401 A.D.: The Year Literature Changed

Thomas Cahill, the author of How the Irish Saved Civilization, called Augustine of Hippo “almost the last great classical man — and very nearly the first medieval man.” Augustine wrote in Confessions:

I carried inside me a cut and bleeding soul, and how to get rid of it I just didn’t know. I sought every pleasure — the countryside, sports, fooling around, the peace of a garden, friends and good company, sex, reading. My soul floundered in the void — and came back upon me. For where could my heart flee from heart? Where could I escape from myself?

Cahill responds to this:

No one had every talked this way before…we realize that with Augustine human consciousness takes a quantum leap forward — and becomes self-consciousness…From this point on, true autobiography becomes possible, and so does its near relative, subjective and autobiographical fiction. Fiction had always been there…But now for the first time there glimmers the possibility of psychological fiction: the subjective story, the story of the soul…[Augustine] is the father of not only of autobiography but of the modern novel.

In Augustine’s words we find someone searching for his true purpose and — shortly before the fall of the classical age — published his 13 part classical work Confessions in 401 A.D. Yet it often sounds like it was written yesterday.

We are no better or worse than those who walked before us centuries ago. Our troubles are rarely unique to us. Those ancient voices left us plenty to ponder, to learn from and to be warned by.

Perhaps we should take the time to listen?

Categories: Books, History, Writing | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

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