Remembering To Forget

Augustine, Confessions 10.3.24

“When I utter the word “forgetfulness” and I similarly see what I am naming, how would I acknowledge it if I have not remembered it? I don’t mean the word’s sound, but the thing that it means. If I had forgotten it, I would not be able to connect the meaning with the sound. So when I remember memory, then it is present in itself for itself at that moment. But when I recall forgetfulness, both memory and forgetfulness are there at the same time. Memory in allowing me to remember and forgetfulness is the thing I recall.

But what is forgetfulness if it isn’t the negation of memory? How can it be there in order to be remembered when I cannot remember it in its true presence? But if we retain what we have remembered in our memory, then if we did not remember forgetfulness, we would never be able to acknowledge that that word means when we hear it spoken. Forgetfulness is preserved by memory.”

16. (24) Quid, cum oblivionem nomino atque itidem agnosco quod nomino, unde agnoscerem nisi meminissem? non eundem sonum nominis dico, sed rem quam significat. quam si oblitus essem, quid ille valeret sonus agnoscere utique non valerem. ergo cum memoriam memini, per se ipsam sibi praesto est ipsa memoria. cum vero memini oblivionem, et memoria praesto est et oblivio, memoria qua meminerim, oblivio quam meminerim. Sed quid est oblivio nisi privatio memoriae? quomodo ergo adest ut eam meminerim, quando cum adest meminisse non possum? at si quod meminimus memoria retinemus, oblivionem autem nisi meminissemus, nequaquam possemus audito isto nomine rem quae illo significatur agnoscere, memoria retinetur oblivio.

John Martin, “Sadak in Search of the Waters of Oblivion” 1812

Lying about the Self

Augustine, Confessions 10.3

“What is left for me, then, with other people so that they may listen to my confessions as if they would heal all my problems? We are a species desperate to know about other people’s lives but negligent in fixing our own. Why do those who do not want me to say who they are want to ask me who I am?

When they hear from me directly about myself, how can they know whether I speak truly when no one knows what moves another person except for the spirit that moves within them? Yet, if they hear about themselves from you, they cannot say, “The Lord lies.” Since, what is hearing about ourselves from you apart from knowing oneself? Truly, who understands this and says “this is untrue” except for someone who lies.”

(3) Quid mihi ergo est cum hominibus, ut audiant confessiones meas, quasi ipsi sanaturi sint omnes languores meos? curiosum genus ad cognoscendam vitam alienam, desidiosum ad corrigendam suam. quid a me quaerunt audire qui sim, qui nolunt a te audire qui sint? et unde sciunt, cum a me ipso de me ipso audiunt, an verum dicam, quandoquidem nemo scit hominum quid agatur in homine, nisi spiritus hominis qui in ipso est? si autem a te audiant de se ipsis, non poterunt dicere, “mentitur dominus.” quid est enim a te audire de se nisi cognoscere se? quis porro cognoscit et dicit, “falsum est,” nisi ipse mentiatur? 

Problem of Evil, What About the Problem of Good?

Boethius, Consolation 1.90-95

“For what advantage is there of speaking about those falsely attributed works in which I am said to have agitated for Roman freedom? Their fakeness would have been obvious if it had been allowed for me to use the confession of those informers of mine, since this has the most potent influence in all of this business.

What freedom remains to be hoped for? If only some remained! I would have then responded in that phrase of Canius. When Caligula accused him of being aware of a conspiracy underway against him, Canius is reported to have said, “If I had known of it, you would not.”

Sorrow has so thoroughly weakened my senses in this matter that I complain that evil men have attempted to do evil, but I am in fact surprised that they have accomplished what they hoped to. For, while it is perhaps our special weakness as humans to desire to do the worse thing, it is nearly monstrous that whatever a criminal mind can conceive of he can do while God looks on.

This is why it is not surprising that one of your friends asked “If there is really a God, where does evil come from? Ah, but where is good from if there is not?”

Nam de compositis falso litteris quibus libertatem arguor sperasse Romanam quid attinet dicere? Quarum fraus aperta patuisset, si nobis ipsorum confessione delatorum, quod in omnibus negotiis maximas vires habet, uti licuisset. Nam quae sperari reliqua libertas potest? Atque utinam posset ulla! Respondissem  Canii verbo, qui cum a Gaio Caesare Germanici filio conscius contra se factae coniurationis fuisse diceretur: ‘Si ego,’ inquit, ‘scissem, tu nescisses.’ Qua in re non ita sensus nostros maeror hebetavit ut impios scelerata contra virtutem querar molitos, sed quae speraverint effecisse vehementer admiror. Nam deteriora velle nostri fuerit fortasse defectus, posse contra innocentiam, quae sceleratus quisque conceperit inspectante deo, monstri simile est. Unde haud iniuria tuorum quidam familiarium quaesivit: ‘Si quidem deus,’ inquit, ‘est, unde mala? Bona vero unde, si non est?’

Boethius, Consolatio Philosophiae, f.24 (289 x 218 mm), 15th century, Alexander Turnbull Library, MSR-19 (5986125942).jpg
Boethius, Consolatio Philosophiae, f.24 Alexander Turnbull Library, By National Library NZ on The Commons

Chance, Virtue, and Evil Deeds

Boethius, Consolation of Philosophy 4 145-155

“It does often turn out that the conduct of the most important affairs is entrusted to good people, that overwhelming corruption may be restrained. Chance apportions a proper mix of bad and good luck to some people based on the quality of their souls so they don’t exult in excess thanks to prolonged happiness. It lets other people suffer more, so that their minds’ virtues gain strength from the use and habit of patience.

