Field with Oilwell

“For right and wrong change places; everywhere
So many wars, so many shapes of crime
Confront us; no honor attends the plow,
The fields, bereft of tillers, are all unkempt…” Virgil, The Georgics

So many wars; so many different shapes of evil. Right and wrong themselves have changed places. What was once seen as unacceptable, even perverse, has become acceptable, even praised, while what was sacred has been trampled, and what should be most protected has been defiled.

Virgil yokes great social and moral evils with how we care for the land. Fields that are empty—or in any case empty of ’tillers’—are a sign of devastation. The honor we give the plow—the noble even if sometimes misused instrument of one who cares for and cultivates the earth—is taken as a gauge of our moral compass.

These are challenging, even confusing, connections. We are not used to thinking in these terms. Yet last week a letter from a religious leader in Rome made connections notably akin to Virgil’s. Are we able, are we willing to consider anew a line of thinking that is as ancient as it is urgent?

Virgil (70-19 B.C.) is the great Roman poet, author of The Aeneid and The Georgics. In the Divine Comedy Virgil appears as Dante’s guide through hell and purgatory.

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