Multicultural Writers from Antiquity to 1945: A Bio-Bibliographical Sourcebook

By Alba Amoia; Bettina L.Knapp | Go to book overview
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SAINT AUQUSTINE OF HIPPO

(354-430)

Paul Archambault


BIOGRAPHY

To rely on Saint Augustine's Confessiones for the details of his life is to leave many questions unanswered. We must go to the De beata vita to know that he was born in Thagaste (present-day Souk-Ahras, in northeastern Algeria) “on the Ides [13th] of November, 354. His mother was a devout Christian; his father was a pagan and a “good husband” by the standards of the day, though an unfaithful and highly irascible one, served by his wife as her master (Confessiones 9.19). As a schoolboy Augustine nearly died of a serious stomach ailment. After three years of rhetorical studies in the neighboring city of Madaura (364-67), he pursued his university studies at Carthage (370). Sexually precocious and active, he was soon living with a young woman and by the summer of his eighteenth year had fathered a son whom he named Adeodatus, or “God-given.”

Reading Cicero's Hortensius at age nineteen convinced him for the first time that the intellectual life was a serious matter. He had been a clever student of “rhetoric, that is, literary studies combined with the study of oratory. In his Confessiones he looked back with loathing on the “damnable and frivolous” literary pursuits of his youth (3.4). He found his weeping over Dido's suicide “sinful” because he disregarded the “death” in his own soul (1.13). Thirsting for a life of wisdom after reading the Hortensius, he studied the holy Scriptures “to see what they were like, but their mysterious wisdom appeared at the time “unworthy of comparing with the dignity of Cicero” (3.5).

For nine years, from 374 to about 382, he adhered to the dualistic metaphysics of the Manicheans while teaching at Thagaste and at Carthage. In 383 he secretly left for Rome, where he frequented other members of the Manichean sect and grew increasingly skeptical about Manichean teachings. He was appointed in 384 to a chair of rhetoric at Milan, where he met Bishop Ambrose, whose preaching was to have a profound impact on his thinking. Augustine grew in-

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