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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
The Dream of Scipio
By Marcus Tullius Cicero (106–43 B.C.)
 
From the Dialogue ‘The Republic’: Translation of Thomas Raynesford Lounsbury

WHEN I went into Africa with the consul Manius Manilius, holding the rank, as you are aware, of military tribune of the fourth legion, nothing lay nearer to my heart than to meet Masinissa, a king who, for good reasons, was on the most friendly terms with our family. When I had come to him, the old man embraced me with tears, and then looking up to heaven, said:—“I give thanks to thee, O supremest Sol, and to you, ye inhabitants of heaven! that before I depart this life I behold in my dominions, and under this roof, Publius Cornelius Scipio, by whose very name I am revived: so never passes away from my mind the memory of that best and most invincible hero.” Thereupon I made inquiries of him as to the state of his own kingdom, and he of me as to our republic; and with many words uttered on both sides, we spent the whole of that day.  1
  Moreover, after partaking of a repast prepared with royal magnificence, we prolonged the conversation late into the night. The old man would speak of nothing but Africanus, and remembered not only all his deeds, but likewise his sayings. After we parted to go to bed, a sounder sleep than usual fell upon me, partly on account of weariness occasioned by the journey, and partly because I had stayed up to a late hour. Then Africanus appeared to me, I think in consequence of what we had been talking about; for it often happens that our thoughts and speeches bring about in sleep something of that illusion of which Ennius writes in regard to himself and Homer, of which poet he was very often accustomed to think and speak while awake. Africanus showed himself to me in that form which was better known to me from his ancestral image than from my recollection of his person. As soon as I recognized him I was seized with a fit of terror; but he thereupon said:—  2
  “Be of good courage, O Scipio! Lay aside fear, and commit to memory these things which I am about to say. Do you see that State which, compelled by me to submit to the Roman people, renews its former wars, and cannot endure to remain at peace?” At these words, from a certain lustrous and bright place, very high and full of stars, he pointed out to me Carthage. “To fight against that city thou now comest in a rank but little above that of a private soldier; but in two years from this time thou shalt as consul utterly overthrow it, and in consequence shalt gain by thy own exertions that very surname of Africanus which up to this time thou hast inherited from us. But when thou shalt have destroyed Carthage, shalt have had the honor of a triumph, and shalt have been censor, thou shalt during thy absence be chosen consul for a second time, shalt put an end to to a great war, and lay Numantia in ruins. But when thou shalt be carried in thy triumphal chariot to the capitol, thou wilt find the republic disturbed by the designs of my grandson. Then, O Scipio! it will be necessary that thou exhibit the purity and greatness of thy heart, thy soul, and thy judgment. But I see at that time a double way disclose itself, as if the Fates were undecided; for when thy life shall have completed eight times seven revolutions of the sun, and these two numbers (each one of which is looked upon as perfect; the one for one reason, the other for another) shall have accomplished for thee by their natural revolution the fatal product, to thee alone and to thy name the whole State shall turn; upon thee the Senate, upon thee all good men, upon thee the allies, upon thee the Latins, will fasten their eyes; thou wilt be the one upon whom the safety of the State shall rest; and in short, as dictator, it will be incumbent on thee to establish and regulate the republic, if thou art successful in escaping the impious hands of kinsmen.”  3
  At this point, Lælius uttered an exclamation of sorrow, and the rest groaned more deeply; but Scipio, slightly smiling, said, Keep silence, I beg of you. Do not awake me from my dream, and hear the rest of his words:—  4
  “But, O Africanus! that thou mayest be the more zealous in the defense of the republic, know this: For all who have preserved, who have succored, who have aggrandized their country, there is in heaven a certain fixed place, where they enjoy an eternal life of blessedness. For to that highest God who governs the whole world there is nothing which can be done on earth more dear than those combinations of men and unions, made under the sanction of law, which are called States. The rulers and preservers of them depart from this place, and to it they return.”  5
  I had been filled with terror, not so much at the fear of death as at the prospect of treachery on the part of those akin to me; nevertheless at this point I had the courage to ask whether my father Paulus was living, and others whom we thought to be annihilated. “Certainly,” said he: “they alone live who have been set free from the fetters of the body, as if from prison; for that which you call your life is nothing but death. Nay, thou mayest even behold thy father Paulus coming towards thee.”  6
