Dream of Scipio

Dream of Scipio

by Iain Pears

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Overview

In national bestseller The Dream of Scipio, acclaimed author Iain Pears intertwines three intellectual mysteries, three love stories, and three of the darkest moments in human history. 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 in the final days of the Roman Empire, in the grim years of the Black Death, and in the direst hours of World War II. An ALA Booklist Editors' Choice.

Iain Pears's An Instance of the Fingerpost and The Portrait are also available from Riverhead Books.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781573229869
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 06/01/2003
Edition description: Reissue
Pages: 416
Sales rank: 284,127
Product dimensions: 6.02(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.84(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Iain Pears was born in 1955. Educated at Wadham College, Oxford, he has worked as a journalist, an art historian, and a television consultant in England, France, Italy, and the United States. He is the author of seven highly praised detective novels, a book of art history, and countless articles on artistic, financial, and historical subjects, as well as the international bestseller An Instance of the Fingerpost. He lives in Oxford, England.

Hometown:

Oxford, England

Date of Birth:

1955

Education:

Ph.D., Oxford University

Read an Excerpt

JULIEN BARNEUVE died at 3:28 on the afternoon of August 18, 1943. It had taken him twenty-three minutes exactly to die, the time between the fire starting and his last breath being sucked into his scorched lungs. He had not known his life was going to end that day, although he suspected it might happen. It was a brutal fire, which took hold swiftly and spread rapidly. From the moment it started Julien knew it would never be brought under control, that he would be consumed along with everything around. He didn't struggle, didn't try to escape; it could not be done. The fire ravaged the house—his mother's old house, where he had always felt most at ease, and where he always thought he had done his best work. He couldn't blame those nearby; any sort of rescue would have been foolhardy. Besides, he wanted no assistance and was content with the privacy they had granted him. Eight minutes between the fire starting and his collapsing into unconsciousness from the smoke. Another three minutes before the fire reached him and began to make his clothes smoke and skin bubble. Twenty-three minutes in all until his heart gave out, his breath stopped. Another hour until the fire finally burned itself out and the last charred rafters crashed to the floor over his body. But to Barneuve, as his thoughts broke into pieces and he stopped trying to hold them together, it seemed to have taken very much longer than that.

IN SOME WAYS, his fate was sealed the moment Olivier de Noyen first cast eyes on the woman he was to immortalize in his poems by the church of Saint Agricole a few hundred meters from the Pope's new palace in Avignon. Olivier was twenty-six, having been fated to live and die in what was possibly the darkest century in European history, an age men called cursed, and which drove many all but insane with despair at God's vengeance for their sins. Olivier, it was said, was one such.

Isabelle de Fréjus had just turned sixteen and had been a wife for seven months, but was not yet pregnant, a fact that was already causing old women to gossip knowingly, and to make her husband angry. For her own part she was not displeased, as she was in no great rush to embark on the great gamble that left so many women dead or permanently afflicted. She had seen in her mother the terrible damage caused by her own birth, so swiftly followed by another and another, and was afraid. She did her duty by her husband, and prayed every night (after she had taken such precautionary measures as she knew) that her husband's assaults would prove fruitless for a while longer. Every second day she went to church to beg forgiveness for her unruly, rebellious wishes, and at the same time to place herself at the disposition of the Virgin in the hope that Her mercy and forbearance would endure a while longer.

The effort involved in this celestial balancing act required such concentration that she left the church in a haze of thought, her brow furrowed and showing off a little wrinkle just above her nose. Her veil was ever so slightly disarranged, as she had pushed it back a little when she knelt down to pray. Her maid, Marie, would ordinarily have reminded her of this small lapse, but knew her mistress well, and knew too what was going through her mind. It had been Marie, in fact, who had taught her those little tricks that were helping to make Isabelle's husband so increasingly concerned.

A small wrinkle and a veil askew were perhaps enough to inspire a painter, but not in themselves sufficient to have such a devastating effect on a man's soul, so some other explanation must be sought. For Olivier, standing nearby, felt as though some immensely powerful beast had torn at his breast, sucking the very life from him. He gasped in shock, but fortunately no one heard him. So intense was the sentiment, that he had to sit down on the steps and remain there, staring long after the receding form had disappeared from view. And when he stood up, his legs shaking, his brow damp with sweat even though it was still morning and not yet hot, he knew that his life had changed forever. He did no work for days. Thus began a tale of the doomed love between a poet and a young girl that was to lead to such a calamitous and cruel ending.

