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to life again after being placed on the pyre and reported many secrets
about the underworld™™; but he did not contrive it with a storyteller™s ¬c-
tion, as Plato had done, but composed it using the reasonable vision of an in-
telligent dream, thus cleverly pointing out that ˜˜the things which are re-
ported about the immortality of the soul and about heaven are neither
the ¬ctions of dreaming philosophers nor the incredible tales that the
Epicureans laugh at, but are the speculations of men of judgment.™™±±
[] Augustine, City of God .: There are quite a few Christians who
love Plato because of his superb style and because of a number of his opinions
which are truthful, and therefore say that he had an opinion similar to ours
concerning the resurrection of the dead. Cicero refers to this in his book On
the Commonwealth in such a way as to assert that he was playing a game
rather than wanting to speak the truth.
[] Macrobius, Commentary ±.±.“.µ: In keeping this order, Cicero shows
equal judgment and genius. After having given in his argument the prize to
justice in all private and public actions of the commonwealth, he placed the
sacred home of the immortal souls and the mysteries of the heavenly realms
at the very summit of his ¬nished work, showing where those people must go
“ or rather where they must return “ who have served the commonwealth
with wisdom, justice, courage, and moderation. But in Plato, the man who
reports these secrets was a Pamphylian soldier named Er; after seeming to
have given up his life from wounds received in battle, on the twelfth day, as
he was about to be honored on the funeral pyre along with the others who
had died with him, he suddenly recovered or received back his soul and re-
ported all that he had done and seen in the days between his two lives, as if
bearing public witness to the human race. Even though Cicero, who knew the
Plato, Republic ±°.±b.
±°

±±
The Epicurean philosopher Colotes had criticized the Myth of Er for its implausibility,
and Scipio rebuts any similar objections to his own dream.



Book 

truth, was sorry that this story had been laughed at by the ignorant, he
wanted to avoid this precedent of foolish criticism and chose to have his nar-
rator be awakened rather than brought back to life.


[Scipio™s Dream]
[]  © ° © : After I had come to Africa, as you know, as military tribune
to the fourth legion when Manilius here was consul, my ¬rst desire was to
meet King Masinissa, a close friend of my family for the best of reasons.±
When I came to him, the old man embraced me and wept; and after a
little he looked up to the sky and said: ˜˜I o¬er thanks to you, great Sun,
and to you the other heavenly gods, because before I depart from this life
I see in my kingdom and in my own home Publius Cornelius Scipio,
whose very name revives me: the memory of that best and most uncon-
querable of men never departs from my mind.™™ Then I asked him about
his kingdom, and he asked me about our commonwealth; the day passed
with much conversation between us.
[±°] Later, after dining royally, we stretched our conversation late into
the night; the old man spoke of nothing but Africanus and called to mind
not only all his actions but also his words. Then we went to bed; and as I
was exhausted from the trip and from staying awake so late, I was gripped
by a deeper sleep than usual. At this point “ and I believe that it was the
result of what we had said: our thoughts and words often bring forth in
sleep something like Ennius™ report of Homer, about whom he obviously
used to think and speak a great deal when he was awake± “ Africanus
showed himself to me in the appearance which I knew better from his
portrait than from having seen him.± When I recognized him, I shud-
dered; but he said, ˜˜Stay calm and don™t be afraid, Scipio, and remember
what I tell you.™™
[±±] ˜˜Do you see that city, which I forced to obey the Roman people
but which now renews its earlier wars and is incapable of remaining
Scipio™s dream was in ± , ° years before the dramatic date of the dialogue, at the
±

beginning of the Third Punic War. Masinissa died at the age of ° or so shortly after the
scene narrated here; he had switched sides from Carthage to Rome in °, at an opportune
moment in the Second Punic War, and had remained loyal to Rome for the rest of his long
life. The visit is probably as ¬ctional as the dream: Scipio™s only known meeting with
Masinissa was more than a year earlier.
At the opening of his Annals (frr. “± Warmington), Ennius had reported a dream in
±

which a vision of Homer had appeared to him and announced that Ennius, through the
process of transmigration of souls, possessed (or was) the same soul as Homer himself.
Scipio was only  years old when the elder Africanus died.
±




