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Muses of Sicily, let us now undertake
A somewhat greater task! Not all men love
Coppice or lowly tamarind: sing we woods,
Woods worthy of a Consul let them be.
Now the last age by Cumæ’s Sibyl sung
Has come and gone, and the majestic roll
Of a new order for the ages begins:
[Ultima Cumæi venit iam carminis ætas;
magnus ab integro sæclorum nascitur ordo.]
Justice returns, returns old Saturn’s reign,
With a new breed of humankind sent down from heaven.
Only do you, at the boy’s birth in whom
The iron age shall cease, the golden race arise,
Befriend him, chaste Lucina; It is your own
Apollo who reigns. And in your consulate,
This glorious age, O Pollio, shall begin,
And the months enter on their mighty march.
Under your guidance, what 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 over a world at peace. For you, my boy,
First shall the earth, untilled, pour freely forth
Its childish gifts, the surging 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.
Your very cradle shall pour forth for you
Caressing flowers. The serpent too shall die,
Die shall the treacherous poison-plant, and far
And wide Assyrian spices spring. But soon
As you have learned to read of heroes’ fame,
And of your father’s deeds, and deeply 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.
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 you 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 colors 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 shall you weave, as you run,”
Sang to their spindles the consenting Fates
By Destiny’s unalterable decree.
Assume your 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 your deeds,
Nor Thracian Orpheus should out-sing me then,
Nor Linus, though his mother this, and that
His father should aid–Orpheus Calliope,
And Linus fair Apollo. No, 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 your mother with a smile,
O baby-boy! ten months of weariness
For you she bore: O baby-boy, begin!
For him, on whom his parents have not smiled,
Gods deem not worthy of their board or bed.
–Publius Vergilius Maro, Eclogue IV (44 BCE)
More from Scott Horton:
Six Questions — October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm
Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.
Mark Denbeaux on the NCIS cover-up of three “suicides” at Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp
From the June 2014 issue
Jobs created by every billion dollars of U.S. government defense spending:
Artists tend to have twice as many sexual partners as noncreative people.
Swiss retailer Migros cut off ties with a collectible-creamer company following the distribution of 2,000 creamers whose lids bore images of Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini. “You cannot put Pol Pot or a terrorist on a milk creamer,” said a Migros spokesman.
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“I hope that after reading the following pages the leaders of the Y. M. C. A. will start a campaign to induce good young men to do nothing. If so, I shall not have lived in vain.”