William Mitchell Ramsay.

The bearing of recent discovery on the trustworthiness of the New Testament online

. (page 26 of 33)
Online LibraryWilliam Mitchell RamsayThe bearing of recent discovery on the trustworthiness of the New Testament → online text (page 26 of 33)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


appealed to Virgil. He saw that Augustus had wise plans,
and skill to carry them into effect. He was a convinced
adherent and apostle of the Emperor. The union of science
and government had made the Mediterranean world fertile.
The science had originally been supplied by the theocratic
order, when the accumulated experience and growing wisdom
of a people was concentrated at the hieron of each district,
where the Goddess educated and guided, nourished and
tended her people. The union of science and government
was now b^inning to make Italy perfect under the new
Empire ; that union would soon destroy every noxious plant
and animal, produce all useful things in abundance from
the soil, tame all that was wild, improve nature to an infi-
nite degree, make the thorn-tree laugh and bloom witii
flowers : it would naturalize in Italy all that was best in
foreign lands, and thus render Italy independent of imports,
and so perfectly self-sufficient that navigation would be
unnecessary. This was the imperial salvation, on which see
Chap. XV.

In this last detail we have one of those startingly modem
touches, which so often surprise us in Roman literature.
Virgil would have no free trade. The ideal he aimed at
was that Italy should depend on itself alone, and not on
sea borne products. His ideal is here different from and
narrower than the Imperial. He does not think of binding



Digitized by VjOOQIC



XXIII . " Your Poets have Saidr 331

the lands of the whole Empire into a unity, as the Emperors
desired ; he wishes only that Italy should learn to produce
everything for itself and that thereafter the "estranging
sea " should once more separate the lands, and navigation
should cease. He probably had not thought of all that
was implied in this ideal ; but the modem form would be
that the single Empire should be self-sufficient within its
own limits, and not that Italy alone should produce all that
it needs.

That the Fourth Eclogue stands in close relation with
the new Empire is obvious. It is the wise new system of
rule that is to produce these blessed results for Italy. But
there is as yet no trace of the autocratic idea in the poem.
Augustus is neither named nor directly alluded to.

Vii^l thinks of the continuance, in an improved form,
of the old Roman system of constitutional government by
magistrates {honores\ of the political career open to all
Romans in the old way, and of the military training which
was the foundation and an essential part of the Roman
education. War must continue for a time, in order that
the young Roman may be educated in the true Roman
fashion. But it will be foreign war, carried on in the East ;
new Argonauts must explore and conquer and bring under
the Roman peace the distant Orient ; a new Achilles was
sailing for another Troy in the person of Antony, who was
charged with the government of the whole East and the
conduct of the Parthian war. The triumvirate, Antony,
Augustus,^ and Lepidus, was not in appearance an autocracy ;
it was, in name at least, a board of three commissioners

1 For convenient reference we mmy nse by antidpation this title, which
was not bestowed till January, 37 b.c. ; it marked a great step forward in
the personal and autocratic rale of Augustus, and a noteworthy step in the
way towards his deification.



Digitized by VjOOQIC



332 XXIII. •* Your Poets have Saidr

for establishing the Republic, professedly a temporary ex-
pedient to cure the troubles of the state. To speak or
'diink of a single Emperor, or to connect the salvation of
Rome with any single human being, was treason to the
triumvirate, and was specially out of place at die moment
when Vii^l was writing, shortly after the peace of
Brundisium had established concord and equality between
Antony and Augustus. In the Eclc^e a mar^ obvious
allusion is, in (act, made to Antony than to Augustus, for
every one at the time recognized Antony in the new Achilles
who was starting for an eastern war: the Provinces east
of the Adriatic Sea were under Antony's charge, and a
Parthian war was in progress.

But, while Antony is more directly alluded to, die
thought that incites the poem and warms the poet's
enthusiasm is the wise and prudent administration of Italy
by Augustus. That is the real subject The enlightened
forethought of Augustus and Agrippa made their rule die
b^inning of a new era in Italy ; and Virgil looked forward
to a continuous growth in the countiy.

Still less is there any dynasdc thought in the Fourdi
Eclogue. The idea that an expected son of Augustus, or
the son of any other distinguished Roman, is alluded to, is
anachronistic and simply impossible. Every attempt to
identify the young child mentioned in the poem with any
actual child bom or to be bom has been an utter fid lure,
and takes this Eclogue from a false point of view.

