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

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[Corrigendum: In discussing the Orphic sōma/sēma dichotomy referred to by Macrobius, we translate it as ‘body and soul’; that should of course be ‘body and tomb’].

We continue our read-through. Topics covered include:

  • A long arithmological excursus exploring the decad, with a particular eye to the number seven and the various numbers which can be added to make seven,
  • A short taxonomy of the virtues, drawing on Plotinus and Porphyry,
  • A discussion of the ‘astral afterlife’ and the process of the descent and ascent of souls into and out of bodies, with the astral mechanisms through which it occurs.

Works Cited in this Episode:


Aristotle on the Pythagorean odd = male, even = female idea: Aristotle Metaphysics A5 986a22-b2.

Homer: Zeus sends a deceptive dream to Agamemnon: Il. II 6, οὖλον Ὄνειρον [lit: ‘deadly dream’, but, in the context, deadly because intentionally misleading, with deadly consequences].

Plato on the Orphic sōma/sēma dichotomy: Pl. Crat. 400c. At ibid. 5 it is attributed to οἱ ἀμφὶ Ὀρφέα.

Porphyry on the ‘perfect’ numbers nine and six and the edition of the Enneads: Plot. 24 [but actually, on re-reading, I think Porphyry here is saying that 6 is perfect, and goes well with 9, but doesn’t call 9 ‘perfect’. My mistake].

Theologoumena arithmeticæ: see Robin Waterfield, editor. The Theology of Arithmetic. Phanes Press, Grand Rapids, MI, 1988.

Xenocrates: see Margherita Isnardi Parente, editor. Senocrate-Ermodoro: Frammenti. Bibliopolis, Naples, 1982.


Paul Capelle. De luna stellis lacteo orbe animarum sedibus. PhD thesis, Halle, 1917.

Karen ní Mheallaigh. The Moon in the Greek and Roman Imagination: Myth, Literature, Science and Philosophy. Greek Culture in the Roman World. The University Press, Cambridge, 2020.

W.H. Roscher. Die Hebdomadenlehren der griechischen Philosophie und Ärzte. Teubner, Leipzig, 1906.

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

James Wilberding. Creeping Spatiality: The Location of Nous in Plotinus’ Universe. Phronesis, 50(4):31534, 2005.