It is all too much. There's undeniable cleverness here, and much of what Pears writes is of interest. All the main strands of the novel are set in southern France. One story tells of late-Roman times, as Manlius Hippomanes is faced with the rapid decline of Roman power and the threat of outside invaders taking over. A second strand is centred around Olivier de Noyen, a medieval poet during plague-times, a period when the papacy stands on somewhat uncertain footing. The stories are connected because each of these characters knows and is influenced by the stories of the preceding ones though not always fully aware of all the details.
It is specifically a Neoplatonic text, "The Dream of Scipio", that unites them -- and it is their fates to test the ideas discussed therein. In each of their cases, civilization is breaking apart around them: Pears puts it nicely when he describes the situation in France early in World War II, before anyone had even seen any Germans, before any German planes had even flown over Paris: No newsreels reporting the debacle had come in from the front.
They were all flying from an idea, nothing more concrete than that, and as they fled, the delicate tissue of society came apart. The situations they find themselves in then test philosophies: Matters are further complicated in each case because each of the three main characters falls in love with a woman he can not have, outsiders too. Eventually matters come to a desperate head, and choices must be made. Horrible things happen, and the characters must and do act -- usually terribly nobly. There's a great deal of self-sacrifice.
Want to Read saving…. Want to Read Currently Reading Read. Refresh and try again. Open Preview See a Problem? Thanks for telling us about the problem. Return to Book Page. The Dream of Scipio by Iain Pears. The Dream of Scipio 3. Three narratives, set in the fifth, fourteenth, and twentieth centuries, all revolving around an ancient text and each with a love story at its center, are the elements of this ingenious novel, a follow-up to the bestselling, An Instance Of The Fingerpost.
Now he returns with a greatly anticipated novel that is so brilliantly constructed, the author himself describes it as "a complexity. The setting for each is the same--Provence--and each has at its heart a love story. The narratives intertwine seamlessly, but what joins them thematically is an ancient text--"The Dream of Scipio"--a work of neo-Platonism that poses timeless philosophical questions. What is the obligation of the individual in a society under siege?
What is the role of learning when civilization itself is threatened, whether by acts of man or nature? Does virtue lie more in engagement or in neutrality?
The Dream of Scipio is a novel by Iain Pears. It is set in Provence at three different critical moments of Western civilization—the collapse of the Roman Empire in. The Dream of Scipio (Latin, Somnium Scipionis), written by Cicero, is the sixth book of De re publica, and describes a fictional dream vision of the Roman.
Paperback , pages. Published June 3rd by Riverhead Books first published To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up. To ask other readers questions about The Dream of Scipio , please sign up. What are the top three unanswered questions that arise from the book? See 1 question about The Dream of Scipio…. Lists with This Book. Oct 29, Richard Derus rated it liked it. United by a classical text called "The Dream of Scipio," three men struggle to find refuge for their hearts and minds from the madness that surrounds them Pears explores well-trodden ground here The writer is Manlius Hippomanes, Roman aristocrat and chaste lover of the Alexandrine philosopheress Sophia; the manuscript is his final love-offering to the goddess of his idolatry, given after his faux conversion to Christianity which he undertakes in order to organize the salvation of his beloved Provence.
In the time of the Papal Babylonian Captivity, also that of the Black Death, poet Olivier de Noyes discovers this manuscript, reads and fails to understand it, and consults Jewish philosopher Levi ben Gershon to come to terms with the many subtelties lost between the Roman days and his own, degenerate Christian era; thus comes Olivier to his fatal love for Jew Rebecca.
And in the modern age, Julien Barneuve, French flaneur and Vichy-government fonctionnaire, writes draft after draft of his response to Manlius's manuscript, thinking all the while that he's analyzing and understanding the life of Olivier de Noyes, the object of his studies.
All ends badly for each of these men, their lives, their loves, their very cultural roots are torn up, and grosser and grosser perversions of right and good thinking and living, fueled explicitly by Christians and their revolting religion, take hold and choke reason. Well, no one can say it's not a subject I relate to and support.
