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VivgiI, Minucius FeIix and lIe BiIIe

AulIov|s)· Bavid S. Wiesen
Souvce· Hevnes, VoI. 99, No. 1 |1971), pp. 70-91
FuIIisIed I¸· Fvanz Sleinev VevIag
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sichern, doch ein Prinzip hat. Dieses ist oft gezeigt worden, nur sollte nicht
vergessen werden, daB der neoterische libellus sich hier wirksam zeigt. Und
auch damit sollen wir rechnen, daB, wenn die Neoteriker Gedichtbulcher ge-
schrieben haben, doch nicht nur sie selbst von dem Gesichtspunkt geleitet
waren, ihre Gedichte einmal auch in dieser Form herauszubringen. Es ist
keineswegs undenkbar, daB die klassischen Dichter, wenn sie das einzelne
Gedicht niederschrieben, an Buchveroffentlichungen dachten, ja daB dieser
Gesichtspunkt die Produktion mitbestimmte. Es ist darum eine Leistung, die
gar nicht hoch genug zu werten ist, daB ein solcher mehr technischer Gesichts-
punkt nicht dazu veifiihrt hat, die Norm auch durch Aufnahme weniger ge-
lungener Arbeiten zu erreichen oder Gedichte zu verfassen, die praktisch nur
Fillsel waren'. Der neoterische libellus war nach Form und Inhalt durch-
disponiert, es hatte ein Absinken bedeutet, wenn Niveau und iuberhaupt Quali-
tat dieses libellus nicht wieder erreicht wurde. Aber tberlegungen, die sich
hier einstellen, etwa uiber feste Form als pi agende Kraft in der Literatur, wollen
wir zurtickstellen. Wichtiger ist uns: wenn die Neoteriker ihrer ars huldigten,
dann waren auch ihre libelli nach Umfang und Inhalt (um von der Buchaus-
stattung abzusehen) von ihrer Muse bestimmt.
Bovenden fiber Gottingen KARL DEICHGRABER
Nachtraglich: Zu diesen tberlegungen moge man WILAMOWITZ
diese Zeitschrift
6i, I926, 298 = KI. Schriften IV 425, im Auszug auch Ovid, Wege der Forschung XCII
47I - vergleichen. DaB die Neoteriker ohne Bucher nicht auskamen, daran sei nur kurz
The incalculable influence exercised by Virgil upon Roman letters and
Roman education is a phenomenon probably unparalleled in literary history.
Even Homer, for all his immense poetic authority and his central place in
Greek education, cannot be said to dominate Greek literature in the same way
or to the same extent as Virgil Roman, for Homer stood at the very beginning
of the brilliant and original development of Greek literature, and his genius
stimulated, without overpowering, the talents of later writers. After Virgil,
in contrast, )>no great development was possible, until the Latin language
became something differentO<x. The great Roman writers of the Avugustan era
were followed not by a period of original creativity, but rather by an age of
deepening literary decadence in which certain hallmarks of declining intellec-
tual vigor became apparent even in the better writers, and overpowered the
T. S, ELIOT, 'What is a Classic', in On Poetry and Poet London,
Virgil, Minucius Felix and the Bible 7I
lesser ones: affectation, lifeless imitation, bombast, pedantry, were the shadows
gradually lengthening across the landscape of Latin literature. Virgil, from
his own lifetime onward throughout the remainder of antiquity, provided the
authoritative texts and great models that were imitated in epic, parodied in
satire, rewritten for stage performance, learned by heart in the schools, ran-
sacked to provide subjects for rhetorical exercises, paraphrased in Greek,
abused by ostentatiously learned bluestockings, drummed into the ears of
helpless dinner guests'. This unhealthy passion for Virgil knew no limits and
raged unchecked even by the antiquarian reaction led in the Antonine age
by Fronto and his school. Virgil's firmly established place in education, and
in Roman culture generally, prevented his being supplanted by any passing
preference for Ennius or Lucretius. Many, diverse, and sometimes bizarre to
our minds, were the uses to which Virgil's verses were put. Indeed, the whole
question of the various ways in which the Romans appreciated and used their
most admired poet is worthy of fresh and comprehensive treatment2. This
paper, however, will attempt to isolate one strand of a complex fabric; it will
try to discover when and under what influences Virgil's poems came to be
viewed as a repository of Christian religious truth.
Our particular concern is not the 'Messianic' fourth Eclogue, which Lac-
tantius was the first Christian writer to interpret allegorically, as an inspired
millenarian prophecy, and which he compared with Isaiah's description of
the Golden Age to come3. The Christian reading of this poem received official
sanction in an Oratio ad Sanctos ascribed to the Emperor Constantine 4. But
the technique demonstrated in that speech (whether it was actually written by
some scholar of Constantine's court or is a forgery of the fifth century as some
scholars maintain), the method of forcing a pagan poem to yield a Christian
On parodies of Virgil in Juvenal, see I. G. SCOTT, The Grand Style in the Satires of
Juvenal (Smith College Classical Studies 8, Northampton, Mass., 1927); on Virgil in the
theatre and schools, D. COMPARETTI, Vergil in the Middle Ages, trans. by E. BENECKE,
London I895, 25 and 29-33; on Virgil in Greek translation, Seneca, Ad Polybium 8; on
female Virgilian commentators, Juv. 6, 434-437; on Virgil at the dinner table, Juv. ii,
i8o-i8i and Petronius, Sat. 68.
2 The work of COMPARETTI, still the fullest treatment of the subject, is in need of ex-
pansion and revision on the basis of knowledge gained since his day. The more recent
scholarship is widely scattered, e. g., J. SPARGO, VIRGIL, the Necromancer, Cambridge,
Mass., I934; P. COURCELLE, Les Peres de l'Eglise devant les Enfers Virgiliens, Archives
d'Hist. Doct. et Litt. du Moyen Age 22, I955, 5-74 and Les Ex6g6ses Chretiennes de la
quatrieme Eglogue, Rev. des Et. Anciennes 59, I957, 294-3I9; H. HAGENDAHL, Latin
Fathers and the Classics, G6teborg 1958; H. DE LUBAC, Ex6g6se M6di6vale, Paris I964,
Part II, Vol. II, 233-262 and esp. bibliography, p. 24I, n. I.
Div. inst. 7, 24. See COURCELLE, Les Exegeses 294-295 and Louis J. SWIFT, Lactan-
tius and the Golden Age, AJPh 79, 2, I968, I53-I55.
Oratio Constantini XIX-XXI, (ed. I. A. HEIKEL, Griech. christl. Schrifts., Eusebius,
Vol. I, Leipzig, I902, I8I-I87).
message through allegorical exegesis was clearly no novelty; it presupposed an
established, traditional belief that Virgil's works embody more than human
wisdom'. In the present essay, the specific questions we ask are, when does
such a concept first emerge and when is it adopted for Christian use? Our
method will be, first to trace briefly the growth of the belief in an all-knowing
Virgil, then to indicate how certain attitudes toward literature, poetry in
particular, prevalent in later antiquity naturally led Christians to adopt Virgil
as one of their own, and finally to show how Minucius Felix in his apology for
Christianity uses Virgil's poetry virtually as a sacred text. Addressing his
work to a cultivated, pagan, Roman audience, Minucius, it will be argued,
employs Virgil as a proof-text in a way similar to that in which the earliest
apologists, namely the apostles themselves, had drawn upon Old Testament
passages in their attempt to persuade Jewish hearers of their Christian mes-
sage. In Minucius we will see how the need to find convincing support for
Christianity within pagan literature led the apologist to take ready advantage
of the profound reverence that educated contemporaries felt for Virgil. This
apologetic use of Virgil nurtured, in turn, the belief among Christians that
Virgil's poetry was, in a very literal sense, divinely inspired and contained,
if rightly read, religious truth. Then, once the belief became common that
Virgil had been stirred by divine enthusiasm, it seemed naturally to follow
that his poetry was really an intricate code concealing profound and esoteric
wisdom. Accordingly, elaborate techniques had to be developed for deciphering
the code, for tearing away the veil behind which the poet had chosen to hide
his message. One such technique was the cento, the piecing together of lines
and half-lines of Virgilian poetry in order to fabricate a new work which,
though Virgilian in language, disclosed beneath the original, or rather imposed
upon the original, an entirely new meaning. The early stages of this develop-
ment can be glimpsed in Minucius Felix, but it is not perfected-if that is the
proper word-until the fourth century, when a lady of aristocratic family,
Falconia Proba, told selected stories from the Old and New Testaments in 694
lines of Virgilian verse, claiming thus to reveal all the bard's recondite secrets,
arcana vatis cuncta releyye 2.
