F**k The Aeneid!

Augustine, Confessions 1.13:

“Even now I have not yet sufficiently explored why I then hated the Greek literature on which with which I was glutted as a little boy. Indeed, I loved Latin literature – not the stuff which our elementary teachers taught us, but the stuff that we learned from the philologists. To tell the truth, I considered those first readings, where one learns to read and write and count, almost as burdensome and punishing as all of Greek literature. But what caused this, except the sinfulness and vanity of life, which made me nothing but flesh, a passing wind which never returned. Surely those first readings were better, because they were more certain; by their aid it was happening – has happened – that I am able to read if I come across some writing and I myself am able to write if I please. They were better, I say, than those in which I was compelled to remember the wanderings of some Aeneas, while forgetting of my own wanderings, and to bewail Dido’s death because she committed suicide, while in the midst of these trifles I, wretched as could be, allowed myself to die away from you with dry eyes.

For what could be more wretched than a wretch not pitying himself as he cries about the death of Dido, which came about from loving Aeneas, all the while not crying over his own death, which happens from not loving you, God, the light of my heart and the bread of the internal mouth of my soul and the virtue marrying together my mind and the breast of my thoughts? I did not love you, and I was fornicating away from you, and as I fornicated everyone shouted, ‘Great job, great job!’ The friendship of this world is a kind of fornication away from you, and the phrase ‘Great job, great job!’ is spoken so that one might feel shame if he does not conform. I did not weep over all of these things. Instead, I wept over Dido, now dead after seeking her end with the sword, while I myself followed the lowest things which you created as I, no more than dirt, hastened to the dirt myself. Were I prevented from reading those things, I would have grieved, because I had no reading material to grieve over. With such madness did I think that literature more noble and fruitful than the things which taught me to read and write.”

Sandro Botticelli 050.jpg
Sandro Botticelli, St. Augustine in His Study

quid autem erat causae cur graecas litteras oderam, quibus puerulus imbuebar? ne nunc quidem mihi satis exploratum est. adamaveram enim latinas, non quas primi magistri sed quas docent qui grammatici vocantur. nam illas primas, ubi legere et scribere et numerare discitur, non minus onerosas poenalesque habebam quam omnes graecas. unde tamen et hoc nisi de peccato et vanitate vitae, qua caro eram et spiritus ambulans et non revertens? nam utique meliores, quia certiores, erant primae illae litterae quibus fiebat in me et factum est et habeo illud ut et legam, si quid scriptum invenio, et scribam ipse, si quid volo, quam illae quibus tenere cogebar Aeneae nescio cuius errores, oblitus errorum meorum, et plorare Didonem mortuam, quia se occidit ab amore, cum interea me ipsum in his a te morientem, deus, vita mea, siccis oculis ferrem miserrimus.
quid enim miserius misero non miserante se ipsum et flente Didonis mortem, quae fiebat amando Aenean, non flente autem mortem suam, quae fiebat non amando te, deus, lumen cordis mei et panis oris intus animae meae et virtus maritans mentem meam et sinum cogitationis meae? non te amabam, et fornicabar abs te, et fornicanti sonabat undique: ‘euge! euge!’ amicitia enim mundi huius fornicatio est abs te et ‘euge! euge!’ dicitur ut pudeat, si non ita homo sit. et haec non flebam, et flebam Didonem extinctam ferroque extrema secutam, sequens ipse extrema condita tua relicto te et terra iens in terram. et si prohiberer ea legere, dolerem, quia non legerem quod dolerem. tali dementia honestiores et uberiores litterae putantur quam illae quibus legere et scribere didici.

3 thoughts on “F**k The Aeneid!

    1. There’s more where that came from! Between Augustine and Jerome, can you imagine living in a time when reading ancient literature was seen as voluptuary indulgence? If I remember correctly, Jerome flogged himself so that he could read Cicero, and Augustine’s “aversion” to pagan literature sounds a lot like his “aversion” to sex.

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