During the transition from the Roman Republic to the Roman Empire in the first century BC, the Roman poet Virgil invoked the Golden Age of Saturn to recall the “good old days” when life was easier, people were nobler, and everyone was happy. Virgil used that imagery in his poetry to suggest that Julius Caesar’s nephew, Octavian, who emerged from a power struggle with Mark Antony to become Caesar Augustus, would usher in a return to that blessed time.
But the language Virgil used should cause you, as an alert reader, to sit up and take notice:
Now the last age by Cumae’s Sibyl sung
Has come and gone, and the majestic roll
Of circling centuries begins anew:
Justice returns, returns old Saturn’s reign,
With a new breed of men sent down from heaven.
Only do thou, at the boy’s birth in whom
The iron shall cease, the golden race arise,
Befriend him, chaste Lucina; ’tis thine own
Apollo reigns. And in thy consulate,
This glorious age, O Pollio, shall begin,
And the months enter on their mighty march.
Under thy guidance, whatso tracks remain
Of our old wickedness, once done away,
Shall free the earth from never-ceasing fear.
He shall receive the life of gods, and see
Heroes with gods commingling, and himself
Be seen of them, and with his father’s worth
Reign o’er a world at peace.
Assume thy greatness, for the time draws nigh,
Dear child of gods, great progeny of Jove! (Emphasis added)
Virgil’s Eclogue IV undoubtedly served a political purpose. Artists and poets need patrons to pay their bills, and the Pollio named in Virgil’s poem was Gaius Asinius Pollio, a politician, orator, poet, playwright, literary critic, historian, and soldier. In 40 BC, Pollio began a term as consul, the highest elected official in Rome after helping arrange the Treaty of Brundisium. The pact cooled a growing rivalry between Octavian and Antony, two of the three members of the Second Triumvirate, the men who held the real power of the Roman state. On the surface, Virgil’s poem was propaganda for the incoming administration, hailing a new age of peace and prosperity after decades of turmoil and civil war that peaked with the rise and fall of Julius Caesar.
On a deeper level, however, Virgil’s poem refers to a lost prophecy from the oracle of Apollo at Cumae, a Greek colony near Naples, of a return to an age that ended when Jupiter dethroned Saturn—or, in biblical terms, when God sent the Flood. The new Golden Age would be ushered in by a messianic figure, a child who would become divine and rule over a world at peace.
But the earth had lived through that story once before and suffered intensely under the “new breed of men sent down from heaven” before the deluge. They were the mighty men of old called “Nephilim” in the Hebrew Scriptures, and “Rephaim” by the ancient Hebrews and their neighbors—demigods, semi-divine heroes, venerated in the religions of Greece and Rome.
To those familiar with the Genesis 6 backstory, the influence of the Watchers/Titans and Nephilim/“heroes” on later Greek and Roman religion and the role of the dark god Saturn/Shemihazah in leading the Watchers’ rebellion, Virgil’s poem is startling. Did pagans of the classical era really look back on the pre-Flood world with longing and nostalgia? Apparently so. And this desire to return to the Golden Age is still alive today.
Eclogue IV is the source of a phrase you’re probably carrying in your wallet or purse right now. Charles Thomson, secretary of the Continental Congress from 1774 to 1789, designer of the Great Seal of the United States, placed the Latin phrase novus ordo seclorum (“new order of the ages”) below the unfinished pyramid on the reverse side of the seal. That’s a loose adaptation of line 5 of Virgil’s poem: Magnus ab integro seclorum nascitur ordo (“the majestic roll of circling centuries begins anew”).
Thomson adapted the other Latin phrase on the reverse of the seal from Virgil, too. Annuit cœptus, taken from The Georgics Book I, line 40, essentially means, “Providence favors our undertakings.” The question, of course, is who was meant by “Providence.” I don’t know Thomson’s heart, so it’s possible he meant the God of the Bible. The other, more important, question is what meaning others ascribe to that symbol. Although Freemasons deny that the Eye of Providence is one of their symbols, and there is no evidence that Thomson was a Freemason, the All-Seeing Eye was recognized as a masonic symbol in 1797, some fifteen years after the Great Seal was adopted—although the two eyes “are parallel uses of a shared icon.”
