Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Now the last age of Cumae's prophecy has come;
The great succession of centuries is born afresh.
Now too returns the Virgin; Saturn's rule returns;
A new begetting now descends from heaven's height.
O chaste Lucina, look with blessing on the boy
Whose birth will end the iron race at last and raise
A golden through the world: now your Apollo rules.
And, Pollio, this glory enters time with you;
Your consulship begins the march of the great months;
With you to guide, if traces of our sin remain,
They, nullified, will free the lands from lasting fear.
This is a small portion (lines 4-14) of Virgil's fourth eclogue. The Penguin Classics introduction says he probably wrote the fourth eclogue in the latter part of the first century B.C. about the dynastic marriage of Antony and Octavia. But many of the Church fathers, like Augustine and Lactantius, interpreted it as a prophecy of Christ's coming. It's easy to see how the interpretation could be made what with the references to the birth of a boy-king, the Virgin, the end of wars and violence, the perishing of the snake, and the lingering of the "old deceit." I read an interesting article in the Classical Journal about the Christian interpretation and it says Constantine was the first to do so, but he removed all the parts about pagan deities, which makes sense.

I don't know what to think about this. Were the the Church fathers just playing games? Obviously Virgil didn't have the incarnation of our Lord in mind when he wrote this, but I'm not sure whether it's necessary for a prophet to know that he's prophecying (like in John 18:14 where Caiaphas says it's good that one man should die for the people). I like the idea of thinking this is a prophecy, but it's not very defensible and probably doesn't matter. What do you think?


schupack said...

I draw upon my vast store of classical and theological knowledge to declare that yes, it is a prophecy of the coming of Christ. I mean, that keeps things interesting, and I like when things are interesting.

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