PERHAPS IT was her youthful beauty? Julien Barneuve thought so, at least when he first read the account of this fateful encounter, elaborated through the years and finally set down with all the romance that hindsight can offer around 1480, nearly a century and a half later. The pedigree of the anecdote was always suspect, seeming too close to Petrarch's encounter with his Laura to be comfortable. But it had tradition behind it, as well as one of Olivier's finest verses, the tenline poem that begins (in the wholly inadequate 1865 translation of Frédéric Mistral), "My eyes have stabbed my soul . . ." And the essence was surely true, for Olivier's dreadful fate a few years later when he fell into the hands of Isabelle's husband could not be contradicted. If he had not loved her, why would he have killed her and been attacked himself in such a way?

For Olivier was tainted with madness, it seemed; the story recounted how the girl had wished to go with her husband to flee the plague and the poet begged her to stay in Avignon, that they might die in each other's arms. And when she refused, he killed her, unable to let her go. The deed revealed his secret, and he was set upon by the Comte de Fréjus's hirelings in revenge, beaten, and his tongue and hands cut off. Olivier was, quite literally, silenced, his voice forever quieted. He could no longer talk, write, or even make signs so that others could understand him well. More still, the outraged and humiliated husband had destroyed all but a few of his poems. No one could now tell whether his poetry, for which he was beginning to become known, was indeed the first flowering of a literary Renaissance, the model beside which Petrarch ranked a lowly second, or merely appeared so to those few who had read his work during his life. Only a dozen or so remained, not enough to captivate a man like Barneuve until he came across some documents in the Vatican library on a cold day in February 1926 while going through the papers of Cardinal Annibaldus di Ceccani, a collector of manuscripts and the poet's first—and only—patron.

It was the first section of a twenty-page manuscript in Olivier's hand that kept Julien awake at night in excitement, when he finally made the connection and understood its importance. 'According to Manlius.' A brief sentence that meant nothing to most people, but all the world to him. In a moment of jest he said it was worth selling his soul for.

THE WRITINGS that Olivier passed down were begun by Manlius Hippomanes over a series of months at his villa a dozen leagues outside Vaison, some sixty kilometers to the northeast of Avignon. "Writings" is the wrong word, perhaps, for like many men in his position, Manlius rarely wrote himself, although he could do so quite easily if he chose. He dictated, rather, and his words were taken down by an amanuensis, his adopted son, whose life was made unreasonably difficult because of the speed at which his master spoke. Syagrius—an amiable young man of some twenty-three years who worked hard to make the best of his good fortune—had to scribble to keep up, then work long into the night to decipher his markings when preparing the fine copy. And no mistakes were tolerated; his master had a good memory and the highest opinion possible of his own prose, and could be punitive if so much as a word was changed. Besides, Syagrius desired nothing so much as to please, and attract a word or two of praise. What he dictated, what so excited Barneuve, was a digest of philosophy, cut down and reduced to its essentials for dissemination among his circle and perhaps, should opinion be favorable, beyond that. Few now had any familiarity with such matters and must drink their wine watered to make it palatable. After it had been read, and if it was found suitable, he might pay a copyist for up to a hundred versions—perhaps fifty would now be more than sufficient—which he would send throughout Gaul, to his friends.

Manlius was a host that evening; as he worked, the sun set so gently, leaving a rosy hue in the sky, and the first hints of cooling air began to blow through the open courtyard that was used as a dining room in summer. A few of the party outside began composing verses to amuse themselves and show off their learning. It used to be a regular occurrence amongst them; for Manlius had always surrounded himself with the cultivated, the men of learning whom he understood and who understood him. He had done so all his life; it was his duty and often his pleasure, especially when he could patronize the worthy, or give entertainment to friends of equal rank.

Courtesy required that he play the part of the charming host at dinner as he had done countless times in his past, and he did his duty, even though he had little taste for it that evening. He conformed, as always, to the wisdom of Varro, that the number of guests should be more than the Graces and less than the Muses; he took trouble to ensure they were neither too eloquent, nor yet too silent; discreetly directed the conversation so that, although not trivial, it was not too ponderous, with readings to match. And he accomplished with ease that most delicate task of being free from meanness in his provision of food, without trying to impress his guests with its expense.

Despite his efforts, though, it was not a happy occasion, as it was becoming increasingly hard to assemble even a small group of likeminded spirits. Half the guests were clients, dependent on his favor and keen to eat the dishes of larks and partridges, carp and trout he had ordered, but too ill at ease in such illustrious surroundings to make easy conversation. His adopted son, Syagrius, watching carefully, fearful of making a mistake or saying the wrong thing, ate clumsily, blushing with embarrassment, and said nothing. There were two true friends, Lucontius and Felix, who tried to make things easier, but instead ended up dominating the conversation, interrupting when others tried to speak, being unnecessarily contemptuous of the clients and overly familiar with Manlius himself. And then there was Caius Valerius, a cousin of Felix's whom Manlius tolerated only because of his friend; he was a coarse man who wrapped himself in piety like a suffocating blanket, which only partly concealed his ill humor and vulgarity. The three friends set the tone, swapping verse and epigram in the manner of the golden age, bathing themselves in the meters and resonances of the great authors they had revered since they had been schoolboys. It was Lucontius who introduced the lapse in taste—rare for him—that made the evening so much less than agreeable.

