Cicero,   On the Republic

-   Book 6

Translated by C.W.Keyes (1928). The sixth book ends with the Somnium Scipionis, the only part of the work that was preserved in the Middle Ages. Click on the L symbols to go to the Latin text of each section. Click on ** to go to the translator's footnotes.    

Book 5  

{ The Vatican manuscript has preserved no part of this book. But in addition to the scattered fragments printed below, the famous Dream of Scipio has been handed down to us by Macrobius, in connection with his commentary upon it. The lost portion of the book was evidently devoted to further discussion of the qualities and duties of the statesman, and of the value and reward of his labours. }  

{1.} [1] L   . . . What you look for, then, is an account of this ruling statesman's prudence in its entirety, a quality which derives its name from foreseeing . . . **   

. . . Therefore this citizen must see to it that he is always armed against those influences which disturb the stability of the State . . .  

. . . and such a dissension among the citizens, in which one party separates from the rest, is called sedition . . . **    

. . . And indeed in civil strife, when virtue is of greater importance than numbers, I think the citizens ought to be weighed rather than counted . . .  

. . . For our desires are hard masters over our thoughts, compelling and commanding us to do an infinite number of things ; and as these desires can never be appeased or satisfied in any way, they urge to every soit of crime those whom they have inflamed by their allurements.    

. . . who has restrained its power and that unbridled ferocity . . .    

{2.} [2] L   . . . This indeed was so much the greater because, though the colleagues were in agreement, they were not only not equally hated, but the affection felt for Gracchus even lessened the unpopularity of Claudius . . . **    

. . . who continually attacked the forces of the aristocrats and the eminent men in these words, and left behind him that sad, resounding echo of his dignity . . .  

. . . so that, according to this author, every day a thousand men came down into the forum in robes dyed with purple . . .  

. . . in those cases, as you remember, the funeral was unexpectedly honoured by the gathering of the fickle crowd and the heaping up of bronze . . .  

. . . for our ancestors desired that marriages should be stable and permanent . . .  

. . . the speech of Laelius, which we all have in our hands, tells us how pleasing to the gods are the pontiffs' ladles, and, to quote his words, the Samian bowls . . .  

{3.} [3] L   . . . [ Er the Pamphylian ], ** who, after being laid on the pyre, came to life again and told many secrets of the world below . . . The things that are told of the immortality of the soul and of the heavens [are not] the fictions of dreaming philosophers, or such incredible tales as the Epicureans mock at, but the conjectures of sensible men . . .    

{4.} [4] L   . . . [ that Plato ] was rather jesting than intending to claim that this was true . . .    

{8.} [8] L   Scipio. . . . But though the consciousness of the worth of his deeds is the noblest reward of virtue for a wise man, yet that godlike virtue longs, not indeed for statues fixed in lead, or triumphs with their fading laurels, but for rewards of a more stable and lasting nature.    

Laelius. What are they, then ?    

Scipio. Allow me, since this is the third day of our holiday celebration . . .



{9.} [9] L   Scipio. I was military tribune in the Fourth Legion in Africa under the consul Manius Manilius, ** as you know. When I arrived in that country my greatest desire was to meet King Masinissa, who for excellent reasons ** was a very close friend of my family. When I came into his presence the aged man embraced me and wept copiously ; after a short interval, turning his eyes up to heaven, he uttered these words: "I thank you, O supreme Sun, and you other heavenly beings, that, before I depart this life, I see within my kingdom and under my roof Publius Cornelius Scipio, by the mere sound of whose name I am refreshed , so little has the memory of that noble and invincible hero ** faded from my memory!" Then I questioned him about his kingdom, while he inquired of me about our commonwealth, and we spent the whole day in an extended discussion of both.    

{10.} [10] L   Later, after I had been entertained with royal hospitality, we continued our conversation far into the night, the aged king talking of nothing but Africanus, and recollecting all his sayings as well as his deeds. When we separated to take our rest, I fell immediately into a deeper sleep than usual, as I was weary from my journey and the hour was late. The following dream came to me, prompted, I suppose, by the subject of our conversation ; for it often happens that our thoughts and words have some such effect in our sleep as Ennius describes with reference to Homer , ** about whom, of course, he frequently used to talk and think in his waking hours. I thought that Africanus stood before me, taking that shape which was familiar to me from his bust rather than from his person. Upon recognising him I shuddered in terror, but he said :   

"Courage, Scipio, have no fear, but imprint my words upon your memory.    

