||Cicero's Cosmos: Somnium
Scipionis (“The Dream of Scipio”)
||441, The Inspiration of Astronomical Phenomena VI
||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.