Volume 46, Issue 2, 2015
Making Sense of Virgil in De magistro
Toward the beginning of De magistro, Augustine and his son undertake a brief philosophical exercise using a line from Virgil’s Aeneid. That exercise seems to end in failure when father and son jokingly give up on their task. In this essay, I show that neither the selection of the particular line nor the failure of the exercise are accidental. I unpack the context of the Virgilian line, showing its resonance with Augustine’s own life, and I explain how the content of the line stands as a challenge to the very argument Augustine seems to want to use it to make. On the basis of this analysis, I argue the dialogue is best read as a dramatization of a false idealization of words—an idealization Augustine hopes his son (and, presumably, the reader) might be freed from. I conclude with the suggestion that interiority functions in the dialogue as a way of describing an intimate, shared space of meaning.