Yet now the breath of the Academy blow the winds of the church of Christ. Elegant, witty, refined. Felix smiled briefly and even Manlius barely managed to suppress a nod of approval.

But Caius Valerius turned dark with anger. "I consider there are some things at least which should be above jest."

"Was I jesting?" responded Lucontius in mock surprise, for he realized that Caius was slowwitted enough to be unable to distinguish between respect and mockery. "Surely I speak only the truth? Surely we see the Revelations of Our Lord solely through Greek eyes? Even Saint Paul was a Platonist."

"I do not know what you mean," Caius replied. "The truth is told to me in the Bible. I need no Greek words to tell me what I see there." Should Manlius intervene, explain how there are many ways of understanding even a simple passage? Teach him how such mysteries as the Incarnation, the Trinity, the Holy Spirit were given shape in our minds through the teaching of the Academies? Caius was one of those who gloried in his ignorance, called his lack of letters purity, scorned any subtlety of thought or expression. A man for his time, indeed. Once, and not so long ago, he would have fallen silent in embarrassment at his lack of knowledge; now it was the knowledgeable who had to mind their tongues.

"And you must remember, dear Lucontius," Manlius interrupted, "that there are many who consider that Plato had access to the wisdom of Moses, that he merely translated Our Lord's wisdom into Greek, not the other way around." He looked anxiously, and saw that Lucontius, dear sensitive soul, took the warning, flashing a brief apology with his eyes. The moment of difficulty was over; the dinner continued, harmlessly and without point.

Except that Manlius was discomfited. He took care in his invitations, actively sought to exclude from his circle crude and vulgar men like Caius Valerius. But they were all around; it was Manlius who lived in a dream world, and his bubble of civility was becoming smaller and smaller. Caius Valerius, powerful member of a powerful family, had never even heard of Plato. A hundred, even fifty years before, such an absurdity would have been inconceivable. Now it was surprising if such a man did know anything of philosophy, and even if it was explained, he would not wish to understand. Manlius thought greatly of such matters after most of the guests had gone to their beds, escorted by servants with torches. He stared out of the great doors at the landscape beyond, once a park of perfection, now disfigured by the rough cottages of farmers whose dwellings were coming ever closer, huddling nearer his huge villa for protection like piglets around a sow. He could have razed them, but feared their inhabitants might take themselves off, go and find a new lord to protect them—one who would not honor the law if he demanded them back. Then he looked the other way, to the bathhouse now abandoned and turned into a barracks for the soldiers permanently needed to protect the estate.

All they wanted was to live in security, and all the harm they did was to spoil his view. A man like Caius Valerius was very much more dangerous. "None of us truly chooses our family, I'm afraid." It was Felix who had walked up quietly behind him. "People like my dear cousin have always existed; even Vergil, I believe, had a brother-in-law who despised his poetry."

Manlius put his arm around him, and they walked slowly in the fading light. Of all the creatures in the world, Felix was the one he truly loved, whose company made him relax and forget his cares. For years now, decades even, he had relied on this short, powerful man, whose mind was as quick as his frame was bulky. A deceptive man, for he looked as he was—a soldier, used to the hardships of fighting and the simplicities of armies. Yet at the same time, he was supple in argument, quick in understanding, and the most honorable, loyal friend Manlius had ever encountered. Nor did he ever condemn; while Manlius frequently heard himself making waspish comments about others, Felix never judged, always sought to see the good even in those who had so little virtue in them.

"I know," Manlius replied. "And I tolerate him for your sake. But, truly it is a hard job."

"Rude, vulgar, and scarcely lettered. I know. But a great donor to the church and someone who has dispatched men from his own estates to help defend Clermont from the Goths. As have I."

"But I haven't, even though Sidonius is one of my oldest friends? Is that how you wish to end your sentence?" Manlius added. It had been preying on his mind greatly in the past few months. The city of Clermont, far to the west, was under siege from King Euric, blocking his desire to grab a stranglehold on the whole of Provence. If it fell, they would all soon follow, and it could not last long without reinforcements; indeed it might already have fallen had it not been for Sidonius, who had put himself at the head of the defenses and was refusing to accept the inevitable.