Least of all is there any idea in the Fourth Eclogue of
deifying either Augustus personally or a son of his who
might hereafter be bom.^ That view is not merely untrue

^ The idea of some literary critics is that the poem celebrates the birth
of an expected son, who ttnfortnnately for the poet tamed oot to be a
<laiighter. This idea is really too absurd for anjrone but a confirmed



Digjt^ed by ^O OOX Q-



XXIII. *• Your Poets have Saidr 335

to the existing facts of the conjoint government and the
union of Augustus and Antony ; it misunderstands and
misrepresents the development of the Imperial idea and the
growth (or growing perversion) of thought in Rome ; it
places Virgil on a plane of feeling far too low ; it is a hope-
less anachronism in every point of view. Schaper, in a
very interesting paper, pointed out many years ago that
the deification of Augustus and his son and his dynasty was
wholly inconsistent with the composition of the Eclogue
so early as 40 a C. The paper was convincing and, in a
certain way, conclusive. But instead of drawing the in-
ference that the deification of the dynasty is a false idea,
read into the poem under the prejudice caused by the
development of history in the years following after A.D. 40,.
he propounded the impossible theory that the poem was
composed at a later time, viz. in the period ending June,
23 B.C., when Augustus was governing no longer as triumvir,
but as consul, and was practically sole master of the Empire,,
though maintaining the Republican forms and the nominal
election of another consul along with himself. To support
this theory, Schaper eliminated the illusion to Polio's
consulship, which fixes the composition to the year 40 B.C.,.
reading Solis instead of Polio} To make this theory
possible chronologically, and reconcile it with the date of
publication of the Eclogues not very long after 40 ac.»
Schaper supposed that the Fourth Eclc^e was composed
at a later date, and Inserted in a revised second edition of
the Eclogues.'

Uterafy and " Higher " Critic. A poet does not work to ; even a <* poet
laureate" conld not work under inch coodttiont.

1 At he pointed out, the correct spelling of the name was Polio, and not
PoUio.

* Two others, the Sixth and the Tenth, were also supposed by Schaper
to have been composed for the enlarged second edition.



Digitized by VjOOQIC



334 XXIII. ** Your Poets have Said:'

These impossible buttresses of Schaper's theory were uni-
versally rejected ; the faults of his paper distracted atten-
tion from its real merits ; and the perfectly unanswerable
argument from which he started was tacitly set aside, as if
it shared in the error of the theory which he had superim-
posed upon it.

The truth is that the poem belongs to an earlier stage of
thought than the worship of Augustus ; and the Divine
idea in it was still so vague that it was readily capable of
being developed in accordance with subsequent history.
But it was equally capable of being developed in a different
direction and in a nobler and truer style. Had the Pauline
idea of Christianity as the religion of the Empire been suc-
cessfully wrought out during the first century, the Fourth
Eclogue would have seemed equally suitable to that line of
development The later popular instinct, which rq^rded
the poem as a prophecy of the birth of Christ, was not
wholly incorrect The poem contained an inchoate idea,
unformed and vague, enshrining and embodying that uni-
versal need which indicated " the fulness of time ** and the
world's craving for a Saviour. The Roman world needed
a Saviour ; it was conscious of its need ; it was convinced
that only Divine intervention could furnish a Saviour for it
Paul was fully aware that this universal craving and unrest
and pain existed in the Roman world ; and he saw therein
the presage of the birth of Divine truth. "The whole
creation groaneth and travaileth in pain until now."

The political side of the Fourth Eclogue is emphatically
marked, and was indubitably recognized universally at the
time. It suited the situation, and it glorified the wise
policy of Augustus. We are not blind to it But the
significance of this aspect should not blind us to the fact
that this alone is quite insufficient to explain the genesis and



Digitized by VjOOQIC



XXIII. •• Your Poets have Saidr 335

the full meaning of the poem. Professor Mayor ^ here seems
to us to be in the right, as has been argued from additional
reasons in the later part of this paper. Virgil had learned
something from Hebrew poetry and especially from Isaiah.
The Hebrew idea of a growth towards a happier future
through the birth of a Divine child was simmering in his
mind, when Horace's despairing poem declaring that no
happiness for Rome could be found except in voluntary
exile to the Islands of the West caught his attention, and
drew from him a reply. As a convinced and enthusiastic
supporter of Augustus, he declared that peace and happiness
was being realized in Italy by the wise rule of the triumvir.
With this he interwove the almost universal thought of his
contemporaries that Divine aid alone could afford real and
permanent improvement in the condition of the state ; and
this Divine aid expressed itself to him in the form that he
had caught from the Hebrew poetry.

