Augustine for Latin lovers

St Augustine in his Study, by Sandro BotticelliThe feast of St Augustine of Hippo was a couple of days ago, which provides a slightly belated excuse to share some Augustine which I’ve been meaning to post for a while.

Eugene Rogers, in his book Sexuality and the Christian Body, quotes a couple of St Augustine’s best-known sayings, but then also gives the original Latin – which, as Rogers observes, “is worth savouring”, even for those of us who don’t understand Latin.

Both are from the Confessions. The first is this (from book 3, ch. 1, translation by Peter Brown):

I had not yet fallen in love, but I was in love with love … To love and to have my love returned was my heart’s desire.

Here’s the original. Worth reading in parallel with the translation, to appreciate Augustine’s elegance and economy:

Nondum amabam, et amare amabam … amare et amari dulce mihi erat.

Then there is this celebrated passage from book 10, ch. 27, here in the translation by the magnificently named R.S. Pine-Coffin:

I have learnt to love you late, Beauty at once so ancient and so new! I have learnt to love you late! … The beautiful things of this world kept me far from you and yet, if they had not been in you, they would have had no being at all. You called me; you cried aloud to me; you broke my barrier of deafness. You shone upon me; your radiance enveloped me; you put my blindness to flight. You shed your fragrance about me; I drew breath and now I gasp for your sweet odour. I tasted you, and now I hunger and thirst for you. You touched me, and I am inflamed with love of your peace.

As Rogers observes, the original is again “sparer”:

Sero te amavi, pulchritudo tam antiqua et tam nova! sero te amavi! Et ecce intus eras et ego foris et ibi te quaerebam; et in ista formosa quae fecisti deformis irruebam. Mecum eras et tecum non eram. Ea me tenebant longe a te, quae si in te non essent, non essent. Vocasti et clamasti et rupisti surditatem meam. Coruscasti, splenduisti et fugasti caecitatem meam. Fragrasti et duxi spiritum et anhelo tibi. Gustavi et esurio et sitio. Tetigisti me et exami in pacem tuam.

Language to feast upon, even if you don’t understand a word of it…


4 thoughts on “Augustine for Latin lovers”

  1. It makes me wonder whatever was wrong with, “I had not yet loved, but Love I loved … to love and to be loved was sweet to me”?

    I wouldn’t dare tackle the second!

    Of course, part of the problem is that the English grammar is simpler than the Latin, and so in Latin one can pack a lot more meaning into a smaller space. Nondum amabam simply cannot be translated accurately in two words, and (speaking with my very rusty Cambridge Latin I & II) five would be necessary.

  2. Now I’m home, I can check Blaiklock, who has “I was not yet in love, still in love with love … to love and to be loved was sweet to me.”

    Hey, a professional half agreed with my translation! 🙂 Context helps; I would remove the capitalisation of “Love”.

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