Mircea Eliade "From Primitives to Zen": A ROMAN VIEW OF THE AFTER LIFE


(Cicero, 'On the Republic,' VI, 14-26)

'The Dream of Scipio' is the conclusion of Cicero's treatise On the Republic, probably written in 54 B.C. The dialogue is assumed to have taken place during the Latin holidays in 129 B.C., in the garden Of Scipio Africanus the Younger. Scipio relates-a dream in which he saw his grandfather, Scipio Africanus the Elder. 'When I recognized him, I trembled with terror, but he said: "Courage, Scipio, do not be afraid, but remember carefully what I am to tell you."'

(14) By this time I was thoroughly terrified, not so much fearing death as the treachery of my own kind. Nevertheless, I [went on and] inquired of Africanus whether he himself was still alive, and also whether my father Paulus was, and also the others whom we think of as having ceased to be.

'Of course they are alive,' he replied. 'They have taken their flight from the bonds of the body as from a prison. Your so-called life [on earth] is really. death. Do you not see your father Paulus coming to meet you?'

At the sight of my father I broke down and cried. But he embraced me and kissed me and told me not to weep.

(15) As soon as I had controlled my grief and could speak, I began - 'Why, 0 best and saintliest of fathers, since here [only] is life worthy of the name, as I have just heard from Africanus, why must I live a dying life on earth? Why may I not hasten to join you here?'

'No indeed,' he replied. 'Unless that God whose temple is the whole visible universe releases you from the prison of the body, you cannot gain entrance here. For men were given life for the purpose of cultivating that globe, called Earth, which you see at the centre of this temple. Each has been given a soul, [a spark] from these eternal fires which you call stars and planets, which are globular and rotund and are animated by divine intelligence, and which with marvellous Velocity revolve in their established orbits. Like all god-fearing men, therefore, Publius, you must leave the soul in the custody of the body, and must not quit the life on Earth unless you are summoned by the one Who gave it to you; otherwise you will be seen to shirk the duty assigned by God to man.

(16) 'But Scipio, like your grandfather here, like myself, who was Your father, cultivate justice and the sense of duty [pietas], which are of great importance in relation to parents and kindred but even more in relation to one's country. Such a life [spent in the service of one's country] is a highway to the skies, to the fellowship of those who have completed their earthly lives and have been released from the body and now dwell in that place which you see yonder' (it was the circle of dazzling brilliance which blazed among the stars), 'which you, using a term borrowed from the Greeks, call the Milky Way.' Looking about from this high vantage point, everything appeared
to me to be marvellous and beautiful. There were stars which we never see from the Earth, and the dimensions of all of them were greater than we have ever suspected. The smallest among them was the one which, being farthest from Heaven and nearest the Earth, shone with a borrowed light [the Moon]. The size of the stars. however, far exceeded that of the Earth. Indeed, the later seemed so small that I was humiliated with our empire, which is only a point where 'we touch the surface of the globe. . . .

(18) When I had recovered from my astonishment over this great panorama, and had come to myself, I asked: 'Tell me what is this loud, sweet harmony that fills my ears?'

He replied, 'This music is produced by the impulse and motion of these spheres themselves. The unequal intervals between them are arranged according to a strict proportion, and so the high notes blend agreeably with the low, and thus various sweet harmonies are produced. Such immense revolutions cannot, of course, be so swiftly carried out in silence, and it is only natural that one extreme should produce deep tones and the other high ones. Accordingly, this highest sphere of Heaven, which bears the stars, and whose revolution is swifter, produces a high shrill sound, whereas the lowest sphere, that of the Moon, rotates with the deepest sound. The Earth, of course, the ninth sphere, remains fixed and immovable in the centre of the universe. But the other eight spheres, two of which move with the same speed, produce seven different sounds-a number, by the way, which is the key to almost everything. Skilful men reproducing this celestial music on stringed instruments have thus opened the way for their own return to this heavenly region, as other men of outstanding genius have done by spending their lives on Earth in the study of things divine. . . .'

(26) 'Yes, you must use you best efforts,' he replied, 'and be sure that it is not you who are mortal, but only your body, nor is it you whom your outward form represents. Your spirit is your true self, not that bodily form that can be pointed out with the finger. Know yourself, therefore, to be a god-if indeed a god is a being that lives, feels, remembers, and foresees, that rules, governs, and moves the body over which it is set, just as the supreme God above us rules this world. And just as that eternal God moves the universe, which is partly mortal, so an eternal spirit moves the fragile body. . . .

Translation by Frederick C. Grant, in his Ancient Roman Religion, Library of Religion paperbook series (New York, 1957), PP. 147-56

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