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Some Perspectives on Prophecies

Naomi Michalowicz //


Now direct your eyes here, gaze at this people,

your own Romans. Here is Caesar, and all the offspring

of Iulus destined to live under the pole of heaven.

This is the man, this is him, whom you so often hear

promised you, Augustus Caesar, son of the Deified,

who will make a Golden Age again in the fields

where Saturn once reigned, and extend the empire […]

(Aeneid VI.787-793)

In Vergil’s epic poem The Aeneid, the author’s present-day imperial Rome intrudes on the mythological past in which the poem is set, in the form of prophecy. When Aeneas visits the underworld and finds his father, the ghost of Anchises—armed with the transtemporal knowledge of the dead—tells him the narrative of Roman history, following from his own son’s progeny, to the birth of the twins Remus and Romulus, and all the way to the magnificent reign of Augustus Caesar, coinciding with the poem’s composition. [1] In this scene, Vergil’s audience must have felt temporal vertigo: they were hearing their own national history, their past, as a future yet to unfold. 

The Aeneid is rife with prophecies, omens, and predictions, the content of which is often historical and therefore carries truth-value: unlike contemporaneous predictions of the future, whose status at the time of their utterance cannot be determined, these past predictions can be evaluated as true or false. This technique serves to cement the supremacy of Rome as the direct result of destiny, and to strengthen the mythological connection between Rome and the ancient Troy. [2] But aside from its political significance, the omnipresence of the future in Vergil’s epic reveals something about the Roman perception of time: temporal progression is fixed, linear, and stretches from the mytho-historical past directly into the present, which is this past’s future. As for the present’s future, it is completely absent from the poem; futurity only exists as a relation between past and present. 


The prophet which prophesieth of peace, when the word of the prophet shall come to pass, then shall the prophet be known, that the Lord hath truly sent him. (KJV Bible, Jeremiah 28.9)

Chapter 28 in the book of Jeremiah details the confrontation of two prophets, the eponymous Jeremiah and Hananiah son of Azur. The terse biblical narration makes no distinction in the epithets given to these two men; both are described merely as “prophet.” [3] It is only by reading to the end of the chapter, we learn that Hananiah was a false prophet and Jeremiah, a true one. This is made known known simply as a result of the progress of time, which brings to pass the words of Jeremiah, showing him to be a true prophet according to his own formula, cited above. The formula makes very clear who is a true prophet, i.e. one sent by the Lord, but does not reveal much about the false prophet. Hananiah’s prophecies did not come to pass, and thus he was not sent by the Lord—but was he lying, or did he himself believe he was sent by the Lord? 

The distinction between deliberate falsehood and a mistake—or, in the case of hearing voices and conveying these voices as the word of God, a loosened grasp on reality—is crucial in contemporary western society; the social repercussions, and sometimes legal ramifications, depend on a perception of lies, mistakes, and insanity as separate categories, and though the result may be the same—uttering a false prophecy—the cause is given more consideration. [4]

The biblical model, conversely, seems to imply that the only distinction that matters is between false and true prophet. The parameter by which this distinction is made is the passage of time, which either makes of the prophesied future into the present, or makes the prophesied future into an impossibility. We gain no insight into the motivation or cause of Hananiah’s false prophecies: he dies as punishment for misleading the people, his death accurately foretold by the true prophet Jeremiah. [5]


Prediction is not just one of the things your brain does. It is the primary function of the neocortex, and the foundation of intelligence. The cortex is an organ of prediction. If we want to understand what intelligence is, what creativity is, how your brain works, and how to build intelligent machines, we must understand the nature of these predictions […] (Hawkins 89)

The prophets of literary and religious texts are exceptional figures, with access to knowledge from beyond the mortal realm. But in the same way that the heroes of Greek or Shakespearean tragedy embody intensified, elevated human experiences—love, violence, responsibility, betrayal—these extraordinary figures embody an extremely ordinary human function.

Research in cognitive science and AI emphasizes time and again the centrality of prediction to the operation of intelligence, and “prediction has been identified by many as a requirement for planning, decision-making, motor and cognitive control, counterfactual reasoning, and the improvement of behavior on the basis of experiences” (Younes et al. 4-5). In a sense, we are all prophets, constantly making small-scale, experience-based predictions about our own needs (I shop for food because I predict I will be hungry later), the behavior of others, the physics of our surroundings. 

This predictive function is most evident when it fails: when you predict another step while walking down a stairwell only to meet the ground too soon; when you predict a hug and are met with a handshake; when you bite into an apple assuming it will be sweet, but taste tartness instead. Such moments, jarring, jolting, humiliating as they are, are reminders of the fallibility of the predictive mechanism, otherwise so smooth as to be imperceptible. In other words, it is only when we are cast in the role of the false prophet that we become aware of having been playing the prophet at all. 


What will happen to the world in 2024?

As an AI language model, I don’t have access to real-time information and my knowledge was last updated in September 2021. Therefore, I cannot predict specific events that will happen in the year 2024 or beyond.

The future is uncertain and influenced by a myriad of complex factors, including geopolitical developments, technological advancements, economic trends, and natural events. Any predictions made about the world in 2024 would be speculative and unreliable.

To stay informed about future events and trends, it’s best to follow reputable news sources and experts in various fields who can provide insights into what might happen in the coming years. Remember that the future is subject to change, and unexpected events can always occur. [6]


Image: Anchises Shows Aeneas the Fields of the Blessed. Copper engraving 1688

Credit: Münchener DigitalisierungsZentrum


[1] Vergil worked on The Aeneid for ten years, between 29 and 19 BC. Augustus assumed the title of Princeps Senatus in 27 BC, effectively becoming the sole ruler of Rome and abolishing the Roman Republic.

[2] Vergil’s own political position, and the political message of The Aeneid, are a matter of scholarly debate; “scholars have interpreted this message in two opposing directions, often labeled as ‘anti-Augustan’ and ‘pro-Augustan’” (Grebe 35).

[3] “Then the prophet Jeremiah said unto the prophet Hananiah” (Jeremiah 28.5)

[4] Interestingly, a recent study found that in the Shuar-Achuar communities in Ecuador “predictions of the future that turn out to be false are considered lies, even when the events that render them false are unforeseen” (Erut et al. 1). This epistemic norm seems to echo the biblical lack of distinction between deliberate lie and honest mistake.

[5] Jeremiah 28.16-7.

[6] ChatGPT, response generated July 24, 2023.

Works Cited:

Bouhadjar, Younes, et al. “Prediction: An Algorithmic Principle Meeting Neuroscience and Machine Learning Halfway.” CEUR Workshop Proceedings, no. 3227, 3227, Sept. 2022, pp. 46–52.,

Carroll, Robert, and Stephen Prickett, editors. The Bible: Authorized King James Version. 1st edition, Oxford University Press, 2008.

Erut, Alejandro, et al. “Lying about the Future: Shuar-Achuar Epistemic Norms, Predictions, and Commitments.” Cognition, vol. 239, Oct. 2023, p. 105552. ScienceDirect,

Grebe, Sabine. “Augustus’ Divine Authority and Vergil’s ‘Aeneid.’” Vergilius (1959-), vol. 50, 2004, pp. 35–62.

Hawkins, Jeff, and Sandra Blakeslee. On Intelligence. Macmillan, 2004.

Virgil. The Aeneid. Translated by A. S. Kline, CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2014.

“World in 2024 Uncertain.” ChatGPT, Accessed 25 July 2023.

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