15.10.11, Angelidi and Calofonos, eds., Dreaming in Byzantium and Beyond

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Spyros Panagopoulos

The Medieval Review 15.10.11

Angelidi, Christine, and George T. Calofonos, eds. Dreaming in Byzantium and Beyond. Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate, 2014. pp. xvi, 232. ISBN: 9781409400554 (hardback).

Reviewed by:
Spyros Panagopoulos
Ionian University, Greece
panagopoulosspyros@yahoo.com

In the periphery of the Byzantine Empire of the ninth century, a mother is dreaming that her ambitious and restless son (who is preparing to seek his fortune in the capital city) will someday become emperor. A traveler in the twelfth century, when overwhelmed by improper thoughts, sees a vision where God assures him that He will take care of him. He then shows to him a place where a saint cloisters, and there he finds a shelter and rest. A patient in a dream finds healing thanks to the miraculous intervention of a saint, a tradition which continues the practice of incubatio of the ancient times. The present volume, which gathers the findings of a colloquium held in Athens in 2008, presents dreaming and dreams in Byzantium from a contemporary perspective, including psychoanalysis and anthropology.

This volume consists of studies by eminent Byzantinists and scholars of this specific field. We should note that this volume is one of the few studies deal with dreams in Byzantium. Dreaming in Byzantium, a new research field, stands as in antiquity between the world of conscience and the unconscious or the subconscious and simultaneously reveals perceptions of specific contexts of experience, such as monastic or ascetic life, the imperial court, the miraculous healings which are recorded in the literary genres or in the narratives. Dreams come at the heart of interest during the Second Sophistic and the Early Byzantine period, on the occasion of oneirokritika, i.e. manuals of dream interpretation, depositing valuable information on that specific historical period and its cognitive context.

According to M. Mullet, the narratives of the Byzantine dreams require multiple readings from representatives of research branches as psychology, literature, psychiatry, anthropology, history. According to her, dreams can be different things: a vision of the future a disclosure of the personal past, a way of approaching the divine, a healing mechanism, a finding of narrative plot, a medieval movies or an alternative way of existence.

Emphasis is given to dreams woven into historical narratives delivered in historians like Procopius, Continuation of Theophanes, George Pachymeres, John Skylitzes, John Kinnamos etc. The studies by George T. Calofonos, Ilias Anagnostakis and Paul Magdalino are focused on that type of dream. Ilias Anagnostakis explores perceptively the events and the dreams relating to the campaign of Justinian against the kingdom of the Vandals in Libya, as recorded by Procopius of Caesarea. George T. Calofonos deals with iconoclasm and the use of dreams in the historiographical sources. The relation of iconoclasm to the dreams of that period reveals aspects of dreams' political use in Byzantine historiography, especially in the Continuation of Theophanes, evincing the meaning of dreams to the establishment of Macedonian dynasty. Paul Magdalino deals also with the historiographical dreams of late Byzantine period. His study reveals two types of dreams in later historiographers, iconic-hagiographical and allegorical-symbolical, and adds a third category of subversive dreams, which can be found in Michael Psellos and Niketas Choniates. Magdalino's research leads him to the surrealistic explanations of dreaming and its symbolism and to the uncertain path of identification and interpretation of persons and events mentioned.

Margaret Mullet examines the role of the oneirokritika to the plot of the hagiographical texts she discusses, including the Life of Cyril Phileotes, concluding with the maxim of G. Herdt, that dreams are the most complex of human communication. Stavroula Constantinou focuses most on healing dreams and deals with the narratives of dreams and treatments, including in Byzantine collections of Miracle Stories (cf. the Miracle Stories of Sts. Cyrus and John, or those of Athanasius, Patriarch of Constantinople). A dream by its nature certifies the presence of the divine, in a way that allows the encounter between God and the believer in a real context of experience. In the hagiographical texts dreams fall into two categories: dreams where the action is carried out through speech and others where the action is carried out through physical contact of the saint with the patient. Betina Krönung studies ecstasy in Early Byzantine monastic literature and argues to a more moderate reading of dreams. Carolina Cupane examines a special genre of Byzantine literature, which acquired a particular status in late Byzantine period, that of "visions of the Other World." This type of visions was extremely helpful and didactic and this was the reason that Church adopted that for the promotion of its own ascetic view on the world. Christine Angelidi singles out a dream of Ignatios the Deacon from his correspondence which represents a real experience and results in a spontaneous confession addressed in the form of a letter to a friend, Ignatios' most frequent correspondent, Nikephoros, along with the wish that its distressing prognostications may not be fulfilled.

Oneirokritika are a distinct category of interpretative texts concerning dreams, addressed to an audience generally male which was interested in practical concerns, such as health, economics and business. Steven Oberhelamn, a distinguished scholar of Byzantine oneirokritika, deals with these dream-manuals, focusing on their thematic peculiarities. If we compare the number of Byzantine dream-manuals with the Arabic dream-manuals, we will see that it is very limited. Oberhelman attributes this fact to the framework of dreams' operation and interpretation in Byzantium, which does not necessitate the use of dream-manuals, because dreams themselves constituted a living reality and their interpretation was woven in the fabric of everyday life. Maria Mavroudi deals with the comparison of Byzantine and Islamic dream-manuals, as also with the issue of juxtaposition between reality and literary tradition. Mavroudi concludes in broad perspective conclusions regarding the language of dream-manuals, a deliberately vague and ambiguous language and full of ambiguities. Passages of erotic content present particular interest as they are translated from Islamic dream-manuals or they are silenced in the Byzantine version during the Middle Byzantine period.

Charis Messis studies erotic dreams which he successfully associates with hatching and imprinting of the person (in the sense of self) in the Byzantine literature. Erotic dreams are analyzed initially as texts and subsequently within the context of the genre where they appear, whether we have hagiographical texts or secular literature with special emphasis on medieval romance. The last two studies of the volume open the discussion about dreams in both anthropological and psychoanalytic perspectives, where Barbara Tedlock studies dreams into the context of anthropology and Catia Galatariotou offers an interesting reading of Byzantine dreaming, using as a working example Michael Psellos' oration on his dead mother and concluding that Psellos is indeed extremely contemporary, as also dreams that act as a timeless thread that connects yesterday and today, light with darkness and our inner self with everyday practice. We are faced here with two problems: first, it is questionable how modern theoretical approaches can be applied to the interpretation of Byzantine dream experience, when this "experience" is overwhelmingly literary, and second it is doubtful that they will be explored as such by Byzantinists.

To sum up, this book constitutes a useful study for those who wish to study Byzantine dreams and their symbolism. Interested scholars and specialized libraries should have a copy.

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