05 January 2010

'When Augustus Reigned Alone Upon Earth'—The Augustan Peace as Prefigurement

This is my third post on Virgil’s Fourth Eclogue. Here are the first and second.

Dame Frances Yates has discussed some of the more this-worldly readings of Virgil’s Fourth Eclogue in her study of the figure of Astraea-Virgo as background to the cult of Queen Elizabeth I. She writes:

Later ages have read the Eclogue in the light of subsequent history and seen it in the context of Virgil’s position as the prophet of the imperial mission of Rome. In the sixth book of the Aeneid, Aeneas, in the course of his journey through Hell in the company of the Cumaean Sybil, hears from the lips of Anchises the prophecy of the return of the gold age under Augustus Caesar. [1]

She then gives a prose translation of Aeneid VI, 791-5. Here is James Rhoades’s rendering:

This, this the man so oft foretold to thee,
Caesar Augustus, a god’s son, who shall
The golden age rebuild through Latian fields
Once ruled by Saturn, and push far his sway
O’er Garamantians and the tribes of Ind,
. . . [2]

Finally, Yates concludes, ‘The golden age is the Augustan rule, the Augustan revival of piety, the peace of the world-wide Augustan empire.’ [3] As Donna Tartt writes of the character ‘Bunny’ Corcoran in her striking psychological thriller, The Secret History:

Caesar Augustus was Bunny’s hero; he had embarrassed us all by cheering loudly at the mention of his name during the reading of the Bethlehem story from Luke 2 at the literature division’s Christmas party. ‘Well, what of it,’ he said, when we tried to shush him. ‘All the world shoulda been taxed.’ [4]

Obviously, whatever his merits, to equate the ‘golden age’ with the rule of Augustus is to set one’s sights rather low from a Christian perspective. But Bunny’s excitement serves to call our attention to a connection here with the Nativity. It was the decree of Caesar Augustus that led the Most-Holy Theotokos to the place appointed for her to give birth to Christ. Commenting on Luke 2:1, ‘And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be enrolled’, Bl Theophylact writes, ‘An enrollment took place for this reason: so that, as every one went to their ancestral city, the Virgin too would go up to Bethlehem, her own ancestral city, and thus the Lord would be born in Bethlehem, and the prophecy fulfilled (see Micah 5:2).’ [5] True, as St Ambrose of Milan observes:

Then, that ye may know that the enrolment is not of Augustus, but of Christ, the whole world is bidden to enroll. When Christ is born, all confess Him; when the world is included, all are tested. Then, Who could exact the confession of the whole world, save He Who had power over the whole world? For the earth is the Lord’s, and not Augustus’, the fullness thereof, the world, and all that dwell therein [Psalm 23:1]. Augustus did not rule over the Goths, he did not rule over the Armenians; Christ ruled. [6]

But in the words of Archbishop Chrysostomos and Bishop Auxentios, ‘Christ was born into a Greek and Roman world that existed simply to accommodate His Birth.’ [7] It is no surprise that we should chant in a doxasticon of St Cassia at Vespers for the Nativity:

When Augustus reigned alone upon earth, the many kingdoms of men came to end: and when Thou wast made man of the pure Virgin, the many gods of idolatry were destroyed. The cities of the world passed under one single rule; and the nations came to believe in one sovereign Godhead. The peoples were enrolled by the decree of Caesar; and we, the faithful, were enrolled in the Name of the Godhead, when Thou, our God, wast made man. Great is Thy mercy: glory to Thee. [8]

Thus, in the historical perspective of the Orthodox Church, there is perhaps a sense in which Augustus’s rule, while not the ‘Golden Age’ itself, is a prefigurement or herald of it. Keeping in mind St Ambrose’s insistence that not even the enrolment is of Augustus, it may be an even more pronounced case of the ‘unwitting prophet’, as we saw of Virgil himself in the first post on this Eclogue. But it is a connection worth noticing nonetheless.

[1] Dame Frances A. Yates, ‘Queen Elizabeth I as Astraea’, Astraea: The Imperial Theme in the Sixteenth Century (London: Ark, 1975), p. 33.

[2] James Rhoades, trans., The Poems of Virgil, Vol. 13 in Great Books of the Western World (Chicago: Encyclopædia Britannica, 1980), p. 232.

[3] Yates, p. 33.