{11.} [11] L    "Do you see yonder city, which, though forced by me into obedience to the Roman people, is renewing its former conflicts and cannot be at rest " ( and from a lofty place which was bathed in clear starlight, he pointed out Carthage ), "that city to which you now come to lay siege, with a rank little above that of a common soldier ? Within two years you as consul shall overthrow it, thus winning by your own efforts the surname ** which till now you have as an inheritance from me. But after destroying Carthage and celebrating your triumph, you shall hold the censorship, you shall go on missions to Egypt, Syria, Asia and Greece ; you shall be chosen consul a second time in your absence , you shall bring a great war to a successful close ; and you shall destroy Numantia. But, after driving in state to the Capitol, you shall find the commonwealth disturbed by the designs of my grandson. **    

{12.} [12] L    ''Then, Africanus, it will be your duty to hold up before the fatherland the light of your character, your ability, and your wisdom. But at that time I see two paths of destiny, as it were, opening before you For when your age has fulfilled seven times eight returning circuits of the sun, and those two numbers, each of which for a different reason is considered perfect, ** in Nature?s evolving course have reached their destined sum in your life, then the whole State will turn to you and your name alone. The senate, all good citizens, the allies, the Latins, will look to you; you shall be the sole support of the State's security, and, in brief, it will be your duty as dictator to restore order in the commonwealth, if only you escape the wicked hands of your kinsmen." **    

Laelius cried aloud at this, and the rest groaned deeply, but Scipio said with a gentle smile : Quiet, please ; do not wake me from my sleep , listen for a few moments, and hear what followed.    

{13.} [13] L   "But, Africanus, be assured of this, so that you may be even more eager to defend the commonwealth all those who have preserved, aided, or enlarged their fatherland have a special place prepared for them in the heavens, where they may enjoy an eternal life of happiness. For nothing of all that is done on earth is more pleasing to that supreme God who rules the whole universe than the assemblies and gatherings of men associated in justice, which are called States. Their rulers and preservers come from that place, and to that place they return. "    

{14.} [14] L    Though I was then thoroughly terrified, more by the thought of treachery among my own kinsmen than by the fear of death, nevertheless I asked him whether he and my father Paulus and the others whom we think of as dead, were really still alive.    

"Surely all those are alive," he said, "who have escaped from the bondage of the body as from a prison; but that life of yours, which men so call, is really death. Do you not see your father Paulus approaching you ?"    

When I saw him I poured forth a flood of tears, but he embraced and kissed me, and forbade me to weep. {15.} [15] L   As soon as I had restrained my grief and was able to speak, I cried out : "O best and most blameless of fathers, since that is life, as I learn from Africanus, why should I remain longer on earth ? Why not hasten thither to you ? "  

"Not so," he replied, "for unless that God, whose temple ** is everything that you see, has freed you from the prison of the body, you cannot gain entrance there. For man was given life that he might inhabit that sphere called Earth, which you see in the centre of this temple , and he has been given a soul out of those eternal fires which you call stars and planets, which, being round and globular bodies animated by divine intelligences, circle about in their fixed orbits with marvellous speed. Therefore you, Publius, and all good men, must leave that soul in the custody of the body, and must not abandon human life except at the behest of him by whom it was given you, lest you appear to have shirked the duty imposed upon man by God. {16.} [16] L    But, Scipio, imitate your grandfather ** here , imitate me, your father ; love justice and duty, which are indeed strictly due to parents and kinsmen, but most of all to the fatherland. Such a life is the road to the skies, to that gathering of those who have completed their earthly lives and been relieved of the body, and who lie in yonder place which you now see " (it was the circle of light which blazed most brightly among the other fires), " and which you on earth, borrowing a Greek term, call the Milky Circle. " **    

When I gazed in every direction from that point, all else appeared wonderfully beautiful. There were stars which we never see from the earth, and they were all larger than we have ever imagined. The smallest of them was that farthest from heaven and nearest the earth which shone with a borrowed light . ** The starry spheres were much larger than the earth ; indeed the earth itself seemed to me so small that I was scornful of our empire, which covers only a single point, as it were, upon its surface.    

