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Storytime: Reading Macrobius’ Commentary on the Dream of Scipio, Part I

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We begin an in-depth read-through of Macrobius’ great Commentary with his opening salvos: the question of why the great Plato and Cicero decided to close their treatments of politics with fabulæ (sc. μύθοι) inspires a series of reflections on the nature of didactic fiction, the dialectics of hiding and revealing appropriate to different ontological levels, and many more topics dear to the hearts of ancient Platonists. Ancient sages of various sorts make an appearance, the mysteries are invoked, and the types of dreams are categorised.

Works Cited in this Episode:


On the principle of ‘the stranger or more wrongheaded the myth, the deeper its esoteric significance’: see Jean Pépin. Porphyre, éxègete d’Homère. In Porphyre, volume 12 of Entretiens Hardt, pages 229-66. Fondation Hardt, Geneva, 1966, pp. 252-56 for a list of ancient sources.

Heraclitus B123 DK, ‘nature loves to hide’ (φύσις κρύπτεσθαι φιλεῖ): See Episode 19.

Macrobius: Timæus can’t have met Socrates in real life: Macrobius, Saturnalia 1.1.5.

Plato: the afterlife-myth in the Gorgias: 522a-524b. The Form of Good ‘beyond being’: R. 509b9. The sun-simile: R. 508a-509d.

[Pseudo-]Timæus’ On the World and the Soul can be found at W. Marg, editor. Timaeus Locrus: De natura mundi et animae: Überlieferung, Testimonia, Text und Übersetzung von W. Marg. Editio maior. Leiden, 1972.


Pierre Hadot. The Veil of Isis: An Essay on the History of the Idea of Nature. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 2006.