  No sooner had I seen him than I burst into a violent fit of tears; but he thereupon, embracing and kissing me, forbade my weeping. I, as soon as I had checked my tears and was able again to speak, said to him, “Tell me, I beseech thee, O best and most sacred father! since this is life, as I hear Africanus say, why do I tarry upon earth? Why shall I not hasten to go to you?”—“Not so,” said he; “not until that God, whose temple is all this which thou seest, shall have freed thee from the bonds of the body, can any entrance lie open to thee here. For men are brought into the world with this design, that they may protect and preserve that globe which thou seest in the middle of this temple, and which is called ‘Earth.’ To them a soul is given from these everlasting fires which you name constellations and stars, which, in the form of globes and spheres, run with incredible rapidity the rounds of their orbits under the impulse of divine intelligences. Wherefore by thee, O Publius! and by all pious men, the soul must be kept in the guardianship of the body; nor without the command of Him by whom it is given to you can there be any departure from this mortal life, lest you seem to have shunned the discharge of that duty as men which has been assigned to you by God. But, O Scipio! like as thy grandfather who stands here, like as I who gave thee life, cherish the sense of justice and loyal affection; which latter, in however great measure due to thy parents and kinsmen, is most of all due to thy country. Such a life is the way to heaven, and to that congregation of those who have ended their days on earth, and freed from the body, dwell in that place which you see,—that place which, as you have learned from the Greeks, you are in the habit of calling the Milky Way.”  7
  This was a circle, shining among the celestial fires with a most brilliant whiteness. As I looked from it, all other things seemed magnificent and wonderful. Moreover, they were such stars as we have never seen from this point of space, and all of such magnitude as we have never even suspected. Among them, that was the least which, the farthest from heaven, and the nearest to earth, shone with a borrowed light. But the starry globes far exceeded the size of the earth: indeed the earth itself appeared to me so small that I had a feeling of mortification at the sight of our empire, which took up what seemed to be but a point of it.  8
  As I kept my eyes more intently fixed upon this spot, Africanus said to me:—“How long, I beg of thee, will thy spirit be chained down to earth? Seest thou not into what a holy place thou hast come? Everything is bound together in nine circles, or rather spheres, of which the farthest is the firmament, which embraces the rest, is indeed the supreme God himself, confining and containing all the others. To that highest heaven are fixed those orbits of the stars which eternally revolve. Below it are seven spheres, which move backward with a motion contrary to that of the firmament. One of these belongs to that star which on earth they call Saturn; then follows that shining orb, the source of happiness and health to the human race, which is called Jupiter; then the red planet, bringing terror to the nations, to which you give the name of Mars; then, almost directly under the middle region, stands the sun,—the leader, the chief, the governor of the other luminaries, the soul of the universe, and its regulating principle, of a size so vast that it penetrates and fills everything with its own light. Upon it, as if they were an escort, follow two spheres,—the one of Venus, the other of Mercury; and in the lowest circle revolves the moon, illuminated by the rays of the sun. Below it there is nothing which is not mortal and transitory, save the souls which are given to mankind by the gift of the gods; above the moon, all things are eternal. For that ninth sphere, which is in the middle, is the earth: it has no motion; it is the lowest in space; and all heavy bodies are borne toward it by their natural downward tendency.”  9
  I looked at these, lost in wonder. As soon as I had recovered myself I said, “What is this sound, so great and so sweet, which fills my ears?”