Michael Foley’s new translations of Augustine’s Against the Academics and On the Happy Life are brilliant. Every feature that I want in a translation appears here.
A glossary of Latin-English and English-Latin terms to help me grasp Augustine’s original hint—here.
A simple introduction that provides dates and gets to the point—here.
A commentary that actually traces out the logic of the argument instead of banal historical minutia—here.
A timeline of the event of the Cassiciacum Dialogues—here.
An annotated set of notes to clarify the meaning of the text—here.
A literal translation so that I can hear Augustine more clearly than the translator’s assumption of what Augustine means—here. (I grant that no translator can perfectly deliver the original’s nuances into a receptor language, but literal translations help).
Even though the translation is literal, Foley’s translation nevertheless feels lucid and free.
In short, these are the editions that you want to read in English. They do not contain the Latin on the opposed pages (a diglot) unfortunately. As an English translation, Foley gives me everything that I want and everything that a reader needs to grasp Augustine in his historical and social contexts.
Let me note a few things about Foley’s commentary that appears after the text in each volume. First, Foley aims to elucidate Augustine’s meaning step-by-step. So the commentary actually helps readers understand Augustine’s words rather than simply outlining detail upon detail about the historical background around Augustine—a boring exercise that rarely helps one actually understand the words of the text; or if it does, it could easily be compressed. It is also short, relatively so. It’s roughly the same length as Augustine’s dialogue.
Speaking of the dialogues, these are the first two out of four that Augustine created on the basis of his Cassiciacum Dialogues (located North of Milan). The next two are: On Order and the Siloquoys. They are meant to be a four-part series.
In Against the Academics, Augustine argues that we can know things truly and not just probably. The title also, as Augustine notes, can be called On the Academics as it does not merely attack them but also appreciates them in certain respects (Augustine loves Cicero, for example).
On the Happy Life accomplishes what it sets out to do: teach on how to live the happy life. The last two volumes, I have yet to read, but seem to speak of the order of the cosmos and the soul’s journey back to itself. In short, the four-part series appears to work in order to convert one to Augustine’s point of view.
The manuscript tradition apparently does not preserve this order, and so Foley has done readers a service by restoring it to its original order and thus preserving the collection’s intent (if we may use this word here).
These represent Augustine’s earliest Christian writings. Augustine went to Cassiciacum as a retreat with friends and family in November 386. Here, he awaited his baptism sometime later, and in a matter of years he would return to North Africa to become a bishop.
While early, these words by no means show a sluggish mind. They are works in their own right worthy of reading and admiration. One might say they lack the biblical citation and theological profundity of later works. They still, however, show a wise Christian mind at work in service of the truth.
I have no criticisms of these works. I just think you should buy it if you need an English version, which is affordable (in paperback) and done with noble skill.
The publisher provided me with review copies.