[4] Here.

[5] Fr Christopher Stade, trans., The Explanation by Bl Theophylact, Archbishop of Ochrid & Bulgaria of the Holy Gospel According to St Luke, Vol. 3 of Bl Theophylact’s Explanation of the New Testament (House Springs, MO: Chrysostom, 1997), p. 29.

[6] St Ambrose of Milan, Exposition of the Holy Gospel According to St Luke, trans. Theodosia Tomkinson (Etna, CA: Center for Traditionalist Orthodox Studies, 1998), p. 50.

[7] Archbishop Chrysostomos of Etna & Bishop Auxentios of Photiki, The Roman West & the Byzantine East (Etna, CA: Center for Traditionalist Orthodox Studies, 1997), p. 19.

[8] The Festal Menaion, trans. Mother Mary & Archim. Kallistos (Ware) (South Canaan, PA: STS, 1998), p. 254.


C.N.I. said...

Similar sentiments are beautifully expressed in Ch. Peguy"s magnum opus "Eve":
Les éléphants d'Afrique avaient marché pour lui
Du fin fond des déserts jusqu'aux portes de Rome.
Et pour lui les soleils d'Israël avaient lui,
Du haut du Sinaï jusqu'au fin fond de l'homme.

Et les pas d'Alexandre avaient marché pour lui
De son jeune berceau jusqu'à sa jeune mort.
Il était le seigneur de l'un et l'autre port.
Il était le seigneur d'hier et d'aujourd'hui.

Et les pas de César avaient marché pour lui
Du fin fond de la Gaule aux rives de Memphis.
Tout homme aboutissait aux pieds du divin fils.
Et il était venu comme un voleur de nuit.

Les rêves de Platon avaient marché pour lui
Du cachot de Socrate aux prisons de Sicile.
Les soleils idéaux pour lui seul avaient lui
Et pour lui seul chanté le gigantesque Eschyle.

Et les pas de Thésée avaient marche pour lui.
C'est lui qu'on attendait dans les pales enfers.
C'est lui qu'on attendait dans l'immense univers.
Il etait le seigneur d'hier et d'aujourd'hui.

Les pas de Darius avaient marche pour lui.
C'est lui qu'on attendait au fin pond de la Perse.
C'est lui qu'on attendait dans une ame disperse.
Il etait le seigneur d'hier et d'aujourd'hui.

Because English is not may native lananguage I didn't atempt a translation.

orrologion said...

I wonder to what extent the Orthodox Church should take to heart the fact that Greek and Roman culture "existed simply to accommodate His Birth". That is, how in love with Greek and Roman culture should we be once His Birth has happened? How necessary is a continued cultivation of things Greek and Roman to the preservation of Orthodoxy and as distinct from whatever other venerable and laudable things may come from studying, even maintaining such cultures.

Can other cultures and languages equally accommodate the ongoing birth of His Body, the Orthodox Church, in the world? What of cultures equally un-Orthodox and compromised and less pure, holy and set apart as were Greece/Greek and Rome/Latin from Judea/Israel and Hebrew/Aramaic?

aaronandbrighid said...

CNI> Thank you! I'll have to try to read through that carefully to see if I can make any sense of it!

Christopher> Though I am no philhellene or anything (I never had a natural reverence for Greece & Rome) I think it is important to learn about and acknowledge the debt of our Church to Graeco-Roman culture. The Fathers are radically moulded by it, even when they are criticising it. The hymnography of the Church, which you so rightly praised in the post on your anniversary of reception into the Church, is filled with imagery and ways of thinking--even in translation--that come to us straight from Graeco-Roman culture. Even the Scriptures, even, indeed, the Septuagint, did not simply 'pass through' Graeco-Roman culture, as some heretics have said of Christ and the Theotokos, but were fundamentally moulded by it. To study and love the things of the Church means, in my opinion, that we should study and love those things that she has taken from the civilisation of Greece & Rome.

That's not to say that other cultures can't 'accomodate the ongoing birth of His Body, the Orthodox Church, in the world', but such cultures must receive the Tradition from a Church that has already been shaped by Greek & Roman culture. Also, I don't believe that all other cultures are 'equally un-Orthodox'. I believe that many of them, at least in some ways, are more un-Orthodox. Have you read Chesterton's Everlasting Man? I found his argument for the superiority, just to take one example, of Roman to Punic paganism highly persuasive. In other words, Roman culture was a more suitable one than Punic for the sowing of the seed of Christ and His Gospel, and thus, for the Church. I think the same could be said for other cultures throughout history, and perhaps even today.

orrologion said...