Tom Horn dissected the occult symbolism of the Great Seal in Zenith 2016, so I’ll direct you there for a thorough examination of its hidden meaning. The reverse side, the more relevant of the two, gained new importance when it was added to the back of the dollar bill in 1935. This was initiated by Vice President Henry Wallace, 32nd-Degree Scottish Rite Freemason, whose fellow 32nd-Degree Mason, President Franklin Roosevelt, directed that the reverse side of the Great Seal be added to the left back of the dollar and the obverse side be placed on the right, creating the impression that the mysterious pyramid and Eye of Providence were the principal symbols of the United States.
As Tom wrote in Zenith 2016, their meaning was clear to Wallace and other adepts:
Wallace viewed the unfinished pyramid with the all-seeing eye hovering above it on the Great Seal as a prophecy about the dawn of a new world with America at its head. Whenever the United States assumed its position as the new capital of the world, Wallace wrote, the Grand Architect would return and metaphorically the all-seeing eye would be fitted atop the Great Seal pyramid as the finished “apex stone.” For that to happen, Wallace penned in 1934, “It will take a more definite recognition of the Grand Architect of the Universe before the apex stone [capstone of the pyramid] is finally fitted into place and this nation in the full strength of its power is in position to assume leadership among the nations in inaugurating ‘the New Order of the Ages.’”
While it’s understandable that a New Ager like Henry Wallace would look to Virgil’s poetry and the symbolism it inspired as prophecy to be fulfilled, even Christians began interpreting Virgil’s fourth Eclogue as prophecy in the early fourth century, seeing in it a foretelling of the imminent birth of Christ. Lactantius, an early Christian writer and religious advisor to the Roman emperor Constantine, may be the one who first proposed this reading of the poem. In his Divinae Institutiones (The Divine Institutes), Lactantius described Virgil’s poem as a prophecy of the return of Jesus prior to His millennial reign. About a century later, Augustine of Hippo argued that it was apparent that Virgil had repeated an authentic prophecy uttered by the Cumaean Sibyl. This belief was widespread as late as medieval times, with many scholars across the centuries convinced that Virgil was a legitimate pre-Christian prophet.
It appears that his reputation carried over from the pagan world. The writings of Virgil were used as oracles in a practice called the Sortes Vergilianae (“Virgilian Lots”). That was a form of divination by interpreting passages selected at random from the works of the poet, in the same way that some Christians read meaning into Scriptures selected by opening the Bible and reading the first verses that come to hand. It’s known that at least four Roman emperors (and at least one usurper) tried to divine the future through the poetry of Virgil. Even as late as the seventeenth century, England’s King Charles I, at the suggestion of the poet Abraham Cowley, consulted the Aeneid in December of 1648 while he was held captive by forces loyal to Oliver Cromwell. The verses Charles chose did not bode well, and sure enough, the deposed king was dead within a year.
The issue here is not whether Virgil accurately foretold the future (and if so, about what), but that learned men and women have believed that his words were supernaturally inspired for more than two thousand years. The belief that Virgil’s words in Eclogue IV came from the Cumaean Sibyl gave them more credibility. In the early sixteenth century, Michelangelo included depictions of five of the Sibyls on the ceiling of the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel alongside the Hebrew prophets Jonah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Joel, Zechariah, Isaiah, and Daniel. The pagan women were apparently included to represent the fact that the Messiah had come for all people and not just the Jews. During our tour of the Vatican in 2018, it was obvious even to my untrained eye that Michelangelo preferred painting the muscular male form; all of the Sibyls are powerfully built, and to quote one art critic, his painting of the Sibyl of Cumae is “intended to be a rendition of an aged old woman but she looks like an Olympic hammer thrower!”
Her muscular physique may reflect the profound influence of the Cumaean Sibyl on Rome’s collective identity. (On the other hand, it may simply reveal something about the personality of Michelangelo.) It’s undeniable that the Cumaean Sibyl played a key role in the early history of Rome, or at least in the stories Romans told about their history. According to legend, the books of oracles that guided Roman government had been sold to Lucius Tarquinius Superbus, the semi-legendary last king of Rome who reigned between 535 and 509 BC (just after the conquest of Babylon by Cyrus the Great), but King Tarquin required some convincing:
It is said that during the reign of Tarquinius another very wonderful piece of good luck also came to the Roman state, conferred upon it by the favour of some god or other divinity; and this good fortune was not of short duration, but throughout the whole existence of the country it has often saved it from great calamities.