The intellectual seeds that were to produce Falconia's strange plant were
sown as early as the first century of our era, when an aura of superstitious
veneration began to surround the name and works of Virgil. It is difficult,
On the much debated question of the authenticity of the speech ascribed to Constan-
tine, see the full bibliography in COURCELLE, Les Exegeses, p. 296, n. i, and COURCELLE's
own opinion ibid., *que 1' on songeait beaucoup 'a la quatrieme Bucolique dans l'entourage
palen et chretien de Constantin et qu'une certaine authenticite de l'Oratio, remaniement
grec d'un discours original Latin elabor6 dans la chancellerie de Constantin, n'a rien d'
invraisemblable #.
Falconia Proba, Cento, line I2 (ed. SCHENKL, C. S. E. L. XVI, 569).
Virgil, Minucius Felix and the Bible 73
however, to find the precise moment when praise for Virgil's divine genius
ceased to be a mere laudatory metaphor and became instead a literal assertion
that the poet was in touch with higher powers. The transition from respect
to awe is subtle and almost imperceptible. Seneca, of course, speaks inetaphori-
cally when he introduces a Virgilian quotation with the words: Clamat ecce
maximus vates et veluit divino ore instinctus saluttare carmen canit 1. The qualifying
word velut, pointing up the metaphor, makes it clear that Seneca is expressing
admiration for human genius and nothing more. But near the end of the first
century, we find that admiration and respect are beginning to develop into
veneration, and steps are taken toward the deification of Virgil. Silius Italicus,
we are told, adored the bust of Virgil, celebrated his birthday religiosius quam
suum, and visited his tomb as if it were a shrine2. Statius too regarded Virgil's
tomb as a holy place, while Martial virtually classified the poet as a divinity,
or at least a hero, when he declared that Virgil sanctified (consecravit) the Ides
of October, his birthday, as Mercury the Ides of May, and Diana those of
August3. It was no novelty, to be sure, in antiquity for great poets to receive
semi-divine honours after death, but the phenomenon seems to have belonged
exclusively to the Greek world up to this time. From at least the fifth century
B. C. religious honours had been paid to Hesiod at his tomb in Boeotian
Orchomenos 4. The grave of Aeschylus in Sicilian Gela had become a place of
pilgrimage, where tragedians of later days brought sacrifices and mounted
performances of their own dramas5. It is well known that Sophocles' fellow-
citizens had awarded the poet heroic status as Dexion, 'the receiver', who had
been host to the sacred snake of Asclepius 6. But for Romans to regard one
of their own poets with religious awe was an innovation, and Virgil was appar-
ently the only Roman writer ever to enjoy such reverence in antiquity (although
Apuleius, like Virgil, was held to be a magician in the Middle Ages).
By the time of Hadrian, indeed, religious honour was paid not only to the
spirit of the inspired Virgil himself but had been extended to the text of his poetry.
Hadrian himself, before he reached the principate, consulted the sortes Vergi-
lianae, so we are told, at a time of anxiety in his life, when the Aeneid conveniently
produced a text predicting his future imperial greatness (Aen. 6, 8o8-8I2)7.
Should the story be true, Hadrian's exaggerated trust in Virgil's wisdom is not
to be seen as an odd or isolated example of a superstitious attitude toward the
De Brev. vitae 9, 2. 2 Pliny, Epist. 3, 7, 8; Martial II. 48-49.
Statius, Silvae 4, 4, 54; Martial 12, 67.
L. R. FARNELL, Greek Hero Cults, Oxford I92I, 364.
M. NILSSON, Geschichte der Gr. Religion, Munich 1955, Vol. I 719.
See F. WALTON, A Problem of the Ichneutae of Sophocles, Harvard Studies in Class.
Phil. 46, 1935, I67-I89.
Spartianus, Hadrianus 2, 8. But the accuracy of such a detail in the HA is always
open to question.
great literature of the Roman past. On the contrary, in a period of declining
intellectual vigour, men look backward to the noble creative spirits of bygone
days with ever greater awe and nostalgia the more they feel themselves
incapable of equalling the achievements of past genius. The general conviction
prevailed in an increasingly retrospective and superstitious age that wisdom
lay hidden in documents written long ago, buried away in old poets and philo-
sophers. )>All antiquitya, says CURTIUS, ))sees the poet as sage, teacher, and
educator(('. But to the mind of later antiquity, from the first Christian century
onward, it was axiomatic that nothing could be simultaneously new and true
poetry, and especially the oldest poetry was regarded as a treasury of religious
and philosophical ideas, and as men began to lose, or disregard, their historical
sense, they ascribed to poets knowledge of truths and teachings utterly foreign
to them and entirely unknown to the times when the poets had lived. As early
as the second century of our era we find prevalent a belief that had long been
developing: the greatest spirits of the past, whether poets, philosophers,
historians, or religious teachers, expressed not the particular wisdom charac-
teristic of their age, of their individual gifts, or of the genres in which they
wrote, but a generalized, undifferentiated religio-philosophical wisdom of
universal validity. The belief had a vast influence on educational ideas and
methods. Plutarch was expressing a common pedagogical concept when he
urged young men to read the poets not for the sake of the truth and beauty to
be found generally in poetry, nor for the wisdom of particular poets (these
advantages he ignored), but for the sake of the timeless philosophical truths,
chiefly of an ethical nature, to be gleaned from such reading2.
The breakdown, so characteristic of later antiquity, of the strict boundaries
separating poetry, philosophy, and religion is well illustrated by the list of
teachers whose images were worshipped by the second century Gnostic teacher
Carpocrates and his followers. Homer, Pythagoras, Plato, Aristotle, and Christ,
were the equal recipients of their syncretistic piety3. In the same spirit, the Em-
peror Alexander Severus is said to have kept in his palace two oratories. The up-
per one contained statues of inspired sages eclectically chosen: Apollonius of
Tyana, Christ, Abraham, Orpheus, et huiuscemodi ceteros. In the lower one the
Emperor revered Cicero, Virgil-whom he called the Plato of poets-, Achilles,
and other great men 4. The notion that all men who claimed any kind of greatness
or wisdom are to be judged by one canon only, the moral and religious value
E. R. CURTIUS, European Lit. and the Latin Middle Ages, trans. by W. R. TRASK,
New York 1953,
Quo modo adulescens poetas audire debeat 35f-37b. Cf. Horace, EPIST. I, 2.
8 Irenaeus, Haer. I, 25, 6; Epiphanius, Haer. I. 6 (P. G. XLI 374). See E. R. DODDS,
Pagan and Christian in an Age of Anxiety, Cambridge I965, I07.
Lampridius, Alex. Sev. 29, 2 and 3I, 4. For a salutary word of caution here, see
R. Syme, Ammianus and the HA, Oxford, I968, I38.
Virgil, Minucius Felix and the Bible 75
of their achievements, can also be seen, from a negative point of view, in the
miscellaneous list of false pagan teachers drawn up by the second century
Christian apologist Theophilus of Antioch. He rejects the 'useless and godless'
opinions of the following poets and thinkers: Homer, Hesiod, Orpheus, Aratus,
Euripides, Sophocles, Menander, Aristophanes, Herodotus, Thucydides,
Pythagoras, Diogenes, Epicurus, Empedocles, Socrates, and Plato'. Herodotus
is singled out as a philosopher of particular wickedness, for when he recorded
that among the Indians parents are eaten by their children, he was actually
inculcating such behavior 2. Theophilus makes no distinctions between the
kind of truth proper to different literary genres, sees no distinction between
behavior described and behavior advocated, and concedes nothing to the
greater or lesser rudeness and ignorance of the age in which a writer lived; all
pagan authorities are weighed as instructors of religion and ethics, and all are
found wanting. While pagans tended to accept the profound wisdom of all the
noble names of their inherited culture, whatever intellectual fields these famous
men had tilled, those Christians who rejected pagan culture, discarded all its
great representatives as false and corrupting teachers.