Whom then did he think of as the child ? He must have
had some idea in his mind There can be no doubt as to
this, if we simply look at the genesis of the Imperial cult
The power of that cult lay in a certain real fact, the majesty
and dignity and character of the Roman people, which was
assumed to be represented by the Emperor as the head of
the state. Augustus permitted worship of himself only in
the form of a cult of Rome and Augustus *'. To a Roman
like Virgil in 40 B.C., the Divine child, who embodies the
future of Rome, who has to go through the education of
war and magistracies (as the poem declares), could only be
" Rome," i.e. the Roman people collectively, the new gen-
eration of Rome, born under happier auspices and destined
to glory and advancement in power and in happiness. As

^See his paper in the ** Expositor,** April, 1907.



Digitized by VjOOQIC



336 XXIIL " Your Poets have Saidr

Virgil elsewhere apostrophizes the one Roman as typical of
the race and its destiny,^ and as Macaulay, imitating him,
uses the same figurative speech, ''Thine, Roman, is the
pilum," to paint the Roman racial character, so here the
Latin poet, with the Hebrew thought of a child in his mind,
can describe the birth and in&ncy of the child as really
taking place with the natural concomitants.^

There was more than this in Virgil's poem, more than
he was fully conscious of; but this he had in his mind He
did not see, what we can now see, that there was placed
before the Empire a dilemma and a necessity. It was a
necessity that a new religion should arise for the consolida-
tion of the Empire. There was proposed for the Empire
by Paul the new religion of Christ. The Emperors, in re-
fusing the proposal, were inevitably driven to lay stress
more and more upon the Imperial religion and the Imperial
God It is not always fully realized that this cult was not
very much insisted on until the reign of Domitian, under
whom the opposition to Christianity was first developed
fully to its logical consequences. Augustus, who instituted
the Imperial cult as a support of the state, was always a
little ashamed of it ; and his successors ' had something of
the same feeling, until Domitian b^an to take a real
pleasure and pride in it

It seems to the present writer, as it does to Professor
J. B. Mayor,* impossible to understand the Fourth Eclogue
without the supposition that Virgil had experienced a certain
influence from Hebrew poetry ; and other reasons for this

1 In the fiamous line, often quoted, in tigen impirio populos, Romamt
m$menio.

* Ab in lines 60 f.

* It is difficult to make up one's mind whether Caligula did not regard it
as all a ioke, when he talked of his brother Jupiter.

* •* Expositor,** April, 1907.



Digitized by VjOOQIC



XXIIL •• Your Poets have Said!' 337

opinion besides those mentioned by Professor Mayor will
be mentioned in the following pages.

But, whereas Professor Mayor is inclined to reject the
supposition that this influence came direct to Vii^l from
the works of Isaiah as translated (we must, of course, under-
stand a Greek, not a Latin, translation), and argues that
the Roman poet knew no more of the Hebrew poet than
what filtered through the poor medium of the Sibylline
Books, I confess that this appears to me an inadequate
hypothesis, and that there seems no difficulty to prevent
us from believing Virgil to have been acquainted with a
Gredc translation of Isaiah. It is mentioned by ancient
authorities that he had read widely in remote r^ons of
philosophy ; and as Isaiah had certainly been translated
into Greek, and as the lofty religious thought of the Jews
had certainly exercised a strong influence over many
Roman minds and over the popular imagination of the
ancient Roman world, it seems quite a fiur supposition that
he had become acquainted with Isaiah in Gredc.

I shall not, however, enter on this question, except to
remark that the influence on Villi's metre in this poem
(which will be pointed out in the sequel) seems inconsistent
with the idea that he was indebted to the Sibylline verses
alone. I am not concerned to deny or to affirm anything
about his having seen the Sibylline poems ; but it seems
quite safe to assert, in the first place, that no such common-
place lines as make up those poems could have any influence
on Virgil's metrical form — one might as soon imagine that
Shelley was influenced in his metrical form by Shadwell or
Pye ; and, in the second place, that only the original expres-
sion of the ideas in the suitable metrical form by a great
poet could have determined Viigil to make this unique
experiment in Latin metre — an experiment which he never

22



Digitized by VjOOQIC



338 XXIII. •• Your Poets luwe ScdcU'

repeated— -or could have inspired him to express die antid-
pations of the champions of the New Empire in so Hebrak
and un-Roman a form.

