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.

Originally posted at Bacon from Acorns

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John A. Cuddeback is a professor and chairman of the Philosophy Department at Christendom College in Front Royal, Virginia, where he has taught since 1995. He received a Ph.D. in Philosophy from The Catholic University of America under the direction of F. Russell Hittinger. He has lectured on various topics including virtue, culture, natural law, friendship, and household. His book Friendship: The Art of Happiness was republished in 2010 as True Friendship: Where Virtue Becomes Happiness. His writings have appeared in Nova et Vetera, The Thomist, and The Review of Metaphysics, as well as in several volumes published by the American Maritain Association. Though raised in what he calls an ‘archetypical suburb,’ Columbia, Maryland, he and his wife Sofia consider themselves blessed to be raising their six children in the shadow of the Blue Ridge on the banks of the Shenandoah. At the material center of their homesteading projects are heritage breed pigs, which like the pigs of Eumaeus are fattened on acorns, yielding a bacon that too few people ever enjoy. His website dedicated to the philosophy of family and household is


  1. “The honor we give the plow”

    Plows are made from mined steel. And the tractor tires that pull the plow along the earth are made from the mined petroleum drawn up from the same earth by means of the pumps in the photograph above.

    Mining is not pristine, but it likewise should be honored.

  2. I certainly agree that mining–if it is done with proper respect for land, and people–can be honored. I would simply point out that the plow of which Virgil speaks was not pulled by a petroleum consuming engine. The issue of petroleum–its extraction and its use–is a complex one that demands quite a bit of consideration.

  3. John Cuddeback writes : “is a complex one that demands quite a bit of consideration.”

    Why did you feel the need to write the above? Is there any human endeavor that is more scrutinized for ill effects than mining?. Especially petroleum extraction.

    And Virgil may not have been speaking of a plow pulled by a petroleum consuming engine, but I did assume you intended it to be understood that way, because I assumed you thought Virgil’s reflection relevant to modern life, which does include using products made by use of petroleum.

    Given the harm caused by farming of the arid regions, (a harm made possible by modern technology), why would you want the field in the photograph to be other than bereft of tillers?

  4. Love the Girls,
    I do not understand your question: “Why did you feel the need to write the above?” My point is very straight forward. You suggest that mining is already a highly scrutinized endeavor. That does not mean that it is being scrutinized sufficiently. Surely we need to ask some larger questions about the role of petroleum in our lives, the sustainability of our petroleum dependence, and yes even still how we mine it. Pope Francis and many others are encouraging us to ask these questions and to make corresponding changes in our habits.
    I pointed out that Virgil’s plow was not pulled by a petroleum fueled engine because you seemed to suggest that if we are to honor the plow, as Virgil did, we need also to honor petroleum extraction. I do not think that follows. The plow, which as I noted in my piece can be misused, can nevertheless always symbolize a husbandry that should be honored and renewed, in all ages and contexts.

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