Archive Authors E.J. Hutchinson Nota Bene Reformed Irenicism

Luther’s Last Words on Vergil, Cicero, and the Bible

(Some readers may already be familiar with what follows, but it may be news to others; and it should be of interest to all!)

According to Johannes Aurifaber, Martin Luther wrote the following words–the last ones he wrote, in fact–on a scrap of paper and placed them on his bedside table shortly before he died, and they were later included in his Tabletalk. They are significant for giving a sense of his high view of Vergil and Cicero, and of his even higher view of Scripture.1

Text and Translation

1. Virgilium in Bucolicis nemo potest intelligere, nisi fuerit quinque annis Pastor. Virgilium in Georgicis nemo potest intelligere, nisi fuerit quinque annis Agricola.

2. Ciceronem in epistolis (sic praecipio) nemo integre intelligit, nisi viginti annis sit versatus in Republica aliqua insigni.

3. Scripturas sanctas sciat se nemo degustasse satis, nisi centum annis cum Prophetis, ut Elia et Elisaeo, Ioanne Baptista, Christo et Apostolis Ecclesias gubarnarit.

Hanc tu ne divinam Aeneida tenta,

Sed vestigia pronus adora.

Wir sind Bettler, Hoc est verum, 16.

Februarii Anno 1546.

  1. No one is able to understand Vergil in the Eclogues unless he has been a shepherd for five years. No one is able to understand Vergil in the Georgics unless he has been a farmer for five years.2

  2. No one is able to understand Cicero correctly in his Letters (so I teach) unless he has been engaged in the business of some famous commonwealth for twenty years.

  3. Let no one assure himself that he has become sufficiently acquainted with the Holy Scriptures unless he has governed the Churches with the Prophets, such as Elijah and Elisha, John the Baptist, Christ, and the Apostles for one hundred years.

Do not attack3 this divine Aeneid,

But, prostrate, adore its tracks.4

We are beggars, this is true.

16 February 1546


  1. The Latin text is here, no. 5468. There is a slightly different version later in the Tabletalk, here, no. 5677.
  2. The translation is my own; see a previous version here.
  3. Or “defile.”
  4. It is interesting that he returns to Vergil’s last and greatest work after (3) on Scripture. These lines are a sort of pastiche of Statius, Thebaid 12.816-17.

By E.J. Hutchinson

E.J. Hutchinson is Assistant Professor of Classics at Hillsdale College.

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