We m^y assume all that Professor Mayor has so well said
about the relation of Virgil's details and words to Isaiah.
I shall add some remarks on the Hebrew and non-Roman
character of the main subject and of the metre, and on the
form in which Virgil develops an idea which was floating
before the minds of many in Italy at the time. To show
how naturally our results rise from the facts, I shall use the
statement which I made on the subject many years ago to
a meeting of the Franco-Scottish Society, only slightly
modifying the form, but leaving the thoughts unchanged.

There are two facts which determine the evolution of
this ideal picture in Virgil's poem. Virgil is perfectly
sure that the glorified and idealized Italy of his vision is
being realized in their own time and before their own eyes»
and he connects that realization with a new-bom child
These are two ideas to which no real parallel can be found
in preceding Gredc or Roman literature. The Better Age
had been conceived by the Greeks as lying in the past, and
the world's history as a progress towards decay. Even
where a cycle of ages was spoken of by the Gredc philoso-
phers, it was taken rather as a proof that no good thing
could last, than as an encouragement to look forward to
a better future. Moreover, Virgil's new age, though spoken
of in his opening lines as a part of a recurring cycle, is not
pictured before his view as evanescent ; it is coming, but
its end is not seen and not thought of by him.

How does Virgil arrive at his firm conviction that the
best is last, and that the best is surely coming, nay that
it now is ? We cannot regard it as arising entirely fiiom
his own inspiration, springing mature and full-grown,



Digitized by VjOOQIC



XXIIL ** Your Poets have Saidr 339

like Athena from the head of Zeus. Rather we must
agree with Professor Mayor that we ought to trace the stages
in its development to the perfect form which it has in this
poem.

Again, the association of a young child with this coming
age is something entirely alien to Greek and Roman thought
It springs from a sense of a divine purpose, developing in
the growth of the race and working itself out in the life
of other new generations, a thought not in itself foreign
to the philosophical speculation of Greece, but taking
here a form so unusual that it imperatively demands
our recognition and explanation. It was too delicate for
the philosophers, though one finds it to a certain degree
in the poets. Nowhere can we find any previous philosophy
or religion that had grasped the thought firmly and unhesi-
tatingly, except among the Hebrew race. To the Hebrew
prophets, and to them alone, the Better Age lay always
in the future : —

The best is yet to be,
The lut of life, for which the first was made.

The Hebrews always recognized that the divine purpose
reserved for them a future better than the past, and they
alone associated the coming of the Better Age with the birth
of a child. We must, I think, look to the East and to
Hebrew poetry for the germ from which Vii^il's poem
developed, though in the process of development nourish-
ment from many other sides determined its growth and
affected its character.

Looking at the poem from another point of view, we
recognize that it is a metrical experiment, which Virgil
tried in this one case and never repeated. Its metrical
character seemed to him appropriate to his treatment of
this one subject ; but he found no other subject fi^ch it



Digitized by VjOOQIC



340 XXIIL *• Your Poets ^ have Satdr

suited, and he considered that the true development of the
heroic verse lay in another direction.

Landor, in his criticisms on Catullus's twelfth od^ has
the following remarks on the metrical character of this
Eclogue. "The worst, but most admired, of Virgil's
Eclogues, was composed to celebrate the birth of Pollio's
son in his consulate. In this Eclogue, and in this alone,
his versification fails him utterly. The lines afford one
another no support For instance this sequence (lines
4-6):-

Ultiina Ciim«i venit Jam carminis etas.
Magnos ab integro asclomm naadtyr ordo.
Jam redh eC Virgo, redeont Satumia regna.

Toss them in a bag and throw them out, and they will
&11 as rightly in one place as another. Any one of them
may come first ; any one of them come last ; any one of
them may come immediately ; better that any one should
never come at all." But in this criticism (apart from the
fact that the force of the lines would suffer seriouisly if
they were transposed, though grammar and metre might
be uninjured), Landor has not observed that Virgil is
deliberately trying an experiment in order to obtain a
special effect We do not maintain that the ruling metrical
form would be suitable for ordinary Latin use, but its em-
ployment in this case is obviously intentional and dictated
by the subject ; it is no case of accidental failure in versi*
fication.