A certain woman who was not a native of the country came to the tyrant wishing to sell him nine books filled with Sibylline oracles; but when Tarquinius refused to purchase the books at the price she asked, she went away and burned three of them. And not long afterwards, bringing the remaining six books, she offered to sell them for the same price.
But when they thought her a fool and mocked at her for asking the same price for the smaller number of books that she had been unable to get for even the larger number, she again went away and burned half of those that were left; then, bringing the remaining books, she asked the same amount of money for these. Tarquinius, wondering at the woman’s purpose, sent for the augurs and acquainting them with the matter, asked them what he should do. These, knowing by certain signs that he had rejected a god-sent blessing, and declaring it to be a great misfortune that he had not purchased all the books, directed him to pay the woman all the money she asked and to get the oracles that were left. The woman, after delivering the books and bidding him take great care of them, disappeared from among men.
The Sibylline Books were kept in the temple of Jupiter on Capitoline Hill in the care of men chosen by the Roman Senate. The number of men with charge over the oracles grew over time from two to ten to fifteen, but their mission was unchanged—they consulted the books at the direction of the Senate to learn what religious rites were required to ward off disaster and offset ominous portents such as comets, shooting stars, and earthquakes.
Since it was believed the first collection of oracles had been compiled on Mount Ida in western Anatolia (Turkey), about twenty miles southeast of Troy, we can see a path by which rites and deities from the East might have been brought to Italy. In a previous article, we mentioned a late Bronze Age treaty between the Hittite king Muwatalli II and Alaksandu of Wilusa (Troy) that referenced a “divine watercourse,” a ritual feature for contacting the gods of the netherworld. This links the religious practices of the Aegean world to the ancient Hurrian cult center at Urkesh and suggests that the Hurrians, through contact with the neighboring Indo-European Luwian people to the west, had some influence over the religion of the Trojans. The Luwians settled a wide area of southern and western Asia Minor during the Bronze Age, including the area around Troy. The Trojan hero Aeneas was claimed as an ancestor by Caesar Augustus and the four Roman emperors who followed him.
So, while we don’t have specific evidence to confirm the transmission of Hurrian religion to Rome, there are confirmed contacts between the Hurrians, Hittites, Luwians, Amorites/Phoenicians, Greeks, and Romans. And each of those cultures had a pantheon headed up by a storm-god who’d replaced his father as king of the gods, who in turn had replaced or deposed the sky-god.
|Sky-god||Anu||Anu||Anu||Ilib (?)||Baal Shamem||Anu||Ouranos||Caelus|
Now, this is where things get weird: We noted above that the Sibylline Books were kept in the temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus on the Capitoline Hill. The hill, one of the seven for which Rome is famous, got its name from another one of the founding myths of Rome: When the foundation for the temple was excavated during the reign of Tarquinius Superbus, or possibly his ancestor Tarquinius Priscus, workers discovered a perfectly preserved decapitated head. Oddly, this was interpreted as a good omen, a sign of Rome’s future greatness. Latin for “head” is caput, hence Capitolium, the name of Jupiter’s temple, and Capitoline Hill. Since Tarquinius Superbus was run out of Rome before construction was completed, the temple was dedicated by the first consul of the new Roman republic, Horatius Pulvillus, on September 13, 509 BC.
Tarquinius Superbus began construction on a temple for Saturn at the base of the hill that formerly bore his name, with the dedication traditionally dated to 497 BC. Since Saturn was believed to be the ruler of the long-ago Golden Age, he was associated with wealth, so the treasury, Rome’s reserve of gold and silver, was kept inside Saturn’s temple. It would seem that by the time the Jewish return to Zion was well underway in the late sixth century BC, the image of Saturn had been rehabilitated enough to earn a prominent place in the city, even if he had been “dislodged from his seat by Jupiter.”