For inevitable it was, in Manlius's view. For years now, the barbarians had been moving into Gaul; sometimes they were encouraged, sometimes resisted. Sometimes they were treated as enemies, sometimes as allies against a still worse danger. But every time they took a little bit more, and every time the power of Rome to stop them proved a mirage. Not many years ago, an army of thirty thousand had been sent against Euric's father: none had come back. His own father had conceived the great strategy of the emperor Majorian to beat back the threat; but was undermined and killed by his enemies among the Roman aristocracy of Gaul even fore any army could move. Now here was Sidonius, brave, foppish, foolish Sidonius, who had decided to take a stand where emperors had failed. He had always had a weakness for lost causes, for grand, heroic but empty gestures.

"I had another letter from him begging our help," Felix continued. "He says that a few thousand troops now could make all the difference."

"He said that six months ago as well. It made no difference at all. Has something now changed?"

Felix shrugged his shoulders wearily. "We must try, surely? The whole of the civilized world is at stake."

Manlius smiled. "We are the civilized world, you and I," he said. "A few dozen people, with our learning. As long as we continue to stroll through my garden arm in arm, civilization will continue. Euric or no Euric. And I fear that you may provoke worse anger than you imagine." Felix shook his head. "You would not have spoken so cravenly a few years ago."

"A few years ago everything was different. When I was young we could travel without fear along well-maintained roads, through well-administered cities, and stay at the villas of friends stocked with labor. There was an emperor who wielded real power rather than being a plaything of warlords. Those days are as distant now as the age of Augustus."

"It is peaceful enough here."

"All illusion, my friend. We have been attacked by marauders at this villa three times in the last six weeks. It nearly fell to looters on the last occasion. Two of my other villas have been destroyed and now produce nothing. This tranquil scene you see here this evening depends on six hundred troops hidden in the background. They consume near a third of everything we produce and could turn on us one day. There are fewer people to tend the fields, fewer still to buy our diminishing surplus. In a way, we are under siege here as well, and slowly losing the battle, just as friend Sidonius is losing his. You must know all this from your own experience."

"I do, of course." Felix paused, and they walked some more before sitting at the edge of the pond. "And I am grateful to you for inviting me, as ever. I, too, grow lonely for company, even though I am surrounded by people."

Manlius leaned over and kissed his friend on the cheek. "It is good to see you once more. But however restorative, that is not the sole reason I invited you, of all people. I need to tell you something. Something important." It was the moment when he had to test a friendship that had endured for nearly twenty years without argument, without dispute, with perfect amity. Manlius was aware that he was trespassing on something sacred. Felix turned toward him, drew his arm away. "Such gravity and seriousness! Whatever can it be? You are publishing your letters at last?"

"This is not for laughing. I have been thinking as you have for some time. That we must try. That all we value may indeed be destroyed but it should not be given up so easily. I have received a letter from Bishop Faustus of Riez."

"Good heavens! You are going to pray! You are going to start going to church! Truly, this man is a saint and a miracle worker. All that I hear about him must be true."

Manlius grunted, and for a while they talked about the pond they were sitting beside, clogged now with weeds. They swapped aphorisms about water, played with quotations from Pliny about his garden, inverting grammatical constructions so that the neatness and order of the original became the clogged and unkempt reality of the present. Then, as old friends do, they said nothing, but looked at the lilies still growing and the insects hopping across them in the evening light.

"Faustus wrote to ask me to become Bishop of Vaison," Manlius said eventually.

Felix knew immediately the importance of what he said, but still tried to cover it over with a joke. "Not Bishop of Rome? How about emperor, too? You'd look handsome in the purple. Truly, the man doesn't know you very well, or he wouldn't have wasted his ink." Manlius threw some dust into the water and watched as the perch swam toward it in the hope of food.

"I have decided to accept," he said quietly.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"A thrilling journey through history, into the human heart and soul."—Washington Post

"Braiding together parallel plots of romance and political intrigue set in Provence during three dark eras, The Dream of Scipio is a murder mystery on the grandest scale...[Pears] invests his complex story with piquancy, irony, and humor. Their is much to ponder here, from Neoplatonic philosophy to anti-Semitism to public duty...Eye-opening."—People

"A multilayered tale of moral choice, love, danger and loss."—The New York Times Book Review

"An adventure and achievement to match An Instance of the Fingerpost."—San Francisco Chronicle

"A dazzling triptych of love and ideas...Pears leaves us with a dream, not only of destruction, but of immense and unexpected heroism."—Boston Globe

"[An] ambitious, heartfelt, and thought-provoking book, one that should find a home in the heart of every thinking reader."—Portland Oregonian

"This is a dream that will stay with the reader for a long, long time."—Montreal Gazette

"A novel for our time about all time. Wildly entertaining."—The Christian Science Monitor

"Complex, surprising and thought-provoking, a dream of a novel in more senses than one."—Wall Street Journal

Reading Group Guide

INTRODUCTION

In The Dream of Scipio, "Pears' finest book yet" (Boston Globe), the acclaimed author of An Instance of the Fingerpostintertwines three intellectual mysteries, three love stories—and three of the darkest moments in human history. United by a classical text called "The Dream of Scipio," three men struggle to find refuge from the madness that surrounds them...in the final days of the Roman Empire, in the grim years of the Black Death, and in the direst hours of World War II.