Most Christians, however, did not choose the path of Theophilus. To reject
the wisdom of 'gentile' writers would have meant the abandonment of all the
higher culture carried down from the past and the permanent identification of
Christianity as a barbarian religion unsuited to men of taste, birth, and educa-
tion. But before Christians could acknowledge the value of pagan writers,
methods had to be devised for transforming the dross of falsehood into the gold
of truth. One such method had long enjoyed success among the pagans:
allegorical interpretation. The use of allegory to uncover lofty philosophical
doctrines latent in the Homeric epics was as old as the sixth century B. C.; it
had developed as the natural reply to the criticism of Homer voiced by the
pre-Socratic thinkers3. The attempt to transform naive or immoral tales in-
herited from the remote past into edifying philosophical doctrines was ridiculed
from time to time by both pagans and Christians, including Plato, Seneca,
Plutarch, Celsus, Tatian, and Irenaeus, but to no effect; the search for philo-
sophic subtleties, current ideas, and salutary moralizing in writers of the
Ad Autolycum 3, 2 (P. G. VI 1122-23). But we also have the opposite doctrine in
this work (2, 37-38, P. G. VI III5-20), that the testimony of Greek poets and philo-
sophers confirms the teachings of Scripture.
2 Ad Autolycum 3, 5 (P. G. VI II26-27).
s On allegorical exegesis in general, see F. CUMONT, Recherches sur le Symbolisme
Funeraire des Romains, Paris 1942,
5-IO, and the older literature there cited; E.
HATCH, The Influence of Greek Ideas on Christianity (Hibbert Lectures i888; reprinted
New York, I957), 50-85; E. R. CURTIUS,
cit. 203-207; B. SMALLEY, The Study of the
Bible in the Middle Ages, Oxford I952, I-26; H. WOLFSON, The Philosophy of the Church
Fathers, Cambridge, Mass., 1956, Vol. I 24-72; LUBAC, Exegese, Part I, Vol. II, 373-396,
489-548; Part II, Vol. II, I25-I49.
remote past became ever more intense, until in late antiquity allegory became
the most important system of textual interpretation'. As CUMONT succinctly
says of Homer: )>L'Iliade et l'Odysee sont devenus les livres sacres du paganisme,
leurs chants sont interpretes comme des recueils d'oracles, et les Neo-Platoni-
ciens en citent les vers a l'appui de leurs speculations comme les Peres de
l'Eglise le font des versets de la Bible<(2. By a natural process the allegorical
method was extended from Homer to Virgil. Philosophy, theology, and science,
mysteries, and magic, all the secrets of heaven and earth had been in the poet's
possession, hidden of course from the eyes of the profane and vulgar, but ready
for the initiates to uncover. The conviction of pagans and Christians alike
maintained that beloved and revered texts which on the surface appeared to
be spiritually inadequate or insufficiently noble must contain a higher signi-
ficance capable of being revealed by the proper methods of exegesis.
For Christians, the writings of Philo had stamped the allegorical method
with an authority that it was never to lose throughout the remainder of
antiquity, through the Middle Ages, and even into modern times3. Philo's
figurative exegesis of the Pentateuch, elaborated into a complex science, was
the offspring of the allegorical treatment of Homer and came into existence
to serve a similar end. The interpreters of Homer were content, however, to
ensure the poet's central place in Greek culture by discovering in epic later
philosophical and ethical notions. But Philo wanted to demonstrate, first to
the Hellenized Jews that their ancestral religion could be reconciled with the
highest thoughts of Greek philosophy, and then to the Greeks that Hebrew
Scripture was neither barbarous nor immoral, but on the contrary worthy of
their serious respect4. The river that flowed from the Homeric interpreters
to Philo was then joined and strengthened by another stream from a different
source. We cannot wholly understand the zeal of later antiquity to discover
absolute, timeless religious truth in great writings without taking into account
the influence of the non-literal interpretation of Scripture employed in the
New Testament, especially by St. Paul. The New Testament writers, in
finding predictions of the coming of Christ and descriptions of his nature in the
Criticism of allegory: Plato, Phaedrus 229C, Rep. 378d; Seneca, Epist. 88, 5; Plutarch,
Quomodo adulescentes ige-f; Tatian, Orat. ad Graecos 2I; Irenaeus, Haer. I, 9, 4; Origen,
Contra Celsum 4, 48-50. The heretic Marcion, who rejected all allegorical interpretation
of the 0. T., was forced to reject the 0. T. altogether. 2 F. CUMONT, op. cit., p. 8.
))The allegorical concept of Homer was still self-evident to Erasmus (Enchiridion c. 7)
and to WINCKELMANN<, as E. R. CURTIUS points out, op. cit. 205. E. HATCH, op. cit. 52,
n. i, remarks that in 1704 one G. CROESUS published a work, )>which endeavours to prove
both that the word Homer is a Hebrew word, that the Iliad is an account of the conquest
of Canaan, and that the Odyssey is a narrative of the wanderings of the children of Israel
up to the death of Moses<<.
H. WOLFSON, Philo, Cambridge Mass., 1947, Vol. I 87-I63, and Church Fathers, Vol.
Virgil, Minucius Felix and the Bible 77
Old Testament were simply continuing the midrashic or non-literal methods of
exegesis employed by Palestinian rabbis, whose aim, like that of the allegorizing
interpreters of Homer, was to make old text conform to advancing theology
and ethics.
The habit of ransacking old and great writers for figurative interpretations
and esoteric doctrines at the expense of the literal or surface meaning was
immeasurably strengthened by a twofold belief cherished throughout antiquity,
that the gods communicate to men through enigmas and that the inspired bard
is the unconscious spokesman of deity, the reporter of a divine message'. Plato
in his Ion had painted the portrait of the delirious, frenzied poet who, in his
state of enthusiastic inspiration, unconsciously uttered valuable truths. In the
Apology too Socrates classifies
'Te 'TpaCyaLc)V xcd 70U
ToUq &X?ouq
with seers and soothsayers, who say many
good things without understanding their meaning2. The early Christian
apologists express the same thought in a Christian form. To Athenagoras, for
instance, the poets and preachers of Sacred Scripture were but flutes through
which the divine breath blew, creating music for men's souls3. The author of
the Exhortation to the Greeks ascribed to Justin Martyr, using a similar meta-
phor, compares the writers of Scripture to harps or lyres upon which the plec-
trum of the Holy Spirit played and revealed the truths of heaven4. Once the
theory of the divine inspiration of certain great writers was granted, it was
inevitably broadened to include great philosophers, when the distinctions
between the truths of philosophy and the truths of poetry began to be obscured.
Indeed, the belief that pagan philosophers had been inspired from on high is
basic to Philo's thinking, as can be seen in his extremely influential three-fold
explanation for the presence of divine truth in philosophy: philosophy was
borrowed by the Greeks from the Jews; it was discovered by natural reason,
but with the help of God; it was vouchsafed by God to the Greeks as his special
gift to them 5.
The Church Fathers employed all three of these explanations in their
efforts to reconcile philosophy and Scripture. They welcomed the first argument
with particular eagerness; and many Christian writers worked up elaborate
chronologies to show that Moses was older than the earliest Greek teacher, who
Poets continue throughout antiquity to invoke the Muses not merely in deference to
convention, but also because the nine maidens conveniently symbolize the mysterious
sources and nature of artistic inspiration. If the Muses had not represented a living con-
cept, the Christian poets would probably not have been at such pains to reject their help
in favor of Christ's, e. g. Paulinus of Nola, Carmen IO, 20-2I: Negant Camenis, nec patent
Christo pectora (C. S. E. L. XXX p. 25).
2 Plato, Apology 22b-23c. See also E. E. SIKEs, The Greek View of Poetry, London
I93I, 67-7I. 3 Athenagoras, Legatio 9 (P. G. VI 908).
Pseudo-Justin, Cohortatio 8 (P. G. VI 256).
H. WOLFSON, Philo I I41-I43; Church Fathers, I 2I.
is sometimes identified as Linus, sometimes as Orpheus, sometimes as Homer.
