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‘A withered olive tree means misfortune’

If you dream you are drinking hot water, then illness, sorrows and misfortune await you, according to one Byzantine tradition. A dream of mead meant bad luck for the rich. Vinegar was the portent of a quarrel and drinking brine of tuberculosis. Drinking vessels made of horn were said to bring good luck and glasses bad luck. Milk seen in a dream was said to ensure merriment, tranquility, elation and a happy end to problems. Ripe fruit was seen as a good omen, while sweets were said to portend bitterness. The tradition Archaeologist Panayiotis Kabanis of the Museum of Byzantine Culture in Thessaloniki has researched the dream divination tradition in Byzantine literature, contrasting the waking state and the dreaming state, or to hypar kai to onar, as they were known in Ancient Greek. Relying principally on Artemidorus (a second century AD philosopher and an interpreter of dreams by profession, whose work «Oneirokritika» was popular both in its own time and for centuries to come), and Ahmet, who revived dream divination in the ninth century, Kabanis draws on a series of interpretations that diviners gave to dreams about food. «While Aristotle deals with dreams scientifically, the one who categorizes them in the modern fashion is Artemidorus, who traveled to various places collecting and recording dreams,» explains Kabanis. «His presence takes on great import because he is there at the gradual transition from the fading world of antiquity to emerging Christianity. His book survived, despite the hostile attitude of the Church.» But the most significant book on dream divination to survive from Byzantine times is that of Ahmet. «Dreams are interpreted in different ways for each person – one way for the king and another for a man of the people, one way for a magnate and another for a pauper, one way for a farmer and another for a soldier; there are different interpretations for men and for women, for summer and for winter, and during the waning and the waxing of the moon,» wrote Ahmet. «Typically, 60 percent of dreams are associated with food,» Kabanis told Kathimerini. The documents he consulted provide abundant information about the eating habits of the time as well as the dishes that graced the tables of the Byzantines, rich and poor, at the «ariston,» or first meal of the day, and at their afternoon and evening meals. Here are just a few from the long list of interpretations Kabanis has recorded: Someone who dreamed of drinking cold water or wine in small glasses should not be uneasy, according to the dream diviners, unless they dream that they were drunk. Bread – the most important part of the daily diet – was a good sign, whether wheat or rye, soft or coarse-grained. «Bread means porismon,» in general, the provision of all goods,» according to Artemidorus. Olives (salted or in vinegar, green or black, split or dried) were a favorable omen according to most dream interpreters, though Artemidorus saw them as unfavorable, perhaps because it was arduous work harvesting them. Those who dreamed of eating green olives might be lucky in their work, those eating black olives would see their plans fail and those who harvested them would gain large profits but with much effort. A withered olive tree meant misfortune for a household, jars full of oil meant happiness, and if someone dreamed someone was anointing their wounds with oil it signified a protector at their side. Meat – a basic component of Byzantine cuisine – was subject to varying interpretations, depending on where it came from and how it was cooked. Artemidorus believed that raw meat portended suffering and sorrow and was an indication of prostitution. Boiled meat was a sign of damage, while roast meat was a favorable sign. Lamb was a sign of mourning, and beef of small tasks for the rich but of suffering for slaves. By contrast, Ahmet claimed that those who dreamed of beef would acquire wealth and have a male child. When the emperor Manouil Palaiologos dreamed of fatty mutton, it was a sign of profits. The meat of young goats was a good sign because «kids are always good.» Pork was a good omen, while dreaming of eating wild birds and pheasant meant success for women. Stuffed and salted foods were a sign of delays and postponements in family business, and cheese kept in «clay dishes» was a sign of deceit and fraud. Live fish in dreams were harbingers of fear and indecision, baked, fried and boiled fish of profit, and and shellfish of illness. Onions and garlic were both good omens, as long as you didn’t dream you were eating them. A crown of celery meant death for the sick person who dreamed of it. Mashed broad beans meant discord and lentils mourning, while millet portended poverty and worries. As for vegetables, the staple diet of the poor, carrots, promised bad luck for anyone involved in property disputes; lettuce and squash meant operations and amputations, but beetroot was a good omen, as were mallow and sorrel. Dreaming of unripe fruit was seen as harmful to the health: Citrus fruit meant sorrow and unemployment; sour apples meant disagreements; almonds and walnuts were signs of trouble, and figs of sycophancy. Pomegranates signified injuries and quince worries, while peaches and cherries meant transient pleasures. Rock melons or peponia were a good sign for friendship but bad for work because inactivity was known as pepon. Sweets, which were connected with passion, were a bad omen in dreams. However, sisamidis, made with crushed sesame, and pyramoi, made of wheat baked in honey, were seen as good omens for court cases.