Monday, February 19, 2018

Virgil as oracle …

… Ed Simon: When Books Read You. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

John Aubrey records that a year before the King’s decapitation, Charles’ son then living in exile in Paris asked the metaphysical poet Abraham Cowley to divert his own sorrows, writing that his friend offered “if his Highnesse pleased they would use ‘Siortes Virgilianae,’” as the poet, of course, “alwaies had a Virgil in his pocket.” This time, instead of letting the book fall open, Cowley rather took a pin and pushed it into the soft pages of the Aeneid, the prick arriving at the proper prediction for the royal estate. Both father and son, as it turned out, arrived at the exact same line regarding the Stuart family fortunes.  What of Charles’ lot, and that of the prince, which so distressed both of them? Book 4 of the Aeneid, line 615, which is Dido’s prayer against her former lover, reading: “Nor let him then enjoy supreme command; / But fall, untimely, by some hostile hand.” In 1649 Charles would stand as upon the scaffold at Westminster, wearing his extra heavy shirt and quoting his Sidney, awaiting the regicide’s blade on his neck. Virgil may guide everyone to the truth, but that doesn’t mean that the truth will always set one free.

1 comment:

  1. In a couple of places, the introductory essay of Essays Ancient & Modern and his introduction to somebody's translation of Virgil, Bernard Knox wrote of his own chance at the "sortes": sheltering during for a moment during a skirmish in northern Italy, he opened a volume of Virgil found in the house, and found his finger at the end of the First Georgic, lines about a world at war.