—“This,” he replied, “is that music which, composed of intervals unequal, but divided proportionately by rule, is caused by the swing and movement of the spheres themselves, and by the proper combination of acute tones with grave, creates with uniformity manifold and diverse harmonies. For movements so mighty cannot be accomplished in silence; and it is a law of nature that the farthest sphere on the one side gives forth a base tone, the farthest on the other a treble; for which reason the revolution of that uppermost arch of the heaven, the starry firmament, whose motion is more rapid, is attended with an acute and high sound; while that of the lowest, or lunar arch, is attended with a very deep and grave sound. For the ninth sphere, the earth, embracing the middle region of the universe, stays immovably in one fixed place. But those eight globes between, two 1 of which have the same essential action, produce tones, distinguished by intervals, to the number of seven; which number indeed is the knot of almost all things. Men of skill, by imitating the result on the strings of the lyre, or by means of the human voice, have laid open for themselves a way of return to this place, just as other men of lofty souls have done the same by devoting themselves during their earthly life to the study of what is divine. But the ears of men, surfeited by this harmony have become deaf to it; nor is there in you any duller sense: just as, at that cataract which is called Catadupa,—where the Nile rushes down headlong from the lofty mountain-tops,—the people who dwell in that neighborhood have lost the sense of hearing in consequence of the magnitude of the sound. So likewise this harmony, produced by the excessively rapid revolution of the whole universe, is so great that the ears of men are not able to take it in, in the same manner as you are not able to look the sun in the eye, and your sight is overcome by the power of its rays.” Though I was filled with wonder, nevertheless I kept turning my eyes from time to time to the earth.  10
  “I perceive,” then said Africanus, “that thou still continuest to contemplate the habitation of the home of man. If that seems to thee as small as it really is, keep then thy eyes fixed on these heavenly objects; look with contempt on those of mortal life. For what notoriety that lives in the mouths of men, or what glory that is worthy of being sought after, art thou able to secure? Thou seest that the earth is inhabited in a few small localities, and that between those inhabited places—spots as it were on the surface—vast desert regions lie spread out; and that those who inhabit the earth are not only so isolated that no communication can pass among them from one to another, but that some dwell in an oblique direction as regards you, some in a diagonal, and some stand even exactly opposite you. From these you are certainly not able to hope for any glory.  11
  “Moreover, thou observest that this same earth is surrounded, and as it were, girdled, by certain zones, of which thou seest that two—the farthest apart, and resting at both sides on the very poles of the sky—are stiffened with frost; and that, again, the central and largest one is burnt up with the heat of the sun. Two are habitable: of these the southern one, in which dwell those who make their footprints opposite yours, is a foreign world to your race. But even this other one, which lies to the north, which you occupy,—see with how small a part of it you come into contact! For all the land which is cultivated by you, very narrow at the extremities but wider at the sides, is only a small island surrounded by that water which on earth you call the Atlantic, or the great sea, or the ocean. But though its name is so high-sounding, yet thou beholdest how small it is. From these cultivated and well-known regions can either thy name or the name of any of us surmount and pass this Caucasus which thou seest, or cross yonder flood of the Ganges? Who in the farthest remaining regions of the rising and the setting sun, or on the confines of the north and the south, will hear thy name? When these are taken away, thou assuredly perceivest how immense is the littleness of that space in which your reputation seeks to spread itself abroad. Moreover, even those who speak of us, for how long a time will they speak?  12
  “Nay, even if the generations of men were desirous, one after the other, to hand down to posterity the praises of any one of us heard from their fathers, nevertheless, on account of the changes in the earth,—wrought by inundations and conflagration, which are sure to recur at certain fixed epochs,—we are not simply unable to secure for ourselves a glory which lasts forever, but are even unable to gain a glory which lasts for a long time. Moreover, of what value is it that the speech of those who are to be born hereafter shall be about thee, when nothing has been said of thee by all those who were born before, who were neither fewer in number and were unquestionably better men; especially when no one is able to live in the memory of those very persons by whom one’s name can be heard, for the space of one year?  13
  “For men commonly measure the year by the return to its place of the sun alone, that is, of one star; but when all the stars shall have returned to that same point from which they once set out, and after a long period of time have brought back the same relative arrangement of the whole heaven, that, then, can justly be called the complete year. In it I hardly dare say how many ages of human life are contained. For once in the past the sun seemed to disappear from the eyes of men and to be annihilated, at the time when the soul of Romulus made its way into this very temple. When, from the same region of the sky and at the same moment of time, the sun shall have again vanished, then be sure that all constellations and stars have come back to the position they had in the beginning, and that the perfect year is completed. Of that year know that now not even the twentieth part has passed.  14