Very good thoughts on the debt to Roman and Greek culture and how that relates to other and modern cultures. I wonder, however, if the argument that "Roman culture was a more suitable one than Punic for the sowing of the seed of Christ and His Gospel" is too often turned into "Roman culture was the only suitable one for sowing the seed of Christ and His Gospel".

Depending on one's inherited or preferred culture (bias), Roman can obviously be substituted with Greek, Arab, Russian, Georgian, Romanian, French, German, British, American, modernist, traditionalist, liberal, conservative, monarchist, democratic, socialist, etc.

aaronandbrighid said...

Well, I think we have to be careful to distinguish ethnicity per se from philosophies, political systems, organisational forms, etc. Rome was more suitable than Carthage because of their homely, domestic religion, as contrasted with the monstrous, bloody worship of Moloch, not because there's something inherently better about people with Roman blood. Similarly, I would argue that a traditionalist society is better prepared for the Gospel than a modern or postmodern one. And there are good, solid reasons for preferring such a society beyond one's own upbringing or idiosyncracies.

protov said...

Wouldn't be more appropriate to say that the Augustan period served just as a chronological indicator of the absolutely free act of the Incarnation?

aaronandbrighid said...

Protov> Sorry, I'm not quite sure what you mean.

Anonymous said...

From the Royal Vespers of the Feast of the Nativity:

When Augustus became supreme ruler of the world, the multiplicity of powers among men came to an end. When You became incarnate of the spotless Virgin, the worship of many gods had to cease.

The cities cane under a universal power and the Gentiles believed in a single Divine Power. Nations were registered in Your divine name, O incarnate; O Lord who are born, great is Your mercy! Glory to You!

aaronandbrighid said...

asinus> I've got a different translation of the same doxasticon at the end of the post!

protov said...

Aaron, I see that my answer to your query did not come through.
I was saying that we should not see to much in the coincidence of the Nativity with the reign of Augustus. It happened then, but not by any necessity that would make the Roman empire (the darkest moment of Antiquity)a sort of precondition of the Incarnation.
The Christ Himself stressed repeatedly that He came "for the lost sheep of the house of Israel". He certainly noticed that the Canaanite woman (who was a Greek) and the Roman centurion had Faith. They both acknowledged Him as Lord.
The Son of God did not come to save the Roman Empire, the Greek philosophy, Judaism or the world. He came to save the ones whom the Father gave them to Him, because they belonged to the Father.

aaronandbrighid said...

Protov> I think I understand you now, but it seems that perhaps we disagree. The hymnography of the Church, and particularly the doxasticon that ‘asinus’ and I have quoted here, seem to me to make much of the occurrence of our Lord’s birth during Augustus’s reign. That does not mean God was bound by some sort of necessity—in fact I believe it was Christ who ‘caused’ the Roman empire, not the other way round—but I do think it is significant in some way. I’m also not certain how you can call the Roman Empire the darkest moment of Antiquity after reading about some of the other candidates! I would also argue that the Roman Empire is not simply a ‘moment’ in Antiquity, since it endured through Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, even to the beginnings of the Renaissance in the West. Taken as a whole, the paganism of Augustus’s reign is certainly ‘darker’ than the Christianity of St Justinian’s, but Augustus is widely considered a bright spot among the pagans.

As for Christ ‘saving’ the things that you mention, it’s obvious that He doesn’t ‘save’ them as He does people. But I would say that it’s a basic truism in Orthodoxy that Christ ‘redeems’ aspects of human culture. This is precisely what happened with the Greek, Slavonic, and other languages, with the art, architecture, and crafts of different peoples, even with their customs. The Church takes the best of these things into herself when she brings people to Christ.

Have you read G.K. Chesterton’s Everlasting Man? I finally read it only last year, but it elabourated many ideas about these things that I’d seen suggested in passing in other sources. I think Chesterton does a good job arguing for the significance of the Roman Empire and for the whole notion of Christ ‘redeeming’ culture.

protov said...

