Vergil to Augustine: Inanitas

My friend Adam has hit upon a quite nice little idea in his translating of the Aeneid.  The general idea is that Vergil is a cynic who ends all his most epic scenes by throwing shade on them.  I’ll let Adam speak for himself on the details, but I was pleased to play a small auxiliary role in the hashing out of the idea.

Initially I resisted his take on the pictura inani, or empty picture, that Aeneas used to feed his soul.  Why not instead stay local and contrast Aeneas feeding his soul (animus) with a soulless (inane) picture?  But once we got talking, his cynical read started to grow really nicely.

While Adam ran off to do some real work (prep for a class), I played the role of research assistant gunning down every use of the adjective inanis in the Aeneid.  Again, God bless the internet.  And indeed, it is quite remarkable how often inanis shows up just in an amateur little word search, and what it ends up modifying (hope, rage, tears, etc.).

It was also fun because our discussion of Vergil’s agenda–pro Augustan or not?–sparked an idea about another field full of expert scholarship: the writings of St. Augustine. Continue reading Vergil to Augustine: Inanitas

Read More: City of God

St. Augustine’s City of God is my white whale.  I have tried and tried and tried to finish this book, which I love and which I happily declare a masterpiece.  But. It’s. So. Long.  Every few months to a year I pick it up again and have to go back to the beginning to get back into it because I completely forget where I have left off.  I think I’ve read Book I maybe 12-15 times now.  I’ve read a lot of books of not-inconsequential length before, but this one somehow just slays me every time.

One of my enduring delights about City of God–despite being trapped in it like Groundhog Day–is St. Augustine’s ambivalent approach to the Roman gods.  It’s an ambivalence that I’ve shared for a long time, primarily thanks to reading a lot of fantasy literature as a kid.  Reading classics and especially medieval stuff like Ariosto has strongly reinforced it.  We may summarize the whole problem by taking a sharp left turn and considering a dinner-table conversation in my house.

“Dad,” sayeth the heir.  “Are the Greek gods real?”

Respondit the father, “Uh….” Continue reading Read More: City of God