{17.} [17] L    As I gazed still more fixedly at the earth, Africanus said : "How long will your thoughts be fixed upon the lowly earth ? Do you not see what lofty regions you have entered ? These are the nine circles, or rather spheres, by which the whole is joined. One of them, the outermost, is that of heaven; it contains all the rest, and is itself the supreme God, holding and embracing within itself all the other spheres ; in it are fixed the eternal revolving courses of the stars. Beneath it are seven other spheres which revolve in the opposite direction to that of heaven. One of these globes is that light which on earth is called Saturn's. Next comes the star called Jupiter's, which brings fortune and health to mankind. Beneath it that star, red and terrible to the dwellings of man, which you assign to Mars. Below it and almost midway of the distance ** is the Sun, the lord, chief, and ruler of the other lights, the mind and guiding principle of the universe, of such magnitude that he reveals and fills all things with his light. He is accompanied by his companions, as it were - Venus and Mercury in their orbits, and in the lowest sphere revolves the Moon, set on fire by the rays of the Sun. But below the Moon there is nothing except what is mortal and doomed to decay, save only the souls given to the human race by the bounty of the gods, while above the Moon all things are eternal. For the ninth and central sphere, which is the earth, is immovable and the lowest of all, and toward it all ponderable bodies are drawn by their own natural tendency downward. " **   

{18.} [18] L   After recovering from the astonishment with which I viewed these wonders, I said : "What is this loud and agreeable sound that fills my ears ? " **    

"That is produced," he replied, "by the onward rush and motion of the spheres themselves; the intervals between them, though unequal, being exactly arranged in a fixed proportion, by an agreeable blending of high and low tones various harmonies are produced; for such mighty motions cannot be carried on so swiftly in silence; and Nature has provided that one extreme shall produce low tones while the other gives forth high. Therefore this uppermost sphere of heaven, which bears the stars, as it revolves more rapidly, produces a high, shrill tone, whereas the lowest revolving sphere, that of the Moon, gives forth the lowest tone ; for the earthly sphere, the ninth, remains ever motionless and stationary in its position in the centre of the universe. But the other eight spheres, two of which move with the same velocity, produce seven different sounds, - a number which is the key of almost everything. Learned men, by imitating this harmony on stringed instruments and in song, have gained for themselves a return to this region, as others have obtained the same reward by devoting their brilliant intellects to divine pursuits during their earthly lives. [19] L   Men's ears, ever filled with this sound, have become deaf to it , for you have no duller sense than that of hearing. We find a similar phenomenon where the Nile rushes down from those lofty mountains at the place called Catadupa ; ** the people who live nearby have lost their sense of hearing on account of the loudness of the sound. But this mighty music, produced by the revolution of the whole universe at the highest speed, cannot be perceived by human ears, any more than you can look straight at the Sun, your sense of sight being overpowered by its radiance. "    

While gazing at these wonders, I was repeatedly turning my eyes back to earth. {19.} [20] L   Then Africanus resumed :   

"I see that you are still directing your gaze upon the habitation and abode of men. If it seems small to you, as it actually is, keep your gaze fixed upon these heavenly things, and scorn the earthly. For what fame can you gain from the speech of men, or what glory that is worth the seeking ? You see that the earth is inhabited in only a few portions, and those very small, while vast deserts lie between those inhabited patches, as we may call them ; you see that the inhabitants are so widely separated that there can be no communication whatever among the different areas ; and that some of the inhabitants live in parts of the earth that are oblique, transverse, and sometimes directly opposite your own ; ** from such you can expect nothing surely that is glory.    

{20.} [21] L   "Besides, you will notice that the earth is surrounded and encircled by certain zones, of which the two that are most widely separated, and are supported by the opposite poles of heaven, are held in icy bonds, while the central and broadest zone is scorched by the heat of the sun. Two zones are habitable, of these the southern (the footsteps of whose inhabitants are opposite to yours ) ** has no connection whatever with your zone. Examine this northern zone which you inhabit, and you will see what a small portion of it belongs to you Romans. For that whole territory which you hold, being narrow from North to South, and broader from East to West, is really only a small island surrounded by that sea which you on the earth call the Atlantic, the Great Sea, or the Ocean. Now you see how small it is in spite of its proud name ! [22] L   Do you suppose that your fame or that of any of us could ever go beyond those settled and explored regions by climbing the Caucasus, which you see there, or by swimming the Ganges ? What inhabitants of those distant lands of the rising or setting sun, or the extreme North or South, will ever hear your name ? Leave out all these and you cannot fail to see what a narrow territory it is over which your glory is so eager to spread. And how long will even those who do talk of us now continue so to do ?    

