Alice Mouton, Rêves hittites: Contribution à une histoire et une anthropologie du rêve en Anatolie ancienne
(Culture and History of the Ancient Near East, 28; Leiden/Boston: Brill, 2007). Pp. xxix + 344. Cloth €84.00, US $112.00. ISBN 978-9004-16024-8.
Reviewed by Scott Noegel
University of Washington

This work constitutes the first systematic collection and study of Hittite texts concerning dreams and dreaming. Consequently, it offers a number of contributions to the study of Hittite culture specifically and to our understanding of ancient conceptions of dreams generally.1

Mouton divides her study into four sections. The first defines and explains the Hittite terms associated with dreams and dreaming. The second examines the nature of dreams from the perspective of Hittite beliefs especially as they concern “message dreams” and “bad dreams.”2 The third discusses dreams and dreaming in Hittite daily life, with particular attention to the relationship between dreams, purity, sickness, and death. The fourth section, the largest of the book (pp. 87-313), offers textual editions and translations of 133 Hittite texts, along with pertinent bibliographical data.

The collection of primary texts is divided into the following categories: historical documents (1-11), catalogues (12-17), literary excerpts (18-19), mythological texts (20-21), hymns and prayers (22-27), ritual texts (28-44), divinatory texts (45-92), votive offerings (93-123), documents concerning festival and cults (124-127), texts in a foreign language (i.e., Hittite texts that contain Hurrian and Luwian elements, and thus likely hail from Kizzuwatna [128-129]), and miscellaneous texts (130-133). A representative bibliography and useful indices of proper names, topics, and texts concludes the book.

Much of the data collected here demonstrates that the Hittites shared a number of conceptions generally with other peoples in the ancient Near East.3 Thus, one finds in these texts that dreams and visions are nearly indistinguishable, that dreams were understood as external to the dreamer, and that the dream provided a meeting place between the mortal and divine worlds. Like other peoples in the ancient Near East, the Hittites had no specialist whom we might call a dream interpreter. Instead, a skilled priest would serve in this capacity. Also like other peoples, the Hittites viewed dreams as especially ominous when they recurred or had a high emotional impact on the dreamer, or when dreamt by kings, queens, priests, and others with privileged access to the divine. Of course, if a deity appeared in a dream it was automatically ominous.

Other beliefs and practices found in these texts reveal the direct influence of Mesopotamian culture. Thus, diviners verified the interpretations of dream omens by means of extispicy. They also made oracular requests when the information obtained in a dream was deemed insufficient (e.g., when they needed to know which deity had sent a dream). As in Mesopotamia, the Hittites employed rituals of exorcism or substitution in order to nullify the impact of bad dreams. At times, they even referred to the god of dreams by his Akkadian name Zaqîqu. One also sees the imprint of Mesopotamian culture in the only extant Hittite dream manual, whose format follows exactly the Assyrian dream manuals (KUB 43.11 [+] KUB 43.12, text 45, pp. 170-171). Unfortunately, the tablet is poorly preserved and contains only a handful of dreams (and none of their apodoses), in this case dreams involving animals. The Hittite corpus also provides the only analogue to the claim of collective dreaming found in an account of Assurbanipal. In the Hittite text each of the allies of Hattushili III experiences the same dream (KUB 1.1, text 2, pp. 33, 88-91).

One of the more fascinating aspects of these texts is that they attest to Hittite beliefs and practices that are found elsewhere only in the Aegean world. Thus, incubation (i.e., the provocation of oracular dreams) could be used in both cultures to ascertain a dreamer’s state of purity. Similarly, only in Greek and Hittite cultures do we find incubation employed to identify or affect a cure for a patient. One lengthy ritual text (KUB 9.2, text 29, pp. 129-141) is especially significant in that it appears to provoke sexual dreams with the deity as a means of curing impotence. This practice has its only analogue in a votive text found at the Temple of Asclepius at Epidauros (p. 72).

Perhaps of greatest interest to readers are those Hittite texts that reveal something unique about dreams in Hittite culture. From a comparative perspective it appears that with the possible exception of the Greek world, incubation appears to have been practiced more widely in the Hittite world than elsewhere in the ancient Near East, especially by members of the royal house.4 Indeed, most of the relevant Hittite texts record dreams that were provoked in response to a request by a king, queen, or someone of their entourage. One Hittite text (KUB 43.55, text 34, pp. 147-149) is of special interest in that it appears to use incubation as a form of necromancy. As Mouton notes (p. 80), this practice is attested only here.

