402 Cohen Hall
The ancient Roman poet Virgil (70-19 BC), best known as the author of the Aeneid, holds a unique position in the Western tradition: because his fourth Eclogue was thought to prophesy the birth of Christ, he formed a bridge between Christianity and the Greek and Roman classical tradition. Modernity has generally played down the Eclogue’s messianic strains and rejected the idea of Virgil as a pagan prophet. But Virgil’s middle work, the Georgics, provides a crucial clue about his relationship to the Hebrew scriptures.
In the haunting story of Orpheus and Eurydice near the poem’s end, a newly-discovered acrostic, ISAIA AIT (“Isaiah says”), suggests that the Jewish grand narrative was integral to Virgil’s poetic imagination—and that Dante’s association of Eurydice, Virgil, and Eve in his Purgatorio is not an anachronism, but a brilliant insight. Moreover, Virgil’s epic successors, Ovid (43 BC-AD 17) and Lucan (AD 39-65), respond to and “correct” Virgil’s acrostics on religious themes with (newly-discovered) multi-word acrostics of their own. Lucan may even be alluding to Christianity, nearly fifty years before the earliest pagan sources to refer to the dangerous new cult by name.