µ
On the Commonwealth

peaceful?™™ (He was pointing at Carthage from a spot high up and ¬lled
with stars, that was bright and glorious.) ˜˜You are coming to besiege it
now as little more than a simple soldier, but within two years you will
destroy it as consul, and you will receive on your own account the name
which you have already inherited from me.±µ But after you have de-
stroyed Carthage, have celebrated a triumph, and have been censor, and
after you have as an ambassador visited Egypt, Syria, Asia, and Greece,
you will be elected consul for the second time in your absence and you
will bring to a conclusion a major war by destroying Numantia. But after
you ride up the Capitol in your triumphal chariot, you will encounter the
commonwealth in a state of disorder because of the plans of my grand-
son.± [±] At this point, Africanus, you will have to display to your
country the brilliance of your mind and talent and judgment. But I see at
this point a double path of fate: when your span of years has traversed
seven times eight turns and returns of the sun, and these two numbers,
each of which is considered perfect for various reasons, have made up the
sum of your fate by their natural circling, the whole state will turn to you
alone and to your name: the senate, all upstanding citizens, the allies, and
the Latins will look to you; you will be the one person on whom the safety
of the state rests. To be brief: you will have to restore the commonwealth
as dictator “ if you escape the impious hands of those close to you.™™±·
At this point Laelius shouted out, and all the others groaned deeply,
but  © ° ©  smiled gently and said: Hush, please! or you will wake me up.
Listen for a short time to the rest.
[±] ˜˜But so that you may be all the more eager, Africanus, to protect
the commonwealth, know this: for all those who have saved, aided, or
increased the fatherland there is a speci¬c place set aside in the sky where
they may enjoy eternity in blessedness. There is nothing that can happen
on earth that is more pleasing to that leading god who rules the whole
world than those councils and assemblages of men associated through law
which are called states; the guides and preservers of these have set out
from here, and here they return.™™
[±] At this point, even though I was terri¬ed not so much by the fear
of death as of treachery on the part of my own people, I still asked him
Africanus exaggerates: Scipio was not a simple soldier in ±, and he destroyed Carthage 
±µ

years later, receiving the same honori¬c cognomen, Africanus, that his grandfather had
±
been given. Tiberius Gracchus, the son of Africanus™ daughter Cornelia.
±·
The dictatorship never happened (because of Scipio™s death), and it is probably C.™s
invention that it was even contemplated in ±: there had been no dictatorship for many
years and was to be none again until Sulla seized power more than ° years later.



Book 

whether he was alive, along with my father Paullus and the others whom
we think of as dead. ˜˜Yes indeed,™™ he said, ˜˜these people are alive; they
have escaped from the chains of the body as if from a prison, and what is
called life among you is in fact death.± Don™t you see your father Paullus
approaching you?™™ And when I saw him, I wept heavily, but he embraced
me and kissed me and told me not to weep.
[±µ] As soon as I could quell my tears and began to be able to speak, I
said: ˜˜I ask you, best and most sacred of fathers, since this is life, as
Africanus tells me, why am I delaying on earth? Why don™t I hurry to
come here to you?™™
˜˜That isn™t the way things are,™™ he said. ˜˜Unless the god, whose
precinct is all that you behold, frees you from the guardianship of your
body, you have no access to this place.± Men are created under these
terms, that they are to look after that globe which you see in the middle of
this precinct, which is called earth; and they are given a soul from those
eternal ¬res which you call constellations and stars, which are spherical
globes endowed with divine minds and accomplish their rotations and
revolutions with amazing speed. And so, Publius, both you and all pious
people must keep your soul in the guardianship of the body, and you
must not depart from human life without the order of him who gave you
your soul: you must not seem to run away from the human duty assigned
by the god. [±] But, Scipio, you should be like your grandfather here
and like me your father in cultivating justice and piety; it is important in
relation to your parents and family, but most important in relation to
your fatherland. That way of life is the way to the heavens and to this
gathering of those who have ceased to live and after having been released
from the body now inhabit the place you see™™ (it was a bright circle
shining among the stars with a most radiant whiteness), ˜˜which you have
learned from the Greeks to name the Milky Way.™™ And from that point,
as I studied everything, it all seemed to me glorious and marvelous.
There were stars which we never see from this place, and their size was
such as we have never suspected; the smallest one was the one furthest
from the heavens and closest to earth and shone with borrowed light.°
The ideas of the body as a prison and life as death are taken from Plato (e.g. Phaedo ·d,
±

