For the New Semester: Augustine on His Students

Confessions 5.12

“I then started to pursue the work for which I traveled there, to teach the art of Rhetoric at Rome. Soon, certain men gathered at my home among whom and through whom I became well known. But look: I learned that some things happened in Rome which I would not have endured in Africa. For, in truth, the destruction caused by wasted youths which I saw there would not have happened in Africa. They said to me: “Suddenly, in order not to pay their teacher, many young men will conspire and move on to another—they abandon their promises: because of their love of money, justice is cheap.” My heart hated those bastards, but not with a complete hatred: surely, I hated more what I would suffer because of them than the wrongs they committed against others.”

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sedulo ergo agere coeperam, propter quod veneram, ut docerem Romae artem rhetoricam, et prius domi congregare aliquos quibus et per quos innotescere coeperam. et ecce cognosco alia Romae fieri, quae non patiebar in Africa. nam re vera illas eversiones a perditis adulescentibus ibi non fieri manifestatum est mihi: ‘sed subito,’ inquiunt, ‘ne mercedem magistro reddant, conspirant multi adulescentes et transferunt se ad alium, desertores fidei et quibus prae pecuniae caritate iustitia vilis est.’ oderat etiam istos cor meum, quamvis non perfecto odio. quod enim ab eis passurus eram magis oderam fortasse quam eo quod cuilibet inlicita faciebant.

Biblioklepty? Lives of Crime and Missing Books, a New Classics Confessional Game

Earlier today, we re-tweeted a tale about the tragic theft of some Plutarch:

http://twitter.com/QuidAgitur/status/605373378007048192

This made me think of my own history of kleptobiblia (or should it be biblioklepty? Let’s go with that). The only time I can think of planning to and actually stealing a book was when I was in middle school. My parents and my friends’ parents were mostly aging history. One friend’s father had Abbie Hoffman’s classic on his shelf.

steal this book

What could one do but steal it?

Now, I am sure that antiquity has many anecdotes of book-theft to contemplate and even more certain that the history of classical scholarship, peopled by myriad rogues and bibliophiles, must have as many if not more. But I can’t think of any (apart from the apocryphal Alexandrian edict on the surrender of books).

But I am equally certain that just as the books we read (and display) say something about us, so too the books we ‘steal’ (and don’t) have something essential to communicate. So, my new classics confessional game is this: what book did you ‘steal’ (or acquire by less-than-legit means); what book do you wish you hadn’t (absconded with); and what book do you wish you had (taken)?

Here’s my list:

Book I ‘stole’: Albert Lord’s The Singer of tales. My undergraduate adviser lent it to me and I loved it. I never gave it back. To make amends, I became a Homerist.

Book I wish I hadn’t: While in graduate school I walked out of a famous library with their edition of the first volume of the Cambridge Commentary on the Iliad. It was purely accidental. I had my own copy at home! No alarms went off. I was too embarrassed to return it. It sits on my shelf to this day, unopened, a token of my lingering shame.

Book I wish I had: When I was leaving graduate school, I had designs on Slater’s Lexicon to Pindar. I had this crazy idea I was going to translate all of Pindar’s odes. I chickened out. But then, Perseus put it online. All’s well that ends…

Any other confessions out there?

Education and Religion Can Corrupt: Augustine, Confessions IV,1

“Through the same nine-year span from my nineteenth year until my twenty-eighth, we were seduced and we were seducing, tricked and tricking others with a variety of desires: we did this openly through the teachings that we call ‘liberal’ but also secretly under the name of a false religion. In the first, we were haughty; in the other, superstitious—but we were arrogant everywhere. In the liberal education, we were pursuing the emptiness of popular glory, even for applause for our performances, our songs for the competitions, contests for brief-lived crowns, the sideshows of spectacle and unrestrained desires. In our ‘religion’ we were longing to be cleansed from those filthy acts when we used to bring meals to the men who were considered chosen and holy. In the factories of their stomachs they were going to create the angels and gods who would free us. And I was pursuing these things and I did it with the friends who were deceived with me and by me.”

