IAS Thursdays | Books, Bodies, Histories—Augustine of Hippo on the Extraordinary (Civ. Dei 16)
In Book 16 of the City of God Augustine of Hippo discusses human bodies described by what he calls "too curious histories" as monstrous; such bodies, he tells us, are also depicted in mosaics on the grand esplanade in Carthage. Augustine here refers to Pliny the Elder's Natural History, where Pliny talks about pygmies, persons with feet so big that they can be used as sun shades, or persons who have only one eye in the center of their foreheads. Augustine additionally sprinkles mentions of extraordinary bodies throughout the City of God, not as described in histories but as present phenomena. Why is Augustine so interested in these bodies and why does he discuss them in greater detail in Book 16? What might that tell us about Augustine’s concepts of histories and the role of extraordinary bodies?
Susanna Elm is the Sidney H. Ehrman Professor of History and Classics at UC Berkeley. Her research focuses on the social and intellectual history of the Later Roman Empire with a particular emphasis on imperial representation and slavery. She is author of Sons of Hellenism, Fathers of the Church: Emperor Julian, Gregory of Nazianzus, and the Vision of Rome (Berkeley, UC Press, 2012; winner of the SCS Goodwin Award of Merit), and New Romans: Dress, Manliness, Imperial Representation and the Extraordinary in the Later Roman Empire (Berkeley, UC Press, forthcoming).