Cicero's The Dream of Scipio

From Percy Bullock's translation 1894.

WHEN I came to Africa, where, as you know, I was Tribune to the Fourth Legion of soldiers, under the Consul Manius Manilius, nothing appeared to me more desirable than that I should meet Masinissa, a Monarch who had ever been most friendly to our family for just reasons. When I came to him, the old man, having embraced me, wept, and, after a pause, looked up to Heaven : " Ah, thanks," said he, " to Thee I render, Oh Highest Sun, and to ye other Celstial companions, in that before I depart this life, I am permitted to behold in my own Kingdom and under these skies P. Cornelius Scipio, whose name itself refreshes me: for, never from my soul has the memory of that best and most invincible of men departed!"

Then I inquired of him concerning the affairs of his Kingdom, and he of me respecting our Republic; and our day thus passed in lengthened conference. After a royal entertainment our talk again draw out into the far night, when the old man would speak of nothing save the elder Scipio {Africanus Major): everything about him he remembered, not only his deeds, but even his sayings. When, therefore, we parted to retire to rest, what with the journey and our nocturnal sitting, I was more than usually tired and fell sound asleep. Whereupon (as I believe arising out of the subject of our talk ;— for it often happens that our thoughts and conversation produce some such result in sleep as that which Ennius relates to have happened concerning Homer, whom it appears he was frequently accustomed to meditate upon and to talk about during his waking hours) Africanus appeared to me in a form which I recognised more from his bust than from my knowledge of the man himself.

When I recognised him, I trembled indeed: he, however, speaking said, " Take courage and banish fear, Scipio ; commit to memory what I have to say." " Seest thou yonder City, which, compelled by me to submit to the Roman people, yet renews its former wars, unable to remain at peace ? (Here he shewed me Carthage from a certain clear and brilliant spot in the celestial heights, full of. stars) and to the assault of which thou comest, as yet a mere boy ? This City, in two years from the present time, thou as Consul shalt overthrow, and that hereditary name, which hitherto thou bearest from us, shall belong to thee by thine own exertions. When moreover Carthage has been razed by thee, thou shalt effect thy Triumph and be made Censor; then as Legate thou shalt proceed to Egypt, Syria, Asia and Greece, being made Consul a second time during thy absence, and undertaking thy greatest war, destroy Numantia. But when thou are borne upon the triumphal car to the Capitol, thou shalt find the Republic thrown into confusion by the policy of my grandson.

Here, 0 Africanus, it will be necessary for thee to display to the Fatherland the light of thy spirit, thy genius, and thy wisdom ; at this period of thy life I see but darkly the course of thy destiny, though when thine age shall have completed eight times seven circuits and returns of the Sun, thus bringing thee to the fatal epoch of thy life6 by the natural circuit of these two numbers (each of which is held to be perfect, the one from a different reason to the other); to thee alone and to thy name the whole State will turn; to thee, as Senator, all good people, the Latin allies and the Latins themselves shall turn ; thou shalt be the one upon whom the whole salvation of the State shall rest, and, lest misfortune befall, it behoves thee as dictator to firmly establish the Republic if you would escape the impious hands of thy kinsmen : " at this portion of the recital Laelius cried out and the others bitterly lamented, but Scipio, smiling slowly, said : "I beseech you not to arouse me from slumber ; peace for a little, and hear the rest."

"But, Africanus, in order that thou mayest be the more devoted to the welfare of the Republic, mark this well: for all those who have guarded, cherished, and assisted their Fatherland, a particular place in Heaven is assigned, where the blessed enjoy everlasting life. For nothing on earth is more acceptable to that supreme Deity who reigns over the whole Universe, than those assemblages and combinations of men united by Law which we call States; the rulers and pre-servers whereof coming forth from this place, return thither." At this point, although I was thoroughly terrified, not so much by the fear of death, as by the treachery of my own kinsmen, I asked notwithstanding whether he himself was really alive and my father Paulus and others whom we believed to be annihilated ? "Yea," said he, "in very truth, those still live who have flown forth from the bonds of the body as from a prison: for indeed, what is called your life, is but a death ! Why,dost thou not see thy fatherPaulus coming to thee ?"

