Augustine’s Confessions: A Translation Comparison

Here’s a 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.”

Sheed: “From the muddy concupiscence of the flesh and the hot imagination of puberty mists steamed up to becloud and darken my heart so that I could not distinguish the white light of love from the fog of lust.”

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 (1998): “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.”

Ruden (2017): “Mine were the putrid fumes rising from scummy bodily lusts and the diseased eruption of puberty, befouling and befuddling my heart with their smoke, so that there was no telling the unclouded sky of affection from the thick murk of carnality.”

Myself, I have for several years prefered Boulding with recent growing interest in Ruden.

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

  1. Surprised you missed the BEST translation, which is Frank Sheed’s! As Dr. Peter Kreeft affirms:

    “Only once have I ever encountered a translation that made such a difference, that so opened up for me a previously closed book. That was Frank Sheed’s translation of Augustine’s ‘Confessions’, which I found to be as living as molten lava. The most widely used translation of the ‘Confessions’ is the one by a Mr. Pine-Coffin, and it is worthy of his name. It is a dead translation. Sheed’s is living.”

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