April 19, 2020

The Byzantine Interpretation of Dreams by Achmet

Achmet refers to himself as the son of Sereim, who was in service to the Caliph, Maʾmūn, as an interpreter of dreams. While his father worked as a dream interpreter, it’s not known whether Achment himself was also an interpreter, but given his extensive work on the subject, it’s highly likely that he was involved in the study himself.

He was well versed in Greek, Byzantine and Arabic sources on dream interpretation.

Achmet set about creating a vast compendium of dream symbols, in which he claims to have relied on various sources. Some of the sources included the works of Syrbacham, the interpreter for the king of India; Tarphan, the interpreter of the Pharaoh of Egypt; his own father Sereim; and Baram, the interpreter of the king of Persia.

Despite his Arab name, Achmet was a Greek Orthodox Christian, which he openly and devoutly professes in the first fourteen chapters of his work.

What is The Interpretation of Dreams

The Oneirocriticon of Achmet is a book on dream interpretation, written in the Greek language during the tenth century. It is widely considered as the most important Byzantine work on dream interpretation, though despite its significance, it seems to have largely been forgotten about in the modern world.

The work consists of 304 chapters, and as an important piece of scholarly work, Leo Tuscus translated it from Greek to Latin around the year 1160. 

Inspiration From Islamic, Greek and Christian Sources

Despite being a Christian, Achmet had taken inspiration from other Arabic Islamic sources on the subject, while the Arabic sources were largely taken from the earliest surviving Greek work on dream interpretation, Artemidorus of Daldis’ Oneirocriticon.

The book on dreams by Artemidorus seems to have also been a source of inspiration for Achmet, as scholars studying the work have noticed a number of interpretations which can also be found in the original second-century text. It was widely thought that Achmet had taken his inspiration directly from the second-century Greek source, however upon further research, scholars believe the Byzantine author used Islamic sources, which had been written on the basis of the original Greek work of Artemidoros.

The work of Artemidoros had been translated into Arabic in the ninth century, and had a profound impact on Islamic interpretation. The reading of dreams was well studied in Arab society, with the prophet of Islam also interpreting dreams. The Qur’an itself contains dreams which are mentioned in the Old Testament.

The importance of dreams in Islam would explain why people like Achmet’s father, Sereim, where employed in the courts of Caliphs, to aid in the translation of prophecy, or decode divine messages.

Despite the influence in Islamic society though, dream interpretation was also prevalent in ancient society, both Hebraic and Babylonian, however, it was only until the post-Islamic period that these were written down.

Aside from taking inspiration from both Islamic and ancient Greek work, Achmet seems to have taken a lot of inspiration from earlier Byzantine Christian sources. This is evident when it comes to his close knowledge of Christian theology and practice. He addresses earlier Byzantine texts, such as the dream books of Daniel and Astrampsychus. 

Though a lot of modern works have been written on dream interpretation, the basis of the study goes back thousands of years, and the works of people like Achmet, and Artemidoros, are still being studied today.

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