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33 Pages

INTRODUCTION

Early in Book two of Juvencus’ fourth-century CE poem Evangeliorum libri quattuor (ELQ), the author recasts Jn 1:43-51, on how Jesus called Philip and Nathaniel (ELQ 2.99-126).1 In the story, Jesus induces Nathaniel to believe by stating that he saw Nathaniel lying under a fig tree before they had ever met (ELQ 2.115-20). To Nathaniel, Jesus’ statement is miraculous, and it leads him to proclaim Jesus the Son of God and, in Juvencus’ version, renowned king of his race (rex inclite gentis).2 Jesus responds that Nathaniel believes based on a simple sign, namely that Jesus saw him lying in the shade of a tree, and he promises greater miracles to come (ELQ 2.121-3). The Latin in which Jesus states that he saw Nathaniel reclining in the shade is arborea quod te vidi recubare sub umbra (ELQ 2.122).3 This combines language from Jn 1:50, vidi te sub arbore ficulnea (I saw you under the fig tree),4 and from Virgil, Ecl. 1.1, Tityre, tu patulae recubans sub tegmine fagi (Tityrus, you reclining under the cover of a spreading beech tree).5 Linguistic fidelity to the Gospel meets Virgilian imitation to create a hybrid line with debts to two authoritative texts. The fusion of sources promotes contrast between Nathaniel, who has come to believe in Jesus, and Virgil’s Tityrus, who promises to perform sacrifices to Octavian, the god (deus) in Rome who saved Tityrus from the land confiscations of the late 40s BCE (Ecl. 1.6-8).