Episode 70 - For the Cheese Foretells These Things (Dreams Week)
Tom's Notes; Oneirocritica of Artemidorus
Come with us, on our cuss bus,
To a world of vulgar emancipation,
Farty jokes, fun we poke,
Let us darken your… imagination.
We’ll begin, for our sins,
With impressions of our own creation,
What you’ll hear will defy… explanation.
If you want to hear silly tales,
Sit back and turn up the volume,
We’ll regale you with history,
Occasional wank references,
There’s lots of innuendo.
Come with us, do pelvic thrusts,
To our world of history bastardisation.
I started my research this week with an obvious route; Aboriginal Australian Dreamtime; which is basically a term to describe Aboriginal folklore and worldview. It’s fascinatingly complex and incredibly durable, spread through word of mouth, some stories tell of events thousands, if not 10s of thousands of years ago that have been corroborated by geological study. It’s a really beautiful insight into how and what people have believed for most of human history; Aboriginal Australians being hunter-gathers who hadn’t even formed cities yet; something that happened in the Old World around 5 to 7 thousand years ago. When we study history, we study stuff what happened after this, when people started leaving evidence of what they thought!
I came across a few excellent stories from Dreamtime and I wanted to share with you the Yowie as an honourable mention. The Yowie is a mythical creature also known by many other names, such as, jurrawarra, doolaga, gulaga, nooconah and Shane. It’s a huge human-like creature, very shy, with long limbs and there are occasional sightings of Yowies even today.
In 1996, a couple driving to Newcastle claim to have spotted a great, big hairy ape-like creature with no neck not far from Braidwood. GERMAN ACCENT, hello, are you going towards the coast? My name is Hans, I’m backpacking around Australia camping illegally and pooing in the most inappropriate places to save money! It’s supergood!
In 2000 a man called Steve Piper apparently recorded a Yowie, you can view this video yourself online, see what you think. Looks to me like a typical Aussie bogun staggering home having had one to many Fosters whilst watching the last match of the State of Origin.
I even found a chap called Tony Duffy who has had a nice chat with one in the bush near Gympie, apparently the 2 scared the shit out of each other, although one was about a meter taller than the other so you can guess who did the bigger skid-mark. They chatted for about 2 hours, the Yowie apparently talking something similar to Latin.
I would love to believe that Yowie exist, but I don’t. But, based on what I said earlier about how far back Aboriginal stories stretch, I wouldn’t be surprised if stories of human like monsters refer to encounters with human ancestors thousands of years ago, especially as humans arrived in Australia in waves, I think often separated by thousands of years. I think this would be something fascinating to explore.
Righto, on to my main topic of today; the Ancient Greek Oneirocritica of Artemidorus; written in the late second to early third century AD. It’s a book describing how to interpret dreams and Artemidorus, the author, explains how he travelled the known world talking to dream expert to develop his knowledge. His work also builds on a tradition of dream interpretation, he cites many other experts by name whose work is now lost to time. He was from Ephesus, a place known for its lovely library (and the Temple of Artemis, one of the 7 must-visit-before-you-die-get-the-tshirt-and-snowdome of the ancient world).
There are 5 books, the first 3 list common dream topics and how to interpret them. I glanced through book 1 to get some nice examples;
“To have a greater number of ears is good for one who wishes to receive a message
from someone… But for a wealthy man it signifies denunciations that are good if the ears are well
formed, but bad if they are poorly formed and lacking in proportion… To cleanse one's ears of filth or of a pustulent discharge signifies hearing good news from somewhere, but to strike one's ears signifies hearing bad news from somewhere.”
“Shaggy and luxuriant eyebrows are good for everyone, and most of all for women”
“To possess a lovely and well-formed nose is good for all. For it signifies great
perceptiveness and foresight in one's affairs and a good relationship with one's
“And to imagine that one is beheaded either through execution or by bandits
or in gladiatorial combat or in any way whatsoever-for it makes no differenceis grievous”
“Flat cakes not seasoned with cheese are good, but those that are seasoned with
cheese signify trickery and ambushes. For the cheese foretells these things.”
“And if someone should suppose that he penetrates a woman whom he does not
know, if she is shapely and charming and wearing an outfit consisting of expensive,
delicate clothes and gold necklaces, and readily makes herself available, it is wonderful for the observer and reveals that no small thing will be accomplished. But if she
should be old and hideous [or] foul of form and ill-clad and conducts herself
grievously and does not make herself available, it signifies the opposite of the
“And to have sex with one's slave, female or male, is good. <For> slaves are the
property of the observer.”
“And for a man to be
penetrated by a wealthier man and an older man is good. For it is customary
to receive things from men of this sort.”
“And the section on [sex with] one's mother, <being> intricate and manifold and
allowing for several distinct analyses, has eluded many dream interpreters. And it
holds as follows. The sex itself is not enough to reveal what the dream signifies,
but in fact the combinations and positions of the bodies, when different, create
In book 5, Artemidorus writes to his son, giving him lots of good examples of dreams that he has encountered in his profession.
A certain man imagined that he wiped his anus with frankincense. He was
convicted of sacrilege, since he treated with insolence that with which we
honour the gods. And the odour signified that he would not escape detection.
A certain man imagined that he had genitals made of iron. He had a son who
killed him. For in fact iron is destroyed by the rust that arises from itself.
A certain man imagined that he ate his own faeces with bread and enjoyed it.
He received an inheritance by transgressing the law. His claim was undisputed
due to his enjoyment, but he was not above suspicion due to the faeces. For it
was fitting that his profit be full of shame.
A certain man who was a pancratiast imagined at the time of the contest that
he had given birth and was nursing his own baby. He lost that contest and
thereafter gave up the event. For he imagined that he was performing the
deeds not of a man but of a woman.
> sounds like the plot to an Arnie film
I’ve found it hard to conclude much about how dream interpretation and divination was viewed in antiquity. Anyone who has read anything about classical history will know that the Oracles in Greece were very important and venerated and the Romans certainly had their superstitions and forms of divination; ITALIAN ACCENT; hey, watta you makea of this woodpecker’s gizzards? Huh? I wasn’t looking; I was letching the belle signora! Bimbanbinabo!
Yet Cicero basically states that it’s all a load of bollocks, he’s writing during the second half of the first century. Even as far back as Aristotle, some 500 years before Artemidorus, came to the conclusion that dreams were just the minds way of processing events from the day; so they said more about what happened than what will happen. Juvenal was writing not long after Cicero and he takes the piss out of dream divinations.
Artemidorus was motivated by this to write this book justifying and defending the art. He also wanted this document to be a useful and practical handbook for, amongst other people, himself. And from what he says, it’s a well-established field of mumbo-jumbo.