In this paper, I intend to present an overview of my research of an unpublished oneirocriticon, or dream interpretation handbook, in Demotic. This text originally consisted of a lengthy composition, listing hundreds of animals, plants, objects, and situations that one may possibly sight in a dream, and giving for each of them a prediction of what would befall the dreamer’s life. Many fragments of this text survive, amongst which the following have been identified to date: P. Berlin P inv. 8769, 15683, 15796; P. Vienna D inv. 6104, 6633-6636, 6644, 6668; P. CtYBR inv. 1154b, 4530b; and P. Michigan Dem. inv. 516a. These fragments belonged to at least four different manuscripts of this text, thus vouching for its popularity; these copies come from an unspecified site in the Fayum and from Tebtunis, and date to the late I to the early III century AD.
While a good number of documentary papyri dealing with dreams are known in both Greek and Demotic (e.g. the dream-texts in the archive of Ptolemy the katochos in the Serapeum of Memphis), the same does not apply to the technical manuals about dream interpretation. As of now, the only known and published Demotic oneirocritica of a substantial length were P. Carlsberg 13 and 14 verso, also of Roman date and from the Fayum. These though are fragments which preserve less textual material than the new text that I will present in this paper.
Through selected readings from this new oneirocriticon, I will discuss here its importance not simply for the field of Demotic studies, but for the investigation of the social and cultural history of Roman Egypt. The phenomenon of dream interpretation is in fact less well known for Roman Egypt than for the preceding Ptolemaic period, to which most of the surviving dream accounts and similar documentary texts date. The text here discussed can therefore provide us with new evidence showing the continuity in such divinatory practices through the Roman period down to the beginning of Late Antiquity. Further, a dream interpretation manual offers the chance to study the science of dream interpretation beyond the narrower point of view offered by the individual cases recorded in documentary texts, and also enables peculiarities of the Egyptian tradition to be highlighted, through comparison with roughly contemporary evidence in Greek from other areas of the empire, first of all the Oneirocritica by Artemidorus Daldianus.
Finally, I will argue that, despite its local specificity, the Egyptian tradition of dream interpretation did not become extinct with the eventual demise of the Demotic script, but survived in Greek versions of similar texts. Popular divinatory texts such as the Oneirocriticon of Astrampsychus, or even the better-known Sortes Astrampsychi, surviving in several papyri, as well as in the medieval manuscript tradition, do show similarities with the Demotic oneirocritica and other divinatory handbooks in Demotic, particularly in the set phrases used for predicting future events. Whether in Greek or Demotic, divination, dreams, and their expression could transgress ethnic and linguistic barriers.