Medieval Manuscripts in Law Book Bindings, no. 15

February 16, 2010

Fragment: Cicero’s “Dream of Scipio” (Italy)
Date: c. 1275-1325
Found in: Jame, Pierre. Aurea et famosissima practica. [Lyons: A. Dury, 1527.]

The parchment used to cover this volume features a portion of Cicero’s “Dream of Scipio” (“Somnium Scipionis”), the sixth book of his De re publica (completed in 51 BCE). Cicero wrote De re publica as a Roman version of Plato’s Republic, and the “Dream of Scipio” is the only substantial piece of the work to survive. In the dream, the grandfather of the Roman general Scipio Aemilianus appears and tells Scipio about the composition of the heavens, the fleeting nature of worldly fame, and the immortality of the soul (the latter two topics are mentioned in the visible fragment).

The “Dream of Scipio” survives because the late-antique Neo-Platonist philosopher Macrobius (fl. 395-423) wrote a commentary on the dream, to which an early copyist appended a complete copy of Cicero’s text. Macrobius’s commentary - which contained an elaborate system of dream classification - was highly respected in the Middle Ages. It served as one of the most important avenues of transmission for Platonist ideas, and as a foundational source for the Scholastic movement and medieval science in general. The “Dream of Scipio” is mentioned in the French dream-poem the Roman de la rose (13th century) as well as Geoffrey Chaucer’s dream-poems (14th century). Approximately fifty manuscripts of Macrobius’s commentary are known.

     – Notes by Benjamin Yousey-Hindes, Stanford University

POSTSCRIPT: Thanks to Richard Rouse (UCLA) for clarifying the origin of the manuscript fragment.

Larger versions of this and other images are available from the Medieval binding fragments gallery of the Rare Book Collection’s Flickr site. If you can provide additional information about the manuscript fragment displayed here, you are invited to send an email to .[at]>

“Reused, Rebound, Recovered: Medieval Manuscript Fragments in Law Book Bindings” is curated by Benjamin Yousey-Hindes and Mike Widener, and is on display through May 2010 in the Rare Book Exhibition Gallery, Level L2, Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School.

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