Petrus Riga’s Aurora

The Aurora is a verse paraphrase and commentary on the Latin Bible that became a popular school textbook throughout the later Middle Ages. Its moral and allegorical interpretations were valued as a form of popular theology, devotional reading, moral instruction, and even entertainment.

Prologue to the Four Gospels

After expounding the Old Law, catch your breath a while, Peter.
The New Law dawns; for its newness, make new verses!
No need for art’s trappings; let rich meaning be your gold;
True worth is better than specious appearance.
May the Gospel’s light guide my song; from it I shall weave
The fabric of my song and work.

I see the four rivers of Paradise; and Christ’s
Chariot I see moving on four wheels.
What the harnesses, what the wheels be, I shall relate, what the bridles and the axle,
Who the man, the calf, the lion, and the bird:
Each law is an axle, the bridle judgment, Christ
Is the driver, the harnesses are thy commands, O God.
The work of pulling the wheels is shared out—the first wheel turns, the second
Hurries, the third whirls speedily, and the fourth flies.
The man signifies Matthew, the bull Luke, the lion Mark,
The bird the disciple who was without stain.
A man’s form is given to Matthew because in his book
And its title, he shows that God lived as a man.
The sacrificial bull signifies Luke, who took
Thy Cross, O Christ, as his special theme.
The lion represents Mark, who describes in plain speech
How mightily thy flesh rose, O Christ.
The aquiline figure signifies the chaste disciple,
Who soars above the stars uttering celestial words.
Matthew’s page is redolent with the Hebrew tongue;
The other three wrote in Greek.
Matthew’s page is milk, Luke’s letter blood,
Mark’s writ is wine, John’s work honey.
Study the Scriptures: Matthew’s pen is iron, Luke’s copper,
Mark’s silver, John’s golden.
One has the taste of earth, another like that of myrrh,
One transpires a flowery scent, the other a spicy.
Matthew shows us Christ’s birth, Luke his death,
Mark his rising, John his journey to the stars.
Now all of these things can be referred to Christ
To Whom, I pray, our quill might fly.
Christ is the man, Christ the calf, Christ the lion, Christ
The bird; you can see all in the person of Christ:
He is a man in life, an ox in death, a lion when
He rises from the dead, a bird when he goes up to heaven.
The same qualities pertain to the lives of just men;
The just man can be each of these things.
When reason triumphs, he is a man; an ox when he worships the flesh;
A lion when he conquers evil; a bird when he seeks the things above.
Man excels in deeds, the ox lords over beasts of burden;
The lion and eagle are kings: note these four.

With these lines as prologue, my quill turns back
And lets the history spin its tale.

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