Aaron, the Son of God certainly came to "redeemed" all the righteous of mankind alive or dead (that is the meaning of His descent to Hell). Those who were not against us are with us.
The Roman Empire of Augustus and his heirs were the most cruel persecutors of Christians, inspired by the "philosophy" of a Celsus, Porphyry, Proclus. As for the "debt" of our Church to Graeco-Roman culture, I have very serious misgivings. The Fathers have not been radically moulded by it, but they radically moulded it in Christian shape (the problem of the authenticity of Saint Dionysius the Areopagite is crucial). The Fathers always knew that Plato was an "atticizing Moses". We are not to reject Plato or Aristotle, of course, but we are not to raise them above the Christ (and not Proclus above Dionysius, in any case).

aaronandbrighid said...

Augustus himself could hardly have been a persecutor of Christians, since he died in AD 14, nor could he have been inspired by the philosophers you name since they all postdate him. But more importantly, the Roman Empire can’t be simply identified with the persecutors, since a) it became a Christian empire in the 4th century, and b) even when it was officially persecuting the Church, much of the Church itself was part of the empire. St Paul, beheaded for the Faith at Rome, was a Roman citizen. Many of the victims of persecution were Roman officials, politicians, and soldiers.

And when I say that the Fathers have been ‘radically moulded’ by Graeco-Roman culture, I don’t mean that the deposit of revelation itself is somehow a ‘product’ of that culture, but that the form of the expression of revelation has been shaped by it. I think I have even the most traditionalist of Orthodox on my side here. The Fathers speak and frequently think and act like Late Antique Greek-speaking Romans. There is no surprise here! Christianity is not somehow completely separate from the culture in which it was born and in which it grew. Distinct, yes, but not separate.

Rest assured, I am not trying to raise Plato or Aristotle above Christ, or the pagan empire above the Church. I am trying to talk about how, historically, and even from the viewpoint of the Church herself, the best of Graeco-Roman culture was salvaged by Christians and how many of those aspects of the culture that predated Christ’s incarnation received their justification, fulfillment, what have you, in Christ and the Church. Augustus receives his significance in Christ. Remember what Bl Theophylact said, ‘An enrollment took place for this reason: so that, as every one went to their ancestral city, the Virgin too would go up to Bethlehem, her own ancestral city, and thus the Lord would be born in Bethlehem, and the prophecy fulfilled (see Micah 5:2).’ And what +Chrysostomos & +Auxentios said, ‘Christ was born into a Greek and Roman world that existed simply to accommodate His Birth.’

Perhaps I have been imprecise in some of my expressions. I would welcome assistance here, because I feel that's one of the great potentialities of a blog. But I'm no Barlaam the Calabrian, trying to sell out the Faith for pagan philosophy or something!

protov said...

Aaron, I did not say that Augustus was a persecutor of Christians and I can't believe that you believed that I believe that! But that Augustus was the patron and protector of Herodes the Great and his ilk does not reflect positively upon him. The fact remains that the Empire started the persecution at the very start of the missions of the Apostles and enshrined it in legislation which was repelled only by St. Constantin. The officials and the populace backed it all the way. The philosophers were the "Agitprop". That kind of "philosophy" lingered on to these days and it remains the intellectual background of all the Dawkins, Hitchens, Dennets et comp.
I do not accuse you of anything. I just say that this view is not my cup of tea.

aaronandbrighid said...

Protov> Well, my friend, I’m sorry if I’ve insulted you. I realise you’re no idiot—I was just taking at face value your statement that ‘The Roman Empire of Augustus and his heirs were the most cruel persecutors of Christians’. Perhaps you should have phrased it, ‘The Roman Empire of Augustus’s immediate heirs was the most cruel persecutor’. My point about identifying the empire with the persecutors should remind us that by no means all of the officials and populace backed anti-Christian legislation.

When you say that 'this view' is not your cup of tea, again I’m not certain what you mean. All I’m arguing is that Augustus’s reign was indeed, as a friend just reminded me, not a random era selected by God arbitrarily, but ‘the fullness of time’ of which St Paul speaks in today’s Epistle (Gal. 4:4-7). Surely you agree with this view?

I’m glad to hear that you don’t mean to accuse me of raising the philosophers above Christ. But you have to admit that when you feel the need to remind me that we mustn’t do so, it sounds an awful lot like you believe I have!

