EDITOR’S NOTE: Students do not “specialize.” Students take five or six courses simultaneously and are expected to perform at a high level across the curriculum. This LEO post includes two artifacts of work–one from a Latin III Honors course and one from an American Literature course–by Becca Shea, a V Former. This is simply a microcosm that evinces the impressive ability of a student to multi-task academically, which happens in educational realms every day.
By Becca Shea, V Form
Epicurean Somnium Scipionis (Latin III)
The aristocrat class of Rome divided into two philosophical factions known as Stoicism and Epicureanism. Somnium Scipionis is a story based off of the ideals of Stoics, thus if written from the perspective of an Epicurean, many details would be altered. Unlike Stoics, Epicureans did not believe in a heaven after life. Somnium Scipionis is a story of a man visiting his grandfather in heaven in a dream, so the start of the story must be altered slightly. Also dissimilar to Stoic beliefs, Epicureans did not believe the soul lived on: the soul, which was made up of composite atoms, died with the body. However, they did not fear death itself either.
After a long night of drinks and discussion, I proceeded to go to bed, only to have the strongest dream. Africanus came to me on Earth in a dream. His soul was no longer dead, but his return sparked no emotion, either. No tears flowed because I knew that atoms had to end and I was not afraid of that.
The above passage is an Epicurean alteration of the Stoic passage as seen translated in J.G.F Powell’s Cicero:
“Then the company broke up and we went to bed; and I, since I was tired from the journey and had stayed awake very late, fell into a deeper sleep than is usual for me…Africanus himself appeared to me. His appearance was more familiar to me from his effigy than from real life. I was seized with fear when I recognized him…”
The Stoics believed that they themselves had a duty towards nature and God. Epicureans were more influenced by science and logic, following a social construct of something similar to transcendentalism. Simplicity was the best approach to life and the fittest would survive, a concept like social Darwinism. In Somnium Scipionis, the Stoic perspective included knowing that you, yourself, were insignificant in comparison to the large scheme of things. Epicureans felt like individual pleasure and pain were important.
The empire you are creating is a wondrous thing, said Africanus. Time is of the essence, with death comes end of consciousness. Therefore, spend your life on Earth in simplicity but with value. You may be chosen as consul for a second time, and you may bring great war. “For when your life has completed eight times seven revolutions around the sun” your name will be recognized. The state will be in your hands temporarily. The more you enjoy this task, the more successful you will become.
“Here Africanus, you must show to your country the light of your mind, your intelligence and your wise counsel. But at that time I see, as it were, a fork in the road of destiny. For when your life has completed eight times seven revolutions and returnings of the sun…then the whole state will turn towards you and call upon your name…For, of all at least that is done on earth, there is nothing more pleasing to that supreme God who rules the whole universe…”
The Stoics believed in the concept of soul being detached from the body, the “Unmoved Mover”. They believed the stars and the planets did not have an origin, neither did God. That, which is eternal, will move forever. The Epicureans did not believe that the soul continued on, did not believe the planets would move forever, and therefore did not believe in God. Much of Somnium Scipionis is about the insignificance of Rome and the power of the after life. According to Stoics, on earth you are “dead” and only in heaven do you live. Epicureasn did not believe in a heavenly afterlife, but saw the spirit and body as one entity that would decompose after death. Therefore, the end of Somnium Scipionis is antithetic of Epicurean philosophy.
And then, Elder Scipio left a word of advice to his grandchild. “The planets will not move forever. Therefore there is no God. There is no known beginning, but there must be an end. Therefore, nothing is eternal, and God cannot be real. Pay attention to your fame, because that may live on. The small struggles of man are not insignificant. The Magnus Annus does not prove true.” And with that, Scipio awoke from his dream, and his grandfather was no longer sitting in his presence.
“So it is that the beginning of motion comes from that which is moved by itself, but that cannot be born or die, or the whole heaven and all of nature would necessarily collapse and come to a halt, nor would it find any force to set it moving in the first instance.”
