St. Augustine on the Death of His Friend

A couple of observations on Confessions 4.4.8-9, in which Augustine recounts the death of his friend and the effect it had on him:

1. The narrative seems to provide an empirical indication of the efficacy of baptism. Augustine thought (and hoped) that the baptism of his unconscious friend would be useless. It wasn’t.

2. As others have pointed out, the fact that he doesn’t name his friend is perplexing.

3. 4.4.9 gives a powerful description of the disorientation that grief causes. “My heart was darkened by this pain, and whatever I looked at was death.” (quo dolore contenebratum est cor meum et quidquid aspiciebam mors erat.) “My homeland was a punishment for me and my parents’ house was an incomprehensible unhappiness.” (et erat mihi patria supplicium et paterna domus mira infelicitas.) This idea would later be given powerful expression by Hamlet (“Denmark’s a prison”) in conversation with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.

4. This disorientation extends to his self-understanding, expressed the famous “I had become a great matter of dispute to myself” (factus eram ipse mihi magna quaestio). This idea is picked up in an aphorism of Kafka that I use to teach Sophocles’s Oedipus the King: “You are the assignment. No student for miles around.” (“Du bist die Aufgabe. Kein Schüler weit und breit.”)


Related Articles


Other Articles by

Join our Community
Subscribe to receive access to our members-only articles as well as 4 annual print publications.
Share This