Gabriel said...

I don't know how one could link any pre-modern philosopher to contemporary charlatans like Dawkins, Hitchens, etc. People are at pains to find historical links between now and then without taking into account the radical break between ancient science and modern science (instituted, at the very latest, by Newton but perhaps traceable more exactly to Descartes). Whatever parallels can be drawn between the old and the new tend to fail to account for how the new has reinterpreted the old. Just for starters, I can't see for a second how a single ancient philosopher could have ever accepted the evolutionary theory Dawkins takes for granted given their view of the eternity of the world and its cyclical nature. But that only scratches the surface...

I don't know why we have to believe that all conditions must be "perfect" or "holy" for Christ to have come. People remain scandalized by the particularity of the Incarnation, but this hasn't been a problem for the conscience of the Church (as Aaron rightly notes). It's not possible for us to know all of the when's, why's, and how's of God's plan, but at the same time we shouldn't try to brush under the rug that Christ came when He did and, given what happened following the Resurrection, it served a purpose. At no other point in history at so large a swathe of the world been held together by a common government, commercial system, roadways, trading routes, etc., language. Part of that was prepared in the centuried before the Romans took reign over the ecumenical empire established by Alexander the Great and maintained by others. But all of it made a critical contribution to the Great Commission and the flowering of Christianity in the centuries after St. Constantine. You can't just "wish it" away nor expect, by magical operation, that everything would have turned out the same (or better) had conditions been different. The conditions were what they were and God surely had a reason for choosing the time He came. The Church recognizes this and what little we can see into it, we have enshrined in our hymnography. To me, it's grounds for us to stand in awe of God's plan, not poo poo that the Lord didn't want until we established a modern day liberal utopia with lots of rights, freedoms, entertainment, etc.

Gabriel said...

As something of a follow-up...

At the academic institution which employs me, there is, in one of the hallways, a series of pictures of Jesus--only in various ethnicities. I'm typically annoyed, if not deeply perturbed, by them not, as some folks at my institution would say, because I can't accept a "black Christ" or a "Native American Christ," but because the only Christ which ever came was a Jew who spoke Aramaic living in a Hellenized world. He was born--so modern scholars tell us--in 4 B.C. and was crucified, died, buried, and rose again around 33 A.D. That's that. There is no "spiritual Christ" or a "universal Incarnation"; it was a concrete event in history which, we believe, transformed all of history from that point forward and, indeed, redeemed that which came before. While no one denies that Christ came to save all mankind, He did not come to different people at different times; nor did He come at any other point than when He did. So why sit in revulsion? Why the horror? I've never understood it.

No Christian denies that the Roman Empire was filled with sin. But no Christian should deny that our society today or any which has ever existed (including "Holy Russia" or Byzantium) were full of sin. To call the Roman Empire the "darkest" in antiquity is queer, particularly since all antiquity was darkened before the Incarnation. Whatever criteria we use to judge the "enlightenment" of the old world is simply an imposition of some rather modern and dubious prejudices on a time and place that would have no use for them. I don't say this out of relativism or to historicize truth; rather, I believe we have to be clear about our standpoint. As Christians, all should be judged by the Gospel. On that basis, humanity--from Adam and Eve to the present day--has fallen woefully short. Blood, deceit, and treachery has been man's stock and trade; erroneous conceptions of "the good" and, indeed, God have prevailed; and yet the Lord has not left us to wander aimlessly. Man has striven and continues to strive after the Truth, even if dimly, haphazardly, and with much failure.

Gabriel said...

This post--if no one has gone there yet--has an excellent bit on the Gentiles and Christ:


Gabriel said...

I can't help myself:

There is also this:


Docheiariou Monastary on Athos has a series of frescoes dedicated to the history before Christ. This image has Alexander, "King of the Hellenes" with Augustus, "King of the Romans." The full mural (which isn't depicted) also has Julius Caeasar and Nebuchadnezzar. Again, the idea reinforced here is that the history before Christ is meaningful and not accidental. Similarly, there is a mural of Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, and Plutarch as well.

orrologion said...

