Communicator (communicator) wrote,
Communicator
communicator

The Dream of Scipio

I have just finished a book called The Dream of Scipio by Ian Pears, author of An Instance of the Fingerpost. Fingerpost was a novel set in Oxford in the 17th century, just after the Civil War. A murder narrative is revealed from several perspectives (like Rashomon). Each subjective story is a partial indicator, like a fingerpost, towards an unknowable truth.

The Dream of Scipio is set in Avignon in three historical periods: the fall of the Roman Empire, the Black Death, and the Vichy Republic, when civilisation is in danger of falling. The reference is to a work by Cicero, about Scipio's dream that he saw the fall of Rome. Like Instance of the Fingerpost it is about the partial unfolding of truth - this time more explicitly linked to Neo-Platonism. It's quite dark, and I feel it realises fairly well what it was like to live in those different periods.

The novel is about various people in each era who make moral compromises to try to save as much as they can of civilisation. As well as Neo-Platonism/Gnosticism another theme is whether good depends on the consequences of your actions, or on right understanding, or on good motives. Another theme is the legacy of European anti-semitism. The plot is rather romantic, and it's not High Art, but I think it manages to hold up under the weight of its theme.
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