per idem tempus annorum novem, ab undevicensimo anno aetatis meae usque ad duodetricensimum, seducebamur et seducebamus, falsi atque fallentes in variis cupiditatibus, et palam per doctrinas quas liberales vocant, occulte autem falso nomine religionis, hic superbi, ibi superstitiosi, ubique vani, hac popularis gloriae sectantes inanitatem, usque ad theatricos plausus et contentiosa carmina et agonem coronarum faenearum et spectaculorum nugas et intemperantiam libidinum, illac autem purgari nos ab istis sordibus expetentes, cum eis qui appellarentur electi et sancti afferremus escas de quibus nobis in officina aqualiculi sui fabricarent angelos et deos per quos liberaremur. et sectabar ista atque faciebam cum amicis meis per me ac mecum deceptis.

Augustine Was Ripped off by Students: He hated them, and himself (Confessions 5.12)

“I then started to pursue the work for which I traveled there, to teach the art of Rhetoric at Rome. Soon, certain men gathered at my home among whom and through whom I became well known. But look: I learned that some things happened in Rome which I would not have endured in Africa. For, in truth, the destruction caused by wasted youths which I saw there would not have happened in Africa. They said to me: “Suddenly, in order not to pay their teacher, many young men will conspire and move on to another—they abandon their promises: because of their love of money, justice is cheap.” My heart hated those bastards, but not with a complete hatred: surely, I hated more what I would suffer because of them than the wrongs they committed against others.”

sedulo ergo agere coeperam, propter quod veneram, ut docerem Romae artem rhetoricam, et prius domi congregare aliquos quibus et per quos innotescere coeperam. et ecce cognosco alia Romae fieri, quae non patiebar in Africa. nam re vera illas eversiones a perditis adulescentibus ibi non fieri manifestatum est mihi: ‘sed subito,’ inquiunt, ‘ne mercedem magistro reddant, conspirant multi adulescentes et transferunt se ad alium, desertores fidei et quibus prae pecuniae caritate iustitia vilis est.’ oderat etiam istos cor meum, quamvis non perfecto odio. quod enim ab eis passurus eram magis oderam fortasse quam eo quod cuilibet inlicita faciebant.

Augustine, Confessions 1.8: On Learning how Things have Names

“Was it really this man—me—who jumped from infancy and moved to childhood? Or was it more that childhood entered me and replaced infancy? Infancy didn’t depart—where would it go? But still, it was not there anymore. For I was no longer an infant who could not speak but I was a boy who spoke. I remember this and sometime later I understood where I learned to speak. My elders were not teaching me, offering me words in some established curriculum as they would later with reading, but I, with the mind you gave me, my God, I wanted to make clear the feelings of my heart with all types of groaning and sounds and mad moving of the limbs, so that my will would be obeyed; when I did not prevail over all the things which I wanted from everyone, I picked at it with my memory. Whenever anyone called something something and when they moved toward a thing in response to that word a second time, I observed it and I understood that the thing was named by them—when they made that sound they meant to indicate it.”

nonne ab infantia huc pergens veni in pueritiam? vel potius ipsa in me venit et successit infantiae? nec discessit illa: quo enim abiit? et tamen iam non erat. non enim eram infans qui non farer, sed iam puer loquens eram. et memini hoc, et unde loqui didiceram post adverti. non enim docebant me maiores homines, praebentes mihi verba certo aliquo ordine doctrinae sicut paulo post litteras, sed ego ipse mente quam dedisti mihi, deus meus, cum gemitibus et vocibus variis et variis membrorum motibus edere vellem sensa cordis mei, ut voluntati pareretur, nec valerem quae volebam omnia nec quibus volebam omnibus, prensabam memoria. cum ipsi appellabant rem aliquam et cum secundum eam vocem corpus ad aliquid movebant, videbam et tenebam hoc ab eis vocari rem illam quod sonabant cum eam vellent ostendere.

The Full Latin Text