{21.} [23] L   "But even if future generations should wish to hand down to those yet unborn the eulogies of every one of us which they received from their fathers, nevertheless the floods and conflagrations ** which necessarily happen on the earth at stated intervals would prevent us from gaining a glory which could even be long-enduring, much less eternal. But of what importance is it to you to be talked of by those who are born after you, when you were never mentioned by those who lived before you, {22.} [24] L   who were no less numerous and were certainly better men; especially as not one of those who may hear our names can retain any recollection for the space of a single year? For people commonly measure the year by the circuit of the sun, that is, of a single star alone; but when all the stars return to the place from which they at first set forth, and, at long intervals, restore the original configuration of the whole heaven, then that can truly be called a revolving year. ** I hardly dare to say how many generations of men are contained within such a year; for as once the sun appeared to men to be eclipsed and blotted out, at the time when the soul of Romulus entered these regions, so when the sun shall again be eclipsed at the same point and in the same season, you may believe that all the planets and stars have returned to their original positions, and that a year has actually elapsed. But be sure that a twentieth part of such a year has not yet passed .   

{23.} [25] L   "Consequently, if you despair of ever returning to this place, where eminent and excellent men find their true reward, of how little value, indeed, is your fame among men, which can hardly endure for the small part of a single year ? Therefore, if you will only look on high and contemplate this eternal home and resting place, you will no longer attend to the gossip of the vulgar herd or put your trust in human rewards for your exploits. Virtue herself, by her own charms, should lead you on to true glory. Let what others say of you be their own concern, whatever it is, they will say it in any ease. But all their talk is limited to those narrow regions which you look upon, nor will any man's reputation endure very long, for what men say dies with them and is blotted out with the forgetfulness of posterity. "    

{24.} [26] L   When he had spoken thus, I said: "If indeed a path to heaven, as it were, is open to those who have served their country well, henceforth I will redouble my efforts, spurred on by so splendid a reward, though even from my boyhood I have followed in the footsteps of my father and yourself, and have not failed to emulate your glory. "    

He answered: "Strive on indeed, and be sure that it is not you that is mortal, but only your body. For that man whom your outward form reveals is not yourself ; the spirit is the true self, not that physical figure which can be pointed out by the finger. Know, then, that you are a god, if a god is that which lives, feels, remembers, and foresees, and which rules, governs, and moves the body over which it is set, just as the supreme God above us rules this universe. And just as the eternal God moves the universe, which is partly mortal, so an immortal spirit moves the frail body.    

{25.} [27] L   "For that which is always in motion is eternal, but that which communicates motion to something else, but is itself moved by another force, necessarily ceases to live when this motion ends. Therefore only that which moves itself never ceases its motion, because it never abandons itself - nay, it is the source and first cause of motion in all other things that are moved. But this first cause has itself no beginning, for everything originates from the first cause, while it can never originate from anything else ; for that would not be a first cause which owed its origin to anything else And since it never had a beginning, it will never have an end. For if a first cause were destroyed, it could never be reborn from anything else, nor could it bring anything else into being ; since everything must originate from a first cause. Thus it follows that motion begins with that which is moved of itself, but this can neither be born nor die, or else all the heavens must fall and all nature perish, possessing no force from which they can receive the first impulse to motion    

{26.} [28] L   "Therefore, now that it is clear that what moves of itself is eternal, who can deny that this is the nature of spirits ? For whatever is moved by an external impulse is spiritless , but whatever possesses a spirit is moved by an inner impulse of its own , for that is the peculiar nature and property of a spirit. And as a spirit is the only force that moves itself, it surely has no beginning and is immortal. ** [29] L   Use it, therefore, in the best pursuits ! And the best tasks are those undertaken in defence of your native land ; a spirit occupied and trained in such activities will have a swifter flight to this, its proper home and permanent abode. And this flight will be still more rapid if, while still confined in the body, it looks abroad, and, by contemplating what lies outside itself, detaches itself as much as may be from the body. For the spirits of those who are given over to sensual pleasures and have become their slaves, as it were, and who violate the laws of gods and men at the instigation of those desires which are subservient to pleasure - their spirits, after leaving their bodies, fly about close to the earth, and do not return to this place except after many ages of torture."   

