In 1979, Cornelius P. Mayer, OSA, then newly incardinated as Professor of Systematic Theology in the Justus Liebig University in Giessen, undertook to organize and edit a comprehensive encyclopedia of the historical, theological, and philosophical aspects of the life and work of Augustine of Hippo. The first fascicle of the Augustinus-Lexikon appeared in 1986 and with a steady rhythm and a large international group of contributors is now publishing fascicles of the third volume, comprising so far lemmata from the letters
In its first form, that database was created in the 1980s and ran on a single mainframe. At that time, users were invited to send word-search requests to the editors and would receive back bales of green-bar paper by surface post some weeks later. The floor under my worktable used to be piled high with those printouts. In the late 1980s, copies were given to Augustinian houses in several countries and it became possible to run queries remotely from the mainframe at Villanova University (thanks to the energetic intervention of Allan Fitzgerald, OSA). Young scholars are not as indulgent of their elders as they should be and so picaresque tales of the intricacies of those searches and the sometimes comical results that emerged from a single wrong keystroke seem not to appeal to a wide audience and will be omitted here.
At length, in 1996, the database was published for general use on a CD priced then at DM 3450, about 50% higher (if memory and arithmetic serve) than the price of the current product to new users. The new CD, “CAG 2” to its regular users, supplements the original in part by revised and enhanced texts, in part by the addition of a very large and useful database of secondary bibliography, and in part by the addition of a powerful search engine designed ad hoc for the particular purposes of the Augustinian scholar. I will describe the product and its powers first, then comment briefly on its uses and competitors.
From the outset, it has been an excellence of CAG (and the prototypes) that it has drawn upon the best current editions of all texts included to the greatest extent possible — which is to say, almost completely. It has aspired to be complete and comprehensive, and that means including the “new” texts discovered in our lifetimes — letters by Divjak, sermons by Dolbeau — as well as updating between editions of the CD as new printed editions of individual texts have appeared. The quality and reliability of the texts are of the highest caliber. I know no such ambitious textual database that has yet found a good way to include textual variants or an apparatus criticus, and this one does not attempt to do so.
Moreover, in the new release, there has been accurate and consistent tagging of quotations contained in A.’s texts — of secular texts, of A.’s quotations of himself, but most valuably of biblical passages. A.’s work is often a tissue of biblical echoes and allusions, and it is a regular working need of the scholar to be able to track a piece of biblical language across the years. This feature is an absolute delight to have and use. There are also an index of Greek words that appear in A.’s texts and a lemmatized list of words/forms appearing in A.’s work as a whole. The search engine is powerful and allows the usual Boolean, proximity, and the like searches. The luxuriant bibliography calls suddenly to mind an anterior dinosaur, no less primitive than David Packard’s multivolume Concordance to Livy of 1969 now seems: the Fichier augustinien, published in 1972 in four volumes, comprising photoreproductions of all of the bibliographical index cards in the bibliographic card file of the Institut des études augustiniennes in Paris at the time. Wrestling those volumes, back in the day, was a miracle of access and comprehensiveness, and thinking of them I have made a note to go and visit them in their remote shelving sometime, like venerable friends in a nursing home, to say thank you to them before memory fades.
It is late in the day to praise the results that emerge from such searches. My first fruits from this database years ago came when I thought to look for the other passages, besides conf. 12.28.38, in which A. used the word variationes. That word figured there as the only emendation ever securely inserted in the well-transmitted conf., and it had stood there for four centuries. It made perfect sense, as emendations will, but was fatally undermined when the magic of database searching revealed that A. had never used the suggested word in any of his other works. It was plausible but wrong, a wrongness that could never have been detected with sureness until the machine could intervene. It led to my shortest published article and an emendation of my own in my 1992 edition.
Tales of such minima, of course, risk suggesting that the power of such access to texts as a regular working tool is modest, but indeed it is now simply not possible for me to imagine seriously scholarly work on ancient texts without these tools. Their hidden greatest use is as pastures in which to browse. For every discovery, there must be a hundred musings — that is to say, queries launched, combinations tested, hunches pursued, many with no immediate result but all with cumulative benefit to the learning and research of the questioner. We are still far from theorizing or understanding the way in which our work is changing and will change because of this kind of access and other powerful tools for linking texts and ideas.
Taken on its own terms, the CAG 2 is a splendid and powerful tool. The user dedicated to the exploration of A. and early Latin Christianity will be very happy to have it and will use it regularly and with gratitude.
