Orosius : Seven Books of History Against the Pagans

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This book is a new annotated translation of "Orosius' Seven Books of History against the Pagans". Orosius' History, which begins with the creation and continues to his own day, was an immensely popular and standard work of reference on antiquity throughout the Middle Ages and beyond. Its importance lay in the fact that Orosius was the first Christian author to write not a church history, but rather a history of the secular world interpreted from a Christian perspective. This approach gave new relevance to Roman history in the medieval period and allowed Rome's past to become a valued part of the medieval intellectual world. The structure of history and methodology deployed by Orosius formed the dominant template for the writing of history in the medieval period, being followed, for example, by such writers as Otto of Freising and Ranulph Higden. Orosius' work is therefore crucial for an understanding of early Christian approaches to history, the development of universal history, and the intellectual life of the Middle Ages, for which it was both an important reference work and also a defining model for the writing of history.show more

Product details

  • Hardback | 464 pages
  • 150 x 208 x 30mm | 680.39g
  • Liverpool University Press
  • Liverpool, United Kingdom
  • English
  • 1846314739
  • 9781846314735
  • 2,322,364

Review quote

The neat synchronisation of the publication of a new translation of Orosius's Historia with the 1600th anniversary of the Sack of Rome illustrates that orderly periodisation appeals to both ancient and modern historians alike; indeed it is a coincidence that Orosius himself would surely have approved. The Historia was written around AD 417 by Paulus Orosius, a presbyter whose patria is generally assumed to have been the Iberian peninsula.1 Andrew Fear's much anticipated translation as part of the laudable Translated Texts for Historians series updates modern Orosian scholarship offering a welcome counterpart to the Arnaud-Lindet translation from the Latin to the French, published 1990-1991. The Latin text was first published in a modern critical edition by Zangemeister in 1882 (revised in 1889) and translated into English by I. W. Raymond in 1936.2 A later translation by Roy J. Deferrari in 1964 was the penultimate contribution before Fear's own publication.3 Despite the existing modern translations there is most certainly room for Fear's contribution, which is admittedly building on the Arnaud-Lindet edition. In his introduction and notes Fear demonstrates an impressive depth of knowledge of the text and the topic, introducing the reader to a more updated perception of Orosius than that produced by the often unfavourable criticism that characterises much of twentieth century scholarship. This more nuanced view, which gives the text serious consideration, is the most significant achievement of the publication. The text is divided into an Introduction, Synopsis, Translation, Bibliography, and Index. The twenty-five page long introduction is subdivided into ten parts: Life (of Orosius); The Histories; Intentions; Secular and Religious History; Sources; Structure; Chronological Systems and the Ordering of Time; Notes of Caution; Orosius's Clash with Augustine, and Legacy. Each subject is treated thoroughly but not ponderously and substantiated with extensive textual and bibliographic references. An examination of the manuscript tradition is absent. Fear presents and engages with current critical debates particularly on the biography of Orosius such as his name, place of origin, chronology of travel, and ultimate disappearance from the historical record. As is typical of the (modern) author's style, the discourse is swiftly curtailed where historical fact risks escalation into "mere speculation" and advice to "keep an open mind" is sensibly advocated.4 The structure of the text is broken down and the key themes identified in an accessible style, but, given the nature of the text as riddled with contradiction and obfuscation, the subdivision "Notes of Caution" could have been more prominent and lengthy. In consideration of the text advertising itself as an "annotated translation" and the usefulness of the scholarship at this point, the Introduction could have benefitted from being longer in itself. This is especially apparent when compared with the Arnaud-Lindet edition which has not only a longer introduction, but also short notes at the end of each page, longer notes at the end of the volume, and annexes with evidence for Orosius's biography, a chronological table, a