Monday, 23 October 2017

Augustine and history.



Augustine had a different concept of history than the Roman historians had: for him time and thus history has a beginning and an end. History happens sub specie aeternitatis. This gives a different perspective on historical events. When Augustine wrote his De Civitate Dei between 413 and 426, the Roman Empire was in turmoil, at least in the West. Not all Romans were Christians and some believed that the disasters were a result of abandoning the Roman gods. Augustine points out that Rome had undergone times of peril before and had risen again. One of such perils was the slave uprising in 73 -71 under Spartacus.  Were those slaves helped by the gods because they were successful, however short? Is anyone helped by the gods? For Augustine the answer is a definite no: not only because he is a Christian, but also because in his opinion this life is only transitory and worldly power is as well. The only lasting empire is the kingdom of God. Whether we agree with his attitude or not, he is a remarkable intellectual.

Augustinus, De Civitate Dei, 4.5

[V] …. Hoc dico, quod ipsum Romanum imperium iam magnum multis gentibus subiugatis ceterisque terribile, acerbe sensit, grauiter timuit, non paruo negotio deuitandae ingentis cladis oppressit, quando paucissimi gladiatores in Campania de ludo fugientes magnum exercitum compararunt, tres duces habuerunt, Italiam latissime et crudelissime uastauerunt. Dicant, quis istos deus adiuuerit, ut ex paruo et contemptibili latrocinio peruenirent ad regnum tantis iam Romanis uiribus arcibusque metuendum. An quia non diu fuerunt, ideo diuinitus negabuntur adiuti? Quasi uero ipsa cuiuslibet hominis uita diuturna est. Isto ergo pacto neminem dii adiuuant ad regnandum, quoniam singuli quique cito moriuntur, nec beneficium deputandum est. quod exiguo tempore in unoquoque homine ac per hoc singillatim utique in omnibus uice uaporis euanescit. Quid enim interest eorum, qui sub Romulo deos coluerunt et olim sunt mortui, quod post eorum mortem Romanum tantum creuit imperium, cum illi apud inferos causas suas agant? utrum bonas an malas, ad rem praesentem non pertinet. Hoc autem de omnibus intellegendum est, qui per ipsum imperium (quamuis decedentibus succedentibusque mortalibus in longa spatia protendatur) paucis diebus uitae suae cursim raptimque transierunt, actuum suorum sarcinas baiulantes. Sin uero etiam ipsa breuissimi temporis beneficia deorum adiutorio tribuenda sunt, non parum adiuti sunt illi gladiatores: seruilis condicionis uincla ruperunt, fugerunt, euaserunt, exercitum magnum et fortissimum collegerunt, oboedientes regum suorum consiliis et iussis multum Romanae celsitudini metuendi et aliquot Romanis imperatoribus insuperabiles multa ceperunt, potiti sunt uictoriis plurimis, usi uoluptatibus quibus uoluerunt, quod suggessit libido fecerunt, postremo donec uinceretur, quod difficillime factum est, sublimes regnantesque uixerunt. Sed ad maiora ueniamus.

Hoc dico: I mention that
multis gentibus subiugatis multis gentibus subiugatis ceterisque terribile: having subdued many nations and dreadful for others. (ceterisque terribile is not part of the abl. abs.)
sensit: experienced
acerbe… oppressit: note the asyndetic  construction
negotium: difficulty
deuitandae ingentis cladis: for/regarding (gen.obj.) the enormous disaster to be avoided
ludum: school (for gladiators)
comparo: to gather
tres duces: Spartacus, Crixus and Oenomaus
latissime: widely
vasto: to ravage, devastate
dicant: let people tell (i.e. those who believed that the disasters were the result of abandoning the Roman gods))
adiuvo adjuvi adiutum (-are): to help
latrocinium: band of robbers
arx arcis (f.): stronghold
divinitus (adv.) in a divine way
diuturnus: long-lasting
isto ergo pacto: this being thus agreed (that people don’t live long)
singuli quique: every single person
nec beneficium deputandum est: gaining power (ad regnandum) is not to be regarded as a benefit (because those who have can only shortly enjoy this)
quod (beneficium)
exiguus: little
ac per hoc singillatim utique in omnibus: and through this one by one (living a short time) finally in all men
vice (+ gen.): like
cum illi apud inferos causas suas agant: when they are pleading their causes amongst the dead (note the sarcasm concerning the Roman predilection of juridical procedures)
utrum bonas an malas (causas)
decedentibus succedentibusque mortalibus: while mortals are deceasing and following
protendo protendi protensum/tum: to prolong, extend
cursim raptimque: hastily and speedily
actuum suorum sarcinas baiulantes: carrying the burden of their affairs
adiutorio tribuenda sunt: are to be acknowledged as help
rumpo rupi ruptum: to break
regum suorum: the three leaders mentioned above
Romanae celsitudini: by the Roman highness (celsitudo is mockingly used)
potior potitus (+ gen., acc. or abl.): to acquire, gain
uoluptatibus quibus = uoluptatibus, quas (attraction of case)
sublimes regnantesque: `luxurious and as kings’


Translation by Marcus Dods (1913)

But this I say, that the Roman empire, which by subduing many nations had already grown great and an object of universal dread, was itself greatly alarmed, and only with much difficulty avoided a disastrous overthrow, because a mere handful of gladiators in Campania, escaping from the games, had recruited a great army, appointed three generals, and most widely and cruelly devastated Italy. Let them say what god aided these men, so that from a small and contemptible band of robbers they attained to a kingdom, feared even by the Romans, who had such great forces and fortresses. Or will they deny that they were divinely aided because they did not last long? As if, indeed, the life of any man whatever lasted long. In that case, too, the gods aid no one to reign, since all individuals quickly die; nor is sovereign power to be reckoned a benefit, because in a little time in every man, and thus in all of them one by one, it vanishes like a vapor. For what does it matter to those who worshipped the gods under Romulus, and are long since dead, that after their death the Roman empire has grown so great, while they plead their causes before the powers beneath? Whether those causes are good or bad, it matters not to the question before us. And this is to be understood of all those who carry with them the heavy burden of their actions, having in the few days of their life swiftly and hurriedly passed over the stage of the imperial office, although the office itself has lasted through long spaces of time, being filled by a constant succession of dying men. If, however, even those benefits which last only for the shortest time are to be ascribed to the aid of the gods, these gladiators were not a little aided, who broke the bonds of their servile condition, fled, escaped, raised a great and most powerful army, obedient to the will and orders of their chiefs and much feared by the Roman majesty, and remaining unsubdued by several Roman generals, seized many places, and, having won very many victories, enjoyed whatever pleasures they wished, and did what their lust suggested, and, until at last they were conquered, which was done with the utmost difficulty, lived sublime and dominant. But let us come to greater matters.

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