Tuesday, March 06, 2007

The Dream of Scipio

Hic ego quaesivi tamen, viveretne ipse et Paulus pater et alii, quos nos exstinctos arbitraremur. 'Immo vero', inquit, 'hi vivunt, qui e corporum vinculis tamquam e carcere evolaverunt, vestra vero, quae dicitur, vita mors est. Quin tu aspicis ad te venientem Paulum patrem?' Quem ut vidi, equidem vim lacrimarum profudi, ille autem me complexus atque osculans flere prohibebat.

Atque ut ego primum fletu represso loqui posse coepi: 'Quaeso', inquam, 'pater sanctissime atque optime, quoniam haec est vita, ut Africanum audio dicere, quid moror in terris? Quin huc ad vos venire propero?' 'Non est ita,' inquit ille. 'Nisi enim deus is, cuius hoc templum est omne, quod conspicis, istis te corporis custodiis liberaverit, huc tibi aditus patere non potest.

Cicero, De Re Publica, VI.14-15

At this point I asked, if he and my father Paulus and others, whom we judge to be dead, were still alive. 'Yes indeed' he said 'those who have fled from the chains of their bodies, as if from prison, are alive. Indeed your life (as it is called) is really death. But do you see your father Paulus coming towards you?' When I saw him, indeed I burst into tears. He however put his arms around me, kissed me, and told me not to weep.

And when I had stopped crying, and was able to speak again, I said 'Most holy and excellent father, since this is life, as I hear Africanus say, why am I delayed on this earth? Why do I not hurry here to join you?' 'Things are not like that,' he said. 'There is no possible way for you to come here, unless the god, whose temple is this whole visible universe, releases you from the bonds of the body.'

I read this passage with my year 12 class (who have been studying the philosophy of Cicero) the other day. It's from the 'Dream of Scipio', in which Cicero imagines the young Scipio Aemilianus being visited by his father and grandfather, who tell him about god, the universe, life after death, and the future that awaits Scipio himself. I find this a particularly interesting passage because of what Africanus has to say about life after death; for Stoics (at least as represented in this passage) to die was to be set free from the corruption of the physical body, and to be reunited with god as pure spirit. This idea (that the body/matter is bad and the soul/spirit is good) comes from Plato, and is sometimes called Platonic Dualism.

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