Selling Time (A “Comparative Essay” in English class)
The historical fiction novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and the modern short story “Rain Delay” seem to be unrelated, based on different plots in antithetic settings. Additionally, Huck Finn focuses on themes drastic to those of “Rain Delay.” However, within the contrasting stories, similarities can be found between the two protagonists, Huck Finn and Caroline. Both characters are faced with a decision that could ultimately be predetermined by opinions of society. Huck Finn and Caroline are morally obliged to decide between personal desire and expectations of others. The moral dilemmas these characters face place them in similar situations. Huck Finn and Caroline are in opposing perspectives of theoretically the same situation; their innocence is impacted by society and by characters whose fate is in the hands of others.
The contrasting time elapsed in both stories share the commonality of the theme of moral obligation. Huck Finn and Caroline struggle to maintain their own opinions over the influence of others. Huckleberry Finn is stretched over a long period of time, showing Jim and his struggle with slavery in America’s history. “Rain Delay” focuses on one specific event that forces Caroline to choose if she should succumb to society’s assumption that she is in a relationship or stand her ground with her own opinion. Huck Finn has one month to decide whether or not to turn in the company he has made on his journey: Jim attempting to escape the social boundaries constricted on him because of his skin color. Huck Finn does not conform to the condescending, white, supremacist norm of his race. He is deciding if he is compelled to act this way because of societal restrictions consistent of the time period of which this story takes place, battling his own opinion with the opinion of others: “It was a close place. I took . . . up [the letter I’d written to Miss Watson], and held it in my hand. I was a-trembling, because I’d got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it”. As seen in chapter 31, this quote exemplifies that Huck is torn between two options. Caroline in “Rain Delay” has one single day, and one single event that allows society, and her date, Kyle, to choose her future. She kisses Kyle at a Red Sox game, which is broadcast on television, and her peers and teachers assume they are now dating because of it. Caroline doesn’t agree to this, but does not know if she is allowed to stand up for her opinion with the assumption society has forced on her.
Huck Finn had the fate of someone else at his disposal while someone else was responsible for Caroline’s future. In this aspect, the two protagonists’ moral dilemmas were dissimilar. Huck Finn had control over Jim’s freedom, and Kyle, Caroline’s date, determined their relationship status and points in her life beyond because of that. However, Huck Finn and Caroline did not choose to be bided with such responsibility or the lack of it. Because of the automatic control Huck Finn was granted upon meeting Jim, Huck Finn’s moral dilemma shifted to a problem much greater than himself, hastening his maturing and threatening his own beliefs. If in a relationship with Kyle, Caroline would be stripped of her own individual pursuit of happiness because Kyle’s opinions would alter the paths of her future decisions. This lessens her maturity and encourages her dependence on another person. Jim was a slave and had no freedom. Huck had the ability to decide if that would change. Caroline was single and free, and Kyle was able to change that.
Although written in 1884, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn takes place prior to the Civil War, and “Rain Delay” is written about modern times in 2007. Huck was confronted with a decision that revolved around the misconceptions on colored people. The moral dilemma he faced was directly related to political debates of the time Huck’s journey took place in. His debates would not be relevant if the setting was modern day. Caroline’s personal problem centered on dominance and dependence within a relationship, a dilemma which reoccurs in relationships no matter the time period during which they are experienced. The time periods of the stories are relevant to both protagonists’ moral dilemma. In Huck’s case, it was potent to the plot itself. In Caroline’s story, the time period would not have impacted the overlying theme of individuality because it is not dependent on history. Huck is influenced by the moments he shared with Jim, and Caroline does not want to stand up for herself because of what she shares with Kyle. Time is measured in minutes and memories, directly modifying the moral dilemmas one may face along the journey.
Samuel Langhorne Clemens and Michelle von Euw both wrote successful stories; The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and “Rain Delay” corresponded not only to the time, but also the place the authors were raised in. With the pseudonym of Mark Twain, Clemens based his novel off of historical fact that he matured around in the state he was born in, slavery and Missouri. Von Euw was educated in Boston, home of Fenway Park and of Caroline and Kyle’s relationship. These perspectives through personal experiences emphasize the truth behind both stories. Readers can assume that the journey Huck and Caroline went through are realistic to the place and time each one takes place in because the authors shared memories of the setting with the protagonists.
Becca Shea is V Form boarding student from Middleton, MA, who lives in Gaccon House. She plays lacrosse, is a Peer Discussion Leader, and is on the Student Activities Committee.