Augustine intended the Soliloquies and the Immortality of the Soul to form a single book. For those who are unacquainted with Augustine, it is a good book with which to begin. It deals, as he says, with those matters about which he most wanted to know at this time, i.e. between his conversion in the summer of 386 and his baptism at Easter, 387. The matters are the primacy of mind over things of sense, and the immortality of the soul. These central tenets of Neoplatonism are not simply theoretical questions for Augustine. He had been through a period of intense strain, close to a nervous breakdown, and the Soliloquies are the description of his most intimate feelings, a form of therapy. The Soliloquies and the Immortality of the Soul are the finished and the unfinished parts respectively of the same work. The latter shows us the raw material of a dialogue: in the Soliloquies we have a piece of theatre, the dramatised conflict between two personae. They are two aspects of the one character (he invented the word soliloquies), and the presentation gives us a picture of Augustine at this time which is even more immediate than his self-portrait in the Confessions. This early work gives us the first direct evidence on the temperament of the man who created the Confessions: someone fascinated with the mystery of the personality, and particularly memory, a lover of puzzles and paradoxes, a rhetorician with a deep interest in philosophy, a highly emotional human being, and above all, a questioner concerned with knowing the truth. [Latin text with facing-page English translation, introduction and commentary.]
†Gerard Watson was Professor of Ancient Classics at Maynooth College, Ireland. His other books include The Stoic Theory of Knowledge (Belfast, 1966), Plato's Unwritten Teaching (Dublin, 1973) and Phantasia in Classical Thought (Galway, 1988).
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