Bryn Mawr Classical Review 95.06.10

William E. Klingshirn (trans.), Caesarius of Arles: Life, Testament, Letters. Translated Texts for Historians, vol. 19. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1994. Pp. xvii + 155; 2 maps. $15.95. ISBN 0-85323-368-3 (pb).

Reviewed by Abigail A. Firey, The Ohio State University (

Introducing Caesarius of Arles, and with him, texts that reveal much about a lively segment of late antique history, to an English-speaking student audience is a meritorious effort to make the world a somewhat better place. Although Caesarius's reputation has been secured by his legacy of more than two hundred and fifty (authentic and in-) surviving sermons, Klingshirn's choice of the Life, Testament, and selected letters of Caesarius, will for most students have greater appeal.

The collection could bear the subtitle, "For his sister". The Life, a collaborative project written by five Arlesian clerics, is addressed to Caesarius's relation Caesaria the Younger, the abbess who governed his late sister's convent of some two hundred nuns, where "the virgins of Christ beautifully copy out the holy books, with their mother [Caesaria] herself as teacher." (Life, II.47, I.58) The Testament is Caesarius's carefully crafted will, which had the primary intent of ensuring that the convent would be protected against the intervention of Caesarius's episcopal successors and that there would be sufficient property and income to sustain the nuns after his death. The Testament is particularly valuable for its specification of the estates Caesarius transfers to the convent; it is a pity that it is not made clear in the notes or introduction that a map at the back of the volume does indicate the known locations of the properties named in the Testament. The longest of the letters (Letter 21) is addressed to Caesarius's sister, Caesaria the Elder, and the nuns; this discourse upon the solitary life, as Klingshirn notes, remained a popular text well into the Carolingian period.

The texts are rich in incidental information on subjects to which considerable scholarly attention is devoted outside late antique studies. There are fine passages about Caesarius's habits of committing large quantities of learning to memory and expecting his associates to do likewise; related questions about the oral and written transmission of material are clarified by Klingshirn's scrupulous distinction in English between readers, auditors, narrators, scholars and the acts of reading, listening, and modes of telling. Students interested in relations between different ethnic and religious communities will find the Life useful for its glimpses of social adaptation and resilience in Gallo-Roman Arles, over which tramped in rapid succession Visigothic, Burgundian, Ostrogothic, and Frankish boots. Considerable evidence can be collected that pertains to the relations between the Catholic and Arian communities; this contemporary material is a welcome complement to the highly filtered, highly structured historiography of Gregory of Tours. There are, too, a few allusions to the Arles Jewish community. Elements of the historical development of the theory and practice of penance may be traced in these pages, and Augustinian scholars everywhere will rejoice at the demonstration that the question of predestination is inescapable.

Presented in a pleasingly slim paperback, Klingshirn's translations are thus commendable, but at times puzzling in their intent. The problem appears to lie not in Klingshirn's choice of material, or even in its translation, but in a slightly unsteady vision of the readers into whose hands it might fall. The unsteadiness, it may be surmised, is not inherent in the translator, but is an understandable response to the unsettled place of Late Antique studies in the North American curriculum. The format of the book suggests that it is designed for classroom use, but there are intimations that the reader will have already attained a certain level of expertise. Signs of authorial disbelief that this will be used in general undergraduate teaching are apparent in the (quite wonderful) Bibliography. The items are well-distributed over a range of subjects; it covers both older and recent literature; it is interesting. However, it is largely for specialists; over half of it requires a proficiency in foreign languages not to be expected of many undergraduates; fourteen of the items are for the Latin scholar. If the book is intended for graduate students, or for private study, why the English only (rather than facing translation) text, why the severely abbreviated format, suitable in a volume for undergraduate private ownership, with its corollary limits on introductory discussion and footnotes?

