Eclogue 4, lines 1-17

Virgil predicts a forthcoming birth and a new golden age

by Virgil

This extract from one of Virgil’s Eclogues, or pastoral poems, modelled on the Sicilian Greek poet Theocritus (hence the “Sicilian Muses”), was interpreted by many early Christians as a prediction of the birth of Christ. This helps to explain the special status that Virgil enjoyed in the middle ages as a virtuous pagan prophet, including his appearance in Dante’s work, the Divine Comedy, as the poet’s guide through Hell, Purgatory and Paradise. Pollio, to whom Virgil addresses himself, was a general whose writings are gone, but who had a literary reputation and was also mentioned by Horace. Cumae was the seat of a famous Sibyl-prophetess. Lucina is the Goddess of childbirth. Who the divine child was meant to be, we don’t know, but Pollio’s consulship was in 40 BCE, the year in which Mark Antony married the sister of Octavian, the future Emperor Augustus, in an unsuccessful attempt to counter the growing pressures on their creaky alliance. That this poem was written to celebrate the marriage seems as good a guess as any – the reference near the end to putting an end to (the) guilt (of civil war?) would fit, but something about the poem remains strangely disproportionate.

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Sicelides Musae, paulo maiora canamus.
non omnis arbusta iuvant humilesque myricae;
si canimus silvas, silvae sint consule dignae.
ultima Cumaei venit iam carminis aetas;
magnus ab integro saeclorum nascitur ordo.
iam redit et Virgo, redeunt Saturnia regna,
iam nova progenies caelo demittitur alto.
tu modo nascenti puero, quo ferrea primum
desinet ac toto surget gens aurea mundo,
casta fave Lucina; tuus iam regnat Apollo.
teque adeo decus hoc aevi, te consule, inibit,
Pollio, et incipient magni procedere menses;
te duce, si qua manent sceleris vestigia nostri
inrita perpetua solvent formidine terras.
ille deum vitam accipiet divisque videbit
permixtos heroas et ipse videbitur illis
pacatumque reget patriis virtutibus orbem.

Sicilian Muses, let’s sing of slightly greater things.
Orchards and lowly tamarisk aren’t everyone’s delight;
if we sing of woods, let them be worthy of a consul!
The last age of Cumaean prophecy has come,
the great sequence of the ages is born afresh.
The virgin and the reign of Saturn come again,
now a new child is sent from heaven above.
Chaste Lucina, smile on the new-born boy,under whom
the iron race shall make way, a new, golden race rise
throughout the world; now your Apollo reigns. With you,
you, Pollio, as consul, this glory of the age shall
come in, its months begin their great, successive march;
under your consulate, if vain traces of guilt remain,
they shall release the world from its perpetual fear.
He shall have the life of the Gods, see heroes
consorting with the Gods, himself be seen by them, rule
a world that owes its peace to his fathers’ powers.

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More Poems by Virgil

  1. Turnus at bay
  2. The Harpy’s prophecy
  3. The Syrian hostess
  4. Virgil’s poetic temple to Caesar
  5. The death of Dido.
  6. Fire strikes Aeneas’s fleet
  7. Souls awaiting punishment in Tartarus, and the crimes that brought them there.
  8. Aeneas sees Marcellus, Augustus’s tragic heir
  9. Aeneas joins the fray
  10. Dido’s release
  11. Aeneas is wounded
  12. In King Latinus’s hall
  13. Aeneas prepares to tell Dido his story
  14. The infant Camilla
  15. Aeneas’s vision of Augustus
  16. The death of Pallas
  17. Aristaeus’s bees
  18. Laocoon warns against the Trojan horse
  19. The Aeneid begins
  20. Rumour
  21. Aeneas reaches the Elysian Fields
  22. Dido and Aeneas: Hell hath no fury …
  23. A Fury rouses Turnus to war
  24. Rites for the allies’ dead
  25. Aeneas comes to the Hell of Tartarus
  26. Aeneas’s ships are transformed
  27. Love is the same for all
  28. Dido and Aeneas: royal hunt and royal affair
  29. The Trojans reach Carthage
  30. New allies for Aeneas
  31. Help for Father Aeneas from Father Tiber
  32. King Latinus grants the Trojans’ request
  33. Palinurus the helmsman is lost
  34. Signs of bad weather
  35. Vulcan’s forge
  36. Juno is reconciled
  37. The death of Priam
  38. The Fury Allecto blows the alarm
  39. King Mezentius meets his match
  40. Virgil begins the Georgics
  41. The farmer’s happy lot
  42. Turnus the wolf
  43. Virgil’s perils on the sea
  44. Anchises’s ghost invites Aeneas to visit the underworld
  45. The Trojans prepare to set sail from Carthage
  46. Laocoon and the snakes
  47. Omens for Princess Lavinia
  48. Aeneas learns the way to the underworld
  49. Aeneas finds Dido among the shades
  50. Charon, the ferryman
  51. Mourning for Pallas
  52. The Trojan Horse enters the city
  53. Catastrophe for Rome?
  54. Hector visits Aeneas in a dream
  55. The farmer’s starry calendar
  56. Sea-nymphs
  57. Dido falls in love
  58. Aeneas saves his son and father, but at a cost
  59. Aeneas arrives in Italy
  60. Jupiter’s prophecy
  61. The natural history of bees
  62. How Aeneas will know the site of his city
  63. Storm at sea!
  64. Turnus is lured away from battle
  65. Aeneas tours the site of Rome
  66. More from Virgil’s farming Utopia
  67. The portals of sleep
  68. The journey to Hades begins
  69. Aeneas rescues his Father Anchises
  70. Mercury’s journey to Carthage
  71. The death of Euryalus and Nisus
  72. Aeneas’s oath
  73. Juno throws open the gates of war