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Storytime: Reading Cicero’s Dream of Scipio

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Note: acute listeners will notice that the episode on Poseidonius and Weird Stoicism referred to in this Storytime episode doesn’t actually exist yet. Coming next Wednesday, if such is the will of the celestial Ennead.

[Corrigendum: In this episode I overwork the so-called Chaldæan Planetary ordering: while this is the ordering used by Cicero, and does indeed come to dominate astrology eventually, I was very anachronistic when I implied it was the astrological order par excellence in antiquity. No! As Neugebuer and van Hoesen point out, the normal ordering for most papyrus horoscopes and all literary horoscopes before 150 CE goes, starting from the Earth, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Sun, Moon (O. Neugebauer and H. B. van Hoesen. Greek Horoscopes. American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia, PA, 1959, p. 164).]

Marcus Tullius Cicero was not an esoteric author in any normal sense of the term, but he did write one piece which is a gem of rather weird ideas, incorporating aspects of Pythagorean, Platonist, and Stoic lore into a strange and beautiful take on ‘cosmic religion’. This piece, known as the Dream of Scipio, comes at the end of Cicero’s now-fragmentary dialogue on the state, the De re publica, and has as its model plato’s Myth of Er in Book X of his Republic. But this guided tour of the otherworld is different from Er’s in many important ways.

We discuss the textual matrix of the Dream, some of the sources Cicero was drawing on, and the political background in the Punic Wars, just so we know who these Scipios were. We then read through the text, and finally throw in a few comments on the elite Roman astral religion which the Dream lays out.

Works Cited in this Episode:


Aristotle: the Aristotelian pneuma (πνεῦμα), which is the place of the nutritive, sensitive and imaginative soul, is generated from something analogous to the fifth element, aithēr, from which the stars are made (De gen. anim. 736b29-38. See esp. 29: ἀνάλογον τῷ τῶν ἄστρων στοιχείῳ).

Cicero reads Plato as teaching an astral afterlife: Tusc. Disp. 1.11.24; 1.17.40.


  • Each soul has a ‘home-star’ from which it descends and to which it returns between incarnations: Tim. 41d-e.
  • Against suicide: Phæd. 62a2-6 (a mystic teaching); cf. Leg. 873c-d: suicides to be buried in unmarked graves at the borders of the polis.
  • On the body (sōma) as a tomb (sēma) for the soul: Crat. 400c; Phædr. 250c; Gorg. 493a; cf. Phæd. 81, 82, 83, the body as ‘prison’ or ‘watchtower of the soul’.

Porphyry: The rainbow-coloured pillar in the Myth of Er (Pl. R. X 616b-c) is the ochēma of the Soul-of-All or World-Soul: 185aF Smith = Simplicius In Phys. (corell. de loco) 615,32-35.


Capelle 1917 [see below].

Festugière’s comments on ‘religion cosmique’ paraphrase Festugière 1944-1954 [see below], II pp. xii-xvi.

André Piganiol. Comptes rendus des séances de l’Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres, 101-1:88-94, 1957.

Powell 2006 [see below].

Stahl 1952 [see below].

Recommended Reading:


Here are a few critical editions of the text of Cicero’s De re publica, at the end of which you’ll find the Dream of Scipio. There are more editions than we have listed here, but these are hopefully enough to be getting on with.

C.F.W. Müller, editor. M. Tullius Cicero. Librorum de re publica sex. Teubner, Leipzig, 1889.

K. Ziegler, editor. M. Tullii Ciceronis De re publica. Teubner, Leipzig, 1964.

J.G.F. Powell, editor. M. Tulli Ciceronis De re publica, De legibus, Cato Mairo de senectute, Lælius de amicitia. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2006.


Pierre Boyancé. Études sur le Songe de Scipion. de Boccard, Paris, 1936 [includes Ziegler’s Latin with a useful French translation].

Richard Harder. Über Ciceros Somnium Scipionis. Schriften der Konigsberger Gelehrten Gesellschaft, VI(3):11551, 1929.

Gernot Michael Müller. Seelenlehre und Therapie. Das Fortleben der Seele nach dem Tod als Gegenstand von De re publica und ciceros Spätwerk und seine Funktion. In Irmgard Männlein-Robert, editor, Seelenreise und Katabasis: Einblicke ins Jenseits in antiker philosophischer Literatur. Akten der 21. Tagung der Karl und Gertrud Abel-Stiftung vom 30. Juli bis 1. August 2018 in Tübingen, number 40 in Philosophie der Antike, pages 227-76. De Gruyter, Berlin/Boston, MA, 2021.

William Harris Stahl, editor. Commentary on the Dream of Scipio by Macrobius. Columbia University Press, New York, NY, 1952.

Cicero’s Dream of Scipio and Astral Religion

Paul Capelle. De luna stellis lacteo orbe animarum sedibus. PhD thesis, Halle, 1917 [the original and still the best!].

André-Jean Festugière. La révélation d’Hermes Trismegiste. J. Gabalda, Paris, 1944-1954. 4 vols, III pp. 27, 33.

Martin Nilsson. Greek Piety. Clarendon, Oxford, 1948, pp. 96-103, 109, 135; pp. 121-22 on solar cult in the Græco-Roman world.