Too bad it's such a mess. The task of keeping three stories aloft while making sure that each is adding to the others is a daunting one. I don't think Pears did an especially good job of it. The transitions between narratives, all in third person limited PoV, are not keyed to anything that I can discern. I simply found the movement through time to be jarring and poorly handled. But overall, this cautionary tale is one well worth considering. The role of "faith" in the decline of common sense in the public discourse is readily seen in our own time, and the horrifying results Human beings cannot be trusted with piety.
It's not something that becomes us as a species. It's quite the opposite of its stated goal, is piety: Instead of creating peace and harmony, it creates hatred and judgment. It certainly does so in me. And I am not a remarkable human being, but pretty darned average in my responses: I don't like people who don't like me. Religion, sadly, in the hands of human beings, doesn't make that problem better, but rather creates a horrible echo chamber for the least worthy and most common feelings to be fed back upon themselves.
Woe betide those who try to stand against this noisy tide Pears points up the futility of this, while making sure we understand its absolute necessity. I wish I believed that reading this book would change hearts and minds, so I could yodel a call to read it NOW from the housetops. It's too rareified, too precious, to make a general audience sit up and take notice.
And it's not well enough executed to become the coffee-table adornment of the socially pretentious reader, either, so Read it if you agree already, if not don't bother. And isn't that the saddest sentence ever. View all 8 comments. I bought and read The Dream of Scipio because I really enjoyed Pears's An Instance of the Fingerpost , which was a thoroughly engaging, immersive historical mystery.
In comparison, The Dream of Scipio - while ambitious just like its predecessor - falls a little short. The Dream of Scipio follows the life of three very different men, all of whom lived in Provence in three different centuries, during various times of great and important historical change: Manlius Hippomanes, a wealthy Roman aristocr I bought and read The Dream of Scipio because I really enjoyed Pears's An Instance of the Fingerpost , which was a thoroughly engaging, immersive historical mystery.
Manlius Hippomanes, a wealthy Roman aristocrat bound on preserving the Roman Empire from decay and destruction, as Gaul is lost to the Visigoths; Manlius is the author of The Dream of Scipio , a treatise on his decisions taken during that fateful period. Hundreds of years later, Manlius's writings are discovered by Olivier de Noyen - a poet and a scholar in the service of a Papal Cardinal, in the mid 's, when the Black Death killed one third of all population in Europe. Olivier's poems are discovered by Julien Barneuve, a classics scholar in the middle of the 20th century, as France fell to the Nazis during the Second World War.
Each of these men has been placed in history's most tragic and defining moments; and each of them is powerfully, hopelessly, and fatally in love. This is not an uplifting book to read. Everybody in this novel is dead - the book begins with Julien's death in a fire, and both Manlius and Oliver have been turned to dust centuries before he was even born. Jewish suffering is a common theme, and the book could have just as well been titled antisemitism throughout the ages ; tracing the roots of the great tragedy of the 20th century all the way back to the early pogroms.
Each of the protagonists faces a difficult choice, with no clear good outcome; and their choices permeate throughout the centuries, influencing lives of three seemingly disconnected and distant persons. However, all that said, the novel is not as effective as Fingerpost: I think that the structure of Fingerpost - each narrator having his own, separate section - offered a specific advantage: In comparison, the three periods of France in The Dream of Scipio look awfully pale - there is just enough detail for us to know in which period the said section is taking place, but only barely.
I wished to be fully transported into the time and place, as was the case with Fingerpost , but unfortunately it didn't happen. And since we know from the beginning that every protagonist of the book is dead, the novel lacks the sense of mystery that Pears's earlier book had in spades. In Pears's credit this might not have been his intention in the first place - rather he might have wanted to create a complex and byzantine book which would raise important philosophical question: What is the price we are willing to pay for our emotions, and ultimately - what is the meaning of life itself?
