[Synoptic-L] Mark 4:26-29, Cicero and Hesiod
- Cicero's essay, De Senectute, has a charming section that treats of the pleasures of farming. He begins the section by remarking that these pleasures are, "to the highest degree suited to the life of the wise man" (ad sapientis vitam proxime videntur accedere).
"For these pleasures", Cicero continues, "have an account in the bank of Mother Earth who never protests a draft, but always returns the principal with interest added, at a rate sometimes low, but usually at a high per cent" (There is no verbal parallel here with the "hundred"-fold of Mark 4:20, as the Latin phrase speaks more generally of "interest": ...plerumque maiore cum faenore). "And yet what I enjoy is not the fruit alone, but I also enjoy the soil itself, its nature and its power". And continuing from this point, I will give the Latin text: quae cum gremio mollito ac subacto sparsum semen excepit, primum id occaecatum cohibet, ex quo occatio quae hoc efficit nominata est (an inaccurate etymology of the Latin word meaning "harrow", but it is interesting to note the "secrecy motif", more explicit here than in Mark's parable, for sure); deinde tepefactum vapore et compressu suo diffundit et elicit herbescentem ex eo viriditatem, quae nixa fibris stirpium sensim adolescit culmoque erecta geniculato vaginis iam quasi pubescens includitur; e quibus cum emersit, fundit frugem spici ordine structam et contra avium minorum morsus munitur vallo aristarum. ("..then, having warmed it with the heat of its embrace, expands it and from it brings forth a verdant blade, which, supported by fibrous roots, and maturing by degrees, stands erect upon its jointed stalk, enfolded in a sheath, when now, so to speak, it has arrived at man's estate [i.e., at puberty]; and, when it has emerged from the sheath, the ear comes to view with its grain in ordered rows and protected by a pallisade of spikes against the attacks of the smaller birds" [see Mark 4:4 pars.]). (Cicero, De Senectute XV). The translation and text are taken from the Loeb edition of this work, by William Armistead Falconer.
Could the famous "latinisms" in Mark suggest that its author may have known the works of Cicero? At any rate, to a series of seed and growth parables with a distinctly Palestinian background, Mark has added here, from a Griesbachian perspective, a seed and growth parable whose strongest parellels are with Greco-Roman literature. The thrust of the parable also agrees with another addition of Mark, on the Two Gospel Hypothesis, in Mark 4:8, where the words ANABAINONTA KAI AUCANOMENA KAI EFEREN stand out as having no parallel in either Matt or Lk. (Cf. also the way Mark edits the text of Matthew in the remainder of this verse, where he uses EIS and EN, instead of hO MEN ... hO DE ... hO DE). The interest in the stages of growth seems to be a late overlay of Markan redaction, whether based on the Greco-Roman sources given here, or on an interest in the division of history into periods in Jewish apocalyptic thought (or both!).
Describing the time of the golden race (the kingdom of God?), Hesiod comments: "they lived like gods without sorrow of heart, remote and free from toil and grief... When they died it was as though they were overcome with sleep, and they had all good things; for the fruitful earth unforced (AUTOMATH) bare them fruit abundantly and without stint". (See Hesiod, Works and Days, 110-120.) The passage begins with a chronological reference to the "reign in heaven" of Cronos (hOT'OURANWi EMBASILEUEN - i.e. Cronos).
Blessed John XXIII National Seminary