He departed, and I awoke from my sleep. **  



[fr.1]  . . . and Nature herself would not only invite, but even compel this.    

[fr.2]  Fannius, it is a difficult matter to praise a boy ; for praise must then be given to hope, not to achievement   

    If fate let man ascend to heavenly heights  
    To me alone the great gates open wide. **   

. . . Quite true, Africanus, for that same gate stood open to Hercules.  

[fr.4]  Since we have been recalled from the very goal itself by his interruption . . .    
    A man to whom nor friend nor foe could give  
    A just repayment for his deeds of might. **   

[fr.5]  All who attempt to win men's favour by banquets or dinners or extravagant entertainments show clearly that they lack true honour, which comes from virtue and merit.    

[fr.6]  Confidence ought to be won gradually and quietly, not by force or sudden attack.    

[fr.7]  There is no pattern to which we should prefer to make the State conform.    

[fr.8]  . . . treaty-breaking Africans . . . 

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(1)   Prudentia {prudence} is derived from provideo {foresee}. 

(2)   Seditio is derived from the prefix se {apart} and itio {going}. 

(3)   Gaius Claudius Pulcher and Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus were censors in 169 B.C.

(4)   See Plato, Republic X, 614-621. The story of Er is evidently referred to in the remarks which introduce the Dream of Scipio. The fragments which follow are also from this introductory conversation. 

(5)   In 149 B.C., at the beginning of the Third Punic War. 

(6)   Scipio the Elder had restored Masinissa's hereditary domains, and added other territory to his kingdom. 

(7)   Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus the Elder. 

(8)   A reference to a passage in Ennius' Annales (probably Book I) which is also referred to in Acad. II, 51 (cum somniavit, ita narravit: "Visus Homerus adesse poeta"), and 88. 

(9)   i.e., Africanus. 

(10)   Tiberius Gracchus, son of the elder Scipio's daughter Cornelia. 

(11)   teleos arithmos; compare Plato, Timaeus 39 D. The idea of "perfect numbers" goes back to Pythagoras. 

(12)   There was a suspicion that Scipio's death (in 129 B.C.) was due to the party of the Gracchi. 

(13)   Templum originally meant a region of the sky marked off for purposes of divination. 

(14)   The elder Scipio. 

(15)   i.e., the Milky Way. 

(16)   The Moon. 

(17)   i.e., between heaven and earth,.

(18)   For the astronomical system see Plato, Republic X, 616 B-617 C ; Timaeus 36 and 38. Most of these ideas appear to go back to the Pythagoreans (especially to Philolaus of Croton, a contemporary of Socrates). 

(19)   Compare Plato, Republic X, 617 B ; Aristotle, DeCaelo II, 290 B.

(20)   The Cataracts of the Nile. 

(21)   Obliqui {  antoikoi } are the inhabitants of the other temperate zone of one's own hemisphere. Transversi { perioikoi ) are those of the same temperate zone of the other hemisphere. Adversi { antipodes } are those of the other temperate zone of the other hemisphere. Compare Plato, Timaeus 63 A ; Cicero, Acad II, 123. 

(22)   See section 20 : 'adversi', and note. 

(23)   A Stoic doctrine ; compare Cicero, De Nat. Deor, II. 118 ; Seneca, Nat. Quaest. III, 27 ff. 

(24)   For the "great year" see Plato, Timaeus 39 ; Cicero, De Nat. Deor. II, 51. 

(25)   Sections 27 and 28 are borrowed from Plato, Phaedrus 245 C?E. Compare also Cicero, Tusc. Disp. I, 53-55. 

(26)   This is the end of the work. 

(27)   Ennius put these words into the mouth of Africanus the Elder. It is thought that the complete epigram consisted of these two verses preceded by those quoted in Tusc. Disp. V, 49 :
    A sole exoriente supra Maeotis paludes
    Nemo est qui factis aequiperare queat.

(28)   Another epigram of Ennius on Africanus. It is thought to have read :     Hic est ille situs cui nemo, etc.      Compare De Leg. II, 57. 

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