Phaedrus µ°c, Gorgias e“a), who attributes them to ˜˜Pythagorean™™ sources. C.
gives similar discussions of the soul and afterlife at Tusculan Disputations ±.·±“·µ and On
Old Age ··“.
The discussion of suicide is based on Plato, Phaedo ±d“c. ˜˜Guardianship of your
±

body™™ means both that you are in charge of looking after your body and that your body is
°
your prison guard. The moon.


·
On the Commonwealth

The globes of the stars easily surpassed the size of the earth, and earth
itself now seemed so small to me that I was ashamed of our empire, which
touches only a little speck of it.±
[±·] And as I kept looking, Africanus asked me: ˜˜I wonder how long
your mind will be ¬xed on the ground? Don™t you see the precinct into
which you have come? Everything is linked, you see, in nine circles or
rather spheres. One of them, the outer one, is the sphere of the heavens
which embraces all the rest; it is the highest god himself protecting and
limiting the rest, and in it are ¬xed the eternal revolving courses of the
stars. Within that are seven which revolve in the opposite direction from
the heavens. The ¬rst sphere belongs to the planet which humans call
Saturn™s; then the light giving favor and safety to men called Jupiter™s;
then the red one hateful to earth which you call Mars™; then the one
below, roughly in the center, belongs to the Sun, the ruler, leader, and
guide of the remaining celestial bodies, the mind and balance of the
universe, so large that it traverses and ¬lls all with its light. The orbits of
Venus and of Mercury follow it like attendants, and in the lowest
sphere the Moon revolves, lit by the rays of the Sun. Below that there is
nothing that is not mortal and perishable except the souls given to the
human race by the gift of the gods; above the Moon everything is
eternal.µ The sphere that is ninth, in the middle, is Earth; it is stationary
and the lowest one, and all weights are borne towards it of their own
accord.™™
[±] I was staring dumbfounded at all this, but when I recovered
The topic of Rome™s smallness within the universe is taken up below at .°¬.
±


The cosmos described here (which is based as much on poetic cosmographies as on
philosophical texts) consists of an outer sphere incorporating the ¬xed stars which turns
from east to west, seven inner concentric spheres (in descending order: Saturn, Jupiter,
Mars, Sun, Venus, Mercury, Moon) turning from west to east, and in the center the
unmoving globe of the earth. C. here follows the order of Archimedes and a few others
who place the Sun in the middle “ essential for C.™s analogy between the sun and the
statesman “ rather than that used by Plato in which the sun is between Venus and the
moon.

C.™s terminology (˜˜Saturn™s star,™™ not ˜˜Saturn™™) is maintained here, although it is
awkward: in his day divinities were associated with the planets but were not yet identi¬ed
with them.

The relative position of Mercury and Venus is a problem in geocentric astronomy, in
which it is impossible to determine which is closer to the earth. C. is deliberately vague in
his language.
µ
The idea of the moon as the boundary between mortal and immortal probably goes back to
the Pre-Socratics but is more fully developed in later Platonism.