The volume appears in the English series supervised largely by British luminaries, "Translated Texts for Historians," a series "designed to meet the needs of students of ancient and medieval history and others who wish to broaden their study by reading source material, but whose knowledge of Latin or Greek is not sufficient to allow them to do so in the original languages." This statement would suggest that these texts might be used in undergraduate instruction and that there is no presumption that the student will have the original text to hand ("Each volume is a self-contained scholarly translation"). Why, then, does Klingshirn's volume contain numerous footnotes such as, "I have followed Krusch, who reads 'quem', rather than Morin, who reads 'quam'", "I take 'singularitate' (= singularitati) as a dative of purpose ...", "On this sense of 'donec', see TLL V.1, col. 2003, lines 42-4", "For consessu, I read concessu, Norberg (1968), 101," etc., which require reference to the Latin text? The point is not a minor one, as Morin's edition of the Life, on which the translation is based, is available in scarcely more than twenty-five libraries in North America.1

Sins of generosity are easily forgiven, however, and many other notes are indeed magnanimous in their explanatory gloss on historical, liturgical, and literary points which would certainly not be evident to undergraduates, or often even to more advanced students. (Some are just plain charming: "Demons were widely thought to inhabit abandoned bath houses. See further Bonner (1932)." p. 54.) The guiding policy seems to have been to present an essentially unannotated, bare text, and most instructors will welcome this laissez-faire approach, which encourages attention to the document rather than to particular interpretations. Footnotes are thus limited to a fairly strict average of three per page, in keeping with the format of other volumes in the series. With such constraints, it is unfortunate that so many of the notes should be brief comments on the translator's decisions about rendition of the Latin, usually of little interest in the absence of the original text. A second category of footnotes, often prompted by Klingshirn's intriguing insights, comprises references to relevant bibliography. These will be helpful for students who can make good use of often untranslated Latin primary sources and foreign-language secondary material. A third type of note strives to provide identification of persons and places. These notes are sometimes overly refined, and presume readers happily anxious about PLRE identifications and specific archeological disputes. It is in the fourth category of notes, the brief explications of technical matters, that inconsistent perceptions of the reader's expertise are especially apparent. At times remarkable in their aptness and erudition (e.g., to the text "The servant of God was particularly eager to observe the following rule, that no sinner, whether one of his slaves or the freeborn men under his control, should ever receive more than the legal number of lashes, that is thirty-nine" is appended the note, "This was a biblical prescription: Deut. 25:3; Cor. 11:24."), they are, however, somewhat erratically issued (how many readers are acquainted with quartan and tertian fevers?). Some of these explanatory notes seem directed to undergraduates (Klingshirn gives brief descriptions of the pallium and the dalmatic), but there are at times awkward silences: texts referring to clerical adultery have no annotation indicating that "adulteria" connoted canonical irregularities other than the modern sense of extra-marital liaisons; Caesarius's directive to his bishops concerning offerings for the dead merits a note at least directing students to literature on the problem; "He again had the bishop taken from Arles on trumped up charges, and led into Italy under guard all the way to Ravenna [513]" could support a note reminding students that Ravenna was the official residence of the western emperor.

Klingshirn's General Introduction is excellent, and its construction particularly worthy of admiration in view of the probable constraints upon length. It is a concise summation of a complex historical context that will orient readers nicely with regard to the social position and function of a late antique bishop, and that gives due attention to the questions of monastic-episcopal relations, pastoral expectations, and the legislative role of the bishop. Klingshirn's perception of Caesarius's attempts to develop parochial autonomy is particularly noteworthy. If one laments the absence of discussion in certain areas it is only because it would be a pleasure to be instructed by so sure-footed a guide. The relatively lengthy Introduction to the Life is deft, especially in its clear explanation of the analysis of the five authors' contributions, but again wavers in its sense of audience: it gives salutary reminders of the importance of independent evidence in assessing the testimony of the Life and firmly steers novices through the question of late antique appreciation of miracles, yet non-Latinate undergraduates may blink at the comment that "the orthography, syntax and diction of both books, as well as their use of rhetorical figures like pleonasm and parallelism, are typical of later Latin." (p.7)