  “Wherefore, if thou givest up the hope of a return to this place, in which all things exist for lofty and pre-eminent souls, yet of how much value is that human glory which can hardly endure for even the small part of a single year? But if, as I was saying, thou wishest to look on high, and to fix thy gaze upon this abode of the blest and this eternal home, never give thyself up to the applause of the vulgar, nor rest the recompense of thy achievements in the rewards which can be bestowed upon thee by men. It is incumbent on thee that Virtue herself shall draw thee by her own charm to true glory. As for the way in which others talk about thee, let them take care of that themselves; yet without doubt they will talk. But all such renown is limited to the petty provinces of the regions which thou seest: nor in the case of any one is it everlasting; for it both dies with the death of men and is buried in oblivion by the forgetfulness of posterity.”  15
  When he had said these things, “O Africanus!” I replied, “if the path that leads to the entrance of heaven lies open to those who have rendered great service to their country, although, in following from my boyhood in thy footsteps and in those of my father, I have not failed in sustaining the honor derived from you, yet henceforth I shall toil with far more zeal, now that so great a reward has been held out before me.”—“Do thou indeed,” said he, “continue to strive; and bear this in mind, that thou thyself art not mortal, but this body of thine. For thou art not the one which that form of thine proclaims thee to be: but the soul of any one, that alone is he; not that external shape which can be pointed out with the finger. Therefore know thyself to be a god, if that is essentially god which lives, which feels, which remembers, which foresees, which rules and regulates and moves that body over which it is put in authority, as the Supreme Being governs this universe. And as the eternal God moves the world, which in a certain point of view is perishable, so the incorruptible soul moves the corruptible body. For what always moves itself is eternal; but that which communicates to anything a motion which it has itself received from another source, must necessarily have an end of life when it has an end of motion: therefore that alone never ceases to move which moves itself, for the reason that it is never deserted by itself. This indeed is the well-head; this the beginning of motion to all other things that are moved. But to a beginning there is no birth; for all things are born from the beginning. But it itself cannot be born of anything; for that would not be a beginning which sprang from some other source. And just as it is never begotten, so it never dies; for a beginning annihilated could neither itself be brought back to life by anything else, nor could it create anything else out of itself, since it is necessary that all things should come from a beginning. So it results that the beginning of motion is in itself, because it is self-moved. And this can neither be born nor die, for if it did, the heavens would fall to ruin, and all nature would stand still; nor could it come into the possession of any power by the original impulse of which it might be put into motion.  16
  “Since therefore it is clear that what is self-moved is eternal, who can deny that this essential characteristic has been imparted to the soul? For everything which is moved by a foreign impulse is without a soul; but that which lives is made to go by an inward motion of its own, for this is the special nature and power of the soul. But if it is the one thing among all which is self-moved, then certainly it has had no beginning, and is eternal. Do thou, then, employ it in the noblest duties. But those are the loftiest cares which are concerned with the well-being of our native land. The soul that is inspired by these, and occupied with them, will hasten the quicker into this its real home and habitation. So much the more speedily indeed will it do this, if while it is shut up in the body it shall pass beyond its limits, and by the contemplation of those things which are outside of it shall withdraw itself as far as possible from the body. For the souls of those who have given themselves up to sensual pleasures, and have made themselves as it were ministers to these, and who under the pressure of desires which are subservient to these pleasures have violated the laws of God and man, when they shall have parted from the body, will fly about the earth itself, nor will return to this place until they shall have suffered torments for many ages.” He departed. I awoke from my sleep.  17
 
Note 1. Mercury and Venus. [back]
 
 
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