)Jndeed#<, says St. Justin, )>Moses is more ancient than all the Greek writers,
and whatever the philosophers and poets have said in speaking about the
immortality of the soul, or retribution after death, or speculation on celestial
matters, or other similar matters, they took from the prophets... #1 As a
result of this borrowing, which reinforced the seed of reason implanted in all
men, divine teachings and biblical history, it was believed, are latently present
in pagan writers, although half-understood, garbled, or recast2. The account
of divine creation in Genesis is mirrored on the shield of Achilles (Iliad E 483),
and references to the Sabbath are to be found in Plato, Hesiod, Homer, Calli-
machus and Solon3. Examples of this process of identification could be multi-
plied almost endlessly, as could examples of Platonic and Stoic philosophical
teachings discovered in Scripture. But for our present study the important
point is that the attitude toward literature prevalent in later antiquity allowed
human wit ample scope to lay bare the philosophic hidden in the sacred and the
sacred latent in the profane. Educated men imbued with this attitude would
naturally, indeed inevitably, direct their minds, as they read both sacred and
secular texts, away from literal and historical meanings in their search for
spiritual or occult doctrines lying beneath the surface.
Keeping in mind these general assumptions, we turn now to the passage
of Minucius Felix's Octavius in which the Christian interlocutor, having
supported his belief in divine reason and providence by eloquently setting forth
the traditional argument from design drawn chiefly from Cicero, then goes
on to ask whether this divine rule is single or plural (Oct. I7-I9). Monarchy,
he asserts, is the most efficient form of government among men, the only form
of government among animals. (Oct. i8, 5-7). The consensus omnium supports
monotheism. Even the common crowd, stretching forth hands toward heaven,
calls upon a singular deus (Oct. i8, ii). Monotheism, far from being the doctrine
of a particular novel sect, is implanted in human reason by nature. This
thought then leads Octavius to introduce poets first and then philosophers as
witnesses to monotheism. The apologist seems to have two ends in view here:
to combat the claim of Caecilius, the pagan interlocutor, that Christians are
studiorum rudes, litterarum pro/anos, expertes artium etiam sordidarum4, the
1 Justin, First Apology 44 (P. G. VI 396). On Justin's attitude toward Greek philo-
sophy, see H. CHADWICK, Early Christian Thought and the Classical Tradition, Oxford
I966, 9-22.
2 Cf. Theophilus, Ad Autolycum I, I4 and 3, i8-ig (P. G. VI I045 and II46); Tatian,
Orat. ad Graecos 3I and 36-4I (P. G. VI 868-872 and 879-888); Tertullian, De anima
2, 4, ed. J. WASZINK, Amsterdam
I947, P. 3.
Pseudo-Justin, Cohortatio 28 (P. G. VI 293); Clement of Alexandria, Stromateis 5,
I4, 107 (ed. 0. STAHLIN, Griech. christl. Schriftst. Vol. XV, Clem. Alex. II 397-398).
Oct. 5, 4.
Virgil, Minucius Felix and the Bible 79
upstart opponents of all that is noble in the higher culture of educated Romans,
and then to show that the natural understanding of common people is supported
by the deeper wisdom of the learned and the inspired'.
Minucius begins his survey of the poets with Homer, as his pagan audience
would no doubt expect: Audio poetas quoque unum patrem divum atque homi-
num praedicantes, et talem esse mortalium mentem qualem parens omnium diem
duxerit (Oct. i9, i). We see that the apologist has started by rendering the
Homeric formula
&vapCv re OsCov tr (I1. A 544 etc.), emphasizing
Homer's supposed monotheism by his own addition of unum to patrem2. He
accompanies this with the suggestion that Homer, by employing the phrase
in question, is proclaiming or preaching (praedicare) a religious doctrine. To the
modern reader this seems a gross overinterpretation of a standard phrase, but
Minucius' reading is in accord with the general belief of antiquity that great
poems are religious documents containing theological teaching. The words of
Octavius that follow (talem esse ... duxerint) very loosely render Odyssey
tozoq Y&P voOq
i,uocp OC'f 7tCCap cXVpO)V re OCv -
The literal sense of Homer's words is accurately given by RIEU: )>In fact our
outlook on life here on earth depends entirely on the way Providence is treating
us at the moment(, - not a particularly apt thought for the apologist's pur-
pose, one would have supposed3. However, it was no novelty for a deeper
truth to be found in these words than lies on the surface. St. Augustine reports
Cicero's statement, made probably in a lost portion of De Fato, that the
Stoics were accustomed to quote these Homeric verses when asserting the
power of fate, which they identified with the supreme God4. Minucius seems
to attribute a less definite meaning to the words than did the Stoics 5. He is no
doubt pleased to discover that Homer makes the character of mortalium
mentem dependent upon divine dispensation 6. Yet only one element in the
Homeric verses really applies to the apologist's argument at this point, the
P. BEAUJEU well remarks that Minucius' threefold division of the argument (mono-
theism of the vulgus, of the poets, of the philosophers) is a reworking of Varro's theologia
tripertita as described by Tertullian, Ad nationes 2, i. See BEAUJEU's edition of the Octa-
vius, Paris I964, I07, n. I9.
2 There may also be a recollection of Ennius' translation of the Homeric phrase, patrem
divumque hominumque, cited by Cicero (De nat. d. 2, 2, 4.), at the point where his Stoic
interlocutor is beginning to expound his argument for the existence of God.
See Odyssey, ed. W. B. STANFORD, London
Vol. II 304.
Augustine, De civ. Dei 5, 8.
Cit. io8 points out that these Homeric verses, ))faisaient partie du stock
de citations couramment utilis6es par les rh6teurs(.
6 With an inconsistency typical of the apologists, Minucius uses Homer and other poets
when he finds them useful and rejects them when he does not. Cf. the reference in Oct. 24
words parens omnium, and we must observe that the phrase is not translation
but a monotheistic rewording of irocrp &v'p, v &v O &Cv re1. Cicero, in contrast,
had thus rendered the same Homeric verses:
Tales sunt hominum snentes, quali pater ipse
luppiter auctiferas lustravit lumine terras 2.
It is the phrase parens omnistm with its implications of the divine origins of the
universe that links the Homeric passage to the citations and arguments that
follow, for in the sequel more emphasis is laid upon God's role as Creator and
source of everything than upon God as moral governor of the universe. At the
conclusion of his review of pagan witnesses, the apologist will round off the
discussion by referring back to the quotation from Homer: ))Eadem fere et
ista, quae nostra sunt; nam et deum novimus et parentem omnium dicimns ...
(Oct. I9, I5).
Since Minucius writes as a Roman for a Latin-speaking audience, he does
not stop to cite other Greek poets as witnesses to Christianity, as he might
easily have done. For instance, the author of De monarchia wrongly attributed
to Justin, builds his case for monotheism out of citations, though not always
genuine ones, from 'Orpheus', Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Menander, and
Philemon, as well as Plato, and Pythagoras3. Minucius instead passes immedi-
ately to Virgil, whose semi-divine authority, as we have seen, was well estab-
lished by the beginning of the third century4.
Quid? Mantuanus Maro nonne apertius,
proximius, verius
'principio' ait 'caelum ac terras' et cetera mundi membra
'spiritus intus alit et in/usa mens agitat, inde hominum
pecudumque genus' et quicquid aliud animalium?
(Oct. I9, I-2).
Here we have, partly quoted, partly paraphrased, the beginning of Anchises'
great cosmological speech, spoken to Aeneas in the underworld (Aeneid 6,
724-728). The philosophical idea put forth in the opening words of the speech
quoted by Minucius, namely the existence of a divine World Spirit pervading
the universe, is of course common coin from the Stoic mint, but it gains
additional value as an utterance of the inspired bard. It is a matter of indif-
(BEAUJEU'S text 23) to carminibus . . . poetarum, qui plurimum quantum veritati ipsi sua
auctoritate vocuerunt. The inconsistency reflects sincere confusion over the proper Christian
attitude toward pagan letters.
1 Of course Min. also wants to avoid repeating the translation just used, patrem divum
atque hominum.