 


ABOUT IAIN PEARS

Iain Pears was born in 1955. Educated at Wadham College, Oxford, he has worked as a journalist, an art historian, and a television consultant in England, France, Italy, and the United States. He is the author of seven highly praised detective novels, a book of art history, and countless articles on artistic, financial, and historical subjects, as well as the international bestseller An Instance of the Fingerpost. He lives in Oxford, England.

Praise

"Pears builds a multilayered tale of moral choice, love, danger and loss. Like an archaeologist, he uncovers worlds in a few square miles of Provençal earth."—New York Times Book Review

"An entirely satisfying symphony of story and substance...ingeniously imagined."—Washington Post

"Braiding together parallel plots of romance and political intrigue set in Provence during three dark eras, The Dream of Scipiois a murder mystery on the grandest scale...[Pears] invests his complex story with piquancy, irony, and humor. There is much to ponder here, from Neoplatonic philosophy to anti-Semitism to public duty....Eye-opening."—People

"Pears leaves us with a dream, not only of destruction, but of immense and unexpected heroism."—Boston Globe

 


DISCUSSION QUESTIONS
  • In The Dream of Scipio, the stories of Manilus Hippomanes, Olivier de Noyen, and Julien Barneuve are linked through time by a philosophical text which suggests that "man is responsible for his own salvation, but through knowledge, not through deeds or faith." (p. 154). In other words, "that action is virtuous only if it reflects pure comprehension, and that virtue comes from the comprehension, not the action." (p. 381). In what ways is this tenet illustrated by the lives of the three main characters? In what ways is it challenged?
     
  • "Power without wisdom is tyranny; wisdom without power is pointless." Discuss the trajectories of Manilus, Olivier and Julien in the context of this phrase. To what degree does each character possess each quality at the beginning of their stories? What about at the end?
     
  • The historical events depicted in the novel include the fall of Roman civilization in Gaul; the coming of the plague to Europe; and the fall of France to the Nazis. Do you think that Manilus, Olivier, and Julien are motivated by identical forces at different periods in history? Or are they fundamentally different characters? Discuss.
     
  • Sophia advises Manilus to pretend to worship the Christian gods in order to attain power; Olivier reads a letter meant for Ceccani, his employer and protector; Julian betrays Bernard to save Julia without a second thought. Can you think of other morally ambiguous moments in this novel? How do these examples relate to the larger theme of individual responsibility in society? Discuss.
     
  • Compare the father-son relationships of Manilus, Julian and Olivier. How is each man shaped by his family history? In what ways does each transcend and fulfill the expectations of his father?
     
  • "Do you think that the peace of a thousand cancels out the unjust death of a single person?" Sophia challenges Manilus (p. 389). Why does she see his actions as a corruption of her teachings? What would Sophia say about Olivier's betrayal of Ceccani? What about Julian's participation in the Vichy government?
     
  • Compare Sophia, Rebecca, and Julia. In what ways do the women act as counterpoints to the male characters in the novel? To what conventions are they bound? To what extent do they fall prey to the norms and restrictions of the times in which they lived? In what ways do they circumvent these proscribed roles?
     
  • In all three time periods depicted in the novel, the fate of the Jews of Provence played a central role in the outcome of events. Why do you think the Jews of Manilus' Vaison, Gersonides and Rebecca, and Julia and Claude Bronsen take on such magnitude in this story? Why are the fates of the different characters so different? What, if anything, can you infer from the final assessment of Gersonides to the contents of the manuscript Olivier brought him? (p.381-382).
     
  • Discuss the ways in which the concept of faith relates to the overall themes of the novel. For instance, Gersonides poses the question to Olivier: "...What sort of man can persecute others in the name of a faith he clearly does not profess?" (p.210). How would you answer this question? Is the idea of faith equally relevant to all three storylines? Why or why not? Is Manilus justified in his use of faith to consolidate his power?
     
