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[The coming of another golden age, in which war should be no more, and all nature should be full of plenty and happiness, has long been a common theme with poets. But it seems that the coming of a Man destined to bring this blissful state of things into actual existence, had been rumoured somewhat more persistently than usual in the latter part of the last century B.C. In the East the Jews had interpreted it of the promised Messiah; in the West it was by some regarded as fulfilled in the person of Augustus. Whether Vergil knew of this from some remote report of the Messianic prophecies, or whether, as some think, some passages in the Sibylline books actually did contain such a prophecy, we cannot be sure. At any rate these words written in B.C. 40, the year of the peace of Brundusium between Octavian and Antony, are meant in some way to convey a sense of joyful anticipation of the good to be expected from that event. The promised child is about to be born. Whose child does Vergil mean? Some say Pollio's own. Others think that no particular child is alluded to, and that it is a mere vague poetical figure. We may note that Octavian had recently married Scribonia, and was expecting a child, which however proved to be not a son but a daughter, Julia.
This is the political view of the lines. The astronomical view is also to be noted. According to the Sibylline books the world had passed through a great cycle [annus magnus], and a new one was about to begin when the sun and moon and planets would occupy exactly the same relative positions as they did at the creation. Vergil affects to regard this first cycle as ended with the ending of the civil war. The new cycle, commencing as the old did with a 'golden age,' is about to begin.]
1. Cymaei carminis] 'spoken of in the prophecy of the Cymaean Sibyl.' Vergil uses the Greek form (Kuuaios) Cymacus, instead of the ordinary Latin adjective Cumanus. The Sibyl of Cumae was only one of many similar Sibyls who lived in other places. The Cuman Sibyl however was the most famous, and it is she that is said to have offered her books to Tarquinius.
2. magnus ordo saeclorum] 'a great procession of ages, i.e. the annus magnus, see introduction. In this annus magnus,
as in the Solar year, there would be four seasons corresponding to the four ages of men, the golden, silver, bronze, iron ages.
ab integro]'afresh,' 'from the very beginning.'
3-4. All the characteristics of the golden age are to reappear. Astraea (Virgo) the goddess of Justice is to return; the reign of Saturn is to begin again; a new race of men with none of the sins of the present mortals is to be put upon the earth.
Saturnia regna] In the golden age Saturn was still king of heaven, and Jupiter had not yet replaced him. Saturnus (identified with the Greek Cronos) is the ancient Italian god, whose name connected with satus (sero) indicates a god of agriculture. Cp. 11, 38.
Astraea] Justice,' left the world in the iron age, G. 2, 473, extrema per illos Justitia excedens terris vestigia fecit.
5. quo] 'at whose birth,' sc. quo nascente; or 'by whom,' 3 'under whose auspices.'
7. Lucina] the goddess of child-birth, Eiλevîa. Both Juno and Diana were invoked under this title. Casta is not used because the latter is here meant, it rather refers to the birth of a child in pure wedlock.
tuus jam regnat Apollo] 'It is your brother Apollo that is now in the ascendant.' The last of the ages in the old annus magnus was that of the Sun.
8. te adeo] Adeo emphasises the word after which it comes; and it is your Consulship, yours I say, O Pollio' etc.
9. decus hoc aevi] 'this ornament or glory of his age,' i.e. the child to be born. Thus Dr. Kennedy explains, and I agree with him rather than with Conington, who translates this glorious age.'
10. Pollio] C. Asinius Pollio [or Polio] b. B.C. 75, was of Caesar's party, and was given by him the province of Spain. After Caesar's death he took the side of Octavian as against Antony; and in his consulship B.C. 40 negotiated the reconciliation between them called the peace of Brundusium. We know from Horace (C. 2, 1) that he wrote or intended to write a history of the civil war, and that he also had written tragedies; that he had a reputation as a speaker in the Senate, as a patronus
or pleader in the courts, and that he was granted a triumph for his conduct of a campaign in Dalmatia, in which he took a town called Salona.
Insigne maestis praesidium reis
Dalmatico peperit triumpho.
magni menses] i.e. the months (or ages) of the annus magnus.
11. inrita solvent] 'by being rendered abortive they will release.'
12-14. These lines appear to be too strong as addressed to Pollio's son, and to have a direct reference to the deification of the Caesars. If that be so, patriis virtutibus will mean ' with the virtues of his father Augustus.'
13. illis] 'by them,' the dat. of the agent.
14. I think this line is decisive of the fact that Vergil at any rate meant his verses to be applicable to the family of Caesar.
