The Example Of A Woman Essay Research — страница 10

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essential aspect tohis possible conversion to Christianity.> The issue nowis whether Augustine will make the choice forcontinence. Continence and the Portrait of a Nameless WomanIn a curious transposition, much in keeping with hisearlier depiction of wisdom as a lover, Augustineportrays continence as a woman beckoning him to a lifeof renunciation. But, Continence is not alone in herenticements. Augustine’s former loves are just assolicitous, continually reminding him of his past,whispering in his ears, taunting him that he just doesnot have what it takes to venture on a life of chastity.”Can you live without us?” they cry.> Augustine drags his feet, hesitates, ponders, theninches a bit closer to his goal. Eventually Continencesucceeds. Her inducements are more

appealing toAugustine: “In the direction toward which I had turnedmy face and still trembled to take the last step, Icould see the chaste dignity of Continence; she was calmand serene, cheerful without wantonness, and it was intruth and honor that she was enticing me to come to herwithout hesitation, stretching out to receive and toembrace me with those holy hands of hers, full of suchmultitudes of good examples.”> Then he goes on to pointout the examples that Continence showed him: men andwomen, young and old, virgins and widows who had devotedthemselves to her. Yet it should not have been such agreat number. After all, Augustine knew very little indeed of thevarious traditions of Christian asceticism prior toPonticianus’ visit. He came to know about Anthony ofEgypt

from what Ponticianus had told him. Even Ambrose’scommunity in Milan was news just received. So theexamples are at best second-hand, based on Ponticianus,and perhaps Augustine’s recollections of certainindividuals he may have seen in Milan. The example ofrenunciation closest to him which had any pretensionstowards asceticism was that of his concubine, the motherof Adeodatus. If continence is presenting herself as awoman and showing Augustine examples of those who havechosen her way, what more likely candidate for such fairthan the woman who had made a vow of sexual renunciationafter years of living with Augustine? But note whathappens at Conf. 8.7.18 and 8.8.19, just when Augustinebegins to consider the implications of what he had heardfrom Ponticianus:So I was being gnawed

at inside, and as Ponticianus wenton with his story I was lost and overwhelmed in aterrible kind of shame. When the story was over and thebusiness about which he had come had been settled hewent away, and I retired into myself. . . . And nowinside my house great indeed was the quarrel which I hadstarted with my soul in that bedroom of my heart whichwe shared together.> The language evokes the image of something like theinner chamber of a Roman house (cubiculo nostro, cordemeo). Whether all this is intended to evoke the memoryof his concubine is hard to say. Yet one cannot overlookthe language in which Augustine describes his relationswith the mother of his son. Augustine’s words reveal astrangely disquieting dignity, especially because theconcubine appears in contrast to

Monnica. At no point inhis account about Monnica’s life does Augustine’s motherlook so unendearing. If modern readers have shown remarkable sympathyfor the mother of Adeodatus and have tended to seeAugustine (and his mother) as mean and heartless that isdue largely to Augustine himself. It is his text, hisportrait of the nameless woman, and his juxtaposition ofthose two women that engenders sympathy for the one andsurprise at the other. On the scale of imperfectionMonnica seems to be at the high end with Augustinesomewhere in the middle; confused, dejected and putupon. Augustine does not say “I broke off myrelationship with her.”> That at least would imply thatwhile he was in great anguish over the decision he didit himself. What we read is: “she was torn from

me.”Passive, weak-willed and forlorn, all Augustine can sayis that “my heart clung to her.” Augustine’s words aremuch too emotional, and may even be a bit of anembarrassment for someone who should have knownbetter.> The description of the separation also bearsall the marks of Monnica’s handiwork. However one looksat it Augustine points the finger of blame at Monnicaand also at himself. What do we make of all this? An advancingrhetorician who is saddened at losing a concubine. For alate antique audience this would be overly dramatic.Many a man had gotten rid of a concubine and no oneseemed (except the women of course) the worse for it. Tohis contemporaries –if we understand the tragic worldof late Roman marriage protocol– Augustine should havefelt nothing of the