At that sight I indeed burst forth into a flood of tears : he, on the other hand, embracing, kissed me and forbade me to weep ; and then, when my tears had been repressed, and I began to be able to speak, " Prithee tell me," said I, " most revered and excellent father: Since this is life, as I have heard Africanus say. Why do I tarry upon Earth ? Why do I not hasten to come hither to you ? " "It may not be," he replied, "for, unless that Deity who is the Lord of this Universe which thou beholdest, shall liberate thee from the prison of your body, hither approaching it is not possible to come. For men are born under this Law to be faithful guardians of that Globe which thou seest in the midst of this Universe and which is called the Earth : and a Soul has been given to them from those sempiternal fires which you call Stars and Constella-tions ; these being spherical and globular bodies, animated with divine Souls, pursue their circling orbits with marvellous celerity. Wherefore, 0 Publius, both by thee and all pious persons, the Soul should be retained in the keeping of the body: not without His command, by whom that Soul is given to you, must it depart from mortal life, lest you should appear to be untrue to that duty to Mankind which has been assigned to you by the Deity. But do thou cultivate justice and piety, 0 Scipio, following in the steps of thy Grandsire and of myself, who begat thee.

These qualities, although excellent among parents and relations, become still more noble when practised towards one's Country: through this life lies the road to Heaven and to the assemblage of those, who have already lived upon earth and now, released from the body, inhabit this place which thou seest (this Sphere shone forth with the most resplendent brightness amid blazing stars) and which, after the Greeks, you call the Milky Way. From this place all other bodies appeared to my gaze exceedingly bright and marvellous. There were, moreover, those Stars which are never seen from Earth : and the mag-nitude of all of them were such as ve have never sus-pected : among these I beheld the smallest to be tlie farthest from Heaven and the nearest to Earth, shining with a borrowed Light. Moreover, the spheres of the Stars far transcended the size of the Earth. Thus, the Earth itself already appeared small to me, so that I was grieved to observe how small a part of its surface we in reality occupy." As I continued to gaze steadfastly, Africanus continuing said, " How long wilt thy mind remain rivetted to the Earth ? Dost thou not behold into how glorious a Temple thou art come ?

Now know that the Universe consists of nine circles or rather Spheres, all connected together, one of which is celestial and the furthest off, embracing all the rest, the supreme Deity preserving and governing the others. In this sphere are traced the eternal revolutions of the Stars and to it are subject the seven spheres which revolve backwards with a contrary motion to that of the Celestial Sphere.

The first (of these Seven) Spheres is occupied by the Star which on Earth is called Saturn.

Next comes the sphere of that splendid Star, salutary and fortunate to the human race, called Jupiter.

Then comes the Red Sphere, terrible to the Earth, which you call Mars,

Following beneath these spheres, and in almost the middle region, is placed the Sun, the Leader, Chief and Governor of the other Lights, the mind of the World and the organizing principle,—of such wondrous magnitude that it illuminates and impregnates every part of the Universe with its Light.

The Spheres of Venus and Mercury in their respective courses follow the Sun as companions.

In the lowest Sphere the Moon revolves illumined by the rays of the Sun.

Below this in truth nothing exists which is not subject to death and decay, save indeed the Souls, which by the gift of the Gods are bestowed upon the human race.

Above the Moon all things are eternal, but the sphere of the Earth, which occupies a middle place and comes ninth19 does not move: it is the lowest and to it all ponderable bodies are born by their own gravity."