2 De civ. Dei 5, 8. 3 Pseudo-Justin, De monarchia (P. G. VI 3I2-325).
For a recent, authoritative statement on the endlessly argued problem of the date of
the Octavius and its relationship to Tertullian's Apologeticum, see BEAUJEU, Op cit.
Virgil, Minucius Felix and the Bible 8I
ference to Minucius that Virgil was in fact neither a philosopher nor a religious
teacher and that the philosophical ideas contained in this passage are not
propounded as the poet's own, but are put into the mouth of a fictitious
character. Nor does it seem to trouble the apologist that the pantheistic concept
of a God immanent in matter is contrary to Christian teaching'. Apologetic
proof-texts are commonly lifted from their contexts with little regard for their
authors' intentions. But there is a special reason, which seems to have gone
almost unnoticed, for Minucius to latch enthusiastically on to Virgil's words,
namely their resemblance to the opening passage of Genesis. G. H. RENDALL,
in his Loeb translation of the Octavius (London and Cambridge, Mass,
p. 364), translates
as 'In the beginning', although in its Virgilian
context the word is nothing more than a common formula for opening a
philosophic argument and means merely 'to begin' or 'in the first place' 2.
However, so typical of Christian thinking, so thoroughly stamped upon the
early Christian mind is the habit of looking through the outher shell of pagan
words to an inner kernel of Scriptural truth that RENDALL'S translation is
almost surely justified. It is indeed scarcely credible that Minucius, who
shared the leading ideas of his day on the divine source of pagan poetic and
philosophic wisdom, could have failed to make the identification between
Genesis and Virgil. Of the pagan philosophers Minucius clearly affirms:
quae dicimus, non quod
nos simus eorum vestigia subsecuti, sed quod illi de divinis praedi-
cationibus prophetaryum umbram interpolatae veritatis imitati sint3.
But since later antiquity tended to erase the boundaries between the truths
of poetry and the truths of philosophy, we may conjecture that here in Virgil's
philosophic speech was found 'the shadow of a garbled truth'.
The Christian speaker, it will be recalled, had introduced the quotation
under discussion by praising Mantuanus Maro, in contrast to Homer, for
speaking apertius, proximius, veyius, even though Virgil's Stoic mingling of
God and matter, when literally understood, is far removed from Christian
teaching on the relationship of God and the world. Yet the mind of the exegete,
See Lactantius, Div. inst. 7, 3, I, where this very passage of Virgil is cited as an example
of the Stoic error of mingling God with matter. Cf. also Aug. Conf. 7, I, 1-2. Min. is so
heavily indebted to his Stoic sources that the doctrine of divine immanence also occurs in
Oct. 32, 7-9, a passage in which the apologist is using material drawn from both Virgil and
Seneca. See P. COURCELLE, Virgile et l'immanence divin chez M. F., Mullus, Festschrift
Theodor Klauser, Murnster I964, 34-42 and M. SPANNEUT, Le stoicisme des Peres de
l'Eglise, Paris, I957, 263-266.
Lucretius I, 27I; 503; 2, 589. Also Cicero, De nat. d. 2, 62, I54.
Oct. 34, 5. Cf. 20, i: aut nunc Christianos philosophos esse aut philosophos fuisse iam
tunc Christianos.
Hermes 99, 1 6
in eager search of similarities, observes that Scripture does recount, and Virgil
seems to recount, how in the beginning God, who is described as spiritus in
both Genesis and Virgil1, created or caused to move and grow (alit and agitat
in Virgil; the present tense would not be a serious embarrassment to an exegete)
the heaven, the earth, and the other members of the universe, and how from
this divine Creator came hominum pecudumque genus et quicquid aliud animali-
um. Our argument, that Minucius is making tacit allusion to the parallels
between the depiction of creation in a pagan writer and true Scriptural account,
seems to be confilmed by the favorable judgment that Octavius passes a bit
later (Oct. I9, 4) on the cosmogony of Thales:
Iste Milesiuts Thales rerutm initium aquam dixit, deum autem eam
mentem quae ex aqua cuncta formaverit. Esto altior et sublimior
aquae et spiritus ratio, quam ut ab homine potuerit inveniri a deo
traditum: vides philosophi principalis nobiscum penitus opinionem
There is virtually unanimous agreement among scholars that in these words
Octavius is subtly pointing out the similarity between the cosmogony of
Thales and that of Scripture, as expressed in the words of Genesis, Et Spiritus
dei ferebatur super aquas. Thales, suggests the Christian interlocutor, could not
have arrived by reason alone at so close an approximation of divine truth; he
must have received enlightenment from God3. The concessive esto clause
grants the point but puts off its further discussion. Surely if the very slight
resemblance between the pre-Socratic philosopher's theory of the beginning
of things and the sentence of Genesis-a resemblance hardly noticeable except
to one convinced beforehand that philosophy and revealed truth must often
coincide-if this scarcely visible similarity indicates to Minucius that God
inspired Thales, then surely when the apologist cites the passage from Virgil,
in which there is an actual verbal resemblance to Genesis, he must intend to
suggest that biblical truth is reflected in the pagan poet.
1 Min. may possibly have known a Latin translation of the Bible. On the date of the
Vetus Latina, Bonifatius FISCHER, the leading authority says, )>The Old Latin translation
of the Bible came into being little by little during the second century, perhaps in Africa,
perhaps in Rome or Gaul, probably in different places((. See New Cath. Encyclopedia II
2 RENDALL brackets the words Esto ... traditum on the grounds that they read 'like
an appended gloss'. This opinion is in line with a tradition reaching back ultimately to the
seventeenth-century scholar GRONOVIUS, who was subsequently followed by HALM, DOM-
BART, CORNELISSEN and BAEHRENS. But J. VAHLEN convincingly argues for the genuineness
of the passage (Ges. Phil. Schriften, Vol. I, Leipzig and Berlin, i9iI, 65I-657 [orig.
published in Hermes 30, I895]), and his views are followed in the editions of WALTZING
(I909 and I9I2), PELLEGRINO (I950), and BEAUJJEU (I964).
Some scholars also find an allusion to baptism in these words of Oct., while others,
with greater probability, deny it. See VAHLEN, Op. cit. 653 and BEAUJEU I09.
Virgil, Minucius Felix and the Bible 83
The question immediately arises why Minucius Felix did not go so far as to
produce his conclusion openly before his pagan opponents, triumphantly
showing that the revered bard too had learned from Scripture. The answer is,
of course, that the apologist is at pains throughout his polished and elegant
discourse to avoid resting his argument upon specifically Christian beliefs or
documents; he must present his case to cultivated Romans, who probably
held the Bible in the utmost contempt (especially the Old Testament, the
literature of a people whom the Romans found alien, bizarre, and unpleasant 1).
For Minucius' purpose, it sufficed to indicate tacitly to his more learned and
more Christian readers that Virgil reflects biblical truth. Direct allusions to
Scripture had to be kept at a minimum when a writer was trying to reach an
audience whose reaction to the strange language of Scripture, if they ever came
into direct contact with it, must have been similar to that of the young St.
Augustine, who found the Bible indigna quam Tullianae dignitati compararem
(Conf. 3, 5). (The only other verbal recollection of a specific Scriptural passage
in the Octavius may possibly occur at 33, I: non solum in oculis eius, sed in
sinu vivimus, which could be a recollection of Act. I7, 28: in ipso enim vivimus
et movemur et sumus. But the resemblance is not close 2).
Other citations from the speech of Anchises in patristic literature (it was a
favorite passage with the Fathers) tend to confirm the argument that Minucius
is linking Virgil and the Bible3. For example, Lactantius, like Minucius, passes
in review the pagan witnesses to monotheism, and he too quotes the beginning
of Anchises' discourse 4. But Lactantius does so in a context that makes it clear
that he takes Virgil's words to be a description of the divine act of creation.