Book 

myself I said: ˜˜Tell me: what is the sound which ¬lls my ears, so great
and so sweet?™™
˜˜This is the sound that is caused by the action and motion of the
spheres themselves. Its harmony is based on uneven intervals, but the
inequality of the intervals is proportional and based on reason, and by
blending high notes with low itself causes balanced music. Such vast
motions cannot proceed without sound, and the furthest in one direction
naturally makes a deep note, and the furthest in the other a high one. For
that reason the highest sphere of the heavens with the stars in it, which
turns very rapidly, moves with a high and agitated sound, and the lowest
sphere of the Moon with a very deep one “ the ninth, the Earth, is
unmoving and always stays in the same place, embracing the center of the
universe. But those eight orbits, of which two have the same pitch, create
seven sounds distinguished by their intervals; and that number is really
at the heart of the matter.· Learned men who have imitated it with
stringed instruments and song have opened for themselves their return to
this place, just like others who have used outstanding intelligence to
cultivate divine studies in their human lives. [±] Men™s ears have been
¬lled with this sound and consequently grown deaf to it. You have no
duller sense than hearing, just as at the point where the Nile plunges
from high mountains at the place called Cataract, the race of men that
lives there is completely deaf because of the magnitude of the sound. The
sound made by the rapid revolution of the universe is so great that human
ears cannot grasp it, just as you are unable to look directly into the Sun,
because your sight and sense are overcome by its rays.™™
[°] Although I marveled at all this, I still kept bringing my eyes back
to earth. Then Africanus said: ˜˜I realize that you are still looking at the
home and dwelling of men; but if it seems to you as small as in fact it is,
you must always look at these heavenly bodies and scorn what is human.
What fame can you achieve in what men say, or what glory can you
achieve that is worth seeking? You see that humans inhabit small and
scattered portions of the earth, and that huge emptiness separates the
blotches of human habitation. The people who inhabit the earth are not

C.™s account of the music of the spheres is not Platonic, and although the idea itself was
said to be Pythagorean, the mathematics of it belong to the fourth century or later. C.™s
account is deliberately nontechnical and carefully leaves various problems unresolved.
The numbers · and  are also crucial in the prophecy of Scipio™s death above, .±.
·


C. is presumably alluding to Plato™s use of the Sun as the image of the Good; cf. Republic
·.µ±µe“µ±b.

The picture of the earth which Africanus uses (and explains more fully in the next



On the Commonwealth

only so broken up that nothing can pass from one group of them to
another, but some of them live across from you, others below you, and
some directly opposite you on the earth; and it is clear that you can expect
no glory among them.
[±] ˜˜But you see also that the earth is bound and girdled by belts of a
sort, of which the two that are most distant from one another and rest on
the opposing poles of the sky are sti¬ with cold, while the central and
largest one is parched by the heat of the Sun. There are only two that can
be inhabited, and of those the southern one, the inhabitants of which
have their feet opposite yours, has no connection with your nation; while
you see that of the other one to the north, which you inhabit, only a tiny
portion belongs to you. The whole territory that you possess is narrow at
the ends and wider in the middle, but it is a little island surrounded by
the sea which you on earth call ˜Atlantic™ or ˜great™ or ˜Ocean™ “ but
despite its grand name you see that it is really quite small. [] And you
surely don™t believe that from the lands which you know and cultivate,
your name or the name of any of us can cross the Caucasus which you see
there, or swim the Ganges over there? Who is there in the rest of the
earth, at the extremes of east, west, north, or south, who will hear your
name? And if you remove those, you of course see the narrow bounds set
on the expansion of your glory. And even the people who talk about us “
how long will they do that?
[] ˜˜In fact, even if the o¬spring of the men to come should wish to
pass on to their descendants the praise of each one of us that they have
received from their parents, it is still true that because of the ¬‚oods and
¬res that necessarily destroy the earth at appointed times we cannot
achieve long-lasting glory, far less eternal.° And what di¬erence does it
make if future generations speak of you if none of those in previous
generations did so? They outnumber us, and they were clearly better
men. [] And even among those who are able to hear of us, not one will
paragraph) is Pre-Socratic in origin, but again C. is drawing primarily on poetic descrip-
tions. The globe is divided into ¬ve zones: icecaps at either pole, and two temperate zones
isolated from one another by a torrid one. The temperate zones themselves seem to be
divided into two separate halves, such that there are only four habitable regions of the
earth, of which the Roman world occupies a part of one. The description of the European
quadrant in sect. ± seems to superimpose a ¬‚at world (the known region surrounded by
the Ocean) on the spherical globe required by the cosmography.
This is not the Stoic theory of cosmic con¬‚agration at ¬xed intervals (ekpurosis), but the
°

