VIRGIL ° (Vergil ; Publius Vergilius Maro ; 70–19 b.c.e.), greatest Roman poet. Though Virgil nowhere mentions the Jews directly, there are several indications in two of his greatest works, the Eclogues and the Aeneid, that he was aware of Jewish tradition.
The brief Fourth Eclogue speaks apocalyptically of the imminent return of the last and greatest age sung of by the Cumaean Sibyl and ushered in by the maiden (virgo) goddess Artemis and by the birth of a newborn boy, when a golden race will be sent down from heaven which will consort with the gods. All remaining traces of men's guilt will be removed; and the world, made peaceful by the virtues of the baby's father, will be a veritable utopia, with the earth producing its products without tilling, goats bringing forth udders swollen with milk, and herds cavorting fearlessly with lions. The age will be marked by the death of the snake and the replacement of poisonous herbs by Assyrian nard, though a few traces of men's ancient deceit will remain and though battles will have to be refought and rewon before the age can be ushered in. Virgil says that this Messianic-like age will begin during the consulship of *Asinius Pollio (40 b.c.e.), to whom the poem is addressed; and Pollio may well have been Virgil's major link with the Jewish tradition, since Pollio was one of the consuls who in this very year accompanied *Herod to deposit in the Capitol the decree which the Senate had passed naming Herod king (Jos., Ant. 14:388–9). Later, when Herod sent his sons *Alexander and *Aristobulus to Rome to complete their education, they lodged at his home, since, as Josephus (Ant. 15:343) adds, he was proud of Herod's friendship. Pollio was, moreover, closely associated with *Julius Caesar, who showed special consideration for the Jews (*Suetonius, 84:5); *Horace, who mentions them prominently; and *Timagenes of Alexandria, who wrote a universal history, with comments on the Jews, quoted by Josephus (Ant. 13:319, 344; Apion 2:84). The parallels with *Isaiah's vision (chapters 6, 7, 9, 11) of the birth of a wonderful child and the age of peace which he will usher in and with the snake motif (Gen. 3), suggest that Virgil may have read the Septuagint, which certainly was known to the large and Greek-speaking Jewish community of Rome, though they also resemble well-known details of the traditional Golden Age in classical literature.
*Constantine, *Jerome, *Ambrose, and *Augustine also regarded the poem as alluding to the birth of Jesus; and consequently throughout the Middle Ages, culminating in *Dante, Virgil had a special status as a prophet. The allusion to the Cumaean song may well indicate that Virgil's immediate source was the *Sibylline Oracles; for while it is true that the extant Sibylline Oracles, which are to a considerable degree of Jewish and Christian origin, have little to do with the Sibylline Books associated with the city of Cumae in Italy, they do contain a number of passages based on Isaiah which are parallel to Virgil's Eclogue. Indeed, Horace's apocalyptic Sixteenth Epode, which has similar affinities with the Sibylline Oracles, may well be his reply to this Eclogue of Virgil. The reference to Assyrian spice may be Virgil's indication of an Eastern source.
The Fourth Eclogue, especially in its utopian vision of peace, has been called a blueprint for the Aeneid. The fact that Virgil in the Aeneid consciously differs from *Homer in making his hero a devout wanderer with the mission of leading his people and their household gods by a roundabout route to a promised ancestral land, during which they are subjected to many trials, offers an obvious parallel with Moses. There are numerous apocalypses in the poem, notably in the Sixth Book, which again suggest the influence of the Sibylline Oracles. The fact that the greatest temptation of all occurs during the year which Aeneas spends at Carthage, a Semitic city, again emphasizes the contact with the Near East. Finally, though the parallels should not be strained, one may cite the similarity between Augustus standing on the shield of Aeneas (8:680) with twin beams of light darting from his temples and Moses (cf. Ex. R. 47:6), and the hitherto unnoticed Hebraic-like parallelism in both thought and language in such lines as Aeneid 1:9–10 (… tot volvere casus…. tot adire labores).
T.F. Royds, Virgil and Isaiah (1918); E. Nordern, Die Geburt des Kindes (1924); H.J. Rose, The Eclogues of Vergil (1942), 162–217; L.H. Feldman, in: Transactions of the American Philological Association, 84 (1953), 73–80; M. Hadas, Hellenistic Culture (1959), 238–45, 253–6; C.H. Gordon, in: C.F.A. Schaeffer (ed.), Ugaritica, 6 (1969), 267–88.
[Louis Harry Feldman]