table of Orosius's arguments, and a list of sources used. Fear rightly resists the urge to engage with overtly negative criticism in vitriol and achieves a clarity and comprehension seldom found in contemporary Orosian commentary. The importance of the text for an understanding of late antiquity and beyond is restated but not overstated, as can be the temptation. It is perhaps with puzzlement that the reader will learn from the Introduction the seminal nature of the Historia. As the back cover advertises, Orosius's work provided the dominant template for the writing of history in the mediaeval period. The variety of languages into which the work was translated and the number of surviving manuscripts give evidence for the importance and popularity of the work from the early fifth century up until the early modern period. The Historia is an important text for scholars of a multitude of disciplines within History; specialists in historiography, ancient geography, universal history writing, the barbarian invasions, the end of the Roman empire in the west, Patristic studies, the Middle Ages, and the Mediaeval period will find it at least an interesting if not crucial text. The significant influence of the work and the example it provided for sub--sequent historiography is as important as its role in an understanding of early Christian approaches to history. If this reception-history is justification for the new edition, it is one that outstrips any ordinary expectation. Indeed, when con--sidering the credentials which the Historia is able to boast the lack of attention it has received does seem undeserved. This new translation will hopefully reverse the current critical trend of neglect, a hope reinforced by Fear's own contention that the defiant spirit of Orosius is "not as dead as many would like to believe."5 The translation of the text itself differs somewhat in style from the most recent English translation by Deferrari. Fear avoids an over-simplification of meaning and syntax by using a more archaic style of language. For example, where Deferrari has, "Therefore, too, according to the mystic revelation in the gospels, the woman of Canaan was not ashamed to say that little dogs were eating crumbs under their master's table nor did our Lord disdain to listen,"6 Fear has, "Whence, in the mystic allegory found in the evangelists, the Canaanite woman did not blush to say that whelps eat the crumbs from beneath their masters' table and that the Lord did not disdain to hear her."7 As a result Fear's text is perhaps slightly more demanding and less accessible than previous translations, but it is accurate and that is not the least what can be expected in a translation published within the series Translated Texts for Historians. Numerous and reasonably extensive footnotes are provided to aid the reader's understanding of the text, for example the universal geography of the first chapter of the Historia is supplemented with modern alternatives of place and name. It is not uncommon that the references occupy half if not more of the page, taking up more space than the text itself.8 Unfortunately, this level of commentary is not consistently maintained throughout the work and on occasion the text is accompanied by only limited information.9 Nevertheless, on balance the translation, self-described as "annotated", compares favourably with the quantity and quality of references supplementing the Raymond and Deferrari translations. Only the Arnaud-Lindet edition, which Fear proclaims to follow, has more to offer in that regard. Frequently Fear identifies the source from which Orosius took his information and directs the reader to it. Errors in the original text are generally highlighted and the correct information is given. The effort this part of the work must have taken, beyond the mere translation of the text, can hardly be overestimated. However, inaccuracies are not always preserved in the translation, especially chronological ones. For example where Deferrari translates Gratian's epiteth quadragesimus as "the fortieth" (i. e. ruler after Augustus),10 Fear has "thirty-ninth".11 (Raymond, too, has "fortieth".12) The discrepancy is emended in the actual text rather than referred to in a note. An extensive knowledge of other sources of Roman and Greek history would have been necessary for the Quellenforschung that accompanies the text in the references, which provide invaluable pointers for further research. The level of detail gives the impression of a translation that demanded an extensive and broad knowledge, as well as much labour. The translation is accompanied by a lengthy index and a rather limited bibliography. The