These are good and important questions and this is a less-mystery driven, often diffcult but ultimately interesting book. I'd recommend readers interested in Pears to start with reading An Instance of the Fingerpost. Oct 09, Erin Casey rated it it was amazing Recommends it for: This book tells the three most tragic and beautiful stories I have ever read. Each successive narrator is aware of his predecessor s , respects them and wishes to understand them, to better handle themselves in their own time of crisis and to better serve the incredible women they love.
I think only one This book tells the three most tragic and beautiful stories I have ever read.
I think only one of them succeeds in being a truly great man, and that while it is never didactic in any way, there is a clear moral message delivered in this book. It is about how to do the greatest good, and I would love to discuss it with someone. Some interesting facts concerning this booK: Themis-Athena wrote a great review about this book.
Mar 20, Nicole marked it as unfinished Shelves: So the other day Yann and I were talking about food as one does here and the in-laws. The conversation centered around the kiwi question, which is as follows: I do not particularly like kiwis, but neither do I particularly dislike them. I am happy to eat a kiwi which is placed in front of me, without objection or disgust, but I do not necessarily take great pleasure in eating them either.
They're edible, but I wouldn't cross the street for one. I am unable to succes So the other day Yann and I were talking about food as one does here and the in-laws. I am unable to successfully communicate this position to my mother-in-law, who dedicates considerable time to spoiling us both, particularly on the food front. She continues to think I don't like kiwi, and that I should never have to eat one, having only and always things I like better to eat they are legion.
In discussing the kiwi question with Yann, he suggested that this is perhaps a small but important cultural difference. He argues that the French, dedicated to good food and non-puritanical about the harmless pleasures of the body, see no reason why each and every thing you eat should not fall well above the limit of "it's okay but not my favorite" and belong instead to the category "YUM! That "meh" may not be the same as disgusting, but it's nonetheless not good enough.
Why do I talk to you of kiwis and in-laws? Because this book, my friends, is a kiwi. And I think perhaps it is time that I integrated, left book puritanism I've never left a book unfinished no matter how bad!!!! I think it is time to take Iain Pears, and quite possibly the bulk of mainstream historical fiction, back to the library from whence it came, admit I won't finish it, blame neither the book nor myself, and move on with my life. I just counted, and this year, so far, I have met 15 new authors, all of whom have filled me with delight and happiness.
I think my time is perhaps better spent with them. Jan 09, Jane Niehaus rated it liked it. Some books we read for pleasure, some for intrigue, some for thought-provoking stimulus. Given the nature of this book--three interwoven stories across three time periods--fall of the roman empire, the black plague in s, and WWII France--I find it required a lot of concentration--especially during my early morning commute and late at night.
Occasionally, I'd have to back track a few pages to figure out where some character or detail first appeared--not easy to do when the stories change ever Some books we read for pleasure, some for intrigue, some for thought-provoking stimulus. Occasionally, I'd have to back track a few pages to figure out where some character or detail first appeared--not easy to do when the stories change every two paragraphs and this from a former-academic.
The stories and time periods are fascinating, and neo-platonism is sprinkled throughout, but I felt no real enlightenment on issues of Anti-Semitism, nor felt it was true that christianity was simply barbaric and blind faith--this in the late Roman Empire after Christians had been persecuted for years. I guess what I'm saying is that complicated things like socio-religious even artistic belief systems set in a historical time period were presented as too black and white. Bottom line--I enjoyed the cleverness of connecting the 3 stories, but this book fell flat for me at times.
Iain Pears is everybody's fantasy of the ultimate history teacher. At least for people whose fantasies extend to history teachers. His popular mysteries, so intricately woven from the threads of the past, have given the genre more class and intellectual depth than it's ever had. His latest novel, "The Dream of Scipio," is another category-buster, a work of such philosophical and cultural complexity that its greatest mystery is "How can Pears know so much?
