The Dream of Scipio

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  • Trustees of Boston University

    The Dream of ScipioAuthor(s): Adam KirschSource: Arion, Vol. 20, No. 1 (Spring/Summer 2012), pp. 37-42Published by: Trustees of Boston UniversityStable URL: .Accessed: 13/06/2014 00:23

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  • The Dream of Scipio


    We stayed up late discussing Scipio,The conqueror of Carthage, and the gloryHe won by beating Hannibal; and so,Intoxicated by familiar stories,Eventually we talked ourselves to bed.That night I dreamed that I was visited

    By Scipio himself. It was the powerOf self-suggestion, as I recognize,Since our obsessions in our waking hoursDo not let go because we shut our eyes;Its just as Ennius the poet said,Read Homer and youll dream the Iliad.

    That was no comfort as I seemed to seeThe face I had so often seen portrayedIn busts and portraits looming over me,So venerable that I was afraidTo talk or to keep silent; how could IHope to hold converse with eternity?

    And so he spoke. Be brave, he said, and hearThe warning Ive descended to deliver.New wars are coming. Carthage will not bearThe Roman yoke so quietly forever;Soon Rome will summon a new generalTo wipe her from the map once and for all,

    Completing what I started. You, my son,Must be that conqueror. We seemed to standOn top of starry mountains looking down, So Rome and Carthage looked like grains of sandBlown back and forth by their own violence.Rome looks to you for its deliverance.

    arion 20.1 spring/summer 2012

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  • He must have seen my terror and my doubtThat I could rise to such a destiny,And be another Scipio; withoutTurning aside he spoke more quietly:Be not afraid. The Gods love anyoneWho serves his countryand not only Rome,

    But any state where men are free. To fightFor such a country is to earn a placeIn Heaven and escape eternal night;For patriots are sent down by the graceOf God when they are needed, and ascendTo where they came from when their duties end.

    But does that mean, O Scipio, that youAre still alive somewhere? And what aboutYour father? Yes, he is among us too,The old man said, and then I heard a shout,And saw my father running to my side,And he embraced me as I cried and cried.

    Father, I begged him, do not go awayWithout me once again. If youre aliveAnd in some better place, why must I stayBelow on this sad planet? Only giveMe your permission and Ill gladly severBody from soul, and be with you forever.

    But instantly he said, Not that, my son.The soldiers not allowed to leave his post,And we are born at the command of OneWho sends us here to do his work. The bestThat you can do is live in pietyAnd strive for justice; then I guarantee

    the dream of scipio38

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  • That we will meet again. Just look around,He told me, and I saw the whirling firesOf all the stars whose harmonies surroundDiscordant earth, and which have no desiresTo bend them out of their appointed courses,Since they were made immune to earthly forces.

    You too are made of stars, I heard him say;Inside your body is a soul, whose lightIs the same substance as the Milky Way,Shining eternally for the delightOf God who made it and who placed it there.Do not evict it, and do not despair.

    From where I stood atop the highest sphere,The stars appeared incomprehensibleIn magnitude and splendor, yet so clearThat orbits which remain invisibleTo earthly gazers were revealed to meIn all their superhuman symmetry;

    And yet I hardly noticed them, intentOn finding the dim pebble where we live,Then trying to discern the continentRome lords it over, and which Romans gaveTheir lives to conquer, not imaginingTheir empire looks no larger than a pin

    From where I stood that night. Then ScipioStartled me from my contemplation, saying:Why is it you will only look below,When you could see the firmament displayingConcentric circles of the universe,Of which your Earths the lowest and the worst?

    Adam Kirsch 39

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  • The outermost is called the sphere of heaven,Studded with stars, which is the same as God.The rings that come below it number seven,Of which the first is Saturn; then the goodAnd lucky planet Jupiter, which sendsIts wholesome emanations down to men;

    Below which you will see the planet Mars,All red with fire, the source of hate and strife.Forever in the middle sphere enduresThe Sun, the great distributor of lifeAnd light to every place and every thing,Which men call ruler, governor, and king.

    Venus follows him, and Mercury,Like the attendants in his royal train.Below them, in the lowest sphere, you seeThe borrowed luminescence of the Moon,And at the center of it all the Earth,The least in brightness as it is in worth,

    Since everything above the moon will lastForever, perfect in its changelessness,While everything below is doomed to passAnd lose itself in metamorphosisExcept the human soul, which is a sparkOf heavens light secreted in the dark.

    While I was looking, I began to hearA lovely sound that seemed to have no source.Youre noticing the music of the spheres,My guide said, as they rotate in their course,Which is so loud and constant that belowMen can no longer hear it; even so,

    the dream of scipio40

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  • The tribes that dwell beside the waterfalls That catch and blast the waters of the NileAll grow up deaf. The perfect intervalsBetween the seven planets make the scaleThat earthly music strives to imitate,In vain, since imperfection is the fate

    Of everything below the moon. And thoughI heard him and believed, I couldnt stopMy eyes from searching out the earth below;Still they caressed that miniature map.What keeps you focused there is your self-love,He scolded me, or else youd look above

    To where your soul might spend the rest of time,If you could only learn to deprecateThe momentary gossip men call fame.Youre thinking of the legends theyll relateAbout your glory after you have died;But is it greatness to be deified

    By a few hundred thousand men at Rome,When on the Ganges and above the RhineNo one will ever even hear your name?And Rome itself is destined to decline;Come fire and flood or come barbarian,Nothing remains for the historian

    But shards and rumors. What you call a yearIs measured by the circling of the sun;Its not a cosmic year till every starReturns to its original position.Think, by the time that cosmic year is done,The human race itself might well be gone.

    Adam Kirsch 41

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  • How should I live, then, Scipio? I cried.Only remember what youve seen tonight;The God that is above you, he replied,Is also part of you, and from the heightOf highest heaven calls you back to him;Death will return you to your origin,

    As long as you live rightly, and ignoreThe clamor of this world and of your body.For what is moved must be inferiorTo that which moves it; God propels the steadyMovement of the planets, as the soulMoves the frail body under its control

    A final proof of its divinity.Those who forget and let their appetiteControl their conscience spend eternityWith eyes fixed on the Earth, unsatisfied;Only look up, and you will live forever.At which he vanished, and my dream was over.

    after Cicero

    the dream of scipio42

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