In Bed with Mother: Sexual Dreams in Artemidorus’ Interpretation of Dreams

  • Maja Sunčič AMEU-ISH
Keywords: dreams, iinterpretation of dreams, divination, sexuality, antiquity, Artemidorus, Sigmund Freud


The paper examines Artemidorus’ treatise Interpretation of Dreams (Oneirokritika), the only surviving dream book from Greco-Roman antiquity. Being a professional dream interpreter, Artemidorus is our main source for the significance of dreams and for the process of their interpretation in antiquity. In accordance with tradition, the interpretation of dreams is represented as a form of divination and as such as a religious practice, widely accepted and used by the general public, though frowned on by educated critics and philosophers as a fraudulent and unreliable practice. Contrary to other ancient sources, which mainly report on the dreams of the elite, Artemidorus’ book interprets the dreams of ordinary people as well. After a preliminary outline of its characteristics, the paper examines the sexual dreams in Artemidorus’ treatise in the context of ancient dream interpretation, pointing out its differences from Freud’s influential approach to the interpretation of dreams. With Freud’s work, the interpretation of dreams in fact reached the scientific level which Artemidorus had striven for in his treatise. Nevertheless, Freud’s approach and method cannot be applied to the interpretation of Artemidorus’ treatise as a whole or of its chapters on sexual dreams. The differences between Artemidorus’ and Freud’s approaches to the analysis of sexual dreams are clearly perceived in the chapters translated and published below, which analyse sexual relations including incestuous, unlawful and unnatural practices.


ANNEQUIN, J. (1987): “Les esclaves rêvent aussi … - Remarques sur ‘La clé des songes’ d’Artémidore’”, Dialogues d’histoire ancienne, 13, 71–113.

ANNEQUIN, J. (2003): “Aliments et pratiques alimentaires dans l’Onirocriticon d’Artémidore”, Dialogues d’histoire ancienne, 29, 2, 109–123.

DEL CORNO, D. (1975): Artemidoro, Il libro dei sogni, Milan.

DEVEREUX, G. (1976): Dreams in Greek Tragedy: An Ethno-Psycho- Analytical Study, Berkeley and Los Angeles, University of California Press.

FOUCAULT, M. (1993): “Sanjati o svojih ugodjih”, v: Foucault, M., Zgodovina seksualnosti 3: Skrb zase, Ljubljana, 6–26.

FREUD, S. (2000): Interpretacija sanj (prev. Zdenka Erbežnik), Ljub - ljana.

HARRIS-McCOY, D. E. (2012): Artemidorus’ Oneirocritica: Text, Translation, and Commentary, Oxford.

KARSPRZYK, D. (2010): “Belles-Lettres et science des rêves: les citations dans l’Onirocriticon d’Artémidore”, L’Antiquité Classique, 79, 17–52.

KURTH, W. (1951): “Traumbuch des Artemidoros im Lichte der Freudschen Traumlehre”, Psyche, 4, 488–512.

MACCALISTER, S. (1992): “Gender as Sign and Symbolism in Artemidoros’ Oneirokritika: Social Aspirations and Anxieties”, Helios, 19.1–2, 140–160.

PACK, R. (1955): “Artemidorus and His Waking World”, Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association, 86, 280–290.

PARRENIN, C. (2001): “La Clé des Songes d’Artémidore et les notions d’espaces public et privé”, Dialogues d’histoire ancienne, 27, 1, 235–247.

POMEROY, A. J. (1992): “Status and Status-Concern in the Greco- Roman Dreambooks”, Ancient Society, 22, 51–74.

PRICE, S. (1986): “The Future of Dreams: From Freud to Artemidorus”, Past and Present, 113, 3–37.

SUNČIČ, M. (2007): Plutarh, Morala za vsakdanjo rabo, prevod, komentar in spremne študije, Ljubljana.

SUNČIČ, M. (2008): Plutarh, Politika in morala, prevod, komentar in spremne študije, Ljubljana.

SUNČIČ, M. (2009): Plutarh, Prerokbe za vsakdanjo rabo: pitijski dialogi, prevod, komentar in spremne študije, Ljubljana.

SUNČIČ, M. (2010): Aristofan, Politične komedije I: Ekonomska komedija, prevod, komentar in spremna študija, Ljubljana.

SUNČIČ, M. (2014): Plutarh, Vzporedni življenjepisi: Kimon – Lukul, Nikias – Kras, prevod, opombe in spremna študija, Ljubljana.

SUNČIČ, M. (2015): Plutarh, Vzporedni življenjepisi: Demetrij – Antonij, prevod, opombe in spremna študija, Ljubljana.

VERNANT, J.-P. (1974): “Parole et signes muets”, v: Vernant, J.-P., idr., Divination et rationalité, Paris, 9–25.

VERNANT, J.-P. (1994): “Ojdipus brez kompleksa”, v: Vernant, J.-P., Vidal-Naquet, P., Mit in tragedija v stari Grčiji, Ljubljana, 59–75.

WINKLER, J. (1990): “Unnatural Acts; Erotic Protocols in Artemidorus’ Dream Analysis,” v: Winkler, J., The Constraints of Desire; The Anthropology of Sex and Gender in Ancient Greece New York; Routledge, 17–44.

How to Cite
Sunčič, M. (2017). In Bed with Mother: Sexual Dreams in Artemidorus’ Interpretation of Dreams. Monitor ISH, 19(1), 185-207.
Review article