One of the most unique features of this corpus, however, is the importance placed on dreams experienced by the queen, especially Puduhepa. With the exception of a few Demotic texts of a much later time,5 no other ancient Near Eastern document includes the dreams of women, much less a queen. Of course, the role and status of the queen was greater in the Hittite world than elsewhere in the ancient Near East, and Puduhepa was certainly a more prominent queen than most,6 but one wonders whether these texts tells us something more about the roles and status of women generally in Hittite society. At the very least, such texts, like so many in this volume, will supply the building blocks for future comparative work.

Indeed, this book provides a great deal of comparative material for those in adjacent fields, in addition to a wealth of philological, literary, cultural, religious, and historical information for the specialist. We may thank Mouton for making accessible these materials, which hitherto had been restricted to Hittitologists. This book is a welcome addition to the growing corpus of published research on dreams and dreaming in the ancient world.


[1] Though not expressly stated, this volume appears to derive, at least in part, from the author’s 2003 doctoral dissertation earned jointly from Sorbonne and University of Leiden entitled Le rêve au Proche-Orient au deuxième millénaire avant J. -C.: étude des sources hittites mises en perspective avec le reste du Proche-Orient ancien. I also note that the book’s subtitle might lead one to expect that the author will apply anthropological models and methodological frameworks to the data, but this is not the case. Instead Mouton employs a very broad definition of anthropology: “Je prends le terme ‘anthropologie’ dans son acception la plus large, à savoir ‘l’étude de l’homme et de son comportement’ ” (p. xxiii, n. 14).

[2] Mouton classifies all Hittite dreams into two categories: “rêves-messages” or “mauvais rêves” (p. 29). This represents a revision of A. Leo Oppenheim’s typology (The Interpretation of Dreams in the Ancient Near East: With a Translation of the Assyrian Dream Book [Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, 46/3; Philadelphia, Pa.: American Philosophical Society, 1956], p. 186), which distinguishes “message” dreams, in which a god or important figure appears in a dream and delivers an auditory missive to the dreamer, from “symbolic” dreams, in which the dreamer witnesses enigmatic visual images that require an interpreter. While Mouton rightly notes the problematic nature of this typology given her data, it is unclear to me how the new typology she proposes resolves the problems inherent in the category “message dream,” which many have pointed out. See, e.g., S. A. L. Butler, Mesopotamian Conceptions of Dreams and Dream Rituals (AOAT, 258; Münster: Ugarit-Verlag, 1998), Ruth Fidler, “Dreams Speak Falsely”? Dream Theophanies in the Bible: Their Place in Ancient Israelite Faith and Tradition (Jerusalem: Hebrew University Magnes Press, 2005 [in Hebrew]), and now Scott B. Noegel, Nocturnal Ciphers: The Punning Language of Dreams in the Ancient Near East (American Oriental Series, 89; New Haven, CT, 2007).

[3] Curiously, it appears that Mouton does not include Egypt among the cultures of the ancient Near East. Even though she offers a number of relevant parallels from Egyptian texts in various footnotes, she excludes the Egyptian materials when providing brief synopses of all dream texts known from the ancient Near East, though the Hebrew Bible and Iliad and Odyssey are included (pp. xxv-xxvi).

[4] Incubation was practiced in Mesopotamia, but it does not appear to have been as common. See Annette Zgoll, “Die Welt im Schlaf sehen-Inkubation von Träumen im antiken Mesopotamien,” WdO 32 (2002), pp. 74-101.

[5] See Aksel Volten, Demotische Traumdeutung (Pap. Carslberg XIII und XIV Verso) (Analecta Aegyptiaca, 3; Copenhagen: Einar Munsgaard, 1942).

[6] See Heinrich Otten, Puduhepa. Eine hethitische Königin in ihren Textzeugnissen (Akademie der Wissenschaften unde der Litertur, Mainz. Abhandlungen der Geistes- un Sozialwissenschaftlichen Klasse, Jahrgang 1975, No. 1; Wiesbaden: Franz Steiner Verlag, 1975).