To address only a corner of this issue, there is a difference between acknowledging the debt we have to a particular culture, time, language, studying it and holding on to it, and to enshrining it as a necessary aspect of everyday Church life today. That is, to take just one example of many possible, to honor and revere Greek culture and language is a different thing than maintaining them in liturgical and social use outside of Greece, especially as part of the mission of the Church rather than in social organizations or the home. The little Lutheran denomination I grew up in required its pastors to be trained in Greek, Hebrew, and Latin or German so as to be able to understand and teach the faith effectively; these languages were not used to an wide degree in the services, though, and if language classes were available they were as much about religion as pure culture (reading the Bible and the Reformers in German, not just being able to chat with Oma and Opa). That is, there is a danger in self-servingly falling in love with how useful one's own or preferred culture has been to the Faith, rather than in both understanding the Faith and furthering it (honoring the incarnated, specific context including culture and language and in introducing that Faith into another culture).

There is a fear - whether rational or not - that the balance can be lost between the past and the present. Lauding Greco-Roman culture can be used in a sense far more broad-reaching than acknowledging the particularity, grace and wisdom in God's choosing that time to build the Church; it can be used as an excuse to exalt very different cultures that have or claim continuity with those cultures, thus using the past as sort of sanctified, unquestionable, but really nationalistic excuse for the rightness of present actions, preferences, norms and mores. This is that odd line where academia and the classical world can be seen having an enormous effect on modern culture, or where the argument can be made that too much is being read into such things.

But, how culture (past, over long periods of time, and present) are to be understood as part of and distinct from the Orthodox Faith is a major question in the Church today. And, I think, not only in convert circles, but also in the actual Diaspora of 'ethnic Orthodox' and their descendants, and in the various homelands. The story I posted today of an inquirer visiting an Old Calendar Christmas service is indicative of dozens and dozens of conversations I have had outside of Church with those ethnically (and inevitably formerly or barely) Orthodox, and not just from American kids and grandkids - so much so that I simply stopped bringing up my own Orthodoxy; it was too sad.

Gabriel said...


I agree the temptation to "absolutize" Hellenic culture exists and, indeed, has infected parts of the Church for the last century and a half. The history of "pan-Hellenism" and all of this "Greek pride" stuff is fascinating, particularly since the Greeks really let a lot of their cultural heritage fall to the wayside for centuries and then, at the prompting of certain influential Greeks and the need to have some national myths to rally their liberation movement around, all of a sudden came to the conclusion that they were the storehouse for Western civilization. Hooray!

Most people into "Greek pride" and "pan-Hellenism" that I have met don't know Attic or koine Greek; have never read Aristotle or Plato; and probably couldn't tell you who won the battle of Thermopylae (though they may have seen 300). Like most people, they just like an excuse to eat decent food and drink. They might do the whole "church thing" now and again, but they really don't care much one or the other. As long as they can't understand the services and they still allow smoking downstairs, it's all good.

Most Orthodox who have a sophisticated understanding of Hellenic history, from the ancients through the Byzantines and on up to the present day, are either scholars or highly educated priests (there's some laity in there as well, of course). While some of these individuals do have a tendency to "absolutize" Hellenism in their writing, I'm willing to cut them some slack since a deep understanding of the Hellenic world; it's thought; forms; art; music; etc. does contribute to a richer understanding of the Church. I've always found it funny to talk to some people in other national churches who think it's so vital that Orthodox know Slavonic or Serbian or Russian when, really, none of those cultures ever came close to providing the Church what the Hellenic/Byzantine world did. I don't say that to knock the other Orthodox socities; there is certainly a wealth of valuable material from those cultures and their history as well. But any "absolutization" which short changes the Greeks and their contribution is just emptyheaded in my view and has probably contributed to more than a few needless conflicts in the Church over the last couple of centuries.

Personally, I'm all for a Greco-Russian synthesis in modern Orthodoxy with a healthy contribution of piety from the smaller knit (and underappreciated, in my view) traditions within the Church: Carpatho-Russians, Georgians, Arabs, Serbians, etc. I appreciated the diversity of traditions we have in the U.S. and what each brings to the table. I think some have done better than others holding onto the Faith and preserving pracices which are more in accord with the Church's history, but so be it. As long as we resist absolutization (including "Americanization"), I think we'll be alright.

aaronandbrighid said...

Gabriel> That fresco is a wonderful discovery! I just wish there was a nice, full-colour image of it!

The Ochlophobist said...

I don't really have anything to add to the substance of this conversation. I agree with the direction it has seemed to go.

