Academic journal article Ancient Narrative

Text Networks

Academic journal article Ancient Narrative

Text Networks

Article excerpt

   Semel locutus est Deus duo haec audivi
   quia potestas Dei et tibi Domine misericordia
   quia tu reddes unicuique iuxta opera sua.

   Unum locutus est Deus duo haec audivi
   quia imperium Dei est
   et tibi Domine misericordia
   quia tu reddes unicuique secundum opus suum.

Jerome, Psalmi 61

Students of Late Antique letters might profitably revisit Augustine's remarks on the advantages that conflicting versions of the Bible afforded Roman readers in the early centuries C.E. "While we can enumerate those who have turned (verterunt) the Scriptures from Hebrew into Greek," Augustine observes, "those who have rendered them into Latin are innumerable. in the early times of the faith when anyone found a Greek codex, and he thought that he had some facility in both languages, he attempted to translate it (ausus est interpretari)." (1) Rather than castigate this embarrassment of codicological riches, however, Augustine--writing de doctrina Christiana--goes on to affirm such diversity in Scripture as fundamental to the constitution of the Catholic faith:

   The situation helps rather than impedes the understanding
   (intelligentiam), so long as readers (legentes) are not remiss
   (negligentes). For inspection of the sense in several codices has
   often clarified passages that are obscure. For example, one
   translator (interpres) renders a verse from the prophet Isaia: Et
   domesticos seminis tui ne despexeris; but another says: Et carnem
   tuam ne despexeris. Either bears witness to the other in turn
   (uterque sibimet invicem adtestatus est), for by means of one the
   other is explained (alter ex altero exponitur). Thus, caro can be
   taken literally, such that each may find himself admonished not to
   despise his body; while domestici seminis can be understood
   figuratively as "Christians" born spiritually with us from the
   common seed of the Word. Moreover, by collating the sense of the
   translations, the most appropriate meaning presents itself
   (occurrit), namely, a literal precept that we should not despise
   those of our own blood. For when we refer domesticos seminis to
   carnem, blood relations come particularly to mind. Whence, I think,
   comes the statement of the Apostle: Si quo modo ad aemulationem
   adducere potuero carnem meam, ut salvos faciam aliquos ex illis,
   that is, by emulating those who have believed, they too might
   believe. He calls the Jews carnem suam on account of their
   consanguinity. (2)

Augustine's aim, then, in collating the diverse renderings of Isaia 58:7 is not--as it would be for Lachmann--to produce a normative text. (3) Augustine both allows the discrepancies to stand and deliberately validates the meaning peculiar to each one, singly as well as together. The Itala refers metonymically to the body, the Vulgate metaphorically to the spiritual community of Christ, while in conjunction the two renditions metaleptically reference the Jews. (4) Oblivious of fidelity to any original--exemplaria praecedentis linguae--Augustine concludes: "Both [versions] contain something of value for the discerning reader (ex utroque magnum aliquid insinuatur scienter legentibus); overall, it is difficult for translators (interpretes) to so differ from each other that they do not show commonality in some area of meaning (ut non se aliqua vicinitate contingant)." Since the root *leg-, on which this passage repeatedly puns, (5) denotes in Augustine's Latin not only "to read" but also "to assemble", "to bring together", "to recruit", (6) lection is by implication here less a process of reduction than a collational and comparative enterprise in which all available transcriptions remain in play. For Augustine, then, multiformity in the Latin renderings of Isaia constitutes neither a historical curiosity nor sheer coincidence: rather, it is what creates the possibility of understanding in the first place: "each [reading] bears witness to the other, so that by one the other is explained. …

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