aleator classicus

Reading at Random in Classical Literature

“Aelius Spartianus”, Hadrian 2.8

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In this passage from the Historia Augusta, a collection of imperial biographies of dubious authorship, the young Hadrian opens the text of Virgil at random in search of an oracular message (just as people in more recent times have done with the Bible). He gets an encouraging answer from Aeneid 6.808-812!

quo quidem tempore cum sollicitus de imperatoris erga se iudicio Vergilianas sortes consuleret,

quis procul ille autem ramis insignis olivae
sacra ferens? nosco crines incanaque menta
regis Romani primam qui legibus urbem
fundabit Curibus parvis et paupere terra
missus in imperium magnum, cui deinde subibit…

sors excidit, quam alii ex Sibyllinis versibus ei provenisse dixerunt.

At this time, when he was worried about the emperor’s [i.e. Trajan’s] opinion of him, he consulted the ‘Virgilian oracles’, and out came the oracle:

But who is that man far off, remarkable for boughs of olive
and carrying sacred objects? I recognise the hair
and the hoary beard of a Roman king, who will lay the city’s foundations
with laws, a man sent from little Cures and its poor land
to great power. Then after him shall come…

Others have said that this oracle came to him from the Sibylline verses.

Written by aleatorclassicus

July 10, 2010 at 12:00 PM

One Response

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  1. […] shady character “Aelius Spartianus” (Life of Hadrian 25.9), whom we’ve already encountered, so we can be excused for maybe having doubts about its authenticity. animula vagula blandula, […]


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