Some people fear more than they need to about how much they can take while others are not serious enough about what they cannot. No few purchase a name the world honors at the price of a glorious death; others provide in their tortures an example to the rest of human kind that virtue cannot be conquered by evil deeds.”

Fit autem saepe, uti bonis summa rerum regenda deferatur, ut exuberans retundatur improbitas. Aliis mixta quaedam pro animorum qualitate distribuit; quosdam remordet ne longa felicitate luxurient, alios duris agitari ut virtutes animi patientiae usu atque exercitatione confirment. Alii plus aequo metuunt quod ferre possunt, alii plus aequo despiciunt quod ferre non possunt; hos in experimentum sui tristibus ducit. Nonnulli venerandum saeculi nomen gloriosae pretio mortis emerunt: quidam suppliciis inexpugnabiles exemplum ceteris praetulerunt invictam malis

Boethius Imprisoned

To a Widow on How to Be

Jerome Letters 44.13 (To Furia on the duty of remaining a widow, 394 CE)

 “Avoid the company of young men. Never let long-haired, expensive, lust-mongers in your home. A Singer should be avoided like the plague. Kick out all women who sing songs and play instruments like they are the chorus of the devil with songs as deadly as the sirens’. Do not go out in public all the time, taking for yourself the freedom of widow, and parade around with an army of eunuchs preceding you.

It is of the worst character when one of the fragile sex at a young age takes advantage of freedom and think it is possible to do whatever you want. “All things are allowed but not all are expedient”. Don’t allow a curly-haired guard or a pretty foster brother or a blond or red haired servant to stick to your side all the time. Sometimes the mind of mistresses is judged by the the dress of their servants. Seek the friendship of sacred virgins and widows. If you have to talk to men, don’t avoid having witnesses there and make sure that you have so much confidence in your conversation that you won’t be afraid or embarrassed to have someone else listen.”

 Iuvenum fuge consortia. Comatulos, comptos atque lascivos domus tuae tecta non videant. Cantor pellatur ut noxius; fidicinas et psaltrias et istius modi chorum diaboli quasi mortifera sirenarum carmina proturba ex aedibus tuis. Noli ad publicum subinde procedere et spadonum exercitu praeeunte viduarum circumferri libertate. Pessimae consuetudinis est, cum fragilis sexus et inbecilla aetas suo arbitrio abutitur et putat licere, quod libet. ‘Omnia’ quidem ‘licent, sed non omnia expediunt.’ Nec procurator calamistratus nec formosus conlactaneus nec candidulus et rubicundus adsecula adhaereant lateri tuo: interdum animus dominarum ex ancillarum habitu iudicatur. Sanctarum virginum et viduarum societatem adpete, et si sermocinandi cum viris incumbit necessitas, arbitros ne devites tantaque confabulandi fiducia sit, ut intrante alio nec paveas nec erubescas.

File:St Jerome by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio.jpeg
St. Jerome by Caravaggio

Problem of Evil, What About the Problem of Good?

Boethius, Consolation 1.90-95

“For what advantage is there of speaking about those falsely attributed works in which I am said to have agitated for Roman freedom? Their fakeness would have been obvious if it had been allowed for me to use the confession of those informers of mine, since this has the most potent influence in all of this business.

What freedom remains to be hoped for? If only some remained! I would have then responded in that phrase of Canius. When Caligula accused him of being aware of a conspiracy underway against him, Canius is reported to have said, “If I had known of it, you would not.”

Sorrow has so thoroughly weakened my senses in this matter that I complain that evil men have attempted to do evil, but I am in fact surprised that they have accomplished what they hoped to. For, while it is perhaps our special weakness as humans to desire to do the worse thing, it is nearly monstrous that whatever a criminal mind can conceive of he can do while God looks on.

This is why it is not surprising that one of your friends asked “If there is really a God, where does evil come from? Ah, but where is good from if there is not?”

Nam de compositis falso litteris quibus libertatem arguor sperasse Romanam quid attinet dicere? Quarum fraus aperta patuisset, si nobis ipsorum confessione delatorum, quod in omnibus negotiis maximas vires habet, uti licuisset. Nam quae sperari reliqua libertas potest? Atque utinam posset ulla! Respondissem  Canii verbo, qui cum a Gaio Caesare Germanici filio conscius contra se factae coniurationis fuisse diceretur: ‘Si ego,’ inquit, ‘scissem, tu nescisses.’ Qua in re non ita sensus nostros maeror hebetavit ut impios scelerata contra virtutem querar molitos, sed quae speraverint effecisse vehementer admiror. Nam deteriora velle nostri fuerit fortasse defectus, posse contra innocentiam, quae sceleratus quisque conceperit inspectante deo, monstri simile est. Unde haud iniuria tuorum quidam familiarium quaesivit: ‘Si quidem deus,’ inquit, ‘est, unde mala? Bona vero unde, si non est?’

Boethius, Consolatio Philosophiae, f.24 (289 x 218 mm), 15th century, Alexander Turnbull Library, MSR-19 (5986125942).jpg
Boethius, Consolatio Philosophiae, f.24 Alexander Turnbull Library, By National Library NZ on The Commons –