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That this celebrated Eclogue was a genethliacal * poem in
honor of Octavius (subsequently Augustus) Cæsar, written A. C. 39, A. U. C. 715, when he had recently laid the foundation of his sovereign power by the peace of Brundusium, has been proved in an acute and elegant volume by Mr. Granville Penn; who shows that the whole of it, with the exception of its first four lines, is to be interpreted as proceeding out of the mouth, not of Virgil, but of the Cumæan
Sibyl. Of its two earliest expositors, Constantine the Great and Ser
vius, the former assumed that it contained a true prophecy of the coming and final kingdom of the Messiah! while the latter pronounced it a fictitious prophecy of the fortunes of some Roman infant then about to be born-perhaps one of the sons of his patron C. Asinius Pollio (who had been consul the year before), and that probably the younger Saloninus, with a whimsical admixture of complimentary allusion to the adult Augustus !! At the revival of letters, however, the imperial solution was satisfactorily set aside by the elaborate Gallæus: and with respect to that of Servius, as Saloninus could not but be deemed (both a priori, and in point of fact) an inadequate personage, Drusus and Marcellus of the Cæsarean family were severally brought forward, though neither of them at that time in his mother's womb; Drusus being born two years after, and Marcellus, to whom however Catrou and Martyn seem to incline, three years previously to Pollio's consulship. In order to meet this difficulty, Julia was fixed on; as if the good taste of Virgil, whom Lowth justly calls poëta omnium severissimus, and who closes his Sibyl's prophecy in the sixth Æneid with the last real antecedent occurrence, the death
* For much and exact astrological learning, see Penn's. Ob. servations in illustration of this eclogue, pp. 227. et seq.
of Marcellus, would have hardily risked, according to the idea of M. de la Nauze, the result of predicting the sex of Scribonia's unborn child! For this mistake, it is true, Mr. Samuel Henley, in his observations on this Eclogue, offers a sort of apology, by gravely stating, that ' Virgil did not possess the gift of prescience !' All these theories respecting a Roman child then to be born
Gibbon absolutely rejects, as • alike incompatible with chronology, with history, and with the good sense of the poet:' yet does he at the same time, oddly enough, seem to sanction the notion of the Christian emperor, as Heyne does that of the heathen grammarian-not, however, referring the vaticination to a son of Pollio, but to Julia or Marcellus, or perhaps (as announcing generally the happiest of ages at that epoch) to the first male child who should
be born under the new order of things! Warton, after Catrou, conceives it to have been composed in
honor of the nuptials of Antony and Octavia, and Martyn leans the same way; adding, that Virgil had dexterously availed himself of the current Sibylline prophecy (about
a child of a regal and pacific character at that time universally expected') to pay his court at once to the reconciled chieftains Octavius and Antony, to Pollio, to Octavia, and
to the unborn infant !' In opposition to all these absurdities, Mr. Penn (deriving
from the poet himself the materials of his exposition) finds in the sixth Æneid the same Sibyl speaking in nearly the same language-more distinctly, however, and more explicitly applied to Augustus Cæsar. The Saturnia
regna, aurea, are the theme of both; but in the epic it is said, with obvious reference to the Eclogue,
Hic vir, hic est, tibi quem PROMITTI sæpiùs audis : In the latter, he supposed her (on the faith of current tradition) to have foretold a remote age, in which an infant should be born, who when grown up should introduce an era of extraordinary felicity, and that the first demonstration of the arrival of that splendid period should manifest itself during the consulship of a person named Pollio. In the former, he supposes the same prophetess, who was conceived to take a particular interest in the affairs of Rome,
and the gens to point out to the Trojan hero the form of the future Augustus,
So often promised and so long foretold. Virgil clearly celebrates in his · Pollio' the honors not of an
embryo, but of a man; e.g. decus hoc ævi te consule inibit, and firmata virum ubi fecerit ætas &c.; and those not in prospect, but actually come to pass. All the difficulty, in fact, appears to be removed by considering the whole, except the
first four lines, to be spoken by the Sibyl. Whom, indeed, asks Mr. P., could he have described, in that
singular crisis of Rome, as nova progenies cælo demissa, but Him whom he so soon afterward celebrated for being gentis demissæ ab Jove? Of whom could he have said, modò tu fave puero nascenti, Lucina, tuus jam regnat Apollo, but of Him, who was Apollinis filius existimatus? Of whom could he have affirmed, ille Deûm vitam accipiet, but of Him, concerning whom he had so recently declared, ille erit mihi semper Deus ? Whom could he have represented in his infancy as puer quo surget gens aurea, but Him, whom he subsequently declared in his manhood to be vir qui condet aurea sæcula ? Of whom could he have pronounced reget orbem so consistently, as of Him at whose birth it had been predicted, Dominum terrarum orbi natum? &c. &c. Well may we repeat, on the subject of the pastoral, Hic vir, hic est ; whether we refer to the public, or to the personal, circumstances of the life of Au. gustus Cæsar. Compare also the venturo of the Sibyl, v.