Summarizing this complicated story risks intimidating readers away, but -- while it's good to be prepared for some work -- this is another wildly entertaining novel. He follows three historians in Provence at three moments when Western civilization seemed ready to shatter: Pears has constructed a kind of literary Rubik's Cube, spinning these stories through each other in short chapters that produce fascinating patterns and parallels.
All three men are captivated by the Neoplatonic philosophy of Sophia, a stoic Greek woman whose father was literally killed by the fall of Rome, when the ceiling of his classroom collapsed. At a time when classical philosophy is fighting weakly against the onslaught of Christian dogma, Sophia serves as Manlius's mentor. Even after his conversion, a merely political declaration, Sophia struggles to instill the logic of her ancient virtue. As a show of reverence, Manlius composes a dialogue called "The Dream of Scipio. One of the dazzling pleasures of this novel is Pears's ability to follow the bumblebee flight of an idea through the ravages of time.
At his death, Bishop Manlius's scandalous library is burned to protect his reputation, but "The Dream of Scipio" survives, mistaken for a Christian text. It's transferred to a church archive, where it sits for years until that library, too, burns. But before that disaster, "The Dream" is transcribed, badly, so that Olivier de Noyen, a clerical courtier in the 14th century, can make a copy of it that ends up in the Vatican library, where Julien Barneuve translates it again as the Nazis destroy Europe. How each of these men uses the wisdom of Sophia to respond to their different, though equally terrifying, circumstances provides the intellectual axis that runs through the novel.
But each story also revolves around a delicate romance rendered impossible by the crisis of the day. Sophia, for instance, is too removed from this world to give her heart to Manlius, and in any case, his political expediency repels her. In the 14th century, as the plague dissolves bodies and morals, Olivier falls in love with a servant girl, and in the 20th century, Julien is captivated by a Jewish painter. Pears handles these relationships -- like everything in this novel -- with extraordinary delicacy, capturing the full tragedy and beauty of thwarted affection.
Each era is unimaginably different from the other, and yet in each, virtue is tested in remarkably similar ways. Again and again, anti-Semitism serves as the dry timber for a resulting holocaust. Manlius, Olivier, and Julien, so unlike in position and knowledge, must choose between their responsibility to those around them and their duty to those who will come after them -- even in the twilight of civilization, when it seems likely that no one will come after them at all.
As the barbarians threaten to invade, Manlius reassures a nervous friend: As long as we continue to stroll through my garden arm in arm, civilization will continue. It needs constant attention. What keeps this cerebral story from pixelating into abstraction, though, is Pears's bifocal vision, an ability to perceive the precise details of ordinary life and the broad sweep of history with equal clarity. There's something sad and fascinating about his God's-eye view of how documents survive or don't, how history is recorded or lost, how truth is preserved or perverted. Each of these three story lines is so compelling that every break inspires a little regret that you have to leave one and a little thrill that you get to rejoin another.
Then, Scipio Aemilianus sees that the universe is made up of nine celestial spheres. The earth is the inner most, whereas the highest is heaven, which "contains all the rest, and is itself the supreme God" unus est caelestis [ In between these two extremes lie the spheres of the Moon, Mercury , Venus , Mars , Jupiter , and Saturn which proceed from lowest to highest. He explains to his grandson that because the planets are set apart at fixed intervals, a sound is produced as they move.
The moon, being the lowest sphere and the one closest to Earth, emits the lowest sound of all, whereas the heaven emits the highest. The Earth, on the other hand, does not move, remaining motionless at the center of the universe.
Then the climatic belts of the earth are observed, from the snow fields to the deserts , and there is discussion of the nature of the Divine , the soul and virtue , from the Stoic point of view. The literary and philosophical influence of the Somnium was great. Macrobius ' Commentary upon Scipio's Dream was known to the sixth-century philosopher Boethius , and was later valued throughout the Middle Ages as a primer of cosmology.
The work assumed the astrological cosmos formulated by Claudius Ptolemy. Chretien de Troyes referred to Macrobius' work in his first Arthurian romance, Erec , and it was a model for Dante 's account of heaven and hell.