published on September 27, 2017
Augustine’s Anonyma I and Cornelius’s Concubines
How Philology and Literary Criticism Can Help in Understanding Augustine on Marital Fidelity
This paper explores the relationship between philology and literary criticism (on the one hand) and history (on the other) via two (para)-marital problems drawn from Augustine’s life. The first is historiographical and concerns Augustine’s relations with Anonyma I, his African concubine, who was featured so famously in the Confessiones. My argument, first published in 2002, that Augustine painted his separation from her in the language of Genesis and saw her as a virtual wife, has not found favor with historians. The episode is used as a test case for comparing the historiographical technique of three Augustine biographers (Bonner, Rosen, Lane Fox). I revisit my reasoning, showing how, sadly, philology and history have grown apart, a phenomenon which, in turn, highlights the need for an increased awareness of and engagement with philology by historians. Philological arguments must be faced and not simply ignored or cherry-picked ad lib. The second problem is historical and prosopographical. Who was the fornicating widower of Epistula 259? In part, I use philological and literary techniques to argue that this widower was indeed Romanianus, and that this letter needs to be dated much earlier than previously thought—even to as early as 396 and the period of Augustine’s co-episcopacy. The tone of the letter is key to understanding it properly. In it, we see an affectionate, urbane, and witty Augustine.