  • Julien Barneuve thinks of himself as "a crusader for the true values of civilization, burning with the love of life and learning in an age that valued neither." (p. 24). Manilus Hippomanes felt a similar fire, as did Olivier de Noyen, who "had as his private goal the purification of letters, the casting out of the corruption of his times." (p. 17). Based on the outcome of their three stories, what would you conclude about the aforementioned "true values of civilization"? Are there such things? Who is the arbiter of these values? By what means are they to be preserved? Discuss.

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Dream of Scipio 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 35 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I had never heard of this author until I saw this book in the New Titles section of my local library. The title grabbed my attention, as I thought it might have been a historical novel. I was partly correct; it is much more than a historical novel. It is a work of literature, and one of the best new novels that I have read recently. Iain Pears write with such clarity, but at the same time he writes lucidly, and with much charm, that made me keep the book in my hand, figuratively. I did have to go to work, go to school, and eat, and sleep, and things like that. I haven't read his other books, but I just might tackle An Instance of the Fingerpost. It remains to be seen. In Scipio, I love how he interwove the characters and settings into a fictional, yet highly believable tapestry. And the women they loved; I almost loved them myself. Anyway, not to get too crazy here. It was just a good book, and I recommend it to anyone.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Terrific second outing into 'serious' historical fiction for Pears. The Neoplatonic philosopy of the 5th Century fading Roman Empire is carried forward through the 14th Century to WW2. Centred in a small Provencal village, the story revolves around three similar characters from three different time periods with similar apprehensions about impending doom. A great read for anyone who like me loves a good historical yarn with a message for our time.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Daunting, at first, to consider reading about fourth century scholars and a twentieth century classicist and how their lives parallel. I was seriously afraid it would be an unbelievable bore. In fact, it is a warm-blooded, human story full of intrigue, history, and a love of words. Nothing is forced, and the author makes the parallel time lines work. This is one of the very few books I've read that manages to surprise and make you gasp right up until the final paragraph!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a great novel; the ideas, characters and images in it are extroadenary and often very complex. Sadly, it was a required reading assignment, so I was not able to fully enjoy it. I reccomend this book to any readers and/or philosophers.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Beautiful narrative and imagery; but this is not light reading for the beach. It flows in and out of the centuries frequently so it can be difficult keeping characters straight. The pay off is worth it. All charcters are flawed, but Mr. Pears also is able to humanize the antagonists so the conflicts are more poignant.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is the book that introduced me to Iain Pears writings and made him one of my favorite modern authors. While not as epic as An Instance of the Fingerpost, Scipio is an excellently crafted work of prose, demonstrating Pears' gift for storytelling and historical fiction. Particularly, I love Pears' talent for turning the reader's perception of characters and manipulating one's biases -- used to perfection in Scipio -- such that we come to loathe the characters we most want to love and admire the characters we were determined to hate. The parallels across three times of uncertainty and crisis mirror modern times without being overtly allegorical. His mastery of the historical content allows the story to flow naturally. This book is an excellent first introduction to Pears' writing -- a book to read and reread.
Yeatsian More than 1 year ago
Not a simple book, but one that touches on the deepest problems of human civilization: institutional decay, individual ambition, love and faith. It demands careful reading and attention, and rewards the reader with genuine insights into both the mores and moralities of times different than -- and disturbingly similar to -- our own. A deeply moving book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
spread over 1500 years, Pears tale of decline in civilization is breathtaking in it's scope. Three 'heroes' trying to make sure the flame of reason is not extinguished, and three 'heroines' who help guide their actions. Manlius, a wealthy Roman landowner who sees his world will soon be over-ridden by Barbarian hoardes, Olivier, a poet, a reader and a thinker who see's his world crumbling with the onset of the plague, and Julien who's life is plunged into darkness by the German occupation of WW II. All lived out in the same area of Southern France. Six lives fundamentaly the same on the brink of chaos that threatens to engulf the world with darkness and extinguish what man clings to as civilization. A book to be re read...
Guest More than 1 year ago
The Dream has become one of my favorite books because of the ethical dilemma it raises. For example, your character is not defined by what one thinks, but rather one's actions. Dr. Pears leaves you guessing what stance he chooses until you read the chapter about the philosopher. In the end, the author offers a solution to Julien's plight. In a world where many things are occurring daily, I appreciated how the author made me think how my own action or inaction affects those around me.
Guest More than 1 year ago
While not within a country mile of "An Instance of the Fingerpost," the book is a thoughtful, if not compelling read. Pears' balancing of three lives of men who live in different eras but who have similar problems and desires is interesting, once you get into it. But his vague references to philosophy can be irritating and even boring at times. Least well-developed is the story about Manlius. The most thought-provoking element of the book, in my view, is the ethical issue of collaboration with the Vichy government. Weighing Marcel's rationalizations about keeping order and maintaining a government in Provence against the life-and-death decisions he -- and Julien -- sometimes have to make in the name of maintaining that order makes one think about how you would act in the same circumstances.
