Thursday, January 10, 2019

Augustine of Hippo on Losing his Own Books

The conversion of St. Augustine by Benozzo Gozzoli

A few years back Craig Evans of Houston Baptist University published an article that argued,
"at the time our extant Greek NT papyri were written in the late second and early to mid-third centuries, some of the autographs and first copies were still in circulation and in a position to influence the form of the Greek text." (Evans, 23)
This thesis was later propagated by a documentary that came out in April of 2018, "Fragments of Truth." I have already offered my own critique in a forthcoming work edited by Peter Gurry and Elijah Hixson, "Myths and Mistakes in New Testament Textual Criticism," in the chapter "Myths About Autographs: What They Were and How Long They May Have Survived." I want to add one other, small push back to another proposal made in the article by Evans (but not made in the documentary that I recall). Besides arguing for the longevity of New Testament "autographs and first copies," Evans also comments on the number of copies that an author might make of their own work. Evans wrote,
"We usually assume a single autograph per NT writing. But that can hardly have been the case. In late antiquity, no one produced a single exemplar of a work and then circulated it. This is well documented in the papyri, especially with reference to letters." (Evans, 33)
 Though Evans is correct to note that authors often made more than one copy of their letters, as he notes, there is ample evidence in the papyri and in statements made in extant letter collections that point to senders making a copy of a letter before dispatching it, there is less evidence that this was done for works of literature. There are a few examples from Galen that I briefly mention in the chapter. This was a phenomena that spanned the centuries for there are examples from later periods as well. One instance comes from Augustine of Hippo (354-430 CE). In his "Confessions," Augustine expounds on his early life of seeking knowledge and studying the thought and writings of the Manichaens. During this time (ca. 380 CE), he wrote a work of Philosophy, "De Pulchro et Apio," (On the Fair and Fit). By the time he sat down to write his "Confessions" (ca. 397-400 CE) he had lost any copies of the work. Augustine wrote,

"And this consideration sprang up in my mind, out of my inmost heart, and I wrote "On the Fair and Fit" [De Pulchro et Apio], I think, two or three books. Thou knowest, O Lord, for it is gone from me; for I have them not, but they are strayed from me, I know not how." (Augustine, Confessions, 4.13.20)

Now Augustine does not tell us how he came to lose these books. His "Confessions" may give us a clue as to what may have happened. Later in book 4 he wrote,

"But what moved me, O Lord my God, to dedicate these books unto Hierius, an orator of Rome, whom I knew not by face, but loved for the fame of his learning which was eminent in him, and some words of his I had heard, which pleased me? But more did he please me, for that he pleased others, who highly extolled him, amazed that out of a Syrian, first instructed in Greek eloquence, should afterwards be formed a wonderful Latin orator, and one most learned in things pertaining unto philosophy." (Confessions, 4.14)

It was common for authors in late antiquity to dedicate a work to a friend or learned acquaintance  (sometimes even to Emperors). The author would then send a copy of the work to the dedicatee (See Cicero, Att. 13.21a; and Galen, De. libr. propr. 19.13). In the case of Galen, this seemed to be his only copy of the work because he did not retreave a copy until the dedicatee died and he re-acquired a copy. It is possible that this occurred in the case of Augustine as well, that he sent his only copy of the book to the dedicatee Hierius. After which, any copies, first drafts, or notes he had were lost.
Craig A. Evans, “How Long were Late Antique Books in Use? Possible Implications for New Testament Textual Criticism,” Bulletin for Biblical Research 25.1 (2015): 23-37.

Donald A. Cress, "Hierius & St. Augustine's Account of the Lost  'DE PULCHRO ET APTO': Confessions' IV,13-15," Augustinian Studies 7 (1976): 153-163

Translation of Augustine's Confessions taken from,

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