BMCR 1997.03.19

1997.3.19, ALSO SEEN: Severson, Conf. Saint Aug.: Annotated Bibliog.

This volume presents itself austerely with a title that sets certain expectations. The year 1888 is chosen as a starting point because of two classic essays in that year that called into question the historical accuracy of Augustine’s autobiographical narrative, one in French by Gaston Boissier and one in German by Adolf Harnack. The value of a bibliography of this sort would be considerable. After a very short introductory essay, the volume comprises listing of 468 titles with short paragraphs of summary after each.

So far, so good. The present author may perhaps be forgiven for checking the volume’s completeness by looking for his own works. He may even be forgiven some slight surprise on discovering that a work he published in 1992, running to three volumes and 1200 pages from a not undistinguished publisher, is not listed. Puzzled, and with a vague sense that there was something wrong with this picture, he suddenly realized that every page he looked upon registered only works published in English. On re-examination of the preface, he finds that this is a feature, not a bug, of the series, though as many as five titles, “a few French works of undoubted significance that are readily available in good American libraries”, violate the Anglophone purity of these pages. Thus Boissier’s article is here (I’m relieved to think that good American libraries are assumed to have the Revue des deux mondes for 1888), but Harnack’s article is only here because it was translated into and published in English 22 years after original publication. (What other four French works? Both of Courcelle’s major books, Alfaric’s tendentious, confuted, and neglected 1918 thesis, and the introduction to the standard French/Latin edition.)

The “implicit reader” of this volume is thus quite earnestly interested in Augustine, and utterly monoglot. I would say that this is particularly unfortunate in the case of Augustine (where French scholarship has dominated the last century, followed closely by Italian and German work), but it is strikingly audacious for any ancient author to be treated in this way.