There are a couple of interesting and relevant points to make here. First, as you’ve probably guessed, the word “capitol,” designating a building where a legislative body meets, derives from Capitoline Hill in Rome. Contrary to what you might assume, the building in which the US Congress meets was not called the Capitol because that’s what such buildings were called. When it was designed, calling a meeting place for a legislature “the Capitol” was not the norm in the American colonies—or anywhere else for that matter:
When the Capitol in Washington was planned and named, Virginia was the only American State (and presumably the only political unit anywhere) which was currently using that name for the headquarters of its legislature and of such other governmental affairs as might be conveniently housed with it. Elsewhere in this country State House was the prevailing name, and it had been customary from quite early times in the English colonies (including Virginia when Jamestown was its seat of colonial government.)
The design submitted by Pierre Charles L’Enfant for the new American federal city named the building for the legislative branch of government “Congress House.” Thomas Jefferson insisted on following the example of his home state of Virginia, which had named its legislative building “the Capitoll” (sic) in 1699.
A final legacy of Jefferson’s vision of the city is found in correspondence between him and L’Enfant. Jefferson consistently called the building to house Congress, the “Capitol,” whereas L’Enfant just as consistently referred to it as “Congress House.” The Roman allusion born in Williamsburg ninety-two years before would be preserved.
So, through the influence of Thomas Jefferson, the building that housed the new legislative body of the American republic was named for the temple of the storm-god, Jupiter, which in turn was named for a severed head found during the temple’s construction that augured good fortune for the growing city-state of Rome.
If you’re a Christian, doesn’t that bother you just a little bit?
Next: America’s Temple
 Virgil, Eclogue IV. The Internet Classics Archive, http://classics.mit.edu/Virgil/eclogue.4.iv.html, retrieved 4/12/21.
 John D. MacArthur, “Original Source of Novus Ordo Seclorum.” Great Seal, https://www.greatseal.com/mottoes/seclorumvirgil.html, retrieved 5/28/21.
 John D. MacArthur, “Original Source of Annuit Coeptus.” Great Seal, https://www.greatseal.com/mottoes/coeptisvirgil.html, retrieved 5/28/21.
 S. Brent Morris, “The Eye in the Pyramid.” A Page About Freemasonry, http://web.mit.edu/dryfoo/Masons/Essays/eyepyr.html, retrieved 5/28/21.
 Thomas R. Horn, Zenith 2016 (Crane, Mo.: Defender, 2013), p. 133.
 Ibid., p. 134.
 Craig Kallendorf, The Protean Virgil: Material Form and the Reception of the Classics (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2015), p. 51.
 Lactantius, Divinae Institutiones VII.24. https://www.newadvent.org/fathers/07017.htm, retrieved 4/16/21.
 Ella Bourne, “The Messianic Prophecy in Vergil‘s Fourth Eclogue.” The Classical Journal, Apr., 1916, Vol. 11, No. 7 (Apr., 1916), pp. 392–393.
 John Aubrey, Remaines of Gentilisme and Judaisme, J. Britten (ed.) (London: W. Satchell, Peyton, and Co., 1881), pp. 90–91.
“The Prophets and Sibyls of the Sistine Chapel.” Italian Renaissance Art.com, https://www.italian-renaissance-art.com/Prophets.html#gallery[pageGallery]/6/, retrieved 4/19/21.
 Dionysus of Halicarnassus, Roman Antiquities IV.62.1–4. https://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Dionysius_of_Halicarnassus/4C*.html, retrieved 4/16/21.
“Petty States in Western Asia Minor.” Luwian Studies. https://luwianstudies.org/petty-states-in-western-asia-minor/, retrieved 4/18/21,
 Lukáš Surý, The Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus in the Archaic Age (Bachelor’s thesis: Masaryk University. Brno, Czechia, 2012), p. 10.
 Ibid., p. 5.
 Robert E. A. Palmer, Rome and Carthage at Peace (Stuttgart: Franz Steiner, 1997), p. 63.
 George W. Hodgkins, “Naming the Capitol and the Capital.” Records of the Columbia Historical Society, Washington, D.C., 1960/1962, Vol. 60/62 (1960/62), p. 37.
 James D. Kornwolf and Georgiana Wallis Kornwolf, “The Creation of the Federal City: Washington.” Architecture and Town Planning in Colonial North America: Vol. 3 (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002), p. 1552.