First he speaks of Orpheus, oldest of the poets, who attributed the origin of
everything to the true and great god, 'the first born', before whom there was
nothing. Homer is then quickly dismissed as having nothing to say on divine
matters-a surprising judgment, but comprehensible once we see that Lac-
tantius is concentrating on pagan accounts of creation. He passes on to Hesiod,
and is at paiins to refute the Hesiodic view that chaos was the beginning of all
things. He then continues: Nostrorum primus Maro non longe afuit a veritate,
cuius de summo deo, quem mentem ac spiritum nominavit, haec verba sunt. At th's
point Lactantius quotes Aeneid 6, 724-727, and then goes on to cite Ovid's
account of creation by a God whom that poet named mundi fabricator and
Note that in Oct. 33, 4, the Christian coldly refers to the Old Testament as Scripta
Cf. Oct. 32, 9, Non tantum sub illo agimus, sed et cum illo, ut prope dixerim, vivimus,
H. J. BAYLIS, Minucius Felix, London, I928, I50-I51, gives a list of supposed parallels
between the Bible and Oct. But these seem to be correspondences between general ideas
rather than direct references to Scriptural passages.
See P. COURCELLE, Les Peres de lEglise (see above, p. 7I n. 2),
37-42; H.
HAGENDAHL, Latin Fathers pp. I24, I27, 134, 23I, 242. 4 Div. inst. I,
opifex reryum . Sandwiched between the Hesiodic and Ovidian descriptions of
the origin of the universe, Virgil's words are surely understood by Lactantius
as a description of the primal act of creation and as a parallel to the beginning
of Genesis.
St. Ambrose too interprets the beginning of Anchises' speech in this way.
In his treatise De Spiritu sancto, Ambrose sets out to prove that the Holy
Spirit, as well as the Father and the Son, was creator of the universe. Even
gentile writers, he declares, had an inkling of truth. Gentiles homines per umbram
quandam nostros secuti, quia veyitatem Spinitus hauyire non poterant, quod
caelum ac terras, lunae quoque stellarumque micantium globos
intus alat
suis versibus indideryunt. Ergo illi per Spiyitum non negant virtutem subsistere crea-
turae: nos qui legimus, denegams2? >>But ((, Ambrose imagines his opponents
objecting, Athe pagans meant by this only a windy or airy spirit ?,
Ambrose's reply to this objection shows conclusively that he inter-
prets the Virgilian passage, to which he has just alluded, as a description of the
divine act of creation: Si illi auctorem omnium flatilem spiyitum declarant, nos
dei esse omntium creatorem?3
To conclude our argument we introduce the evidence of Falconia Proba's
Christian Virgil-cento, a kind of poem which cannot fail to seem preposterous
to the modern reader-'genre absurde', exclaims H. DE LUBAC-, although it
was unquestionably put together with wholly serious and pious intention. Such
was the intellectual climate of the fourth century4. Far from being an idle
OVID, Met. I, 57 and 79. Cf. the reference to Aeneid 6, 726-727 in Div. inst. 7, 3,
where Lactantius, more careful than Minucius, expresses disapproval of the Stoic view of
divine immanence.
2 De Spiritu Sancto 2, 5, 36 (P.
78i b). Cf. also the allusion to Aeneid 6, 726 in
Ambrose's description of the fifth day of creation, Exameron 5, I (C. S. E. L. XXXII pt.
I40): Vestita diversis terra germinibus virebat omnis, caelum quoque sole et luna geminis
vultus sui luminibus stellarumque insignitum decore fulgebat. Supererat elementum tertium,
mare scilicet, ut et ipsi gratia vivificationis divino munere proveniret. A etherio etenim spiritu
omnes terrarum fetus aluntur, terra quoque semina resolvens universa vivificat . . .
Has P. COURCELLE misread Jerome, In Isaiam 6, sI; P. L. XXIV 558a
? He
gives the impression (Les Peres de lEglise, p. 4I) that in this passage Jerome gives two
different interpretations of the spiritus of Aen. 6, 727, one of which would identify it with
the Stoic spiritum quo omnis mundus inspiratur, the other with the creative sanctum Spiri-
turn of Genesis I, 2. But in fact, Jerome is offering two interpretations not of Virgil, but of
the Spiritus and
in the Isaiah passage he is discussing: quia spiritus a facie mea
egredietur, et
flatus ego faciam. Jerome cites Aen. 6, 723-727 only to illustrate the Stoic
view, and he does not at all link the spiritus of Virgil to the sanctum Spiritum ... qui in
principio ferebatur super aquas et vivificabat omnia.
4On Falconia and the history of the cento, see F. ERMINI, Il Centone di Proba, Rome
I909; LUBAC, Op. Cit. 245-246, P. COURCELLE, Les Ex6geses 307-3IO; A. G. AMATUCCI,
Storia della Letteratura, 2nd ed., Turin I955, I30-I3I. AMATUCCI would relate Falconia's
cento to the edict of the Emperor Julian, ))con cui si proibiva ai maestri cristiani di leggere
e spiegare Omero e gli altri autori antichi .
Virgil, Minucius Felix and the Bible
exercise, an exhibition of cleverness, the Christian cento was a relative of the
allegorical exegesis which sought to disclose in respected writings occult
meanings not visible on the surface. St. Jerome suggests this relationship when
he compares the over free interpretations of certain biblical exegetes with the
methods of the cento writers'. (He means Falconia specifically; he quotes lines
404 and 624 of her work). Now Falconia, immediately after the end of her
proemium, launches into an exposition of Creation. Under her practised hand
the opening of Genesis is transformed into a mosaic of Virgilian bits and pieces:
caelum ac terras camposque liquentes
lucentemque globum lunae solisque labores
ipse pater statuit ...2
Although before the second line is finished Falconia veers off to Aeneid I,
742, according to the rules of the genre (as set forth by Ausonius in the dedi-
cation to his Cento Nuptialis), she nevertheless makes it clear that she gazed
through Aeneid 6, 724-725 and underneath discovered Genesis i, I. And so,
inevitably, must many other Christian readers of Virgil. It is possible that
Minucius Felix was one of the first to do so.
We proceed now to a consideration of the words of Octavius that immediate-
ly follow the Aeneid quotation:
Idem alio loco mentem istam et spiritum deum nominat. Haec enim verba sunt:
deum namque ire per omnes
terrasque tractusque maris caelumque pro/undum,
unde hominum genus et pecudes, unde imber et ignes.
Quid aliud et a nobis deus quam mens et ratio et spiritus praedicatur?3
We have here a remarkable conflation of Georgics 4, 220-22I and Aeneid i,
473. The verse which actually follows the two lines quoted from the Georgics,
hinc pecudes, armenta, viros, genus omne ferarum,
is omitted and replaced by a line from Virgil's epic; the two passages are
then run together as if Virgil had so written them. Now almost all scholars who
have commented on this confusion attribute it to a lapse of memory: Minucius,
they claim, did not bother to check his quotation and combined the two passages
inadvertently4. But this supposition is inherently unlikely. In the first place,
the Octavius does not at all give the reader an impression of hasty or careless
composition-quite the opposite. Secondly, the educated reader who must have
known Virgil nearly by heart, the very reader at whom the apologist is aiming
Jerome, Letter 53, 7.
lines 56-59. 3 OCt. I9, 2-3.
So BAYLIS, Minucius, p. I28; WALTZING (ed. of I909),
his Christian message, would have detected the error immediately. Further-
more, the memory lapse, if this is one, would be of a most unusual and unnatural
kind. In quoting a passage from memory a writer might easily err by changing
the original order of words or by inadvertently replacing a word with its syno-
nym. But to take a passage from one poem and to glue into it a line from a
different work and from a wholly different context-this is surely an improbable
accident. In spite of the superficial similarity between the original line and the
one that replaces it, the passage of the Georgics to which Octavius refers would
not naturally call to mind that section of Aeneid i in which line 743 is found.
The former citation is taken from Virgil's reflections on the intelligence of bees
and the source of that intelligence; the latter comes from the song of the bard
lopas sung at the banquet that Dido gives for her Trojan guests. Both passages
touch vaguely upon cosmology; that is the only link between them.
We must, then, consider the possibility that Minucius has knowingly
combined two passages that do not belong together and thus created a brief
Virgilian cento. P. COURCELLE has suggested this: #La citation ... est un
centon ou le vers 743 ... est substitue volontairement a Georg. IV, 224 .. .<4,
but he has not ventured to explain what the apologist hoped to achieve nor
how his audience would accept this artificial product'. Any conjecture concern-
ing Minucius' intention must be based on the change of meaning brought
about by the substitution of an alien verse. The original passage runs thus:
deum namque ire per omnis
terrasque tractusque maris caelumque pro/undum;
223 hinc pecudes, armenta, viros, genus omne ferarum,
quemque sibi tenuis nascentem arcessere vitas.
