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ST. PAUL AT THE TOMB OF VIRGIL' Sir ROBERT FALCONER A s LATE as the fifteenth century there was sung at Mantua the Mass of St. Paul, in which the Apostle in deep compassion wept by the tomb of Virgil: Ad Maronis mausoleum ductus) fudit super eum piae rorem lacrimaej quem te inquit reddidissem, si te vivum invenissem, poetarum maxime. These lines may be rendered: The Apostle led to Virgil's tomb, grieving at his untimely doom, let fall a reverent tear; had I but met thee face to face, blest wouldst thou be in Paradise, poet wi.thout a peer. There is nothing incredible in the tradition that St. Paul, during the seven days which he spent with "the brethren" at PuteoJi on the Bay of Naples, turned aside to visit the spot in his seaside villa at Posilipo near Naples, whither the poet's ashes had been taken for burial after his death at Brundisium. Virgil died on the twenty-first of September, 19 B.C. St. Paul may have reached Puteoli in the spring of 60, or 62, A.D. Long before this, educated society of the Western Yl'orld was familiar with the Aeneid; tags of it were scribbled on stucco in the streets of Pompeii. Already in the poet's lifetime, the Eclogues and the Georgies had become schoolJeyril Bailey, !ldigion in Virgil, Clarendon Press. 1935. 18 ST. PAUL AT THE TOMB OF VIRGIL books. Martial, who arrived in Rome as a young man a year or two after St. Paul, mentions that a portrait of Virgil was often prefixed to the school-books, and accepts the verdict of antiquity as to his pre-eminence. As " the saint of poets" meriting divine honours, the Ides of October were sacred to him. St. Paul had been educated in the schools of Tarsus, Jewish schools indeed in which he was taught the traditions of his race but in which also he seems to have spoken Hellenistic Greek of the higher type. He was a Roman citizen by birth and was proud of it. The name of Virgil, therefore, whose poetry was by this time almost "the Bible of the ancients," was in all probability \vell known to him; but that he had read Virgil as a schoolboy, in fact that he could have read him in Latin, is quite unlikely. Even if he was able to follow the story of Aeneas, his youthful Hebrew soul would have been impatient of Virgil's interweaving, in the tale, of the loves and jealousies of the lesser deities, though they were to the poet but the antiquarian embroidery with which he delighted to deck the contending forces that had shaped imperial Rome. During the eighty years which had elapsed since the death of Virgil, his fai th that Providence was bringing in a new golden age under a deified emperor who was to be a saviour of the world, had ceased to be cherished by many, and, while the Apostle was proud to be a citizen of Rome, he could not have shared with Virgil his feeling of pie/as or reverent regard for it. His experience led him in later life to be grateful for the Empire's restraining power over evil forces, but he stood in awe before its might and his life was uncertain before its tribunals. It was different with the successors of St. Paul in the West. When the Johannine tradition at Ephesus ceased, the influence of Rome on the Christian Church strength19 THE UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO QUARTERLY ened greatly. In the capital of the Empire the earliest source of the Gospels' which we possess, that which is embodied in Mark, took shape. There also, in all probability , the Pauline epistles were first gathered into a corpus and became universally authoritative. The Western Church gradually attained to primacy. The Fathers -of Western Christendom were Roman at heart. They inherited the belief that Rome was the mother of civilization . As Rome decayed, the Christian hope rose that the Church would take up into itself all that was good in the weakening Empire and transform it into a glorious City of God. During the early centuries the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 18-32
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-01
Open Access
No
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