The two most distinguishing and salient metrical char-
acteristics of this Ecl(^^ are, first, that the stops coincide
more regularly with the ends of lines than in any other
passage of Vii^l, so that to a large extent each single verse
gives a distinct sense; and, secondly, that in a number
of cases the second half of the line repeats with slight



Digitized by VjOOQIC



XXIII . " Your Poets have Saidr 341

variation the meaning of the first half, or, when the sense
is enclosed in two hexameters, the second repeats the mean-
ing of the first These characteristics are unlike any pre-
vious treatment of the hexameter. As to the first, it is
true that in the earliest stages of Virgil's metre the stops
are placed at the ends of lines to a much greater extent
than in its later stages. But there is a general agreement
among Latin scholars that the fourth Eclogue is not the
earliest ; and even compared with the earliest, its metre is
seen to be something peculiar and apart

These characteristics are distinctly those of Hebrew
poetry ; and it appears to me that the metrical treatment
of this Eclogue can hardly be explained except as an experi-
ment made in imitation of the same original, firom which
sprang the central conception of the Better Age surely
approaching, and inaugurated by the birth of a child.
Virgil found the idea and the metrical form togetfier ;
that is to say, he did not gather the idea from a secondary
source, but had read it (in translation) as expressed by a
great writer, whose poetic form dominated his mind for the
moment Only a writer of the loftiest poetic power could
have so affected the mind of ViigiL We notice, too, that
the peculiar metrical form is most marked where the ex-
pression approaches the prophetic type, while in the de-
scriptive parts the metre is closer to the form common in
the Eclogues.

That such an origin for Virgil's idea is possible, will be
doubted by no one who takes properly into account both
the width of his reading, and the influence which the strange
and unique character of the Jewish nation and religion
(and here the religion made and was the nation) already
had exerted and was exerting on the Graeco-Roman world.
That is a subject over which there hangs, and must always



Digitized by VjOOQIC



342 XXIIL " Your Poets have Saidr

hang, a thick veil ; but enough is known to give us increasing
certainty, as time goes on, that the fascination which
Judaism exerted on a certain class of minds was very strong,
and its influence on Roman society far greater than is appar-
ent in the superficial view which alone is permitted us in
the dearth of authorities.

Finally, the often quoted analogies with several passages
of the prophet Isaiah afford some indication as to the
identity of the great poet whose words, either in a Gredc
translation or in extracts, had come before Viigil, and
influenced the development of his thought. It is true that
there are numerous points in this Eclogue which go back
to Greek models. The ideas taken up by Virgil from a
Semitic source are developed in a mind rich with Hellenic
knowledge and strong with a vigorous Italian life. Virgil
is never a mere imitator except in his most juvenile work ;
he reforms and transforms everything that he has learned
from his great instructors. It is an Italian idyll that he
has given us, not a mere transplantation of a foreign idea,
or of any number of foreign ideas.

The aim of the writer is rather to add to what Professor
Mayor has said than to differ from him. The process of
adding, however, may sometimes change the point of view,
though it does not really express any essential difference of
opinion, but merely builds on what he has said already very
well. Thus, though I think that mere knowledge of Sibyl-
line verses is not sufficient to explain the origin of the Fourth
Eclogue, I should entirely agree in thinking that most
probably Virgil was acquainted with those verses.^ In all
that Professor Mayor has said on this curious subject I must

1 Most of the Sibylline books, as we have them, are later, but some are
earlier, than Virgil, and there were almost certainly more in his time that
have been lost.



Digitized by VjOOQIC



XXIII. " Your Poets have Said:' 343

be taken as agreeing cordially ; and I quite admit that Vii^I
may have ideas from them and have been directed in his
reading by them ; but I cannot consider that they are the
sole or the chief foundation of the Fourth Eclogue.

Professor Mayor sees quite clearly and rightly that the
Fourth Eclogue must be studied as simply one moment in



Online LibraryWilliam Mitchell RamsayThe bearing of recent discovery on the trustworthiness of the New Testament → online text (page 26 of 33)