Virgil is referring here to the Stoic thinkers, who held that all animate creatures,
sub-human as well as human, are inspired and vivified by the divine anima
mundi2. But this doctrine harmonizes very poorly with the biblical account
of creation, which has just been in the forefront of Minucius'mind, and it
disagrees in particular with the Christian belief in the uniqueness of man. The
excerpt from the Georgics is materialistic and pantheistic; it links man closely
with other forms of animate life and suggests the view of the earlier Stoics
that there is no special divine providence for man, that man shares in this
providence only as a part of nature's whole3. But Genesis clearly and heavily
emphasizes the separate creation of man apart from other living creatures,
Les Peres de l'Eglise, p. 38, note.
See the note on Georg. 4, 2I9 in J. CONINGTON and H. NETTLESHIP'S edition and
commentary, rev. by F. HAVERFIELD, 5th ed., London I898, reprinted Hildesheim I963.
Virgil, it would appear, is confusing the doctrine of the anima mundi with the belief of
Aristotle and others that bees are specially gifted with divine wisdom.
For the later Stoic opinion, see Cicero De nat. d. 2, 65-66.
Virgil, Minucius Felix and the Bible 87
and affirms that man was made in the image of God, and that God )>breathed into
his nostril the breath of life; and man became a living beinga (Genesis I, 27
and 2, 7). This vital distinction is lost in the poet's description of a God from
whom each living thing at birth ))draws its slender lifea(. However, with the
omission of life 223 and the substitution of,
unde hominum genus et pecudes, unde imber et ignes,
Virgil's meaning is subtly but significantly altered. The poet may now be
understood to be saying, not that animals as well as men receive a portion of
the divine at birth, but merely that God is the author of all nature. The
important words are imber and ignes, for they broaden the meaning, changing
the original, limited description of living creatures to a more inclusive de-
scription of the natural world. The new meaning achieved by the replacement
of line 223 eliminates from Virgil a jarring disagreement with Scripture.
A passage from Tertullian supports this conjecture. In his treatise De
anima, Tertullian attacks those thinkers who, like Aristotle, degrade the
human soul by attributing substantia animalis to all living creatures; Christians
on the other hand believe, he says, that the soul in homine privata res est, that
is, it is the breath of God with which man alone among created things is
endowed'. Minucius may well have had the same point in mind when he
altered the passage from the Georgics 2.
We must of course reject any suspicion that Minucius' tampering with
Virgil had a dishonest purpose, first because his procedure was transparent,
and secondly because he is apparently employing in defense of Christianity a
technique that by the late second century of our era was beginning to win
acceptance in certain circles as a legitimate method of exegesis. The locus
classicus on the origins and development of the cento, both the pagan and the
Christian, is Tertullian's De praescriptione haereticorum 38-39. In this
passage Tertullian is attacking the Gnostics for abusing Scripture to suit the
Tert., De anima I9, 2, ed. J. WASZINK
27. Cf. A. HARNACK, History of Dogma, trans.
by N. BUCHANAN, Boston I90I, Vol. II, p. i9i, n. 4; iTatian denied the natural immortality
of the soul, declared the soul (the material spirit) to be something inherent in all matter,
and accordingly looked on the distinction between men and animals in respect of their
inalienable natural constitution as only one of degree #.
It is furthermore possible that Min., in spite of his apparent acceptance of divine
immanence, rejected the idea-implicit in the Georgics passage as originally written-that
the soul is corporeal in nature. Tert. argues strongly in De anima for the corporeity of the
soul, but the question was obviously much debated and long unresolved. It is perhaps
noteworthy that Christian writers often allude to Georg. 4, 22 1-222, but omit the follow-
ing lines. So, e. g., Jerome, In Epist. ad Ephes. 4, 5-6. (P. L. XXVI 529 a, p. 6ii); Aug.,
De civ Dei 4, ii; Salvian, Gub. Dei I, I, 4 (C. S. E. L. VIII p. 4). Cf. AMBROSE, De
officiis I,
I3, 49 (P. L. XVI 42 a). But Lact. Div. inst. I, 5 does not hesitate to quote the
whole of Georg. 4, 22I -224.
needs of their perverted doctrines. Marcion, he says, excised such portions of
the Bible as did not agree with his views. Valentinus, in contrast, forced
Scripture to produce a desired meaning, auferens proprietates singulorum
quoque verborum et adiciens
non comparentium rerum 1. This
technique Tertullian compares to the creation of centos from Homeric and
Virgilian material:
Vides hodie ex Virgilio fabulam in totum aliam componi, materia
secundum versus et versibus secundum materiam concinnatis.
Denique Hosidius Geta Medeam tragoediam ex Virgilio plenissime
exsuxit. Meus quidam propinquus ex eodem poeta inter cetera stili
sui otia Pinacem Cebetis explicuit. Homerocentones etiam vocari
solent qui de carminibus Homeri propria opera more centonario
ex multis hinc inde compositis in unum sarciunt corpus. Et utique
divina litteratura ad facultatem cuiusque materiae
Tertullian goes so far as to claim that the Scriptures were actually arranged by
the will of God to supply material to the heretics, cum legam oportere haereses
esse (i. Cor. ii, I9) quae sine
esse non possunl3. As we can see from
this passage, the cento had from its beginnings a twofold character: the serious
biblical cento was used to support religious opinion, while the formal, secular
cento was a clever exercise intended merely to amuse. But not all serious,
religious centos were built of biblical materials. Certain heretical Christian
sects apparently employed Homer for this purpose. The Gnostic sectaries,
whatever the doctrinal differences separating their many schools, were united
in their devotion to Homer. As J. CARCOPINO well puts it: )4Indistinctement,
ils partageaient la conviction qu'ils n'avaient qu'a se pencher sur les poemes
de l'aede pour y decouvrir des attestations suppI6mentaires et des illuminations
nouvelles de leur foi chretienne. Afin de la nourrir, ils pratiquaient la methode
allegorique dont les palens avaient us6 avec l'epopee et que Philon le Juif
avait 6tendue, corr6lativement, 'a l'Ancien Testament
((. Thus, when Homer
recounted in the twenty-fourth Odyssey how Cyllenian Hermes, wielding a
golden wand, guided the souls of the dead suitors to the asphodel meadow, the
Naassenes understood this as a description of the incarnate Logos of God
escorting the blessed souls of the just back to their true home above5. Once
it had been granted that the true meaning of Homer is so far removed from the
literal, there was but a small step to rearranging the text in order to extract
the true meaning. This step the Gnostics took, as we learn from Irenaeus,
and from a passage of Epiphanius based upon Irenaeus. Both Fathers, in
Tert., Traite de la Prescription, ed. by R. F. REFOULt, trans. by P. de LABRIOLLE,
Sources Chretiennes No. 46, Paris 1957, I4I-I42. 2 Ibid., I42-I43.
Ibid., I43-I44. 4 J. CARCOPINo, De Pythagore aux Apotres, Paris I956, I89.
Hippolytus, Philos. 5, 7. CARCOPINO, Op.
Cit., i8o-i8i.
Virgil, Minucius Felix and the Bible 89
order to illustrate the kind of garbled and foolish texts upon which the heretics
relied, record the same Homeric cento employed by the Valentinian Gnostics.
In this cento, five scattered lines from the Iliad and five from the Odyssey are
sewn together to produce a description of Heracles descending to the under-
world at the orders of Eurystheus to bring back the dog of hateful Hades. The
hero is escorted on his way by maidens, youths, and old men, as well as by
Hermes and Grey-eyed Athena'. Neither Irenaeus nor Epiphanius states what
sense or use the Gnostics made of this fabrication. However, CARCOPINO, drawing
upon descriptions of Valentinian theology in Irenaeus and furthermore compar-
ing the cento with an important symbolic fresco found at the tomb of a Gnostic
brotherhood in Rome, on the Viale Manzoni, interprets as follows: ))A moins
de considerer le docteur de la gnose [Valentinus] comme un champion du
polytheisme, force nous est de supposer qu'il avait en vue, a travers Eurysthee,
un des eons de son Pl6rome et qu'il lui avait subordonne, heros comme Herac-
les, dieux et d6esses comme Hermes et Athena, tous les Olympiens de la
fable; et, dans ces conditions, nous ne pouvons reconnaitre en cet Eon que le
Christ, que la doctrine valentinienne d6pechait du ciel sur la terre au secours
d'une humanite corrompue par le peche, guett6e par la mort et preservee par
la charite dont debordait le cceur de J6sus2?.