When I had recovered from my amazement at the sight of these things, "What," said I, "is this sweet and wondrous melody which fills my ears ? " "This," said he, "is that harmony, which, affected by the mingling of unequal intervals, yet notwithstand-ing in harmonious proportions and with reason so separated, is due to the impulse and movement of the spheres themselves : the light with the heavier tones combined, the various sounds uniformly going to make up one grand symphony. For, not with silence, can such motions be urged forward, and Nature leads us to the conclusion that the extremes give forth a low note at the one end and a high note at the other. Thus the celestial sphere, whose motion in its starlight course is more rapid, gives forth a sharp and rousing sound : the gravest tone being that of the lunar sphere, which is lowest; but the Earth, the ninth sphere, remains im-movable, always fixed in the lowest seat encompassing the middle place of the Universe.

Moreover, the motions of those eight spheres which are above the earth, and of which the force of two21 is the same, cause seven sounds supported by regular intervals ; which number is the connecting principle of almost all things. Learned men, having imitated this divine mystery with stringed instruments and vocal har-monies, have won for themselves a return to this place, just as others, who, endowed with superior wisdom, have cultivated the divine sciences even in human life." " Now to this melody the stopped ears of men have become deaf; nor is there any duller sense in you. Just as at that place which is called Catadupa, where the Nile falls from the highest Mountains, the people living there lose the sense of hearing on account of the magnitude of the sound, so, indeed, such a tremendous volume of sound arises from the rapid revolution of the whole Cosmos that the ears of men are not capable of re-ceiving it, just as you are unable to look straight at the Sun whose rays would blind the eye and conquer the sense."

Filled with wonder at these things, my eyes ever and anon wandered back to Earth. Hereupon Africanus said: "I perceive that even now you gaze upon the habitation and abode of mortals. But, if it appear as small to thee, as indeed it is, thus seen, strive ever after these heavenly things and lightly esteem those of earth. For what glory or renown really worthy of being sought after canst thou derive from the mouths of men. Thou seest that the earth is inhabited in scattered places confined within narrow limits, such inhabited regions are in themselves mere specks upon its surface with vast wildernesses inter-vening : and those who dwell upon the earth are not only separated thus, so that no communication is possi-ble amongst them from the one to the other, but they occupy positions partly oblique, partly transverse, partly even opposite to yours; from these you can certainly hope for no glory. Also thou wilt perceive this same earth to be, as it were, circumscribed and en-circled by zones, two of which, the most widely separated andsituated at each end under the very poles of heaven, are ice-bound as thou seest: while the middle and largest zone is burnt up with the heat of" the Sun.

Two zones are habitable, one of which lies to the South, those who dwell therein planting footsteps opposite to your own, and having nothing to do with your race. As to the other zone which you inhabit, and which is subject to the North wind, see how very slender a part has to do with you: for the whole surface inhabited by your race, restricted towards the poles and wider laterally, is indeed but a small island surrounded by the sea, which you call on earth the Atlantic, the Great Sea, or Ocean. Yet, notwithstanding its name, it is but small as thou seest. How then is it possible that from these known and cultivated countries either thy name or that of any of us can cross those Caucasian Mountains, which thou seest, or pass beyond the Ganges ? Who, in the remaining parts of the East, in the uttermost regions of the wandering Sun, either in Northern or Southern Climes, will hear thy name ? So then, with these parts taken away, dost thou indeed perceive within what narrow limits your glory seeks to spread itself; and how long even will those who sing your praises continue to do so ? "Yea, indeed, if generations hence posterity shall seek to perpetuate the fame of anyone of us handed down from father to son, yet notwithstanding, on account of Are and flood, which will inevitably happen at certain -fixed periods28 of time, we are unable to attain lasting renown, much less eternal glory.

