Terentian Fathers and Sons
in Augustine's Confessions

Eileen M. Jacxsens

Brown University

Augustine's effort to understand the father-son relationship between himself and God is an important theme running through the Confessions.  Augustine examines his parents and guardians as models of fatherhood and studies himself as a son in relation to these various father figures.  He then tries to construct the father-son relationship between himself and God by analogy to the fathers and sons he has considered.  Allusions to Terence constitute an essential element in Augustine's construction of this father-son relationship.

This paper will examine two moments in the Confessions where Augustine employs allusions to Terence's Phormio.  I will describe how Augustine uses these references to illuminate how in his youth he conceived his relationship with God.  These two moments frame Augustine's period of intellectual inquiry and self examination as he moved toward his conversion.  The first moment comes in the third book, after he has read the Hortensius and decided to pursue philosophy.  He depicts his young self in a father-son relationship with God and compares it to that of both pairs of fathers and sons in the Phormio.  He uses a line from the play to compare the futility of sinfulness to the self-defeating behavior of the recalcitrant sons who "kick against the prick" of their father's advice.  The second reference to the Phormio occurs when the young Augustine realizes he is leading a double life and compares this to the predicament of Chremes in the play, "stuck in the same old mud."

These references occur within a narrative framework that depicts the young Augustine as a prodigal son impatient of his father's concern for him and content to enjoy youthful pleasures without concern for his future.  Recognizing Augustine's employment of textual echoes from Roman comedy provides a greater insight into the self-conception of the author of the Confessions.  The genre provides stock characters similar to those he found in his own youth and young adulthood: a solicitous, but often absent father, an overly indulgent guardian, and a prodigal son.  An examination of these allusions to Terence provides us with a better idea of the self-understanding that Augustine sought to gain by writing the Confessions.

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