The use of centos to support theological arguments was in vogue, we see,
during the late second and early third centuiries. But if heretics could use
centos of hallowed pagan verse to support false teachings, why should not the
orthodox too support true? The technique is readily justifiable provided that
neither the writer who uses it nor his reader believes that a passage of poetry
must carry a specific meaning within its context. Minucius, we can see, freely
adapted Virgil to his convenience and ignored wholly the context from which
he borrowed his quotation, for in the passage of the Georgics to which he
refers, Virgil does not actually affirm the doctrine of the anima mundi as his
own but merely quotes it as the opinion of some thinkers and as one possible
explanation for the intelligence of bees. In the apologist's citation, all trace
of the original context of the passage is lost.
1 Irenaeus, Haer. I, 9, 4., Epiphanius, Panarion 2, 3I, 3I (ed. K. HOLL, Griech. christl.
Schrift., Epiphanius I 430). CARCOPINO,
cit. I9I. The Homeric verses employed are,
in this order, Od. x 76; 9 26, I1. T I23; 0 368, Od.
130, I1. Q 327, Od. X 38, II. Q2 328,
Od. X, 626, IL. B 409.
cit. I9I-I92. On the Pythagorean background of this occult sym-
bolism, see CARCOPINO, I89-22I and the resum6 of P. COURCELLE in Rev. des Et. Ancien-
nes 59, I957, IO8-iI2. One naturally defers to the learning of CARCOPINo. And yet a
doubt remains. Are Irenaeus and Epiphanius actually saying that the Valentinian Gnostics
composed and made use of the Homeric cento that they both cite ? Or do the Fathers
merely quote the cento by way of comparison, to show how foolishly and unnaturally the
Gnostics forced the Scriptures to support their doctrines ?
90 DAVID S. WIESEN: Virgil, Minucius Felix and the Bible
And yet Minucius' method of citing Virgil as a Christian proof-text is,
after all, not far different from the way in which the New Testament writers use
Old Testament passages in support of the gospel message. When Christianity
was at first proclaimed exclusively to Jews, the Old Testament was the natural
source of proof texts cited to show that
Jesus, in his
life, death, and resurrec-
tion, had fulfilled the ancient Messianic hopes and predictions of the Pentateuch
and Prophets. But the apostles were under no obligation to examine carefully
the context of the passages they cited, nor were they bound by any theory of
literal interpretation. The rabbis of Palestinian Judaism had
long since develop-
ed midrash, or the non-literal method of interpreting Scripture'. A
type of rabbinical midrash was the eschatological predictive interpretation,
which found in a biblical passage references to the Messiah and the MIessianic
age. Sometimes the New Testament writers, while interpreting Scripture
according to this method, juxtapose Old Testament proof texts so closely as to
create virtual centos. To cite but one example of many: In Acts of the Apostles,
after the account of the healing of a lame man by Peter and John, the author
tells how Peter addressed to a concourse of marvelling onlookers a speech of
rebuke, in which he upbraided his fellow Jews for having rejected the Messiah
and called them to repentance (Acts 3, I2-26). In support of his assertions he
quotes Moses: M&uc a v el7rv 6Tt 7rpOcpT-yV D4LV MVaCCT6
o 6oe
ex -cov &Xac(pV VUC9V, w ?. ocrUroU a&xoiaEaOe xo&ra a6vao o &z av XaOvX
\ e , N \ v \ tt~~~N t 5 I
rp6O; lU;OE. e:Tr= a' =5(71 IWTt 6XV
'x -oi5
?xo5 (Acts 3, 22-23). We observe that Peter, or the
author of Acts, has here put together Deuteronomy i8, I5 and Leviticus 23, 29
as if they were part of one continuous text, a single Messianic prophecy. The
procedure has led to the hypothesis ))that Jews and Christians used 'Books of
Testimonies' in which proof texts were arranged under suitable headings2 ((.
But the important point is that any text believed to be charged with occult
meaning, whether Sacred Scripture, Homer, or Virgil, lends itself to this kind
of cento treatment. And certainly the Christian writers who sought for the
profound truths latent in 'gentile' poetry could not fail to be influenced by the
exegetical methods they found in the New Testament3. The centos found
scattered through the New Testament, the Virgil citations in Minucius Felix,
and the full cento of Falconia Proba are all manifestations of the belief that
the greatest prophets and poets saw far beyond their times and concealed
See H. WOLFSON, Church Fathers Vol. I 24.
K. LAKE, The Beginnings of Christianity, London I933, Vol. IV, P. 38, n. 22. Cf. A. D.
NOCK, St. Paul New York I938,
For other such juxtapositions of proof passages in virtually cento form, see Acts. I, 20
and Romans 3, II-i8. H. MARROU, illustrating how St. Aug. weaves together Biblical
passages in his Conf., remarks, >On le voit, nous touchons presque ici au centon (, St. Aug.
et la Fin de la Culture Ant., Paris I938, 501.
HERBERT JUHNKE: Zum Aufbau des zweiten und dritten Buches des Properz 9I
their deeper and more esoteric wisdom in symbols and riddles which only the
spiritually gifted could read. Certainly the seriousness with which Falconia
undertook to show Virgil's true meaning is indicated by her declaration:
Vergilium cecinisse loquar
munera Christi (line 23)
and the seriousness with which her poem was read is proved by the strength
of St. Jerome's attack against it1, and by the pronouncement of Pope Gelasius
in the year 494: centimetrum de Christo, Vergilianis compaginatum versibus,
apocryphum 2. We may be scornful of the naivete of some of Virgil's interpreters,
but the belief in the sacred character of the greatest poetry has a long history.
And lest we think that the desire to find hidden profundities in Virgil is com-
pletely dead in the historically aware twentieth century, we may be reminded
that in I9I2 a book was published purporting to show that all the Eclogues
contain the message of Christianity concealed by an extremely complex
Brandeis University DAVID S. WIESEN
Letter 53,
2 P. L. LIX I62 and 179. Cf. Isidore, De vir. ill. 22, I8.
V. A. Fitz SIMON, M. D., The Ten Christian Pastorals of Vergil, New York I9I2.
Eine Gedichtgruppe kann als zeitliches Nacheinander und als raumliches
Nebeneinander aufgefaBt werden; dem Dichter eroffnen sich entsprechend zwei
Grundrichtungen der Anordnung: Aufbauformen des Nacheinander lassen sich
als 'musikalische', solche des Nebeneinander als 'architektonische' bezeichnen.
Den kenntlichsten Rahmen jeglicher Gedichtanordnung bilden
zumal in
Biuchern, die sich nicht durch metrischen Wechsel gliedern lassen
die Buch-
gienzen: die Frage nach der Gedichtanordnung verwandelt sich vielfach in die
Frage nach dem Buchaufbau.
FormbewuBte Zeiten bilden Gedichtbeziehungen offensichtlich zu so be-
deutsamen Seiten dichterischer GesamtauBerung aus, daB der Nachweis der
Gliederungsverbande, in denen das Einzelgedicht steht, zu dessen vollstandiger
Erhellung erforderlich wird. Dem Aufbau der Gedichtbiicher eines so form-
bewuBten Abschnitts der Dichtungsgeschichte wie der Augusteerzeit muB
fraglos besondere Bedeutung beigemessen werden 1.
1 Eine Zusammenstellung wichtiger Arbeiten auf diesem Felde gibt E. BURCK. Zur
Komposition des vierten Buches des Properz, WS 79, I966, 405 A. i; vgl. ferner W. LUD-
WIG, Die Komposition der beiden Satirenbucher des Horaz, Poetica 2, I968, 304-325 (s.