Sortes Vergilianae

Georgics IV ad fin.

I am not in the habit of opening the pages of my well worn copy of Vergil to see what I find doing a Roman style I-Ching. But I was surprised this afternoon when the words of the poet Vergil leaped off the last page of the fourth book of the Roman "Old Farmer's Almanack":

"Haec super arvorum cultu pecorumque canebam
et super arboribus, Caesar dum magnus ad altum
fulminat Euphraten bello, victorque volentes
per populos dat iura, viamque adfectat Olympo."

I recited these things on agriculture and animals,
and on trees, while mighty Caesar flashed lightening
on the broad Euphrates, as victor giving Laws
to willing peoples and paving a highway to Heaven.


lines 1-2 refer to Roman agriculture, which had not yet received definitive greenhouse warnings , despite centuries of reducing of silver ore by burning lead into the atmosphere. How warming will affect agriculture is still not proved, hence ignored as hypothetical by those whose logic says: "Wait and See!". Decline of agriculture in the 7th c. is an example of what can happen.

Caesar. . . magnus is not the historical Julius but like the Kaiser just official terminology, the head man or President of a country, whether imperial Rome as concerned with the source of the all-important olive oil, or the Administration of another age holding a desperately serious grip on another oleaginous supply.

Euphraten. Formerly a much broader river hence altum like the Amazon, which was the scene of various foreign invasions, and now the Roman.

fulminat. Shock and Awe are suitable drip down terms for the lightening blast of . . . Jupiter? Sorry that was just Caesar, acting officially as the President, calling himself in wartime the 'Dictator', where another would say 'Decider'.

volentes Happy and dancing in the streets, this is always the way victors like to see conquered tribes, now aspiring to a higher level of civilization. When they do not comply, another war is the standard cure ending in a Masada like victory.

Dat iura, the usual prophasis for civilizing inferior peoples who will inevitably revert to Anarchy unless protected from their own tribal ignorance, and instituting a mock-Democracy.

Viam. . .Olympo is the high road into Heaven or what we would call 'A Great Legacy'. It is otherwise known as political immortality in the history books of future generations. But not all Romans trod this route or "via" , which a few said was nothing more than Cemetery Avenue or the Via Appia on which you went out of Rome, as a lame duck Claudius found out somewhat later to his dismay.

Sunt aliquid sortes Virgilianae. . . . ?

William Harris