Pascalis Romanus

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Pascalis Romanus (or Paschal the Roman) was a 12th-century priest, medical expert, and dream theorist, noted especially for his Latin translations of Greek texts on theology, oneirocritics, and related subjects. An Italian working in Constantinople, he served as a Latin interpreter for Emperor Manuel I Komnenos.[1]


Pascalis compiled the Liber thesauri occulti, a Latin book on dream interpretation, in 1165, but appears not to have completed it himself. The second book and the first part of the third were translated or adapted from the Oneirocriticon of Achmet and the classical treatise of Artemidoros. His are the earliest known Latin translations of excerpts from Artemidoros.[2] In the first part of the work, Pascalis also draws on Aristotle, quoting from what he refers to as the liber de naturis animalium.[3]

Pascalis works within the dream classification system of Macrobius:

  • somnium, a dream requiring interpretation;
  • visio, a vision that comes true;
  • oraculum, prophetic dream mediated by authority;
  • insomnium, false or misleading dream caused by bodily disturbance;
  • visum, nightmare with supernatural contact.[4]

Elaborating on the three "true" types, Pascalis distinguishes each by the degree to which the soul achieves liberty from the body, and by literary mode. In the somnium, the soul perceives the future allegorically; in the visio, historically; and in the oraculum, prophetically. The future can sometimes be revealed directly, but often dreams rely on integument, allegory, and figure. Pascalis quotes the Solomon of the occult tradition as saying:

What Solomon means, Pascalis goes on to explain, is not that we should avoid the interpretation of dreams, but rather that we should recognize that littera occidit, spiritus autem vivificat ("The letter kills, but the spirit brings to life"). Reason allows us to investigate the truth that is symbolized.[5]

Steven Kruger has discussed the dream theory of Pascalis in the context of medical discourse, or "somatization," resulting from the introduction of new medical and scientific texts to Europe. While the Liber thesauri occulti draws on the tradition of humors, Pascalis goes beyond the connection Macrobius makes between insomnium and hunger or thirst to offer an elaborate psychosomatics. Where Macrobius had explained the visum in terms of an incubus,[6] Pascalis offers a complex medical explanation involving blood circulation, the bodily position of the sleeper, and humoral disposition.[7]

Other translations[edit]

In 1169, Pascalis translated the Cyranides, a Hermetic magico-medical compilation. In his preface, he summarized his method:

Other Latin translations from Greek by Pascalis include the Ystoria Beate Virginis Marie by the 8th–9th-century priest and monk Epiphanios and the Disputatio contra Judaeos attributed (with difficulties of chronology) to Anastasios of Sinai.[9]


  • Collin-Roset, S. "Le Liber thesauri occulti de Pascalis Romanus (Un traité d'interprétation des songes du XIIe siècle)." Archives d'histoire doctrinale et littérraire du Moyen Age 30 (1963) 111–198.

Selected bibliography[edit]

  • The Occult Sciences in Byzantium. Edited by Paul Magdalino and Maria Mavroudi. Geneva: La Pomme d'or, 2006. Limited preview online.


  1. ^ Maria Mavroudi, "Occult Science and Society in Byzantium: Considerations for Future Research," in The Occult Sciences in Byantium, pp. 84–85 online; full text downloadable.
  2. ^ Mavroudi, "Occult Science and Society in Byzantium," pp. 84–85, especially note 140.
  3. ^ Marie-Thérèse d'Alverny, "Translations and Translators," in Renaissance and Renewal in the Twelfth Century (University of Toronto Press, 1991), p. 438 online.
  4. ^ Definitions of the five types of dreams according to the Commentarium in somnium Scipionis of Macrobius are based on Dean Swinford, Through the Daemon's Gate: Kepler's Somnium, Medieval Dream Narratives, and the Polysemy of Allegorical Motifs (Routledge, 2006), passim.
  5. ^ Kathryn L. Lynch, The High Medieval Dream Vision: Poetry, Philosophy, and Literary Form (Stanford University Press, 1988), pp. 74–75 online.
  6. ^ Defining the incubus as "a small being in the likeness of a satyr … that … presses sleepers at night in such a way that it almost kills them by suffocation."
  7. ^ Steven Kruger, "Medical and Moral Authority in the Late Medieval Dream," in Reading Dreams: The Interpretation of Dreams from Chaucer to Shakespeare, edited by Peter Brown (Oxford University Press, 1999, reprinted 2002), pp. 55, 57, and 59 online.
  8. ^ Librum Grecum … fideliter per omnia emulatus sum … non verba, que de sterilitate barbarica sunt, sed sensum utilitatis recolligendo, as quoted by Charles Burnett, "Late Antique and Medieval Latin Translations of Greek Texts on Astrology and Magic," in The Occult Sciences in Byzantium, p. 330.
  9. ^ Mavroudi pp. 84–85, note 140 online with additional citations.