15-20. The earth is to produce all its treasures spontaneously, another sign of the golden age. munuscula the diminutive is used as appropriate to the gifts to a child. Cp. Hor. Epist. 1, 7, 17, non invisa feres pueris munuscula parvis.
errantes] 'straggling,' 'growing unchecked.'
15. colocasia] Egyptian beans,' a large plant of the lily species.
acanthus] 'bear's foot.' Vergil elsewhere calls it flexus (G. 4, 123) mollis (Ecl. 3, 45), which epithets refer to its pliant twisting sprays, cf. vypòs aкaveos, Theocr. 1, 55; ridenti appears to refer to the brightness of its leaves.
Through many a woven acanthus wreath divine.'-Tennyson. 18. ipsae] of their own accord,' i.e. without being driven by the goatherd.
20. 'Your cradle will spontaneously envelop you in caressing flowers,' .e. there will be no need to gather flowers to adorn your bed. blandos so he calls catuli 'favourite dogs' blandi, G. 3, 496.
occidet] 'will fall harmless.'
21-2. mum 'Assyrian' stands generally for 'eastern.' The amomum is an aromatic shrub, from which the balsam is made. For this manner of expressing bounteous vegetation cp. Ecl. 3, 88, Mella fluant illi ferat et ruber asper amomum.
23. heroum]' of the deified heroes of the past.' parentis, ' of his father Augustus.'
25. molli] [uaλ-a-ròs]. The plain is to grow corn without cultivation, and the notion conveyed by molli and paulatim is that of the gradual stages from the tender' blade to the full corn in the ear.
26. rubens] the grape will not only grow wild on the brambles, but will ripen. Men will gather grapes from thorns.'
27. durae...sudabunt] The oaks though sound and not hollow will exude honey, which will fall on it like dew. He calls the honey roscida, because of the notion that honey fell from the clouds on plants (aerii mellis, G. 4, 1). Euripides says in the Bacchanals: honey sweet in slow stream from the wild Thyrsus dropped.' He is careful to call the oaks durae to show that it is not meant of bees making their nest in a hollow or rotten tree [penitusque repertae. exesaeque arboris antro,
G. 4, 44].
27-30. priscae fraudis] 'of the old sinfulness,' i.e. before the new golden age. quae jubeant 'such as to force men,' cp. 27, 21: the nom. quae thrice repeated. temptare Thetim 'to tempt the deep,' a mark of the degenerate age which was not content to observe the divisions of lands assigned by the Providence which created the seas. Nequiquam deus abscidit Prudens Ocean dissociabili Terras, si tamen impiae Non tangenda rates transiliunt vada, Hor. Od. 1, 3, 21.
31-33. The old heroic history is to repeat itself: there will 4 be another Argo, another Trojan war. Tiphys the steersman of the Argo, cp. Quid tibi cum patria, navita Tiphy, mea? Ovid, Ep. 6, 48. The foreign conquests of Rome are implied.
34-6. But as the golden age develops, with the age of the child, all this will cease. There will be no need of ships. Every land will produce all that men need. hinc after this.' cedet mari 'will quit the sea.' et ipse vector 'the very
passenger' who goes for pleasure, and therefore much more the sailor who only goes for gain.
39. mentiri colores] 'to assume colours not its own.'
40-1. The sheep will grow purple and yellow fleeces without the help of dyes. murice the murex is the shellfish from which the purple dye was made, called Tyrian from the usual place of finding the shell. mutabit 'will vary.'
42. pascentes] 'as they graze,' equivalent to in pratis, v. 40.
[Silenus, the old attendant of Bacchus, is bound by two shepherds and forced to sing a song. It is of the beginnings of the world, and all nature is filled with delight at the sound. The poet has put into the mouth of Silenus fragments of the Epicurean and Empedoclean theory of the beginning of the world. Cp. Lucretius 1, 712:
Adde etiam qui conduplicant primordia rerum
1. incipit ipse] sc. Silenus.
2. in numerum]' in time to the music.' Numerus is used of poetical numbers or verses, and of music.
3. ludere]'dance.' motare, frequentative of moveo.
Parnasia rupes] Mount Parnassus, as sacred to the Muses, is also beloved of Phoebus the patron of song.
5. Rhodope] a chain of mountains in Scythia between the Hebrus and Nastus rivers (Despoto dagh) Ismarus is an isolated height near the south coast. This district possessed famous vineyards, and was said to be the home of Orpheus. G. 4, 461, flerunt Rhodopeïae arces, i.e. at the distress of Orpheus.