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Journal of English Philology

Ed. by Kornexl, Lucia / Lenker, Ursula / Middeke, Martin / Rippl, Gabriele / Zapf, Hubert

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Volume 132, Issue 4


Mantic Alphabets in Late Medieval England, Early Modern Europe, and Modern America: The Reception and Afterlife of a Medieval Form of Dream Divination

László Sándor Chardonnens
Published Online: 2015-01-06 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/ang-2014-0072


This article follows upon my earlier study and edition of three mantic alphabets in late medieval English, in Anglia 132/3 (2014: 473–505). Mantic alphabets are a late medieval form of dream divination that was known throughout the Latin West but that vanished completely in the early modern period. Like other medieval types of the mantic arts, this kind of oneiromancy made a quick transition into print in the late fifteenth century; yet it was soon affected negatively by a growing suspicion against dream interpretation during the sixteenth‑century religious reforms, and by changing perspectives on dream theory and dream divination on the part of early printers and humanists. Central to the present study are four English mantic alphabets, one from the end of the medieval period, and three from the modern age. The first mantic alphabet is a hitherto unpublished fifteenth‑century English text witness in Oxford, Balliol College, MS 329. This text sheds new light on the transmission of mantic alphabets in late medieval England, and on the reception of medieval dream divination in early modern Europe. With the help of a number of texts from continental Europe and an excursion into the early print history of dream divination, the Balliol text is situated in its early modern setting, which sometimes proved hostile to medieval forms of oneiromancy. The other English mantic alphabets were discovered in a series of related American popular divination manuals that used dream divination as a basis for selecting lucky lottery numbers. Unattested since early modernity, the American alphabets show some significant differences in comparison to the medieval texts, not least in their use in selecting lucky numbers.

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About the article

Published Online: 2015-01-06

Published in Print: 2014-12-01

Citation Information: Anglia, Volume 132, Issue 4, Pages 641–675, ISSN (Online) 1865-8938, ISSN (Print) 0340-5222, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/ang-2014-0072.

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