Eusebius' Greek Version of Vergil's Fourth Eclogue
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Eusebius' Greek Version of Vergil's Fourth Eclogue Edwin D. Floyd University ofPittsburgh Abstract As it adjusted the syntax and vocabulary of the Latin original, a fourthcentury Greek translation of Eclogue 4 veered pretty consistently toward a messianic interpretation and so helped shape subsequent reading of Vergil's poem along such lines. The most readily accessible dimension thus added to Eclogue 4 involves Homeric resonances, reused from a Christian perspective. Occasionally, though, the translation goes beyond Homer to other archaic material; nowadays, we can best approach some of this other material through Indo-European poetics. From its blending of various traditions, the translation emerges as a work that is literarily both interesting and sophisticated, and at line 62, it can even playa role in establishing Vergil's text and meaning. The Greek translation Composed around 40 BC, Vergil's Eclogue 4 was subsequently read as an inspired prophecy of the birth of Jesus Christ some forty years later. Today such an interpretation is not so popular, but actually, through a majority of the generations that have read it, the specifically Christian interpretation was dominant. It was fostered by the prestige of Vergil, inasmuch as Christian readers wished to connect themselves with the greatest of Roman poets. Conversely, though, the messianic interpretation of Eclogue 4 also fed into medieval and later readers' continued admiration of Vergil, as seen, for example, in the fact that Vergil is Dante's guide through much of the Divine Comedy. As late as the eighteenth century, Pope produced, in English, a poem called "Messiah," based on Vergil, and Johnson then put Pope's poem into Latin; both Pope and Johnson were clearly writing with an eye toward 58 THE POLITICS OF TRANSLATION (1) the Roman original and (2) a Christian interpretation of the Latin text. In the West, either the Latin text of Eclogue 4 or the occasional Western vernacular adaptation of it was what was naturally read. Probably the most specific source, though, for reading Vergil in Christian terms is to be found in a fourth-century Greek translation, cited by Eusebius. Repeatedly, the translation adopts a messianic view of Eclogue 4, and its stance is likely to have influenced bilingual GreekLatin readers, familiar with both the Latin text and its Greek translation.' In the very first line, for example, the deprecating tone (presumably intended by Vergil), which is introduced by paulo [slightly] in paulo maiora canamus [let us sing of slightly greater things], is absent from the Greek ll£yUA.llV


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Subject Headings

  • Translating and interpreting--Europe--History--To 1500.
  • Translating and interpreting--Europe--History--16th century.
  • Civilization, Medieval.
  • Renaissance.
  • Literature, Medieval--Translations--History and criticism.
  • European literature--Renaissance, 1450-1600--Translations--History and criticism.
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