Sunday, February 20, 2011

Sympathizing with Augustine

Among the just-plain-fun parts of reading Augustine's Confessions are the insights into the life of a 4th century academic. Complaints about students, for example, are apparently universal, though the particulars vary from age to age:
"I began to be busy about the task of teaching the art of rhetoric for which I had come to Rome. I first gathered some pupils at my lodging, and with them and through them I began to be known. I quickly discovered that at Rome students behaved in a way which I would never have had to endure in Africa. Acts of vandalism, it was true, by young hooligans did not occur at Rome; that was made clear to me. But, people told me, to avoid paying the teacher his fee, numbers of young men would suddenly club together and transfer themselves to another tutor, breaking their word and out of love of money treating fairness as something to be flouted." (5.22)

And teaching demands left little time to pursue the big questions:
"I myself was exceedingly astonished as I anxiously reflected how long a time had elapsed since the nineteenth year of my life, when I began to burn with a zeal for wisdom, planning that when I had found it I would abandon all the empty hopes and lying follies of hollow ambitions. And here I was already thirty, and still mucking about in the same mire in a state of indecision. . . . There is no time for reading. Where should we look for the books we need? Where and when can we obtain them? From whom can we borrow them? Fixed times must be kept free, hours appointed, for the health of the soul. . . . Why do we hesitate to knock at the door which opens the way to all the rest? Our pupils occupy our mornings; what should we do with the remaining hours? Why do we not investigate our problem? But then when should we go to pay respects to our more influential friends, whose patronage we need? When are we to prepare what our students are paying for? When are we to refresh ourselves by allowing the mind to relax from the tension of anxieties?" (6.18).

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