sturlington on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This story of three significant periods in the history of Provence and the interconnected lives of three men living in each time ¿ each linked by a philosophical treatise called ¿The Dream of Scipio¿ ¿ would probably require multiple readings to understand the nuances and connections fully. But on first read, it was very engaging following the events in the life of a Roman elite and philosopher witnessing ¿ and perhaps contributing to ¿ the fall of Rome while writing ¿The Dream¿; a poet caught up in the political machinations of the Catholic Church during the Black Plague; and a scholar studying botht he philosopher and the poet from his vantage point in history as the Nazis invade France. All three men are also linked by their loves for formidable and similar women, and the different ways they deal with their love affairs provide most of the suspense. This is a fascinating work of historical fiction with many interesting ideas and themes hidden beneath the surface; even if the author is not entirely successful in pulling together all the myriad pieces of his large tapestry, he does produce an enlightening tale.
riotex on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The story follows three unrelated men living at different times in history in the same small town in France. Manlius around 400, Olivier around 1400, and Julien 1900's. Different times, but similar circumstances and issues. Manlius deals with the invasion of barbarians during the collapse of Rome, Olivier with the Black Plague, and Julien with the Nazis. They each deal in their own different ways with falling in love during difficult times, how should one live in the face of obstacles. The novel is ambitious and pulls together OK. I had difficulty staying with it and caring about or connecting with three different protagonists and story lines. However, the attempt was interesting and the way Pears infuses the history of the times into the story kept my interest although the stories at time felt a bit flat. I enjoyed the interweaving of history, philosophy and religion - but the core stories got a little dull. A good book if not a great one.
RavRita on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Great book with an interweaving story. Story is based in France, politics, religion, enlightenment, and persecution of those that don¿t have money/power. Story is three separate stories with a common theme ¿ this same story can be replicated today and again in a couple of hundred years if we do not learn from our past actions ¿ which obviously we do not. The writer¿s ability to use historical characters and have them be an active participant in an historical fiction novel without changing them ¿ is truly a gift.
firebird013 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Again Pears uses a variety of viewpoints to explore an idea - in this case the fall into chaos as one civilization falls and a new order has yet to arise. Along with this is the possibility of a woman (women) of great sensitivity seeing with spiritual insight and wisdom what is not understood by the political powers of the day. The first time chosen is the movement from Pagan Rome with its insight into the mysteries, into Christianity with its intolerance for what had gone before. The second is the impact on society of the coming of plague. The final era is France on the verge of collapsing under Nazi invasion. A clever concept carried out competently, but without the deep satisfaction provided by An Instance of the Fingerpost.
apartmentcarpet on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This was long, boring, and pretentious. I'm sure the historical facts were meticulously researched, and the plot was quite intricate, but that doesn't make up for bad writing.
ElectricRay on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
There are solemn caveats within these review pages that The Dream of Scipio is substantively different to Pears' extraordinary preceding novel, An Instance of the Fingerpost. Well, I'm not so sure a "compare" isn't a more useful exercise than a "contrast".Scipio is executed differently, no doubt about it: Where Fingerpost was told, in four instalments, from the perspective of the protagonists, Scipio is narrated in a rather dislocated third person past tense. Pears can't hide his own prose behind the personality of his characters this time, and while it is crisply written, the dialogue is - and its subjects are - remarkably sterile. For example, Pears would have us believe that, having been informed his lover has been carted off to a Nazi concentration camp, a character would complain about it by drawing analogies to Ancient Rome. Now this might fit the intellectual scheme of the novel, but it reads like a dog. In Scipio, instead of four very different accounts of the same sequence of events, we have one account of three very different sequences of events - or do we? The parallels between the three sagas in Scipio are extraordinary, as if exactly the same scenario were playing out each time, History were repeating itself, only through the eyes of a different observer. This is really no more than a slight variation on the programme Pears adopted for Fingerpost.For all that, and despite being a good deal shorter, Scipio is by far the harder book to get through. Especially compared to their living, breathing, stinking counterparts in the Fingerpost, the characters of Scipio are off-puttingly one-dimensional. Barneuve in particular has no flesh to him at all. You get the sense here, far more than in Fingerpost, that this is the work of a doddery old academic written to please no-one but himself. I guess that's the licence granted by the extraordinary success of An Instance of the Fingerpost. The Dream of Scipio is erudite for the sake of being erudite, and at the expense of being entertaining. The Dream of Scipio is certainly a very clever, learned book and, at the death, extremely absorbing, but it burns too coldly in getting there to match the success of An Instance of the Fingerpost.
