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Medieval Dreams: A Sample of Historical and Psychological Criticism

Rudi Künzel

Psychoanalytische Perspectieven, 20, 2, (2002)

Accounts of the contents of dreams in medieval texts can be the result of a process that occurred in stages: first the dreaming, then the narrating and finally the recording. First, someone dreams a dream. He remembers it and tells it to himself as it were; then he tells someone else what he dreamt. The other person writes it down. Occasionally other oral links occur in this chain between the dreamer and the transcriber of the dream. Each stage of this process contains elements that can affect whether the dream is preserved or not and can also have a distorting effect on the original contents of the dream. The mechanisms involved in this process are the subject of this study.

Medieval texts also frequently contain passages that appear to describe dreams but do not really do so; rather they are pure literary creations or clichés. In this article a number of criteria for analyzing texts containing dreams are developed using insights and techniques from historical philology, cultural anthropology and psychoanalysis. The standpoint I am defending is that although ideas about dreams change in the course of time and from culture to culture, the mental activity of dreaming is part of man’s biological baggage and is thus a historical constant.

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