periodic ¬res and ¬‚oods mentioned by Plato, Timaeus c, and known also from a
fragment of Aristotle. The same combination of forms of destruction in C. is found at On
Divination ±.±±±.


±°°
Book 

be able to remember for a single year. Men use the popular reckoning and
measure the year by the cycle of only one star, the Sun; but in fact the
true passage of a year can be so named only when all the stars have
returned to the place where they started and brought back the same
arrangement of the entire heavens after a very long interval “ and I
scarcely dare to say how many human generations that contains.± For
just as the Sun once seemed to men to fail and be extinguished at the time
that the soul of Romulus entered this precinct, and when the Sun again
fails at the same point at the same time, then you can consider that a year
has been completed and all the constellations and stars have been recalled
to the same beginning; and of that year you must know that the twentieth
part has not yet been traversed.
[µ] ˜˜Thus, even if you lose hope of returning to this place, where all
things exist for great and outstanding men, still “ what is that human
glory really worth which can last scarcely a fraction of a single year?
Therefore look on high if you wish; contemplate this dwelling and
eternal home; and do not give yourself to the words of the mob, and do
not place your hopes in human rewards: virtue itself by its own
allurements should draw you towards true honor. Let others worry about
what they say about you “ and they will say things in any case. But
everything they say is bounded by the narrow limits of the area, as you
see, and it is never eternal about anyone, and it is overwhelmed by the
deaths of men and extinguished by the forgetfulness of future gener-
ations.™™
[] After he had said this, I replied: ˜˜For my part, Africanus, if in fact
there is a kind of path to the heavens for those who have deserved well of
their fatherland, even if through following your footsteps and those of
my father from my childhood I have not fallen short of your glory, still
now, when I see such a prize set before me, I will struggle all the more
vigorously.™™
And he answered me: ˜˜Keep at it; and know this: it is not you that is
mortal but your body. You are not what your physical shape reveals, but
each person is his mind, not the body that a ¬nger can point at. Know
then that you are a god, as surely as a god is someone who is alert, who
±
According to a fragment of C.™s lost Hortensius (µ Mueller), the ˜˜great year™™ is equivalent
to ±,µ solar years. Both here and in Hortensius (fr. µ), C. used the apotheosis of
Romulus as the marker for the start of the great year, equating Roman and cosmic time.

The identi¬cation of the person with the soul (or mind) alone was elaborated in the
Platonic tradition; cf. Ps.-Plato, Alcibiades © ±e“±c; the soul is called a god (rather than
divine) by Plato at Laws ±°.b.


±°±
On the Commonwealth

feels, who remembers, who looks ahead, who rules and guides and moves
the body of which he is in command just as that leading god does for the
universe. And just as the eternal god moves the universe, which is partly
mortal, so too does the eternal soul move the fragile body. [·] What is
always in motion is eternal; but whatever brings motion to something else
and is itself stirred up from elsewhere, when that motion ceases must
necessarily cease its life. Therefore only what moves itself, because it
never deserts itself, also never ceases to move; and it is in fact the source
and beginning of motion for everything else that moves. There is no
origin of beginning, but everything arises from a beginning, and the
beginning itself can be born from nothing else “ if it arose from else-
where, it would not be a beginning. But if it never starts, it also never

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