Like Curtains at the Threshold of Literature

Augustine, Confessions 1.13:

“But now may my God shout in my soul, and may your truth say to me, ‘It is not so, it is not so.’ That earlier learning was far better. See! I am more prepared to forget the wanderings of Aeneas and all of that sort of thing than I am to write and read. Though it be true that veils hang over the thresholds of the schools of literature, they do not so much signify the honor of secret knowledge as they do the concealment of error. May those whom I do not fear not shout against me, as I confess what my soul wishes, my God, and as I rest in the chastisement of my own wicked ways, so that I may love your good paths; let not those buyers and sellers of literature declaim against me because, if I were to pose the question to them, whether Vergil told the truth when he said that Aeneas once came to Carthage, the blockheads among them would respond that they did not know, but the more learned would admit that it was not true. But if I were to ask with what letters Aeneas’ name is written, everyone who learned would respond correctly according to that settled agreement by which people have affirmed among themselves the proper use of those symbols. Likewise, if I asked which of these things, if forgotten, would be the greater loss – reading and writing, or those poetic figments – who would not easily see how a man would respond if he had not entirely forgotten himself?

I sinned, therefore, as a boy when I placed those inane studies higher in my affections than the more useful ones; nay, rather, I hated the useful ones, but loved the useless. Indeed, ‘one and one is two, and two and two are four’ was to me the most hateful little song, and the sweetest thing was that spectacle of vanity – the wooden horse full of men, the burning of Troy, and the ghost of Creusa herself.”

Jean Baptiste Wicar, Vergil Reading the Aeneid to Augustus, Octavia, and Livia

sed nunc in anima mea clamet deus meus, et veritas tua dicat mihi, ‘non est ita, non est ita.’ melior est prorsus doctrina illa prior. nam ecce paratior sum oblivisci errores Aeneae atque omnia eius modi quam scribere et legere. at enim vela pendent liminibus grammaticarum scholarum, sed non illa magis honorem secreti quam tegimentum erroris significant. non clament adversus me quos iam non timeo, dum confiteor tibi quae vult anima mea, deus meus, et adquiesco in reprehensione malarum viarum mearum, ut diligam bonas vias tuas, non clament adversus me venditores grammaticae vel emptores, quia, si proponam eis interrogans, utrum verum sit quod Aenean aliquando Carthaginem venisse poeta dicit, indoctiores nescire se respondebunt, doctiores autem etiam negabunt verum esse. at si quaeram quibus litteris scribatur Aeneae nomen, omnes mihi qui haec didicerunt verum respondent secundum id pactum et placitum quo inter se homines ista signa firmarunt. item si quaeram quid horum maiore vitae huius incommodo quisque obliviscatur, legere et scribere an poetica illa figmenta, quis non videat quid responsurus sit, qui non est penitus oblitus sui? peccabam ergo puer cum illa inania istis utilioribus amore praeponebam, vel potius ista oderam, illa amabam. iam vero unum et unum duo, duo et duo quattuor, odiosa cantio mihi erat, et dulcissimum spectaculum vanitatis, equus ligneus plenus armatis et Troiae incendium atque ipsius umbra Creusae.

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