latter seems to be compiled from the works consulted in the process of translation rather than an exhaustive list of secondary works. This could be an opportunity missed to update current Orosian scholarship. Among the works that are missing are Fabrizio Fabbrini's Paolo Orosio. Uno Storico, Hans-Werner Goetz's Die Geschichtstheologie des Orosius, and Koch-Peters' Ansichten des Orosius zur Geschichte seiner Zeit. However, this new edition does an excellent job in introducing the world of Orosius to those who are inclined to read him. Through the introduction Fear is able to illustrate the importance of the text and the unique contribution it makes to an understanding of early Christian historiography, without overstating the case. A fresh perspective is brought to the text and much deserved attention is directed to Orosius and the early fifth century, a critical time for the survival (or not) of the Roman Empire in the west. Fear's unpretentious translation joins the growing discourse of re-appreciation and rehabilitation of the Historia, and catches up English language scholarship to match its French equivalent. However there is still much remaining scope in the study of Orosius and the Historia, such as a commentary to accompany the text, or a complete edition of Orosius's writings. It is hoped that Fear's translation forms part of a continuing amelioration in Orosian scholarship and progression towards these goals. 1 A notable exception is Arnaud-Lindet who suggests that Orosius originated from Britain or was a Briton living in Hispania. Marie-Pierre Arnaud-Lindet, (trans.), Histoires contre les paiens, vol. 1-3 (Paris: Belles Letres, 1990-1991). 2 Irving Woodworth Raymond, (trans.), Seven Books of History Against the Pagans: the Apology of Paulus Orosius (New York: Columbia University Press, 1936). 3 Roy J. Deferrari, (trans.), Paulus Orosius. The Seven Books of History Against the Pagans (Washington: Catholic University of America, 1964). 4 Fear, p. 3 and p.3, n. 15. 5 Fear, p. 25. 6 Deferrari, pp. 3-4. 7 Fear, 1.6, pp. 31-2. 8 For example, Fear, p. 79. 9 For example, Fear, pp. 264 and 318. 10 Deferrari, 7.34, p. 384. 11 Fear, 7.34.1, p. 384 12 Raymond, 7.34, p. 375 ... this new edition does an excellent job in introducing the world of Orosius to those who are inclined to read him. Through the introduction Fear is able to illustrate the importance of the text and the unique contribution it makes to an understanding of early Christian historiography, without overstating the case. A fresh perspective is brought to the text and much deserved attention is directed to Orosius and the early fifth century... This is the third modern English translation of Orosius 'Seven books of history against the pagans', 1 testifying to a renewed interest in the most influential of late antique historians. Although Orosius presents himself as a collaborator of Augustine, his fortunes have been inversely proportional to those of his 'master'. The more the subtleties of the City of God were understood, the less esteem was left for Orosius. Scholarship since the second World War has increasingly widened the gap between the towering intellect of the bishop of Hippo and the verbose historian who seemed to have misunderstood Augustine. In particular, Orosius' belief in the enduring power of Rome seemed to clash with Augustine's radical questioning of the earthly city. As a consequence, Orosius' history is not very often studied in its own right, with most attention going to the last book, where his theology of history is elaborated. One hopes that this new translation will provide a new impetus for the study of Orosius as a historian. The succinct introduction of 24 pages provides a clear overview of all the traditional cruces of Orosius scholarship, such as his place of birth (Fear suggests Corunna) or the dates of his journeys to Africa (411-418 according to Fear although many options remain open. 2 ) He does not eschew the occasional debatable psychological insight: 'While we have no evidence of how the relationship between Jerome and Orosius worked in practice, the two men's similarity of character implies that they would have got on well together' (4) or the assertation that Orosius' 'pugnacious character' must mean that his disappearance from the record after 418 indicates an early death (6). More importantly, Fear underlines that the Seven Books of History were very rapidly written, possibly in less than a year. This conclusion is supported by the minor errors based on misreading his sources, that are studiously inventoried in the footnotes to the translation. Fear's interpretation of the intention of the work is traditional: he sees it as an apologetic work addressed to pagan intellectuals so as to refute the argument that Christianity had ruined Rome, and based on a 'post-millennarian' view according to which the thousand years after the birth of Christ were to be a time of peace. Here one notes that scholarship on Orosius may be lagging behind that of Augustine. It has been noted repeatedly that although Augustine's City of God polemicises against the pagans, it is actually targeted at elite Christians whose faith was shaken by the events of 410. 