Scipio the younger had gone, when in Africa, to meet Massinissa, and had there discussed with the African king the character of his nominal grandfather, for he was in fact the son of Paulus Æmilius and had been adopted by the son of the great conqueror at Zama. He had then retired to rest, and had dreamed a dream, and is thus made to tell it. Africanus the elder had shown himself to him greater than life, and had spoken to him in the following words: “Approach,” said the ghost; “approach in spirit, and cease to fear, and write down on the tablets of your memory this that I shall tell you.
“Look down upon that city. I compelled it to obey Rome. It now seeks to renew its former strife, and you, but yet new to arms, have come to conquer it.” Then from his starry heights he points to the once illustrious Carthage. “In twice twelve months that city you shall conquer, and shall have earned for yourself that name which by descent has become yours. Destroyer of Carthage, triumphant Censor, ambassador from Rome to Egypt, Syria, Asia, and Greece, you shall be chosen Consul a second time, though absent and, having besieged Numantia, shall bring a great war to an end. Then will the whole State turn to you and to your name. The Senate, the citizens, the allies will expect you. In one word, it will be to you as Dictator that the Republic will look to be saved from the crimes of your relatives.
“But that you may be always alive to protect the Republic, know this. There is in heaven a special place of bliss for those who have served their country. To that God who looks down upon the earth there is nothing dearer than men bound to each other by reverence for the laws.”
“Then, frightened, I asked him whether he were still living, and my father Paulus, and others whom we believed to have departed. ‘In truth,’ he said, ‘they live who have escaped from the bondage of the flesh. This which you call life is death. But behold Paulus your father.’ Beholding him, I poured forth a world of tears, but he, embracing me, forbade me to weep.
“‘Since this of yours is life, as my grandsire tells me,’ I said, as soon as my tears allowed me to speak, ‘why, O father most revered, do I delay here on earth, rather than haste to meet you?’ ‘It cannot be so,’ he answered. ‘Unless that God whose temple is around you everywhere shall have liberated you from the chains of the body, you cannot come to us. Men are begotten subject to his law, and inhabit the globe which is called the earth; and to them is given a soul from among the stars, perfect in their form and alive with heavenly instincts, which complete with wondrous speed their rapid courses. Wherefore, my son, by you and by all just men that soul must be retained within its body’s confines, nor can it be allowed to flit without command of him by whom it has been given to you. You may not escape the duty which God has trusted to you. Live, my Scipio, and shine with piety and justice, as your grandfather did and I have done. It is your duty to your parents and to your relatives, but especially your duty to your country. There lies the road to heaven. By following that course shall you find your way to those who crowd with disembodied spirits the realm beneath your eyes.’
“Then did I behold that splendid circle of fire which you, after the Greeks, call the Milky-way, and looking out from thence could see that all things were beautiful and all wonderful. There were stars which we cannot see from hence, and others of tremendous, unsuspected size; and then those smaller ones nearest to us, which shine with a reflected light. But every star among them all loomed larger than our earth. That seemed so mean, that I was sorry to belong to so small an empire.
“As I gazed a sound struck my ears. ‘What music is that,’ said I, ‘swelling so loudly and yet so sweet?’
“‘It is that harmony of the stars,’ he said, ‘which the world creates by its own movement. Low and loud, base and treble, they clang together with unequal intervals, but each in time and tune. They could not work in silence, and nature demands that from one end of heaven to the other they shall be sonorous with a deep diapason. The far off give a loud treble twang. Those nearest to the moon sound low and base. The earth, the ninth in order, immovable upon its lowest seat, occupies the centre of the system. From the eight there come seven sounds, distinct among themselves, Venus and Mercury joining in one effort. In that number is the secret of all human affairs. Learned men have made their way to heaven by imitating this music; as have others also by the excellence of their studies. Filled with this sound the sense of hearing has failed among men. What sense is duller? It is as when the Nile falls down to her cataracts, and the nations around, astonished by the tumult, become deaf.’
“‘Then,’ said Africanus, ‘look and see how small are the habitations of men, how grand are those of the angels of light. What fame can you expect from men, or what glory? You see how they live in mean places — in small spots, lonely amid vast solitudes, and that they who inhabit them dwell so isolated that nothing can pass between them. Can you expect glory from them?
“‘You behold this earth surrounded by zones. You see two of them, frozen from their poles, have been made solid with everlasting ice; and how the centre realm between them has been scorched by the sun’s rays. Two, however, are fit for life. They who inhabit the southern, whose footsteps are opposed to ours, are a race of whom we know nothing. But see how small a part of this little earth is inhabited by us who are turned toward the north. For all the earth which you inhabit, wide and narrow, is but a small island surrounded by that sea which you call the great Atlantic Ocean — which, however large as you deem it, how small it is! Has your name or has mine been able, over this small morsel of the earth’s surface, to ascend Mount Caucasus or to cross the Ganges? Who in the regions of the rising or setting sun has heard of our fame? Cut off these regions, distant but a hand’s breadth, and see within what narrow borders will your reputation be spread! They who speak of you — for how short a time will their voices be heard?
“‘Grant that man, unenvious, shall wish to hand down your fame to future ages, still there will come those storms of nature. The earth will be immersed in water and scorched with fire; a doom which in the course of ages must happen, and will deny to you any lasting glory. Will you be content that they who are to come only shall hear of you, when to those crowds of better men who have passed away your name shall be as nothing?
“‘And remember too that no man’s renown shall reach the duration of a year. Men call that space a year which they measure by the return of a single star to its old place. But when all the stars shall have come back, and shall have made their course across the heavens, then, then shall that truly be called a year. In this year how many are there of our ages contained. For as when Romulus died, and made his way here to these temples of the gods, the sun was seen by man to fade away, so will the sun again depart from the heavens, when the stars, having accomplished their spaces, shall have returned to their old abodes. Of this, the true year, not a twentieth part has been as yet consumed. If, then, you despair of reaching this abode, which all of true excellence strive to approach, what glory is there to be gained? When gained, it will not last the space of one year. Look then aloft, my son, and fix your eyes upon this eternal home. Despise all vulgar fame, nor place your hopes on human rewards. Let Virtue by her own charms lead you on to true glory. Let men talk of you — for talk they will. Man’s talk of man is small in its space, and short-lived in its time. It dies with a generation and is forgotten by posterity.’
“When he had spoken I thus answered him: ‘Africanus,’ I said, ‘I indeed have hitherto endeavored to find a road to heaven, following your example and my father’s; but now, for so great a reward, will I struggle on more bravely.’ ‘Struggle on,’ he replied, ‘and know this — not that thou art mortal but only this thy body. This frail form is not thyself. It is the mind, invisible, and not a shape at which a man may point with his fingers. Know thyself to be a god. To be strong in purpose and in mind; to remember to provide and to rule; to restrain and to move the body it is placed over, as the great God does the world — that is to be a god. And as the God who moves this mortal world is eternal, so does an eternal soul govern this frail body.’”
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01