mngm on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
An amazing book. I bought this book seven years ago because I was arrested by the first sentence, and a period of invalidism recently caused me to take it down finally and read it. Human and heartbreaking, it follows three narratives in three distinct periods of history. The narratives braid throughout the book and demonstrate that there is nothing new under the sun, for the characters in each period share similar dilemmas and questions even though their pieces of civilization are very different from one another. Each story takes place during a time when that particular way of life is drastically changing, and the characters caught in the upheavals are called upon to make profound choices. What is civilization? Why should it be safeguarded, and by whom?In addition to being a wonderful historical novel (three, actually), I learned so much from this book. It led me to questions and internet chases that I'm certain I would not pursued had I not read it. It's a dense and chewy read, but very rewarding. Pears is an exceptional storyteller.
EJStevens on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A tangled web of three interconnected stories with a central theme of finding love in the face of death and chaos and of doing what is right. Manlius must decide whose side to be on as the Roman Empire falls. Olivier de Noyen is a young man in the wrong place at the wrong time during the spread of the Black Plague. Julien Barneuve is in France as the Natzi's invade during WWII.
primalprayer on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Memorable. I read it a few years ago and I keep thinking about how good it was.
woctune on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is (all at the same time) a great novel, a great mystery, and a wonderful discussion about what's most important when the world falls apart.
lyzadanger on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Iain Pears' novel about the ebb of civilizations, virtue and evil spans almost two millennia but very little geographical space: it tells three stories set at the brink of societal chaos in the south of France.Each of the three is related, and each shares a pattern. Writing echoed situations like this runs the risk of being either too parallel, and thus too obvious, or too vague, leaving the audience searching madly for hidden connections. Pears does an admirable job of navigating between these two rocky shores, giving enough connections between his temporally-scattered characters, but not too much.All three take place at historical pivot points, at times when the survival of western civilization is not assured. But Pears is not telling the story of the crises themselves, at least not directly. What he is focused on is characters in those times, who see the looming disaster in the offing, but whose own personal disasters crest before the ones that made it into the history books.Manlius, a worldly, epicurean landowner in late Antiquity, has to figure out how to keep at least part of southern Gaul safe from barbarians massing in the north, while around him the scaffolding of the fading Roman empire collapses. Olivier de Noyen, a spunky medieval poet and fiery-hearted lad, instigates himself between the encroaching, obliterating Black Death and the furious, murderous anti-Semitic mobs bent on finding justice, somewhere, anywhere.And Julien Barneuve, a slightly milquetoast and ultimately impenetrable academic, spends his days in libraries trying to piece together the pieces of Manlius' and Oliviers' fates, until World War II puts him in an impossible moral position.For all three men, destiny is set in the form of a woman. For Manlius, the steady and wise philosopher, Sophia. Olivier has Rebecca, the servant of a Rabbi, and Julien, like-named Julia, an artist, who is, dangerously, Jewish.Pears' stage is set for intricate unrolling of a fascinating tale. And nothing is done badly. Yet, looking back on the story, its investigations of great evils, and, possibly more insidious, smaller evils, of the responsibilities of civilization and the importance of understanding--for all of these admirable themes, the book didn't leave a blaze of meaning in my memory. The plot is more delicate than the times seem to demand, the philosophical examinations sometimes wandering and grandiose. Beautifully structured, academically sound, 'The Dream of Scipio' is worth a read. But it might not change your life.
JCO123 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Slow reading, but very interesting and insightful. Fun to read @ the end
MarshaKT on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book has taken almost a full year to get through about half of it. It's complex and thought-provoking - but somehow not all that compelling to get back to,
john257hopper on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This was ultimately a very moving story but it took me quite a while to get fully into it - nearly half way through in fact. The idea of the three interlinked time periods is a fascinating one, but the changes between each were often a bit too frequent for me to feel immersed in the story initially, even though I am very interested in all the periods themselves. When I started to feel properly engaged just under half way through, it took off, especially as the similarities between the crisis points in history emerged, the sense of civilisation crumbling around the protagonists and the same scapegoats, the Jews, often being blamed. The fates of the various characters were moving, especially Olivier in the Medieval timeline and Julien and Julia in the WWII one. A worthwhile read then, for which a little effort repays. 4/5
riverwillow on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is an ambitious novel dealing with issues surrounding love, faith and power as Pears interweaves the stories of three men who live in Avignon during different, but eventful, periods of history. Unfortunately Pears doesn't quite carry it off, and as a result I didn't care about the ultimate fates of the three men and the women that they loved. Which is a shame because Pears has some interesting ideas.