Augustine’s Confessions: A Translation Comparison

Here’s a very brief bit from Augustine’s Confessions (2.2.2), as translated into English over the years. The striking language Augustine employs to describe his adolescent lusts make the passage especially illuminating in comparing translation approaches:

Pilkington: “Out of the dark concupiscence of the flesh and the effervescence of youth exhalations came forth which obscured and overcast my heart, so that I was unable to discern pure affection from unholy desire.”

Outler: “Instead, the mists of passion steamed up out of the puddly concupiscence of the flesh, and the hot imagination of puberty, and they so obscured and overcast my heart that I was unable to distinguish pure affection from unholy desire.”

Chadwick: “Clouds of muddy carnal concupiscence filled the air. The bubbling impulses of puberty befogged and obscured my heart so that it could not see the difference between love’s serenity and lust’s darkness.”

Pusey: “Out of the muddy concupiscence of the flesh, and the bubblings of youth, mist fumed up which beclouded and overcast my heart, that I could not discern the clear brightness of love from the fog of lustfulness.”

Pine-Coffin: “Bodily desire, like a morass, and adolescent sex welling up within me exuded mists which clouded over and obscured my heart, so that I could not distinguish the clear light of true love from the murk of lust.”

Wills: “Instead of affection’s landmarks drawn in light, earth-murks drowned in lust – and my erupting sexuality – breathed mephitic vapors over the boundary, to cloud and blind my heart in clouds and fog, erasing the difference between love’s quietness and the drivenness of dark impulse.”

Ryan: “Clouds arose from the slimy desires of the flesh and from youth’s seething spring. They clouded over and darkened my soul, so that I could not distinguish the calm light of chaste love from the fog of lust.”

Boulding: “From the mud of my fleshly desires and my erupting puberty belched out murky clouds that obscured and darkened my heart until I could not distinguish the calm light of love from the fog of lust.”

Myself, I prefer reading Boulding’s translation.

5 thoughts on “Augustine’s Confessions: A Translation Comparison

  1. Interesting, I was doing my own comparison yesterday because I wanted to download a modern translation to my Kindle. Boulding was suggested by another blogger and Ryan by another. I decided upon Ryan because he provides a good overall modern translation and I especially appreciate his chapter headings. Boulding looks good and I appreciate your recommendation here. Honorable mention was Gary Wills; he offers some very nice prose and editorial breaks that I appreciated.

    I have been using an 120 yr old hard copy edition of Pusey’s translation and I purchased the same translation from Logos. However, I want to suggest that our SS class read through this book together and Pusey’s prose is very archaic.


  2. “Study, of course, in Latin…A man who would allow himself to be deterred by the slight effort needed to make his way about a language that an ordinary mind can master in two months would not deserve to have interest wasted on his mental training. We are speaking to earnest students: let them, desiring to get into the “wine cellar,” take the trouble to find its key.”

    A.G. Sertillanges


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