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Paper: Cicero's Cosmos: Somnium Scipionis (“The Dream of Scipio”)
Volume: 441, The Inspiration of Astronomical Phenomena VI
Page: 375
Authors: Miller, N.
Abstract: The Dream of Scipio (b. 185 BCE) is the concluding excerpt of Cicero's dialogue in his De Republica (“On the Republic”), which has survived in the neo-Platonic commentaries on the text by Macrobius in the 4th century CE. A variation of its model Plato's Republic, the dialogue is set in 129 BCE. Parallels exist between Plato's closing with the myth of Er, recounting the structure of the cosmos and ordering of the planets and Cicero's cosmology updated by post-Hellenistic astronomical speculation. The Dream begins with his adoptive grandfather Cornelius Scipio Africanus appearing to his son Scipio in heaven as he looks down on Earth, a distant sphere amidst spheres of the universe. The deceased father presents the conditions of his legacy–to do upon Earth as his ancestors have done: “love justice and wisdom”, and be devoted to your country, the highest form of virtue. Gazing on the stars–the Milky Way, home of the departed souls, Scipio realizes the relative insignificance of the Earth compared to the stars (analogy with the Roman Empire, a “pinpoint […] of this small Earth”). Africanus orders Scipio to look at the universe, the nine concentric spheres at the very center. Thus, fixed in place, the Earth does not move. Scipio then hears sounds–the music of the spheres in motion, its basis in mathematics and harmonic proportions. Comparisons between the works of Plato and Cicero are revealing. Both stress the relationship of city and state, and both share concern with justice and moral behavior. Whereas Plato focuses on the journey of the soul in the afterlife, Cicero's purpose is to show how public service, the importance of civic life, is a divinely sanctioned activity: “And remember that the most splendid deeds you can do are those which serve your country”. The two major themes are the immortality of the soul and the relationship between human society and the divine order of the universe. Scipio must “contemplate the heavens in order to act rightly on Earth”. The dominant message of the Dream is to be concerned with the everlasting lieu the ephemeral, the sacred lieu the profane, but this does not reject earthly involvement. Here, fame and worldly glory, accompaniments of public life, are to be negated. “Political participation is a necessary preparation for the eternal happiness of the soul&rdquo.
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