3 Given the fact that Orosius presents his history as an appendix to the City of God , one is justified to ask if the target audience would not be the same. As Fear shows, many of the innovative aspects of Orosius' history serve a polemical intention and are hence not fully developed. The description of the world at the beginning establishes a claim to true universality, which allows Orosius to triumph over pagan historians, but geographical universality is of little concern in the later books that focus on traditional, mainly Roman, history. 4 Equally, the so-called four-empire theory establishes a parallelism between Rome and Babylon to demonstrate that Rome is the culmination of God's plans, but little more is done with it. Importantly, Fear devotes little space to the 'clash with Augustine', the apparent divergence of opinions between both (23-4). This usefully allows the reader to understand Orosius in his own terms, rather than as a failed Augustinian. The translation is based on the Bude edition by M.-P. Arnaud-Lindet. 5 Translating Orosius' florid prose is not an easy task, and Fear generally renders the meaning accurately. His translation makes the text more lucid than it is at first sight in Latin, thus helping the reader to grasp its meaning immediately. There are obviously instances where one would have made different choices or where some of the flair of the Latin is lost. The following comments just highlight a few of such minor differences of opinion. In 3.pr.3 Fear translates nos uim rerum, non imaginem commendare as 'to give an account of the true forces of history, not a mere picture of the past'. The translation suggests that Orosius refers to the powers that drive history, whereas vis rather refers to the 'force' or 'reality' of history. Deferrari's "the essence of things" (p. 77) is to be preferred in this instance. The sack of Corinth in 146 B.C. is narrated as follows by Orosius (5.3.6): permissa crudeliter etiam captiuis praedandi licentia sic omnia caedibus ignibusque conpleta sunt, ut de murorum ambitu quasi e camino in unum apicem coartatum exundaret incendium. itaque plurima parte populi ferro flammisque consumpta reliqua sub corona uendita est. urbe incensa muri funditus diruti sunt. muralis lapis in puluerem redactus, praeda ingens erepta est. In Fear's translation: 'Mummius cruelly gave permission to plunder even to his prisoners and so the entire town was filled with fire and slaughter to such a degree that the fire surged up from the city walls narrowing to a single flame, as if came from a furnace. Most of the population were put to the sword or consumed by the flames, the rest sold into slavery. After the city had been burnt down, its walls were razed to their foundations and their stones ground to dust. An enormous amount of booty was stolen.' This is a smooth translation, but one notices a few points of deviation from the Latin that may not have been necessary. Caedibus ignibusque is inversed into 'fire and slaughter'. The rhythm of the last three sentences vendita est/diruti sunt/redactus...erepta est is not really rendered in English, especially because Fear combines the second sentence with the first part of the third and renders the second part of the third as an independent sentence. Orosius' version of the slave revolt in Sicily 133 B.C. runs as follows (5.9.8): Misera profecto talis belli et inextricabilis causa. pereundum utique dominis erat, nisi insolescentibus seruis ferro obuiam iretur. sed tamen in ipsis quoque infelicissimis damnis pugnae et infelicioribus lucris uictoriae quanti periere uicti tantum perdidere uictores. In translation this becomes: 'Certainly such a war as this had tragic, complex causes. Their masters would have perished had they not marched on the insolent slaves with the sword, but as regards the terrible losses in the fighting and the even worse prizes from victory, the victors lost as much as numbers of the vanquished that perished.' The first sentence seems unclear: does it make a statement about causation, as Fear has it, or is it rather a statement of fact: in the latter case, a translation could be 'a