While reading The Beacon at Alexandria by Gillian Bradshaw (I’m a sucker for historical novels) it occurred to me that the book’s heroine Charis was the same age as Augustine of Hippo, both being around sixteen in 371, when the novel opens (Charis in Ephesus and Augustine in Carthage), so I pulled out the copy of the Confessions that I’d had for years and never read (the Penguin edition translated by the unfortunately named R.S. Pine-Coffin, about whom there is no information either in the book or online). Naturally, I wanted to compare it with the Latin original, and a moment’s googling produced the mother lode: the 1992 edition, with commentary, by James J. O’Donnell (who has a new biography of Augustine coming out next month).

Each book of the text has a link to introductory commentary on that book, and each section of the text has a link to detailed comments on the section. Links within the commentary connect not only to the section of text directly being annotated, but also to other parts of the text and commentary. Footnotes in the commentary appear at the end of each book; the footnote numbers are links from the commentary text to the footnote and from the footnote text back to the commentary. Where possible, links have been provided to the texts of classical works and Biblical passages cited in the commentary. Links at the end of each book of the text and commentary allow navigation to the next book or the previous one of text, commentary, or both together.

Just in the commentary on the bit of Book I I’ve read so far, O’Donnell has cited T.S. Eliot, Lawrence Durrell (Justine: ‘Does not everything depend on our interpretation of the silence around us?’), and Wittgenstein, so the scholarship is not of the dry-as-dust variety. It’s amazing to me that such a recent edition is freely available, and I thought I’d pass it along.

I have to say, I’m disappointed to find that Augustine disliked the Greek language: “quid autem erat causae cur graecas litteras oderam, quibus puerulus imbuebar?” (Pusey: “But why did I so much hate the Greek, which I studied as a boy?”)


  1. maureen says:

    Can’t help you with R S but there’s a whole family of Pine-Coffin people – go back for yonks, hail from Devon, pop up in all sorts of places. It looks as though that translation was commissioned by Penguin: surely they have something on him

  2. My copy of the Penguin “Confessions” simply says: “R.S. Pine-Coffin is a Roman Catholic and was born in 1917. He was educated at Ampleforth and Peterhouse, Cambridge.”

  3. Well, that’s more than my copy says, so thanks!

  4. I can’t recall who wrote this, but somewhere I read that Augustine was sensitive about his lack of facility in Greek and Hebrew. In other words, I got the impression it was not the case that he disliked Greek, but rather that he was just not proficient at it, which was a sore spot for him.
    I’ve been studying the Confessions in Latin (the Loeb Classic) and I must admit, his narrative is very moving, and he’s one smart fellow. It seems as if Christianity has been trivialized by moderns whereas to Augustine it appears to be a serious intellectual matter.

  5. I’ve only read the first two books of the Confessions, but that part was amazingly different than I expected. Augustine intensely resented the way he was treated in school, and did not enjoy the study of Greek.
    I try to be restrained in my link-whoring, but I have an elaborate Augustinocentric piece up at my URL.

  6. Well, since you don’t have a search function (as far as I can see) and there’s no mention of Augustine on your front page, I hereby officially authorize (in fact, beg) you to provide a link here. (Besides, this is Liberty Hall — you can link-whore all you like.)

  7. Thanks! I will now commence my usual picking of nits. In “a Latin poem (complete with epanalepse and anantapododon),” I think “epanalepse” should be “epanalepsis” (the use of a word at the beginning and end of a passage), and “anantapododon” should be anantapodoton (“If the expression trails off, leaving the subordinate clause incomplete, this is sometimes more specifically called anantapodoton”). Also, shouldn’t that be Jugurthae (and not Jugarthoe)? Ah yes, you can see the correct Latin text here. There are also several typos in your Rimbaud text; you might want to copy-and-paste from here. (Incidentally, I wonder who the devil “Chinaldon” was? He’s left no trace in Google or Larousse.)
    Anyway, I like your thesis that “Western civilization is based not on sexual repression per se, but on educational practices which, in the interest of their parents’ ambitions, consign small, helpless children from middling families to the hands of brutal teachers, forbidding them to marry or to have fun until they have achieved success and can find a properly respectable match — perhaps in early middle age.” And I too made note of this passage as I read Augustine:
    “O Lord my God, be patient, as you always are, with the men of this world as you watch them and see how strictly they obey the rules of grammar which have been handed down to them, and yet ignore the eternal rules of everlasting salvation which they have received from you.”

  8. I usually do the final edit on my pieces several months after publishing them, if ever — but assistance is always appreciated.

  9. Nell Lancaster says:

    there’s a whole family of Pine-Coffin people – go back for yonks, hail from Devon, pop up in all sorts of places.“R.S. Pine-Coffin is a Roman Catholic and was born in 1917. He was educated at Ampleforth and Peterhouse, Cambridge.”
    Glad to learn this. Otherwise my idea would be that Pine-Coffin was a pseudonym, one meant to hint broadly that the translator wasn’t being paid enough.

  10. Corrected, and thanks.

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