Podcast episode

Episode 71: Daniel Harris-McCoy on the Oneirocritica of Artemidorus

Some time in the second century a man called Artemidorus, associated with the great city of Ephesus but also with his small hometown of Daldis in the hinterlands of Asia Minor, decided to write a comprehensive manual on the interpretation of dreams. This was not a move to understand human psychology; it was to enable his readers to know what the future held through correct interpretation of divinely-sent visions. The resulting work, Oneirocritica (a concise title which we might expand to ‘On Correctly Judging True Dreams’) is our earliest-surviving example of what we know to have been a large literature.

But the Oneirocritica is not just our earliest divinatory dream manual; it is also an amazing book. Begun initially to a formal plan of two books, the author found that there was so much good dream-material out there that he had to write a third book. A fourth and a then a fifth followed. The result is a glorious compendium of a vast and sometimes bizarre array of possible true dreams one might have, set in an interpretive framework which, on the one hand, allows for discriminating between true and false dreams, and, on the other, employs an array of hermeneutic strategies for interpreting the true dreams, including esoteric ainigmatic reading and what may be our earliest surviving examples of esoteric numerological interpretation in the Hellenic tradition.

Interview Bio:

Daniel Harris-McCoy is an Associate Professor of Classics at the University of Hawai`i at Mānoa. His research focuses on the intellectual history of Greece and Rome, with particular interests in the history of education, encyclopedism, and dreaming in antiquity. His edition of Artemidorus’ Oneirocritica was published in 2012 by Oxford University Press.

Works Cited in this Episode:


  • Aristander of Telmessus, Alexander the Great’s personal diviner: This fellow is mentioned in numerous ancient sources (see the informative wikipedia article). Artemidorus refers to works by him (Oneirocritica 1.31, 4.23-24), which unfortunately do not survive.
  • Aristotle: Aristotle’s three-part treatise On Dreams, which travels bundled together with other texts under the title Parva naturalia, theorises how dreams operate, giving a thoroughly naturalistic account. Aristotle describes lucid dreaming at 3.462a3-8, which is cool.
  • Artemidorus:  see Recommended Reading below for various editions and translations available. The entry in the late-antique encyclopædia Suda: see sub voc. Ἐνύπνιον.
  • Celsus: This is Aulus Cornelius Celsus the medical writer, author of the De medicina, not to be confused with Celsus the middle Platonist, refuted by Origen in his Contra Celsum. Aulus is the gentleman whom Paracelsus, ‘the equal of Celsus’ was referring to when he gave himself that rather grand title.
  • Homer: Zeus sends a false dream of Nestor to Agamemnon Iliad Book 2, 6-34; Penelope’s dream which Odysseus interprets Odyssey Book 19, 535-581. A great passage for dream-lore, and includes the locus classicus for the gates of horn and ivory (later used by Plato in the Myth of Er, Republic Book X).
  • Juvenal on those mysterious dream-selling Jewish ladies: 6.546 ff.
  • Varro: listeners will remember the Roman antiquarian and man of letters Marcus Terentius Varro from Episode 60. His work on farming, Rerum rusticarum libri III, is one of the few Varrine works extant.


  • A.H.M. Kessels on the philosophical roots of Artemidorus: (1969), ‘Ancient Systems of Dream-Classification’, Mnemosyne 22: 389–424.

Recommended Reading:

History of Dreaming/Supplementary Texts:

  • Cox-Miller, P. (1994) Dreams in Late Antiquity: Studies in the Imagination of a Culture. Princeton, NJ.
  • Del Corno, D. (1969), ed., Graecorum de re onirocritica scriptorum reliquiae. Milan.
  • Harris, W. V. (2009), Dreams and Experience in Classical Antiquity. Cambridge, MA.
  • Harrisson, J. (2013), Dreams and Dreaming in the Roman Empire. London.
  • Miller, P. (1994), Dreams in Late Antiquity: Studies in the Imagination of a Culture. Princeton.
  • Naf, B. (2004), Traum und Traumdeutung im Altertum. Darmstadt.
  • Oberhelman, S. (2008), ed. and tr., Dreambooks in Byzantium. Six Oneirocritica in Translation with Commentary and Introduction. Aldershot & Burlington, VT.
  • Renberg, G. (2017) Where Dreams May Come: Incubation Sanctuaries in the Greco-Roman World, 2 vols. Leiden & Boston.

Editions/Translations of Artemidorus’ Oneirocritica:

  • Brackertz, K. (1979), ed. and tr., Artemidor Von Daldis: Das Traumbuch. Munich. [German]
  • Del Corno, D (1975), ed. and tr., Artemidoro, Il libro dei sogni. Milan. [Italian]
  • Festugière, A. J., (1975), ed. and tr., Artémidore d’Éphèse: La clef des songes. Paris. [French]
  • Harris-McCoy, D. (2012), ed. and tr. Artemidorus’ Oneirocritica: Text, Translation, Cmmentary. Oxford. [English]
  • Mavroudi, M. (2002), ed. and tr., Artemidorou Oneirocritica. Athens. [Modern Greek]
  • Pack, R. (1963), ed., Onirocriticon Libri V. Leipzig. [Critical Edition of Ancient Greek Text]
  • White, R., (1990), ed. and tr., The Interpretation of Dreams. Oneirocritica by Artemidorus. Torrance, CA. [English Translation]

Scholarship on Artemidorus’ Oneirocritica:

  • Bowersock, G. (2004), ‘Artemidorus and the Second Sophistic’, in B. Borg, B., ed., Paideia: The World of the Second Sophistic. Berlin: 53–63.
  • Ch. Chandezon and J. du Bouchet (2014), eds., Artémidore de Daldis et l’interprétation des rêves. Quatorze études. Paris. [Wide-ranging collection of chapters on Artemidorus by various authors]
  • Foucault, M. (1986), The Care of the Self: Volume 3 of the History of Sexuality, tr. R. Hurley. New York.
  • Harris-McCoy, D. (2013), ‘Artemidorus’ Oneirocritica as Fragmentary Encyclopedia’, in J. König and G. Woolf, eds. Encyclopaedism Before the Enlightenment. Cambridge: 107-28.
  • Harris-McCoy, D. (2011), ‘Artemidorus’ Self Presentation in the Preface to the Oneirocritica’, CJ 106.4: 423–44.
  • Kessels, A. H. M. (1969), ‘Ancient Systems of Dream-Classification’, Mnemosyne 22: 389–424.
  • Lev Kenaan, V. (2016), ‘Artemidorus at the Dream Gates: Myth, Theory, and the Restoration of Liminality’, AJP 137: 189-218.
  • Thonemann, P. (forthcoming 2020), An Ancient Dream Manual: Artemidorus’ The Interpretation of Dreams, Oxford University Press.
  • Weber, G. (2015), ed. Artemidor von Daldis und die antike Traumdeutung. Texte – Kontexte – Rezeptionen. Berlin.
  • Winkler, J. (1990), The Constraints of Desire: The Anthropology of Sex and Gender in Ancient Greece. New York.


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