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The human race is still hundreds, probably thousands of years from developing time travel. If its even possible.

But lets say that it is possible, and we are capable of it. Whats first? Visiting dinosaurs, the Earth in its infancy, the distant future? These are all noble pursuits of course. But what if we could somehow track down historical figures and convince them to come back with us? Itd be quite the task to explain to them who we are without shattering their minds. But if it were possible, we could gain some incredible insights. While reading Cicero, this scenario was something I pondered. I think that while its important to understand the context of the author while reading a book like On the Good Life, it can be just as enlightening to think about what the author would think of our current context. I think that at first Cicero would be impressed and encouraging of the story of America upon first hearing the story, but upon seeing our current state he would be disappointed by how far we are from his ideal. On the other hand, I think that he would be pleased to see the great value placed on his work and that of the other great Roman and Greek thinkers. One specific instance of this influence would be other great minds and their works that have connections to the Dream of Scipio. Naturally we would start this experiment by explaining to Cicero how our country came to be. The story of the British Colonies revolting and starting their own country, with a constitution based on the Roman model of counterbalancing powers is one that I think would really excite Cicero. He would be eager to experience this country founded by men who fought a war to secure their right to participate in their own government, a right he holds in the highest regard. One point he makes in On Duties also applies to this and other events in American history:

It is also incumbent on everyone who holds a high governmental office to make absolutely sure that the private property of all citizens is safeguarded, and that the State does not encroach on these in any way whatever.1 This is an idea firmly supported by the Fourth and Fifth Amendments to the Constitution, something that Cicero would definitely approve of. Cicero, had he been in colonial America in the years leading up to the Revolution, would have vehemently opposed the quartering of British troops in the homes of the colonists, and the unwarranted searching of said homes. Moving along through American history, I think that Cicero would greatly approve of the U.S. opposition of Communism during the second half of the 20th century. While I cant say that he would agree with our methods, I do believe that he would disagree with Communism on a fundamental theoretical level. My reason for thinking this also comes from On Duties, when Cicero is talking about the rule of Lucius Philippus, who wanted to redistribute land among Roman citizens: For that remark he deserved to lose his rights as a Roman citizen, because his words implied that he was supporting the equal distribution of all propertywhich would be the greatest imaginable disaster.2 This contradicts Communist thought pretty strongly. Im not even sure they could be any more opposite, as shown in this assertion from The Communist Manifesto: The theory of the Communists can be summed up in the single phrase: Abolition of private property.3 I imagine Cicero getting extremely worked up at the idea of abolishing private property. This is a man who thinks equal distribution of private property is the greatest imaginable disaster, the abolition of which would infuriate him to no end. He would make Barry Goldwater look tame.

1 2

161. Cicero, Marcus Tullius. On the Good Life. London, England. Penguin Books. 1971 161, Cicero, OGL 3 82, Marx, Karl and Engels, Friedrich. The Communist Manifesto. New York, New York. Simon and Schuster. 1964

So explaining the broad history of America to Cicero is all well and good, but I think putting him in different places in present-day America would not go as well. Lets think about how Cicero would feel to be a fly on the wall in an American high school. First, lets look at this quote from On Duties: For surely to be wise is the most desirable thing in all the worldbecause that is precisely what philosophy means, a love of wisdomIf anyone is prepared to disparage so noble a study as that, I cannot imagine anything he would find himself able to approve of!4 I had to omit a few parts, but essentially what hes saying is that if someone cant love and strive to learn, what else could they want? Cicero would be seriously upset by what he sees in American schools. Yes, there are students who value learning and knowledge to a degree that would really impress Cicero, but there are still a large number who have no desire whatsoever to learn, at least in the way Cicero thinks people should. I believe that this would drive Cicero crazy. There were of course people in his time that did not possess his special drive for philosophy as he saw it, but it was a different world then. Slavery was still a very real and prominent thing, and some people just knew that at their station, they would never learn such a great amount of things as some people like Cicero had an opportunity to. But today, with the Internet and even just the ability to print books, not to mention standardized schooling, the exclusion of some people from the vast stores of knowledge we have created is almost nonexistent in America. Sure, there are still gaps between the poor and the rich as far as knowledge goes, but public libraries are free. Basic schooling is free. Cicero would say there was no excuse, no reason why people shouldnt take every advantage of these opportunities, and strive to be the wisest person each of us were capable of being. I knew kids in high school who
4

122, Cicero, OGL

flatly refused to try to learn anything. You couldnt have paid them to go to the public library and learn something. This way of life would completely boggle Ciceros mind. There are surely other areas of our culture that Cicero would like to pass judgment on, but lets move away from that and into areas of literary comparison between Cicero and other authors that have come after him. Many have taken inspiration from his speeches and writings, but one that happens to have written a story very similar to The Dream of Scipio, is, surprisingly, the science fiction author H.P. Lovecraft. The story is called Beyond the Wall of Sleep, which is a short story about a man from the Catskill mountains who is in a mental asylum. Its a long story, but the way it relates to Scipio is at the end, an intern in the asylum hooks up a machine to telepathically connect their minds while the patient sleeps. What he finds is that the mans soul is actually that of a great interstellar being. This excerpt shows a few of the similarities between Lovecrafts story and Ciceros: A few more thoughts were exchanged, and I knew that the luminous one and I were being recalled to bondage, though for my brother of light it would be the last time. The sorry planet-shell being well-nigh spent, in less than an hour my fellow would be free to pursue the oppressor along the Milky Way and past the hither stars to the very confines of infinity.5 Both here and in Scipio, the eternal souls of men are referred to as bright and luminous, as stars that dwell in the sky. Our human bodies are also described in both places as shells of confinement, prisons that we are meant to serve in until the time is right to join all the other souls that live in the sky. The narrators in both stories are also in total awe of the amazing vistas of space and time that they encounter in their dreams.

43 Lovecraft, H.P. Beyond the Wall of Sleep from The Fiction: Complete and Unabridged. New York, New York. Barnes and Noble. 2008

While this is no revolutionary philosophical idea or connection between two rousing political speeches, its a good example of how the work of a man can find its way into the farthest reaches of the vast stores of creative expression we have recorded. I believe if Cicero and Lovecraft got together and talked about their own works, they would have a discourse just as valuable and interesting as if Cicero and the political leaders of our time debated on a range of topics. It proves that its just as important to look at a person and their work in other, even bizarre contexts. We can learn a lot about a persons work by applying it in more ways than just the way that it was written, but we can also learn just as much about the other thing were applying it too. From American history to our schools to science-fiction short stories, you never know what you might rediscover if you look at it in a new light.