(adapted from the Babylonian Talmud)

–Some of them claim a dream’s a prophecy, a kind of unread letter from God, but they’re just dreaming! Interpretation’s the only thing that matters. There’s a proverb: “The dream takes meaning from the mouth,” meaning that whatever you say your dream predicts is what will happen; so you’d better come up with a good interpretation, or choose your interpreter carefully.

–I heard that in Jerusalem, before the Romans turned it into Aelia, they had dream-interpreters who could concoct auspicious omens out of the worst nightmares. One old guy took his dream around to twenty-four of them, got twenty-four completely different predictions, and every one came true!

–Yes, and it paid to grease the palms of those interpreters, or you could have real trouble. A generation back, right here in Babylonia, there was a guy they used to call

Hawkeye the Clairvoyant…

–I’ve heard of him; didn’t he handle snakes as well?

–He knew his way around them from hanging out at Rat-House Tavern (just the place where a rat like him would hold his consultation-hours). That place was so infested,

the snakes would share your wine unless you thought to put some water in the cask

and spoil it for them. But I digress.

This Hawkeye, if you paid him, would work your dream out in your favor, but if you didn’t, awful things could happen. Rava and Abaye used to take their dreams to him. Rava was naïve, for all his learning; typically, he never saw the pattern

till he read it in a book; but when at last he got it, he fixed Hawkeye for good.

The whole world knows how Rava and Abaye disagreed on everything, especially on who should run the college (each was sure he was the better man); but oddly, they would have identical dreams…

–Not so odd, seeing they had the same ambitions.

–Maybe if it happened once, you’d chalk it up to that, but it would happen time and time again. Each time, they’d bring their dreams (or rather, dream) to Hawkeye. Rava dreamt the Torah verse where God warns Israel not to sin or else the enemy will come and slaughter all the oxen, so that nothing will be left to eat; “This means,” said Hawkeye, “that your business will go badly, and you’ll be so upset, you’ll lose your appetite.”Abaye dreamt the self-same verse, and Hawkeye said, “This means you’ll have so much success in business, you’ll lose your appetite for food for joy.”

–That’s idiotic! It’s sadness that kills your appetite; when you have success you kill the fatted ox!

–That’s just the point; no matter how absurd, it’s always the interpreter who calls the shots. Abaye knew enough to pay, and it paid off for him, for both interpretations turned out true. The converse happened too. Both men dreamed the book of Ecclesiastes was saying to them personally, “Go, and eat thy bread in joy…” He told Abaye that the dream meant what it said, that he would make great profits and would eat his bread in joy. You hardly could imagine a way to make a verse like that spell trouble, but Hawkeye didn’t miss a beat when Rava put it to him: “Your deals will fail so badly you’ll be starving, bitter, blame the Lord, and throw this verse up to Him as a broken promise.” That one came true too.

–Did they dream only Bible verses?

–They saw actual things too, but only things that had to do with business (both were brewers; then as now, no one could afford to live on just his scholarship). They saw a lettuce growing on a barrel; Hawkeye said that meant that Abaye’s business would flourish thick as lettuce leaves, but Rava’s would be bitter as a lettuce; etc., etc. Abaye’s business did so well he saw no further need to get his dreams interpreted, but Rava kept on coming by himself. “My outer door was falling,” Rava said. Hawkeye said that meant his wife would die.

–His wife was Hisda’s daughter, right?

–Right, and let’s remember, Hisda was (or thought himself) a specialist in dreams, the very one who claimed that dreams are messages, intrinsically true. (Too bad he had to learn the truth by burying his daughter.) Rava couldn’t face old Hisda after that, since it was his dream killed the woman, as he and Hisda both thought.

One night Rava dreamt he heard a congregation singing hymns, the ones the Israelites were singing as they crossed the Red Sea. “What did that mean?” he asked Hawkeye. “God will save you by a miracle from some catastrophe,” was the word. A few days later, Hawkeye was on board a downstream Tigris ferry waiting for the thing to sail, when up the plank comes Rava. Hawkeye thinks, “This dreamer’s due a miracle; what if his miracle is that this boat goes down and only he survives? He leapt ashore so fast he dropped his dream-book. Rava picked it up and read the motto on the title page: “The dream takes meaning from the mouth. ”He may have been a dreamer, but the scales fell from his eyes. Beside himself, he screamed at Hawkeye, who still stood on the wharf: “You bastard!—All my troubles are your fault, you ruined me with your interpretations, killed poor Hisda’s daughter too. For his sake and for hers I curse you. May you fall into the power of the king.”

Hawkeye knew the maxim: “A scholar’s curse invariably comes true.” He fled to Roman territory to evade it, but of course fell right into its clutches.

He hung out by the royal treasury. The wardrobe master had a dream. “I saw a worm boring a hole through my fingers.” Hawkeye couldn’t help himself: “Give me a zuz,” he said. The man refused. “OK then,” snapped Hawkeye, “The worms will gnaw their tunnels through your master’s silks!” And so it was. The king found out and hauled the man to judgment, sentenced him to death, but he protested, “This foreigner knew all about it, failed to warn me; he’s the one deserves to die.” They sent for Hawkeye, questioned him, and learned the truth, aghast. “You let those priceless silks be ruined for a zuz? The mat’s too good for you!” They bent two saplings, tied his thighs to them and let them fly. Their upward snap tore the man in two from groin to jaw, a satisfying end for such a guy. No one lost a tear on his account.