The Unknown Augustine

Religious Studies 432 = Latin 409
Spring 2000
Tuesday, 2:00-4:30
Room: Williams G29
J.J. O'Donnell
Office:  3401 Walnut, Suite 230A
Phone:  417-5024
Augustine of Hippo (354-430 CE) has towered over the centuries. He never meant to. We read him as Saint, Great Philosopher, Brilliant Writer. His contemporaries knew him as politically savvy churchman, spellbinding orator, and trusted judge in a fifth century version of People's Court. He was the first saint to have his own home page and Internet cartoon.

This course will introduce the student to all those Augustines, and several others besides. We will avoid his luminous, enchanting, enticing, and in the end deceptive Confessions for as long as possible and begin approaching him through works less often read, to get at sides of his personality that were better known to his contemporaries and less on view to ourselves. We will read him direct, with a sense of bafflement and amazement, and struggle to comprehend his ideas, his anxieties, and his style.

The course will be venturesome in several ways. It will be cross-listed as both Latin and Religious Studies and embrace both graduate and undergraduate students, those with sufficient Latin to read Augustine in the original and those who must approach him through translations. It will offer individualized paths to match student interests to diverse pieces of "Augustine". It will involve visitors from other disciplines and institutions. It will culminate in the preparation of a common website in which individual student presentations of aspects of Augustine will reach a wider audience and enrich future iterations of the same and similar courses.

For prospective students not resident at Penn: I will admit a small number of individuals who are not part of the in-classroom Penn course to join the courses as full participants in every way. This will be an experiment in "tearing down the walls" and integrating on- and off-campus learning. If interested in participating, please send mail to Jim O'Donnell saying why you would be interested, what your relevant background is, and what you would bring to the course and hope to take away from it. I will be in touch by January 17, 2000, to invite the successful applicants to join us. There is a fee of $200 to the University for this level of participation. I will also encourage as many "auditors" as possible to join the course (participating exclusively by listserv discussion) at no charge: to enroll for that level of activity, send mail to with the single message line "subscribe augsem Your Name".

The course will "meet" from 1/17/2000 to approximately 5/10/2000, with on-line discussion (both synchronous and -- more often -- asynchronous) revolving around the time of the Tuesday afternoon in-class seminar for those who can be present. Fee-paying participants as described above will be expected to be every bit as involved as a first-year graduate student at Penn taking the course in the traditional way will be and to participate appropriately in the common scholarly product of the course.

For now, this page remains under construction; course materials will be available to registered students on the SAS course server when term begins. (To see what is publicly there, click on the previous link, select "Classical Studies" and then this course, then login as guest with "guest" also as password.) If you have comments or suggestions, email me at

Added 24 January: A log of the e-mail messages from the Internet auditors is being created at gopher://