There is one annoying limitation on use, and it points to the constraints under which the project labors. In order to protect the publisher’s interest in the database, free copying and reuse (it was decided) must be curtailed. But it is past time when anyone would stand for having to insert a particular CD in the one drive on a PC or laptop whenever the urge to consult the data arose. Accordingly, CAG 2 allows the user to install the data on as many machines as make sense. But to use the data and the search engine, one must insert in a USB port of the computer a special HASP key ( communiter nuncupatum a ‘dongle’), and one only such key comes with each single user disk. I carry the dongle in the pouch with my laptop, since the laptop is awkward to carry or store with the HASP key inserted. But when I then need to use the database on my desktop machine, I must have the laptop bag within reach and fish out the HASP for insertion there, then remember to remove it later and restore to the laptop pouch. The annoyance is real and reduces utility. The concomitant decision to distribute the information exclusively by CD-ROM and not by network means as well that each time a scholar acquires a new machine, one part of the update routine is to fish out the original distribution CD of CAG and reinstall. I sympathize with the dilemma the publisher finds himself in, having invested substantially in creating and enhancing the database and its tools and seeking return on that investment, but hope to live to see a CAG 3 that is less challenging to use.
For there are other options, less challenging ones. At present and known to me (there may be more), there are at least four other ways in which scholars can gain access to the Latin texts of A.:
1. CETEDOC/Brepols : a CD product last updated on 3 disks in 2002 comprising 47 million words of Christian and medieval Latin texts, from the publisher who also produces the Bibliotheca Teubneriana Latina CD; pricing on request but suggested to be in the range of €3750 to €5000. Not to my knowledge capable of running over the web. The value lies first in the quantity and diversity of the texts provided, second in the convenience of accessing such a treasure house through a single interface, and third in the quality of the texts. The challenges of using the material on 3 CD’s are considerable, and the price to an individual essentially prohibitive.
2. The “Chadwyck-Healey” edition of Patrologia Latina, now owned and distributed by ProQuest International, mainly via library subscription over the net, but with a CD and combined CD/web option as well. This comprises the full text of the 19th century omnium gatherum edition (consisting mainly of the 17th century Maurist edition reproduced verbatim) of the Abbé Migne, whose life and works were well limned in Howard Bloch’s God’s Plagiarist (Chicago 1994). There is obvious convenience in having a classic work available on-line, but a real drawback in giving a collection of badly outdated texts a new life like this.
3. The website www.augustinus.it, connected to the publishing enterprise of “Città Nuova,” which has published bilingual Latin/Italian printed editions of A.’s works for thirty years. The site has a virtually complete collection of A.’s texts, mainly in the PL edition but with some newer items (e.g., the Divjak letters, appended to the PL text of the previously known letters), all freely available over the net. Most notably, there are also a virtually complete set of Italian and a healthy sampling of English translations of A.’s works. The collection is weak on sermons discovered since the Maurists in the 17th century. When a colleague is exploring just war theory or predestination and needs Augustinian texts, this is where I regularly send him or her.
4. The commercial web product “Past Masters” from a company called Intelex, available by subscription to libraries and offering the complete or near-complete works of numerous philosophical worthies (though with a few sets of notable women writers not specially philosophical thrown in and one or two other things whose rationale for inclusion escapes me), not always in original languages (so Plato in Hamilton/Cairns’ and in Jowett’s versions, but Kant and Nietzsche and Wittgenstein in German). The Augustine contained here is the CAG text that appears on the CD under review here.
Faced with choices, how to proceed? If you are not a specialist in Augustine, it is hard to resist the freely accessible Italian texts. These are imperfect, for editorial scholarship has moved on from the texts contained there, but if you want to look up a passage or read a page or a work, the editions are perfectly serviceable, along with the translations. Which resource you might choose to use next may depend on your access to a research library that subscribes to one or another of the subscription sets. For word searches, CAG 2 is the best, the online PL is serviceable, and www.augustinus.it very limited. CAG 2 is still likely to be the choice of the specialist, for his or her own use, rather than of the general reader or the scholar whose main focus lies elsewhere.
My own practice may be unrepresentative. The same laptop that contains the CAG database and carries the dongle also carries a complete set of the PL texts downloaded on an idle afternoon on ethernet a few years ago, and that is my most frequently used tool. Inter alia, it allows consecutive offline reading of complete texts, as well as swipe-and-paste copying of quotations and shorter texts. When searching, it is 50-50 whether I will use the CAG 2 or simply fall back (if on the network) to the PL database search engine. I purchased CETEDOC when it first appeared, but have not renewed my subscription in two or three iterations and could not now tell you where my last CD has gotten to. The Past Masters, I have had to remind myself, is accessible to us at my institution, but when I use it I find it generally irritating because it breaks texts up into long pages, and so one cannot get at or use whole works at once. Until such time as I live 24×7 with a live network connection, I want to be able to use texts when traveling or otherwise out of range and that makes me prefer those I can download integrally to those — even those that are better in scholarly terms — that impose too many restrictions on me.
I do not describe this practice to defend it, or to deny that the issues that put constraints around a resource like CAG 2 are real ones. I mean only to capture the dilemmas of the moment for those who would use e-texts in their scholarship. I am specialist enough to know that I need and value CAG 2 highly and would be bitterly unhappy not to have it, but ordinary mortal enough not to use it as often as I should.