The translation is accurate, although not always fluid. While there is some protestation in the Preface that late antique Latin "often seems pompous and overwrought to modern readers", and that the translation attempts to "alter ... verbal redundancies and multiple superlatives", the authors of the Life were not writing Ennodian prose, and the stiffness evident particularly in the first few pages of the text (a phenomenon familiar to most translators and authors) seems more an aspect of the translation than of the original composition. Willingness to use simple English verbs would, at times, perhaps improve the text (e.g., for "tribuebat", one might suggest the simpler "bestowed" or even "gave" instead of Klingshirn's "make gifts to"); a few missing antecedents require minor exercise on the part of the reader; tendencies to replicate Latin sequence of tenses rather than transporting verbs into English usage, to translate scrupulously all comparatives and superlatives by "more" and "most", and to use pleonasms produce rather stilted prose. Minor refinements in vocabulary would improve the text: "promptus in vigiliis" as "well-disposed at vigils" conveys little sense; in the sentence, "ita ut, quem instituendum susceperant disciplinae regularis initiis, perfectum se invenisse gauderent totius institutionis augmentis", (Klingshirn: "the monks rejoiced to discover that he whom they had received for instruction in the rudiments of the discipline of the rule had already been made perfect in the advanced principles of the whole teaching") "perfectum ... augmentis" might be rendered, "... already developed in the advanced stages of all aspects of monastic life," a translation more in keeping with Catholic, rather than Gnostic or Stoic, expectations for a spiritual condition.

While it would not be fair to describe Klingshirn's translation as dry, there is upon occasion a studied neutrality that can mask the rhetorical potency of some passages. An example is the account of Caesarius's initiation into religious life, which might be enhanced by a somewhat closer rendition of the Latin idiom. The Latin text reads,

Cum ergo octavum decimum gereret aetatis annum, ignorante familia vel parentibus [Morin: parentes, sic Par. 793; parentibus rell.], incolatum cupiens regni caelestis adipisci, seque illius temporis pontificis sancti Silvestri vestigiis praemissa supplicatione prostravit, petens ut ablatis sibi capillis mutatoque habitu divino eum pontifex servitio manciparet, nec pateretur ultra supplicem a parentibus ad praedium affectusque pristinos revocari.... Cumque inibi biennis seu amplius sub hac inchoatione deservisset, divinae gratiae instigatione iuxta evangelium divino mancipare servitio, ut pro amore regni caelestis non solum parentibus, sed et patriae redderetur extraneus. Arreptam itaque salubriter fugiendi de saeculi compedibus libertatem, Lirinense monasterium tiro sanctus expetiit.
The author is employing an extended trope, playing upon the opposed concepts of slavery and freedom, and likely also upon the audience's awareness of the legal restrictions permitting only the free or freed to achieve episcopal status. Mancipare, the formal legal transaction by which certain forms of property could only be transferred, has considerable rhetorical force, as does servitium, and their legal meaning clarifies the degree of separation from his family that Caesarius is seeking to establish. Declaring that mere enslavement does not satisfy Caesarius' spiritual ideals, the hagiographer continues his legal analogy, and states that Caesarius had himself declared "extraneus" -- a term used particularly to specify heirs not under the testator's authority, often slaves, who thus might refuse the inheritance. "Incolatum," "pontifex" (used elsewhere in the text without apparent figurative weighting), "supplicatio," "praedium," "fugiendum," "libertatem," even "inchoare" and "tiro," although within the sphere of normal vocabulary, all resonate with technical legal meanings, and a choice of similarly multivalent English terminology might better convey the quality of the original.

