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The Dream of Scipio Paperback – June 3, 2003
Frequently Bought Together
Like his elegant debut, An Instance of the Fingerpost, Iain Pears's The Dream of Scipio is an inventive, gloriously detailed historical novel told from multiple viewpoints. But Pears has set himself an additional challenge by spreading his narrators over several centuries: there's the fifth century French nobleman and bishop, Manlius, a civilized man who has embraced the uncouth Christian faith in order to protect what he holds dear; an 11th-century scholar and troubadour named Olivier de Noyen, the famously ill-fated admirer of a married girl; and Julien Barneuve, an early 20th-century scholar of de Noyen who discovers, through him, a magnificent manuscript of Manlius's called "The Dream of Scipio." Though all three men come from the same small Provençal town, it is this manuscript, derived from the teachings of a wise woman, that links the three narrative threads of Pears's story. At the heart of The Dream of Scipio and, one suspects, at the heart of its author, is the conflict between a classical ideal of learning and the contemplation of beauty, and the noisy, uncivilized, democratizing impulses of the Christian era. A novel of ideas like its predecessor, The Dream of Scipio is neither chilly nor didactic and doesn't shy away from depicting the costs of its narrators' unpopular devotions. --Regina Marler --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
Critic Harold Bloom once opined that literature is a series of misprisions, or misreadings, by writers of their predecessors. Although Pears might not have had Bloom in mind in his latest novel, the premise is an unlikely embodiment of Bloom's thesis. The story unfolds in three time frames, in each of which a man and a woman are in love, civilization itself is crumbling and Jews become the scapegoats for larger cultural anxieties. In the first scenario, Manlius is a wealthy Roman living in Provence in the empire's crepuscular 5th century. Although he has received the last echo of Hellenic wisdom, he is surrounded by believers in a nasty sect he despises Christianity but must find some means to protect Provence from the barbarians. In fighting for "civilization," he becomes a bishop and the promoter, almost accidentally, of one of the West's first pogroms. In the next narrative time period, a manuscript of Manlius's poem, "The Dream of Scipio," a neo-Platonic allegory, is discovered by Olivier de Noyen, a Provencal poet of the 14th century. As his 20th-century interpreter, Julien Barneuve, discovers in investigating his violent death, de Noyen was attacked because he got caught up in a political intrigue in Avignon while trying to save his love, Rebecca, from a pogrom unleashed by the Black Death. Barneuve, Pears's third protagonist, has a Jewish lover, too, but is enmeshed in the racist policies of Vichy France. Pears has a nice sense of what it means to live in a time when things fall apart, and not only the center but even the peripheries will not hold. But the readers who flocked to An Instance of the Fingerpost might not find the pages turning so fast in this less mystery-driven outing.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top Customer Reviews
But if you are the sort of person who dips into Gibbon's Decline and Fall for pleasure; if what attracted you to "Fingerpost" was the way it made bygone, alien ways of being human palpable; or the subtlety of its characters' intrigues and political calculations; or its philosophical sophistication; or its grasp of both the moral ambiguity of the human situation, and the imperative to behave morally in the face of that ambiguity - then "The Dream of Scipio" will give you at least the same level of satisfaction as the last book.
Be warned that there are murders here (what is human history if not a catalogue of murders?), but no murder mystery.Read more ›
A mysterious 5th century manuscript by Manlius Hippomanes connects the parallel plots and eras: the waning days of the Roman Empire, as the barbarian hordes attack Gaul's borders and Manlius Hippomanes writes The Dream of Scipio; the 14th century in Avignon, when poet Olivier de Noyen discovers some of Manlius's writing and deals with papal intrigue, the Hundred Years War, and the Black Death; and the Vichy government in France during World War II, when Julien Barneuve, a scholar who has traced the Manlius manuscript, joins the Vichy government in an effort to "civilize" the German occupiers and prevent deportation of the Jews.
This is not a beach book--its excitement is far more thoughtful than sensational. Pears' characters are real, flawed people living and loving in times of crisis and experiencing conflicts with parents, teachers, friends, and mentors. These conflicts clearly parallel those in the wider world of their political alliances and governments, and ultimately affect their attitudes toward humankind in general.Read more ›
This story is not about events that need to be solved, but is about the motives of the people, what they believed, when, why, and how their actions changed. It is a well-balanced blend of history, philosophy, some romance (not as much as the jacket cover implies), and the choices that individuals can make. And, interestly, even though it is fairly clear where Pears comes out on the choices, the presentations of the characters were not basic black-n-white. Each character has some good reasons for what they did. And, each choice has some abiguity to it. No choice yields a 100% balance on the scales of justice.
From this standpoint, this is what I like best about Pears's writing. He is able to create a story that comes close to feeling real because events do not seem force-fitted to make things come out "right". Plus, he apparently does quite a bit of research to get the feel of the time right.
His choices of time were also fascinating. The end of the Roman empire because it was clear that it was the end and this impacted how people reacted. The period of the Black Death when there really could be no sense of historical trend because the plague was a random occurrence, not from the actions of men. And, the German occupation of France where, in general, it was clear the Germans would lose so people could make choices toward an expected result. Each context makes certain choices potentially more reasonable than others. No free lunches on exactly what the right answers are.
I plan on re-reading this again after I get through some other books that have been waiting while I spent my time with this one.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
The author poses provocative questions about morality, philosophy and intent, spanning three characters and 1,500 years.Published 2 months ago by Dan Beucke
Weaving together of the histories of the three main characters who lived centuries apart was well done.Published 4 months ago by Richard Ferber
Pears has done his research well. He takes us through the lives of persons living centuries apart but united by their search for knowledge and truth in a brutal world. Read morePublished 5 months ago by H. Blumberg-McKee
Fascinating intertwining of the three stories with similar moral questions in all three but centuries apart. Read morePublished 5 months ago by diva1
I am fond of Iain Pears' writing and this book is a fantastic example. The book explores the reality of history versus the stories we tell ourselves in different centuries and it... Read morePublished 6 months ago by Tower Lowe
Beautifully written. Incredible storyline. Unfortunately, I purchased the kindle version. I say unfortunately because whoever does the transfer from printed text to electronic... Read morePublished 14 months ago by A. Painter
There's so much to say for reading this fine work a second time. I loved itPublished 14 months ago by W. Robinson