penal code until 1992!

Descartes’ dreams

On the night of November 10 to 11, 1619, René Descartes had three dreams: in the first, he faced a storm. In the second, he is suddenly awakened by the Thunder. In the third, he meets a man who hands him a book by the fourth-century poet Ausonius. the text begins with these words: “is and not”, a typical way of expressing doubt. When he wakes up, Descartes is overwhelmed. He records his dreams, which he considers “the most important matter of his life”. And for good reason: he draws from it the inspiration that will guide all his philosophical research. He will always keep a copy of his dreams with him.

Pffft! Fact Voltaire

In 1764, Voltaire wrote in his Philosophical Dictionary “Dreams have always been a great object of superstition; nothing was more natural. a man greatly touched by his mistress’s illness thinks that he sees her dying; she dies the next day: therefore the gods have predicted her death. An army general dreams of winning a battle; he wins it indeed: the gods have warned him that he will be victorious. Only dreams that have been fulfilled are taken into account; we forget the others. »

The scientific revelation

The German chemist August Kekulé Von Stradonitz (1829-96) is known to have determined the structural formula of benzene… thanks to a dream! He reportedly said he saw the image ofa snake which bites its tail (the ouroboros), forming a perfect ring, just like the six carbon atoms of benzene.

The “royal road” to the unconscious

According to Freud, “the dream is a rebus”, a message from the unconscious that only the dreamer can decipher. But for him, there are not thirty-six possible interpretations: almost everything converges on a single subject, sex. His big thing? Associations of ideas: stick, trunk, sword or even umbrella refer to the male member. Boxes, caskets, caves, vases… represent the female body.

By Manuela France

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How did the ancients decipher dreams?

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