• Devin O'Donnell

Behold the Pagan Prophet

Updated: Jun 13

This week we are continuing our study of The Aeneid. To understand the Aeneid, one must also know the poet of the Aeneid. Virgil was already a great poet by the time he wrote (and later sought to destroy) his great epic. His influence was profound in the West. Of all the pagan poets, he seemed to possess the most Christian vision of the virtuous and heroic man. His "Eclogues" or "Bucolics" are some of the most beautiful poems about pastoral life. Here's one example.

Here is Eclogue 4:

Muses of Sicily, essay we now

A somewhat loftier task! Not all men love

Coppice or lowly tamarisk: sing we woods,

Woods worthy of a Consul let them be.

Now the last age by Cumae's Sibyl sung

Has come and gone, and the majestic roll

Of circling centuries begins anew:

Justice returns, returns old Saturn's reign,

With a new breed of men sent down from heaven.

Only do thou, at the boy's birth in whom

The iron shall cease, the golden race arise,

Befriend him, chaste Lucina; 'tis thine own

Apollo reigns. And in thy consulate,

This glorious age, O Pollio, shall begin,

And the months enter on their mighty march.

Under thy guidance, whatso tracks remain

Of our old wickedness, once done away,

Shall free the earth from never-ceasing fear.

He shall receive the life of gods, and see

Heroes with gods commingling, and himself

Be seen of them, and with his father's worth

Reign o'er a world at peace. For thee, O boy,

First shall the earth, untilled, pour freely forth

Her childish gifts, the gadding ivy-spray

With foxglove and Egyptian bean-flower mixed,

And laughing-eyed acanthus. Of themselves,

Untended, will the she-goats then bring home

Their udders swollen with milk, while flocks afield

Shall of the monstrous lion have no fear.

Thy very cradle shall pour forth for thee

Caressing flowers. The serpent too shall die,

Die shall the treacherous poison-plant, and far

And wide Assyrian spices spring. But soon

As thou hast skill to read of heroes' fame,

And of thy father's deeds, and inly learn

What virtue is, the plain by slow degrees

With waving corn-crops shall to golden grow,

From the wild briar shall hang the blushing grape,

And stubborn oaks sweat honey-dew. Nathless

Yet shall there lurk within of ancient wrong

Some traces, bidding tempt the deep with ships,

Gird towns with walls, with furrows cleave the earth.

Therewith a second Tiphys shall there be,

Her hero-freight a second Argo bear;

New wars too shall arise, and once again

Some great Achilles to some Troy be sent.

Then, when the mellowing years have made thee man,

No more shall mariner sail, nor pine-tree bark

Ply traffic on the sea, but every land

Shall all things bear alike: the glebe no more

Shall feel the harrow's grip, nor vine the hook;

The sturdy ploughman shall loose yoke from steer,

Nor wool with varying colours learn to lie;

But in the meadows shall the ram himself,

Now with soft flush of purple, now with tint

Of yellow saffron, teach his fleece to shine.

While clothed in natural scarlet graze the lambs.

"Such still, such ages weave ye, as ye run,"

Sang to their spindles the consenting Fates

By Destiny's unalterable decree.

Assume thy greatness, for the time draws nigh,

Dear child of gods, great progeny of Jove!

See how it totters- the world's orbed might,

Earth, and wide ocean, and the vault profound,

All, see, enraptured of the coming time!

Ah! might such length of days to me be given,

And breath suffice me to rehearse thy deeds,

Nor Thracian Orpheus should out-sing me then,

Nor Linus, though his mother this, and that

His sire should aid- Orpheus Calliope,

And Linus fair Apollo. Nay, though Pan,

With Arcady for judge, my claim contest,

With Arcady for judge great Pan himself

Should own him foiled, and from the field retire.

Begin to greet thy mother with a smile,

O baby-boy! ten months of weariness

For thee she bore: O baby-boy, begin!

For him, on whom his parents have not smiled,

Gods deem not worthy of their board or bed.

Note the striking echoes of imagery and symbol that we hear in the prophet Isaiah (2:4; 9:4-9; 11:5-8). Both Isaiah and Virgil foretell of a coming "boy" who will usher in a time of social order and cosmic harmony. This is why many of the Church Fathers referred to Virgil as "pagan" prophet of Christ, and specifically Eclogue IV as pagan lyric with messianic themes.

Agenda for this week:

  1. Prayer

  2. Literature:

  3. Read and discuss Books IV & VI of The Aeneid

  4. Study for the Final Exam

  5. Oral/Dialogic Final Exam

  6. Final Exam times & sign-ups here

  7. It will consist primarily of second semester material but will also include Catechism questions too. (Study Guide to be shared soon)

  8. Also, memorize the first 13 lines of Book I


  1. Be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect. Pray, that you may not stumble.

  2. Complete your Great Ideas Reading Guide for this week

  3. 5 Commonplaces and 1 memorized for Friday.

  4. Remember to bring your Class Catechism


CLAUDE LORRAIN Landscape with Ascanius Shooting the Stag of Sylvia, 1682, Oil on canvas, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford

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