In Augustine's Confessions, book 3, chapter 4, he writes:

et usitato iam discendi ordine perveneram in librum cuiusdam Ciceronis (source)

Henry Chadwick translates the bolded phrase as "a certain Cicero" and writes:

'A certain Cicero' might seem cold and distant were it not that the same idiom is used for the apostle Paul [...] i.e. it is a rhetorical convention of the time. (source)

However, the example he gives of Paul seems different to me:

ait enim quidam servus tuus (book 12, chapter 15)

Here, it's "a certain servant," and we only know that he's referring to Paul because he proceeds to quote one of Paul's letters.

That is, "a certain Cicero" seems very different than "a certain servant," since "Cicero" can refer to only one person, while the "servant" by itself is inherently vague.

So, my questions. First, is Chadwick correct in saying that "'a certain Cicero'" was a "common rhetorical convention of the time"? If so, was it also common in Classical Latin, or was it something more associated with Augustine's time?

Second, is Chadwick's implication correct, that quidam used in this way could communicate notoriety or respect?

I'd love to see some examples of this usage from the Classical period that back up Chadwick's understanding of this text.

1 Answer 1

  1. Does quidam have a special meaning in this context? I have been unable to find any indication, beyond Chadwick's assertion, that using "quidam" was a "rhetorical convention of the time" to express notoriety. Lewis & Short gives no examples of classical usage.

    As you note, the example given of St. Paul is of a very different variety which is entirely in the spirit of quidam. I see no reason to assert a special meaning here, especially because Augustine received a classical rhetorical education and, as we shall see, no other modern commentator seems to advance this theory.

    In short: I see no evidence for this claim.

  2. If it means a certain, what meaning is Augustine trying to convey? James Joseph O'Donnell offers an enlightening commentary, which--if not a definite answer--certainly underlines the confusion that the quoted passage has generated: he begins: "The phrase has evoked abundant discussion." Here are some highlights:

    1. Maurice Testard (Saint Augustin et Ciceron, 1958): no pejorative intent
    2. Mohrmann (Vig. Chr. 13, 1959): agrees with Testard, citing several examples of Christian authors using "quidam" to anonymously cite pagan authors.
    3. Michele Pellegrino (Les Confessions de saint Augustin, 1961) calls Mohrmann's bluff by noting the obvious: you cannot be aiming for anonymity if you cite his name directly afterwards.
    4. Angel Vega (Obras de San Agustín, 1946) says that it is a "manera algún tanto despectiva--no ignorativa--de citar a un escritor tan conocido y estimado de él: pero no es extraño al estilo del Santo." (My translation: "A somewhat deprecatory--not unknowing--way to cite a writer who is so well known and esteemed by him.") He cites an example, similar to the above one with St. Paul, that illustrates the use of quidam (without a name) that is not "condescending": cuiusdam (=Ioshua) voto sol cum stetisset, etc.

    Important to note, though, is that Augustine is not afraid to express his affection of Cicero in other locations, e.g.:

    Cicero noster (c. acad. 1.3.7)

    Tullius noster (c. acad. 3.18.41)

    philosophaster Tullius (civ. 2.27)

    and anonymously with quidam:

    cuiusdam saecularis auctoris verba laudantur . . . ille homo eloquentissimus (Io. ev. tr. 58.3)

    dixit enim quidam (doct. chr. 4.12.27)

    I think O'Donnell's assessment is the most reasonable. "There is something slightly arch about the expression, but the derogatory tone is no more than is, surely, Cicero's due; in an address to God, the expression signifies the vanity of a fame like that of Cicero in the presence of God."

  3. Are there other plausible interpretations? Certainly: here are a few, taken from Colin Starnes, Augustine's Conversion: A Guide to the Argument of Confessions I-IX

    1. O. Tescari ("Nota Augustinana", Convivium 5, 1933) claims that Augustine is speaking in the voice of himself at the time, since the Hortensius was the first book of Cicero he would have read. In other words, he is assuming the ignorance of that moment as he writes, much as someone might say "Ten years ago, I ran into a certain Jane Doe" when recounting how he met his significant other.
    2. Starnes advances the theory that Cicero would not have been well known to the intended audience of The Confessions.

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