I might only add, thinking of Orr's concerns, that it seems to me that much of the grecophilia we see in Greek Orthodox circles today is the offspring of festishising which occurred after the fall of Byzantium and often while under Islamic rule. There seems to be a distinct difference between the popular Greek Christian appreciation of Roman and Greek culture before the fall of Byzantium and that which we see after. I think some modern Greeks apply to their current fetishes certain anachronisms. To use a modern term, Byzantium was often far less ethnocentric than what we see in post Byzantine Greek culture. There seems to be a rather serious cultural break - a loss of a more cosmopolitan (and intellectual agrarian, as described by Victor Davis Hanson and others) and a more (to use the colloquial sense) catholic sensibility. Runciman seems to think so, and I wonder if the Greek Orthodox grecophilia we see today is actually a perversion of the authentic Greek Christian culture of Byzantium.

Gabriel said...


It may be in an art book in my school's library. I know I've seen the whole thing before. If I can track it down, I'll make sure the color scanner and put it up online.

protov said...

I am relieved that you did not take me for an idiot. But when I said "the Empire of Augustus and his heirs", I was referring to what is commonly understood by "Roman Empire" i.e. the "novus status" that was "the work of fraud and bloodshed, based upon the seizure of power and redistribution of property by a revolutionary leader" (in the words of Ronald Syme, The Roman Revolution) whose name was Gaius Iulius Caesar Augustus. This "work" was accompanied by a massive rewriting of history concocted in Maecenas' circle and carried on by Vergil (a shy lover of boys, a pecadillo very much in vogue with the "Romans" - hmm, if I called the Roman Empire "the darkest..." it was "queer" indeed!). Anyhow, Virgil was not any prophet of Christ - "iam redit et Virgo" refers clearly to the astrological sign of Virgo, which is September, for the birth of the child).

protov said...


The link between the ancient philosophy and modern science is rationalism, the excesive trust in the capacity of human reason to explain everything. On the other hand I was referring to the "philosophy" of Celsus, Porphyry, Proclus as the background of Dawkinses. Their common ground is their hatred of Christianity (albeit masked under "atheism", "science", "independent thinking").
I am really sorry that you passed over the Romanians when you quoted the underappreciated traditions ("the smaller knit"). They were really the closest to the Hellenic/Byzantine as well as to the Slavonic.

aaronandbrighid said...

Gabriel> Well said, on all counts. I would love to get a colour scan of this fresco if you can swing it!

Owen> I think you're right on target about Byzantium. That's one thing I've always kind of appreciated about Fr Romanides's concept of 'Romania'--there is nothing ethnocentric about it.

Protov> I thank you for reminding me not to be too starry-eyed about these pagans, but frankly, I'm beginning to think that this may not be the blog for you. If you can read Virgil and come away thinking of nothing but how he 'rewrote' history and engaged in pederasty, then I'm just not sure what we have to say to each other on the subject of literature. Of course he doesn't deserve a halo and a feastday, but I still think he said some prophetic things, however unwittingly (I am more than well aware of how scholars interpet this poem, as should be clear from all of these posts), just as St Nektarios says that Plato did. Besides, Virgil's just a good writer, whose poetry was an important contribution to the Latin language and human culture generally!

Furthermore, nothing that you've said about Augustus has much of anything to do with what I actually wrote in my post. I actually reread it myself, as I was beginning to have doubts as to the precision and sobriety of my own words (or more precisely, my use of the words of others)! I'm afraid I see no point in continuing to go back and forth like this. Maybe we should move on, perhaps to the etymology of colinda!

aaronandbrighid said...

By the way, I too thought the Romanians a glaring omission!

protov said...

Yes Aaron,
I am not the literary type.
I have other views about the Roman Empire (and anything Roman, ancient or modern).
It was nevertheless nice to have exchanged some thoughts with you. Perhaps I may still visit your blog from time to time.

aaronandbrighid said...

Protov> Please do visit, and continue to comment! My only point is that a great deal of this blog is based on my fondness for literature, often for it's own sake, and your comments suggested that little of what I have to say about the topic would appeal to or agree with you. I am always glad to hear from readers, however contrarian, and if nothing else your comments will have forced me to be more careful about my conclusions in the future. But like I said, I don't think anything will come of a protracted debate on this topic.