The Dream of Scipio
By Iain Pears
Three narratives, set in the fifth, fourteenth, and twentieth centuries, all revolving around an ancient text and each with a love story at its centre, are the elements of this ingenious novel, a follow-up to the bestselling, An Instance Of The Fingerpost.
The centuries are the fifth (the final days of the Roman Empire); the fourteenth (the years of the Black Death); and the twentieth (World War II). 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 civilisation itself is threatened, whether by acts of man or nature? Does virtue lie more in engagement or in neutrality? “Power without wisdom is tyranny; wisdom without power is pointless,” warns one of Pears’s characters.