Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Question on translations of Augustine

Edmund Hill's translation of de Trinitate in the New City Press series of Augustine's works has always bothered me. On a purely subjective level, the language seems needlessly colloquial. Hill has also rather pointlessly included his own chapter divisions, though with book and paragraph divisions already in place I simply don't see the need for them. These sorts of petty complaints have preconditioned me to be suspicious of the work, so I'm wondering if Hill has made a mistake here or if I'm just ignorant. I spent a little bit of time investigating last night and this morning, and now I'm submitting it to others.

In the translator's preface, Hill writes:
"As far as I can ascertain, the De Trinitate has been translated completely into English three times in the last century: Library of the Nicene Fathers in 1887; The Works of Aurelius Augustine (a series begun in 1872) in 1934; and in The Fathers of the Church (a USA series) in 1963." (p.60)
By my count, there was a translation done by Arthur West Haddan in 1872 that was published as vol. 7 of the Marcus Dods series of Augustine's works in 1878. The Haddan translation was further edited by William G.T. Shedd for the Schaff series in 1887. There was also a translation done by Stephen McKenna for vol. 45 of the CUA Fathers of the Church series, in 1963 (a revised selection from this translation was also used for the Cambridge Texts in the History of Philosophy series in 2002). Haddan is the only previous English translation that McKenna lists in his selected bibliography.

Am I missing something here, or is Hill's count simply off? We have an 1887 translation (Haddan-Shedd). We have a 1963 translation (McKenna). The 1934 translation is a mystery to me... even if Hill is referring to the two different publications of Haddan as separate translations, the date seems to be wrong. The Dods series did begin in 1872, but I think that it ended in 1934, and with a republication of vol.1-2 (The City of God) rather than with On the Trinity.

Hill doesn't provide any bibliographical information for this, so there's not really much to go on. Does anyone know of a 1934 translation of Augustine's de Trinitate that I'm failing to notice? Or is Hill simply mistaken? My suspicion is that he's counting Shedd as one and Haddan as another, and there's some issue with the date of the Haddan translation he has in mind. But I wouldn't want to overlook something if there's a mysteriously low-profile translation out there.


  1. I was looking at picking this up yesterday, but refrained because I'm looking for the best translation. This is slightly unrelated to what you're dealing with here, but how does it stack up as a translation vis-à-vis other translations?

  2. I don't have any insight into the mysterious 1934 translation, but I do share your dislike of Hill's colloquialisms, and I found myself compelled to add in the missing chapter numbers for my dissertation chapters on Augustine. I have been assured by Patout Burns, whose business it is to know, that the translation is generally very accurate, however.

  3. I find McKenna's to be slightly too stuffy; I think it loses a bit of the rowdiness of Augustine's language in Trin. Fwiw.

  4. Tyler, it seems you have some assurance on the accuracy of Hill, if not the style. I like McKenna alright, although my first read-through of the book was in Haddan's translation.

    I think that the New City edition is pretty broadly used, so it's probably a good bet to get that translation despite any weaknesses that it brings along. CUA is doing reprints of its series, though, so the McKenna translation is now more easily obtained than it was a few years ago.

  5. I would agree with Travis...neither edition is authoritative. Neither edition is trash.

    When I was working on my thesis, Ayres mysteriously told me to use McKenna's version instead of Hill's. But I don't remember him explaining why. This was often the case with his predilections. :-)

    I have both copies and will often go back and forth between them. I suppose, when in a pinch, I would choose Hill. But that probably has more to do with the fact that I have it in hardback whereas McKenna's is paper.

  6. Out here at Notre Dame, John Cavadini consistently prefers Hill's translations, not only of De Trinitate but also (maybe especially) of the De Doctrina Christiana and some of the sermons. He frequently complains, too, about some of the colloquialisms—but only about some of them, since it's largely on account of Hill's willingness to be strange and unconventionally casual that he sometimes, according to Cavadini, manages to cut through the thick layers of old interpretive cliché.

  7. Thanks, I suppose I'll read them both!