52, with the venit of the proëm, v. 4. In p. 383, &c. he gives an elaborate and ingenious account of
the three causes, which have contributed for so long a period to envelop this celebrated poem in obscurity; and finally, in his seventh chapter (pp. 402—414.) he traces Virgil's notions the Sibylline prophecies, and those prophecies
to the sacred oracles of Judæa. Its being inscribed with the name of Pollio, which Lowth con
siders as an objection, is only a nota temporis.
Muses of Sicily, a loftier strain
1 Sicilian, because Theocritus, the father of pastoral poetry, was a native of Syracuse in Sicily.
Shrubs and the humble tamarisk, please not all ;
Comes the last age, by Cumæ's maid foretold: 5
to Thou, chaste Lucina, but that child sustain : And, lo! disclosed thine own Apollo's reign ! This glory, Pollio, in thy year begun, Thence the great months their radiant course shall run; And, of our crimes should still some trace appear, 15 Shall rid the trembling earth of all her fear.
3 The myrica or tamarisk, generally a low shrubby tree, is very common on the banks of Italian rivers.
5 Cumæ's maid was one of the ten Sibyls, whose soi-disant predictions (derived probably from the traditionary fragments of Hebrew prophecy) were jumbled together in one confused aggregate. Those which had been collected by the senate throughout Italy and Greece, to replace what had perished at the burning of the capitol about the time of Sylla's dictatorship, were themselves also destroyed by Stilicho in the reign of Honorius. What are now extant under this name are generally deemed spurious, whatever the imperial logic of Constantine may affect to prove to the contrary: if we may argue from the suspicious acrostick of the Erythrean Sibyl, of which the initial letters compose the incomplete sentence Ιησούς Χριστος Θεου υίος σωτηρ σταυρος, Jesus Christ the Son of God, the Saviour, the cross. Martyn has given the lines themselves, with their very imperfect Latin acrostickal version.
7 It is remarked by Penn, that the tenth month of Attia's gestation coincided with the sign of Virgo in the zodiac.See his curious Genethliacal Table, p. 320, and his remarks, p. 381, &c.
15 Our crimes. It should be remembered that, in Ovid, the Sibyl distinctly disclaims all pretensions to a divine character, and asserts her unqualified humanity; as a farther proof of which, she subsequently expresses an anxious hope,
His shall it be a life divine to hold,
• But soon as thou thy father's acts can’st read 30 And heroes' toils, and rate each deathless deed ;
that her long life's closing strain' may enable her to 'hymn the deeds' which she foresees. But, though she was destined (it passed current) to be a millenarian, yet having lived seven centuries at the time of Æneas' arrival in Italy, she could not have her wish accomplished.-See Penn, ib. pp. 105-107.
17 Under the careful training of his mother Attia, as we read in Cic. De Clar. Orat.
19 Augustus was the son of Julius. Cæsar by adoption, though by birth only his grand-nephew.
21 The Sibyl is represented as addressing the subject of the eclogue in his three genethliacal intervals—infancy, youth, and manhood : the first, vv. 21—29, containing allusions more or less limited to his horoscope, and to the ruling influence in his nativity; the second, vv.30–42, reaching from his twelfth to his eighteenth year; and the third, vv. 43–53, extending to the date of the poem.
23, 24 As all these plants are appropriate in the formation of a chaplet or floral crown, they aptly constitute the munuscula, or natal offerings. The baccar, in particular, was esteemed potent against enchantments. See, on them all, Martyn's detailed botanical disquisitions. The acanthus, he says, here meant, is the acacia, an Egyptian tree, from which we obtain the Gum Arabic.