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Augustine, de civitate dei, literary reputation

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Augustine, de civitate dei, literary reputation

Postby hlawson38 » Tue May 22, 2018 9:11 pm

Could someone point me to an assessment of Augustine as a Latin author and prose stylist? Something on the web would be really helpful. My purpose is to compare my reactions with the judgment of an accomplished Latinist. I'm finding A. a strong writer in Latin, even though his polemical stance may put some off. I am reading him primarily as a Latin writer, and secondarily to understand his ideas, with no desire to attack or defend them.

I've reached the point in my reading where I want to move beyond an exclusive attention to literal meaning, sentence-by-sentence, and to cultivate some awareness of literary values.
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Re: Augustine, de civitate dei, literary reputation

Postby bedwere » Wed May 23, 2018 3:45 am

Maybe you'll like this web site (which you may already know):

http://faculty.georgetown.edu/jod/augustine/
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Re: Augustine, de civitate dei, literary reputation

Postby truks » Wed May 23, 2018 7:17 am

Don't know if this is what you're looking for, but this thesis looks like an interesting place to start. The bibliography might be particularly useful.

http://digitallibrary.usc.edu/cdm/ref/c ... 8/id/96626
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Re: Augustine, de civitate dei, literary reputation

Postby RandyGibbons » Wed May 23, 2018 4:16 pm

Hi Hugh. Glad to hear you're making progress with this awesome work.

Six or seven years ago I took a seminar with Catherine Conybeare on "The Fall of Rome," in which we read a great deal of Jerome and Augustine (a few sermons, mostly City) to study their and others' reactions to the sack of Rome in 410. I think I know exactly what you're looking for, but I'm not finding anything in the bibliographies of various textbooks from that class about Augustine purely as a prose stylist. Your best bet may be general surveys of Greek and Roman literature from late Antiquity.

Two of my textbooks you may find useful (I know you prefer what you can find for free on the web!). One is P.G. Walsh's edition (2005), with translation and commentary, of Books I and II of City. Second is Gerard O'Daly's Augustine's City of God: A Reader's Guide (1999).

Several things occur to me at least as necessary to any examination of Augustine's prose style:

    + At least some comparison of City with, especially, Confessions (another remarkable work), but also the sermons and other writings, to distinguish Augustine's style in these works of such different purposes.
    + We know Augustine received what had become the standard gentleman's education in grammar and rhetoric across the Roman empire. So some study of the particulars of what that education consisted of. Especially important to a study of City, what was Augustine's style as a polemicist? What techniques did he borrow, which were perhaps unique to him? (If memory serves, Augustine initially set out to be a lawyer, fulfilling his father's wishes.)
    + Related, how Augustine used "classical" Roman literature (which, as you've seen, he does frequently). In this regard, the chapter on 'Influences and Sources' in O'Daly may be useful.
    + Especially important, and obviously so different from classical prose, the Christianization of his style (there's probably a less awkward way to phrase that), the numerous citations from the bible and beyond. I believe in our class we spent a great deal of time on just the first paragraph of Augustine's Preface (to City), in this regard. (Compare, for example, just as a function of style, how he repeatedly addresses God in Confessions.)
I'm finding A. a strong writer in Latin

What in particular in his writing do you characterize as "strong"?

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Re: Augustine, de civitate dei, literary reputation

Postby hlawson38 » Thu May 24, 2018 1:50 am

Thanks for the references Randy.

Augustine as "strong writer": There are two aspects of this. One is strictly literary, on which I'm poorly equipped to judge. The other is the reach of his ambition. For example, I'm just reading his commentary on the Lucretia story, book 1, cap. 19. Augustine seems to accept this story as definitive of the traditional ideals of Roman virtue, but his intention is to discredit this reading, and replace it with a judgment that Lucretia was wrong to kill herself, that it was self-murder. It is as if somebody sought to destroy the moral of the story of George Washington and the cherry tree, and replace it with a different ideal of what is truthfulness.

So, I think I can get some of the strictly philosophical issues on which A. is strong. But I also have the intuitive feeling that A. is strong as a writer. But, I'm weak in my apprehension of these literary values in Latin.

Hugh
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Re: Augustine, de civitate dei, literary reputation

Postby Barry Hofstetter » Thu May 24, 2018 11:57 am

I used to use Augustine when tutoring Ph.D. students using Latin as one of their reading languages for their degree. I've never really analyzed him from a strictly literary perspective, but he certainly has good control of the language and falls in the classical rhetorical tradition. He is familiar with a broad range of the Latin literature available to him during his time period and often interacts with that literature as he seeks to present his various arguments. He became vastly influential over the medieval period up through the Reformation, as much, I think, for the clarity of his writing as for the value placed by later generations in his content.
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καὶ σὺ τὸ σὸν ποιήσεις κἀγὼ τὸ ἐμόν. ἆρον τὸ σὸν καὶ ὕπαγε.
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Re: Augustine, de civitate dei, literary reputation

Postby RandyGibbons » Thu May 24, 2018 2:15 pm

Augustine as "strong writer": There are two aspects of this. One is strictly literary, on which I'm poorly equipped to judge. ... But, I'm weak in my apprehension of these literary values in Latin.

I think you are underestimating yourself! But what is your definition, what would be examples of, "literary values"? One thing comes to my mind, which is the clarity of his writing that Barry points out. I think that is achieved in part by writing simple, non-Ciceronian sentences.
It is as if somebody sought to destroy the moral of the story of George Washington and the cherry tree, and replace it with a different ideal of what is truthfulness.

I'll say! Count me as a pagan and one of Augustine's adversaries, but my experience with Antiquity falls into two halves: before and after I read De civitate Dei (contra paganos). There's no going back.
Lucretiam certe, matronam nobilem veteremque Romanam, pudicitiae magnis efferunt laudibus. ... Hoc fecit illa Lucretia [i.e., killed herself]; illa, illa sic praedicata Lucretia innocentem, castam, vim perpessam Lucretiam insuper interemit. Proferte sententiam.

You could write an entire PhD dissertation on Augustine's literary style using just those sentences.

I think the ultimate reason Augustine is "strong" - and I think you chose that word wisely - is the courage and utter transparency with which he confronts the most difficult issues of our existence. Nowhere is that more evident (as far as I know) than his consideration of rape. I also submit to the jury Augustine's frank and unabashed account of his sex life in The Confessions.

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Re: Augustine, de civitate dei, literary reputation

Postby hlawson38 » Sun May 27, 2018 12:42 am

bedwere, truks, and RandyGibbons have been very helpful.

Especially thanks to R.G. for being so encouraging.
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