Klingshirn's correct, but restrained translation is,

In his eighteenth year, without the knowledge of his household or parents, he first offered supplication and then prostrated himself at the feet of holy Silvester, because he wished to reside in the heavenly kingdom. He asked that, once he had been tonsured and had put on a habit, the bishop deliver him up into divine service and not permit a suppliant to be called back later by his parents to the family estate and his former attachments.... And when, after this beginning, Caesarius had served there for two or more years, he was set aflame by the promptings of divine grace and decided to bind himself more closely and with fewer impediments to divine service, in accordance with the gospel, so that, out of love for the heavenly kingdom, he might become a stranger not only to his parents, but also to his homeland. And so, when he had taken the opportunity of fleeing for his salvation from the shackles of the world, the holy recruit sought the monastery of Lerins.
Possible alternative wording may promote the figurative aspect of the passage more aggressively: for "praemissa supplicatione", "after a prefatory plea" might conjure up a clearer image of a formal legal proceeding; for the phrase "illius temporis pontificis ..." the substitution of "at the feet of the bishop, who was at that time the holy Silvester" stresses both the episcopal office and echoes the dating formula of legal documents; for "cupiens incolatum regni caelestis adipiscii", the phrase "become a resident" might emphasize the legal implications of residency more strongly; "manciparet servitio" might be more forcefully rendered as "bind him over as a slave", and for other instances of "servitium", "servitude" signifies greater enslavement to the English reader; the legal tone of "redderetur extraneus" could be more pronounced, as in "be decreed an outsider", as in "outside heir"; finally, one might suggest construing "arreptam libertatem" in apposition to "monasterium", both the object of "expetiit", rather than as an accusative absolute, and translating thus: "And thus the holy beginner sought a stolen liberty in salvific flight from the fetters of this world in the monastery of Lerins" which develops more clearly, perhaps, the image of a fugitive slave, here justified in his crime, finding freedom in the cloister.

At other points, however, Klingshirn renders the tone and periods of the Latin text with admirable clarity, as in the militaristic catalogue, borrowed from Pseudo-Cyprian, of the attributes of holy solitude in the letter to Caesaria, and throughout employs appropriately formal syntax and at times bejewelled vocabulary.

There are but a few historical infelicities. To describe the Caesarius's activities at the Council of Orange as putting "an end to the semi-Pelagian problem" (p. xv) is an odd description of events. Leaving aside the question of the Reformation debates, it was in southern Gaul that there was considerable further lobbying on this intractable theological problem, which was addressed again in assorted Carolingian polemical tracts and at the Council of Quierzy (838); hence a better report of Caesarius's accomplishments in the debate might be, "temporarily quieted." To describe the Breviarium Alarici, the abbreviated anthology of Roman Law particularly popular in Spain and Gaul, as the "Visigothic lawcode" is misleading. The extent to which clerical celibacy was recognised as mandatory in this period (it was still an unresolved issue for the Carolingians) is somewhat casually treated (in one note it is "expected"; in another it is "required").

Such disputation, however, is engagement in a level of discussion not intended by the translator. Klingshirn has shown a high degree of responsibility in adopting a problematising, rather than assertive, stance in his notes and comments. The sometimes awkward introductory instruction in the book is understandable, in view of the status of late antique studies as a field of advanced scholarship. This volume, like the series as a whole, is intended to promote this area of historical study, and confronts the problems faced by an advance guard when the main forces are still marching at some distance behind. The editors of the series are to be commended for recognising that it is a priority to deliver primary sources into the hands of students as quickly as possible, even when there is at this point little support in the form of surveys or general texts suitable for undergraduate use, and for anticipating that as the synthetic literature develops, the need for translated sources will be even greater. This volume in particular is a welcome extension of evidence from the eastern Empire, North Africa and the Italian peninsula for understanding late antique episcopal activity and theology, and as testimony from southern Gaul, it is in particular an excellent complement to the monastic perspective of Jonas's Life of Columbanus (ca. A.D. 640).

Two features of the book's physical aspect warrant comment. First, neither of the maps at the end of the volume matches the high standard of the text. One is an unattractive sketch of the diocese of Arles, in which seemingly arbitrarily selected topographical features are represented, without explanation, by single-line bounded shapes. The diocesan boundaries are difficult to discern and the relevance to the text of the marked sites is unclear. The other map is an archeologist's diagram of the major civic and cult sites of early sixth-century Arles, not readily related to the text and not edifying without commentary. Absent is a map that would help students to appreciate the situation of Arles with respect to the Burgundian, Frankish, Ostrogothic, and Visigothic kingdoms. Second, it is to be hoped that the copy received for review is singular in its fragility. Pages were falling out after the volume had been only a few weeks in the possession of the reviewer, who is a Gentle Reader.


[1] This number is based on a search of the National Union Catalogue and the OCLC and RLIN databases.