An Egyptian Science and Its Codification: Oneiromancy from the New Kingdom to Late Antiquity

Oneiromancy, or dream interpretation, is one of the divinatory arts with the longest history of attestation in ancient Egypt, from at least the Ramesside to the Roman Period. Regarded by the Egyptians as a science, this discipline is not only indirectly attested in official or daily-life documents, but also in specimens of the technical literature governing it: dream books. In these texts, thousands of dreams were described and interpreted as signs of events that were expected to befall the dreamer. Until recently, only a small number of dream books was available to scholars. Since 2010, increasing interest in divination has however led to the identification of additional specimens of dream books, significantly expanding the available corpus. With dream books known from the New Kingdom, the Late, and the Graeco-Roman Period, it is now possible to gauge both the continuity and the developments in the tradition of these manuals, including its twilight during Coptic Late Antiquity. Not only do these texts inform us about the theory and practice of oneiromancy, but they also offer material for the study of the contemporary society and psychology––for they include information on the way the ancient Egyptians categorized the world of dreams, as well as on the hopes and anxieties that they faced in their daily existence, and which are illustrated in the predictions interpreting each dream.

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