Manuel II Palaiologos: Interpreter of dreams?

Manuel II Palaiologos: Interpreter of dreams?

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Manuel II Palaiologos: Interpreter of dreams?

By George T. Calofonos

Byzantinische Forschungen, Vol. 16 (1991)

Introduction: Frankish garments [in one’s dream] point to very great freedom; in like manner, Franks, Tartars, Turks, Indians, Skythians and every other race of men signify freedom.

This somewhat curious passage appears under the heading “concerning Frankish clothing and colours” in the dreambook attributed to the late Byzantine emperor Manuel Palaiologos. It has been suggested that it reflects his extensive visits to the West and Russia, as well as his captivity at the Turkish court. The authorship however of Manuel Palaiologos has been disputed, mainly on stylistic grounds. The reason which would explain this false attribution – a common practice for most Byzantine dreambooks – is said to be the interest of Manuel in dreams, evident in his letter to Andreas Asan which is a philosophical treatise on their origin.

Thus the “barbaric”, “superstitious”, “popular” text on dream interpretation has been contrasted to the “elegant”, “pious”, “philosophical” work of the “real” Manuel. It is true that the two texts belong to two distinct traditions. The first is an oneiromantic one, which includes dream books from Antiphon and Artemidoros to several Byzantine ones, and involves the· practical skill of dream interpretation. The second is oneirological, and consists mainly of philosophical discussions on the origin and prophetic value (if any) of dreams. These traditions are usually conceived as belonging to two different worlds: the refined, cultivated circles of philosophers on the one hand, and the credulous and superstitious masses on the other. In our case, style and genre of the texts is assumed to be sufficient evidence for stressing the division once more.

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