Somnium Scipionis
Somnium Scipionis

Omnia nata quidem pereunt et adulta fatiscunt;
nec manet in rebus quicquam mortalibus; unde
vir etenim sperare potest populusve quod alma
Roma nequit? facili labuntur saecula passu:
tempora diffugiunt; ad mortem curritis; umbra,
umbra estis pulvisque levis vel in aethere fumus
exiguus, quem ventus agat. quo sanguine parta
gloria? quo tanti mundo fugiente labores?
stare quidem vultis, sed enim rapidissima caeli
vos fuga praecipitat. cernis quam parva pudendi
imperii pateant circum confinia nostri?
haec tamen heu quanto nobis extenta labore!
nunc quoque quam multo vobis servanda periclo!
finge quod esse potest, et erit, nisi Fata benigni
paenitet incepti: totius sola sit orbis
Roma caput, terris dominetur sola subactis.
quid tamen hic magnum? tanto quid nomine dignum
invenis? angustis arctatus finibus orbis
insula parva situ est, curvis quam flexibus ambit
Oceanus, viden ut parvus cognomine magno?
nec tamen hanc totam incolitis. nam multa paludes,
multa tenent silvae; pars rupibus hispida torpet,
parsque riget glacie; pars squalet inusta calore,
serpentumque domos calidis tegit aestus harenis.
utque simul totum videas, huc lumina volve.
verticibus caeli adversos atque alta tenentes
cernis stare polos, subiectaque cuncta duobus
perpetuo durata gelu? Prohibetur ab illa
stirps hominum regione procul; nil nascitur illic
quod victum praestare queat. qua semita solis
latior, obliquusque vagis it circulus astris,
ignibus arva rubent, mediusque exaestuat ingens
pontus et ardorem male caeli temperat humor
(Petrarch, Africa 2.344-377)

Everything that has been born dies and grows weak when aged. Nothing in mortal affairs is lasting. How can a man and his people hope for what mother Rome cannot? The centuries will slip by with little suffering. Ages will pass. You will hasten to your death. You are a shade, light ash or a bit of smoke, which even the wind may move. For what purpose is glory gained by blood? To what purpose are great labors in a fleeting world? Though you wish to stay, heaven’s swiftest flights cast you down. Do you see how close our shameful empire’s boundaries extend? With what great labor we stretched them! Now with how much danger must you likewise guard these things! Do what can be done, and it will be accomplished, unless these fruitful undertakings displease the Fates. Let Rome alone be the head of the entire world. Let her alone be mistress of conquered lands. Is it still a great thing? Do you find it worthy of such a name? The world is an island wedged in a small space by narrow boundaries, which winding Ocean embraces in his ambit. Do you not see how small it is, though great of name? Nor do you inhabit it all. For the marshes hold many, as do the forests. The rougher part is weighed down by crags, and another is stiffened by ice. The scorched part is burned by heat. Fire covers the homes of serpents with searing sands. Turn your eyes this way so that you may see the whole thing at once. Do you see that each pole that stands at heaven’s peaks supporting the heights has been made subject to and hardened by everlasting ice? The race of men has been forbidden from that far-off land. Nothing grows there that can sustain life. There the path of the sun is wider, its slanting circle goes among the wandering stars, the fields redden with fire, the great middle sea boils, and its subterranean liquid cools heaven’s fire poorly. (tr. Erik Z.D. Ellis)

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