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Key texts from 100-1054 CE

The project divides key texts on dreams and dream interpretation from the second to eleventh centuries into three cultural and religious groups: 1. early Christianity in the Latin West; 2. early Christianity in the Greek East; 3. early Islam.


Representative texts from each group are:

  1. Dialogues of Gregory the Great, which have not been included in the previous scholarship on the topic. The four books of the Dialogues between Gregory and his close friend, Peter the Deacon, are presented in question-and-answer format, and were intended as edifying tales of the saints of Italy, to fill the gap that Gregory perceived in his homeland. They do not seem to have circulated widely in the seventh century but became one of the most popular of Gregory’s works in the Middle Ages, with translations into several languages, including Anglo-Saxon, Old French, and Middle Dutch. The Dialogues were allegedly written by Gregory while he was bishop of Rome (590-604) (cf. Clarke 1987). This text is typical of the western appropriation of the Greco-Roman oneirocritical heritage, whereby dreams were embraced as an integral part of the Christian life, especially in monastic contexts.

  2. Oneirocriticon of Daniel, the dream key manual attributed to the prophet Daniel in its original Greek version and its Latin translation, Somniale Danielis, one of eight surviving Byzantine dream key manuals. Daniel’s Oneirocriticon took an amoral approach to the content of dreams, and allowed lay people to interpret their own dreams (even or especially those with violent and/or sexual content) without Christian sanctions, much as they had done in Artemidorus’ day. Evidence for the suppression of dreambooks is not found in imperial legislation before the revival under Byzantine emperor Leo VI (886-912).

  3. The Dreambook of Achmet, an Arab Christian of the tenth century. This Greek dreambook and its Arab sources are evidence of fruitful cultural exchange between Christian and Muslim thinkers in the first three centuries of Islam, other instances of which have been identified by Hoyland (1997) and Grypeou et al. (2006). Although the circulation of dream lore by Ibn Sīrīn (d. 728) is noted in early sources, he wrote no dreambook. The earliest extant Muslim works on dreams are the dreambook of Ibn Qutabayah (d. 889 CE) (Lamoreux 2002:27-34), and a didactic poem by Ma،āfīri, On the Interpretation of Dreams according to the Attributes of the Creation of Human Beings, of the 9th century. There are some 27 other  early Muslim dreambooks and dream manuals that have so far been identified from fragments and mentions in surviving sources from the first four centuries of Islam. In the early tenth century, we have Ibn Sīnā (known in the West as Avicenna) and the four manuals of Qayrawānī.


A comparison between these and related texts will allow us to trace the conflation of Greco- Roman, Jewish, Christian and Muslim traditions of dream interpretation, a feasible outcome given the four-year span of the project.


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