cover image Confessions


Augustine, trans. from the Latin by Sarah Ruden. Modern Library, $28 (528p) ISB

Written in Latin during the late fourth century C.E., this memoir from the North African saint—one of the earliest examples of autobiographical narrative—receives a wholly new translation by poet, essayist, and translator Ruden (Other Places). Approaching her subject with deep religious and historical knowledge, she chooses to translate Augustine as a performative, engaging storyteller rather than a systematic theologian. Beginning with his babyhood and struggles with early schooling, Augustine traces his own intellectual and religious development through adolescence into middle adulthood. Born to a family of both Christian and pagan faith, Augustine migrated to Italy as a young adult to pursue a career in rhetoric. Before committing himself to a life of celibate religiosity, Augustine spent roughly a decade in a long-term relationship with a woman, and the two had a son. Augustine also explored and ultimately rejected Manichaeism. He would become, during and after his life, a pivotal figure in the history of Christianity. While acknowledging that earlier translations may have been “learned and serviceable,” Ruden argues that much is lost when Augustine’s linguistic playfulness is downplayed. An extensive introduction delves into the translator’s decisions, particularly those that depart most sharply from those of her predecessors. The resulting work is delightfully readable while still densely theological. In this lively translation filled with vivid, personal prose, Ruden introduces readers to a saint whom many will realize they only thought they knew. (June)