Moreover, of what importance are the things which shall be said concern-ing thee by those to be born hereafter, when no one who existed before will then be alive ? More especially, when of those same men who are to come, not one will be able to remember the events of even one year. Now, according to common custom, men usually measure the year merely by the return of the sun, or, in other words, by the revolution of one star. But when the whole of the constellations shall return to the original positions from which they once set forth, thus restoring at long intervals the original configuration of the Heavens, then can that be truly called ' the Great Year,' within which period, I scarcely dare say how many generations of men are comprised. For, just as in time past, when the Soul of Romulus entered into these sacred abodes, the Sun appeared to fail and be extinguished, so when the Sun shall again fail in the same position and at the same time, then, when the Signs of the Zodiac shall have returned to their original position, and the Stars are recalled, the cycle of the Great Year shall be accomplished; of this enormous period of time, know that not a twentieth part has yet passed away. " Wherefore, if thou despairest of a speedy return to this quarter, wherein all things are prepared for great and excellent men, pray of what value is that human glory which can scarcely endure the smallest part of one cycle ? And so, if you would look on high and fix your gazs on this state and your eternal home, thou shalt pay no heed to vulgar talk, neither allow thy actions to be influenced by the hope of human rewards. True virtue for its own sake should lead thee to real glory.

Leave to others the care of ascertaining what they may say of you : they will assuredly speak of you beyond all doubt. Human fame is wholly restricted within these narrow limits which thou seest, and never at any time has anyone gained immortal renown, for that is impos-sible through the annihilation of men and the oblivion of posterity.' Whereon I said, " If indeed 0, Africanus, for those who have deserved well of their country a Path, as it were, lies open to Heaven —although from my youth up I have followed in the footsteps of yourself and my father, and never tarnished your great renown—now nevertheless, with such a prospect before me, I will strive much more vigilantly." " Strive on," said he, " with the assurance that it is. not you who are subject to death, but your body. For thou art not what this form appears to be, but the real man is the thinking principle of each one—not the bodily form which can be pointed out with the finger. Know this, then, that thou art a God, inasmuch as Deity is that which has Will, sensation, memory, fore-sight, and who so rules, regulates and moves the body to which his charge is committed, just as the supreme Deity does the Universe, and as the Eternal God directs this Universe, which is in a certain degree subject to decay, so a sempiternal Soul moves the frail body. "

Now, that which is always in motion is eternal, whereas that which only communicates motion, and which itself is put in motion by some other cause, must necessarily cease when the motive impulse is withdrawn. Accordingly that alone which moves spontaneously because it is ever all itself, never indeed ceases to move, and is moreover the source of motion in all things. Now a primary cause is not derived from any other cause; for forth from that do all things proceed,and from no other. That which springs from something else cannot be the primary cause, and if this indeed never had a commencement, neither will it ever have an end. For the primal cause once destroyed could neither be generated afresh from any other thing, nor itself produce anything else : for all things must necessarily proceed from the primal cause. This eternal principle of all Motion arises out of that which is moved by itself and of itself, and cannot therefore be born or perish; or else of necessity the whole heavens must collapse, and all Nature come to a standstill, unable any longer to derive the impulse by which it was set in motion at the first. "Since, accordingly, it is manifest that that is eternal which moves of itself, who will deny this eternal principle to be a natural attribute of Souls. For everything which is moved by an external impulse is inanimate : but that, on the other hand, which energizes from within is truly animated, and this is the peculiar operation of the Soul. If then the Soul is the one thing above all, which is self motive, it certainly is not born, but eternal.

Do thou then exercise this Soul of thine in the noblest pursuits: solicitude and care for the welfare of one's country are the best: for, animated and controlled by these senti- ments, the Soul passes more swiftly to this sphere—its true home. And this may be the more speedily achieved if, while imprisoned in the body, it shall rise superior to terrestrial limitations, and by the contemplation of those things which are beyond the body, it shall abstract itself to the greatest degree from its earthly tabernacle. " For the Souls of men who have delivered themselves over to the desires of the body, and of those women who, as abettors, have surrendered themselves, and by the impulse of passions obedient to sensual gratifica-tions, have violated the laws of God and of Man, once liberated from the body, are whirled around this world, and such tortured Souls will not return to this place, save after many centuries." Here he ceased, and I awoke from sleep.

 


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