The Temple of Jupiter in Cicero's Somnium Scipionis

Prof. John A. Stevens

East Carolina University

Previous commentators on the "Dream of Scipio" (Zetzel, Powell, Rockwood, even Macrobius and Vives) have not appreciated the way Cicero employs the central imagery of the dream: the Temple of Jupiter.  He uses particles sublty to create a sense of movement and perspective that correspond to the intellectual movements in Aemilianus' soul as he progresses in the education offered by Africanus.  As his soul moves is toward virtue for its own sake,  Aemilianus moves physically toward the Temple of Jupiter. Cicero suggests several stages that anyone approaching a temple would observe: first the view from below; then the view from the podium to the door; the view of the interior; and finally of the cult statue of the deity. 

Cicero's depiction of Aemilianus' psychic progress as a physcial entry into the Temple of Jupiter also corresponds to his larger purposes: to situate the morality tale in familiar Roman imagery.  This includes the most familiar way a Roman might become god-like: through the triumphal procession toward the Temple of Jupiter (cf. eris curru in Capitolium invectus, 11). 

Cicero indicates the physical entrance to the temple in very subtle ways.  When Aemilianus first describes the position of Africanus, as he appears to him, he says that he was pointing out Carthage to him, de excelso et pleno stellarum, illustri et claro quodam loco (11).  De must either mean, "from among", i.e., that there is some heavenly Carthage among the stars (unlikely at best), or more in keeping with the root sense of the preposition, "down from", i.e.,  that Africanus is above Aemilianus and is pointing "down from a lofty place full of stars".  This would suggest that Aemilianus first sees his grandfather from below, and as legend often depicts him, in Jupiter's temple high above the city (Livy 26.19.5-8).

Aemilianus then begins (hic, 12) to ascend the podium both physically and intellectually.  He must ascend to the position of his grandfather to see "the path of the fates", that is, his own future, which Africanus is viewing  (eius temporis ancipitem video quasi fatorum viam, 12, corresponding in Rome to a view of the sacra via, perhaps).  He is not able yet to see anything but the events themselves.  Like Aeneas blindly following his oracles, Aemilianus cannot understand the reasons for what he is destined to do.  To grasp this, he must contemplate more fully what the Temple of Jupiter is and means (certum esse in caelo definitum locum, ubi beati aevo sempiterno fruantur. Nihil est enim illi principi deo qui omnem mundum regit… 13). 

The spiritual edifice embraces not only the end, but the way there, which includes one's life in the world (cuius hoc templum est omne quod conspicis, 14; ea vita via est in caelum, 16).  He sees that the door is closed to him as he lives now (huc tibi aditus patere non potest, 14).  The apex of the lesson is a special dispensation to glimpse the interior (Nonne aspicis quae in templa veneris? 17). From this vantage he sees first the harmony of the spheres ¶17-19, that is external world as it truly is. But next, more importantly, he sees the interior world of the soul.  Cicero likens this to a vision of the cult statue itself (Igitur alte spectare si voles atque hanc sedem et aeternam domum contueri… 25).  And he learns that entrance to immortality among the stars is given only to those who have acted selflessly in this life, siquidem bene meritis de patria quasi limes ad caeli aditum patet… virtus trahat ad verum decus… 26).

The dream proposes that the philosophical journey of the soul toward divinity, as invisioned, e.g., in Plato's Phaedo (64a-68b, 80e;  cf. Tusculan Disputations 1.74-75), is a truer depiction of how man becomes divine than the physical procession the Romans know.  And, most importantly, the life of the soul in the spiritual Temple of Jupiter far surpasses the life of man in the earthly city.  These amount, in effect, to depictions of the heavenly Rome and the earthly Rome.  At key points in the text (16, 20), Cicero suggests the Stoicized Platonic notion that the wise man will not wait until death to inhabit the heavenly city, but will attempt to live in both worlds at once, acting on this earth as one would if living among the wise.  All of life thus lived becomes a triumphal procession toward the heavenly Capitolium.  A clear understanding of this system of imagery is important for understanding what Augustan and Christian readers understood from the dialogue.

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