Documents for the Study of the Gospels

By David R. Cartlidge; David L. Dungan | Go to book overview

The Dream of Scipio

Introduction: Marcus Tullius Cicero combined an extraordinarily turbulent, high-level legal, and political career with voluminous literary productivity. His life (106–43 B.C.) encompassed the final years of Rome’s republican form of government, as it collapsed into anarchy, opportunism, and autocracy. Cicero hated the new class of political demagogues, as he considered them, and spent the last decades of his life combating them, only to fall victim to the forces of Marc Antony. His lifelong ideal was the old, aristocratic republicanism, and The Republic, his greatest political writing, was devoted to expounding its virtues. Cicero chose as the spokesman for these views in The Republic a Roman of the old type, a statesman and general of the previous generation from one of Rome’s most illustrious families, Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus the Younger. He carries the main burden of expounding the various subjects throughout the dialogue: the best form of government, Rome’s political history, the ideal statesman (or, as we would say, politician), the nature of civil justice, and so forth. But the actual Scipio, despite his high birth, early military success, and political abilities, was never able to cause the Roman Senate to return to the austere simple ways of the early Republic, and his efforts to do so earned him many enemies (especially Tiberius Gracchus, whose sister was Scipio’s wife). He was finally murdered, and the Senate did not seek overly hard to find the culprits, although there were some obvious candidates. Thus it should be noted that Cicero’s choice of principal spokesman would have had a startling poignancy for those among Cicero’s circle of friends who agreed with his old-time republicanism. And the final scene of his long, six-book “conversation,” namely, this “dream” of Scipio’s in which Scipio is apotheosized, or brought up to the level of the Gods, looking first into the future and then into Eternity, this scene would have seemed to the same audience a most moving and sublime conclusion to the whole work. Even today, we can still catch the melancholy running throughout, for, to men like Scipio, the world of men within which they are to strive to be honorable is a realm of futility.


Cicero, The Republic 6.9–26

9. After arriving in Africa, where, as you know, I was military tribune of the fourth legion under the consul Manius Manilius, my first desire was to meet

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