sad affair out of which there was no issue'. This last version accords better with the subsequent sentences, which point out the conundrum that faced the Roman masters. In the second sentence utique is implied in Fear's translation, but it could have been made explicit, allowing to make a connection between the first and the second sentence. The translation 'terrible losses' and 'even worse prizes' does not have the same force as the repetition of infelicissimis/infelicioribus in the Latin. Even if one can differ of opinion regarding specific details, Fear's translation renders the meaning of the text in general accurately and smoothly. He thus provides scholars, students, and, one may hope, also a wider audience an additional instrument for a personal acquaintance with the text. In comparison with previous English translations, Fear's clearly has the edge as regards the notes. The earlier translations are sparsely annotated and even an experienced historian is sometimes overwhelmed by the sheer amount of facts crammed into the history. Moreover, Orosius often copies his sources directly but equally often gives them a peculiar twist. Fear's notes are very helpful in this respect, assiduously inventorying sources and errors, and providing additional explanations. As in any undertaking of this magnitude, he could have gone further in some instances. There is, for example, no reference to the use made of the consularia constantinopolitana in 7.34, as was already noted by R.W. Burgess. 6 On page 378 (note 339), Fear rehearses a debate that was well explored by N. Lenski. 7 There would have been some profit in digging up the Vienna dissertation of G. Hingst, who, besides identifying a few additional sources, suggest a dependence on Cicero in many an expression. 8 There are a few instances where, in my view, Fear leads the reader astray. For example, when Orosius criticises pagans for believing that 'there was no beginning to the world or creation of mankind', he is not attacking a cyclical view of history, as Fear states (p. 34 note 12), but rather the idea of the eternity of the world, which was indeed debated between pagans and Christians (and within these groups too). Such instances are rare, and in general Fear is a good guide. A good bibliography concludes the book. Besides the suggestions for additions made above, my greatest regret is that there is no reference to what is probably the best interpretation of Orosius so far, namely Herzog's 1980 paper 'Orosius oder Die Formulierung eines Fortschrittskonzepts aus der Erfahrung des Niedergangs'. 9 This is not a full and detailed study of Orosius as a historian, nor does the book aim at this. Yet as a translation it achieves its aims: this fine rendering of Orosius, especially in combination with the notes, will provide a very useful, new access to the Seven books of History against the Pagans, and thus allow future readers to discover this historian for themselves. Notes: 1. The other two are: I.W. Raymond, Seven books of history against the pagans; the apology of Paulus Orosius. New York: 1936; R. Deferrari, Orosius. Seven Books of History against the Pagans. Washington, D.C.: 1964. Fear does not refer to the latter. 2. It could have been useful to at least refer to the other options that have been proposed. See the overview of J. Vilella, 'Biografia critica de Orosio', Jahrbuch fur Antike und Christentum 43 (2000): 94-121. 3. See, e.g., C. Tornau, Zwischen Rhetorik und Philosophie. Augustins Argumentationstechnik in De civitate Dei und ihr Bildungsgeschichtlicher Hintergrund. Berlin - New York: 2006. 4. Fear thus distances himself from A.H. Merrills, History and Geography in Late Antiquity. Cambridge: 2005. 5. M.-P. Arnaud-Lindet, Orose. Histoires (Contres les paiens) (Collection des Universites de France. Paris: 1990-1991. She is not a man, as Fear seems to think (26). 6. R.W. Burgess, The Chronicle of Hydatius and the Consularia Constantinopolitana. Two contemporary accounts of the final years of the Roman Empire. Oxford: 1993. 7. N. Lenski, 'Were Valentinian, Valens and Jovian Confessors before Julian the Apostate?', Zeitschrift fur antikes Christentum 6 (2002): 253-276. 8. G. Hingst, Zu offenen Quellenfragen bei Orosius. Diss. Vienna: 1973. 9. R. Herzog, 'Orosius oder Die Formulierung eines Fortschrittskonzepts aus der Erfahrung des Niedergangs', in Id., Spatantike. Studien zur romischen und lateinisch-christlichen Literatur. Herausgegeben von P. Habermehl. Gottingen: 2002, 293-320 (= Id., in R. Koselleck, P. Widmer (edd.), Niedergang. Studien zu einem geschichtlichen Thema. Stuttgart: 1980, 79-102). ..as a translation it achieves its aims: this fine rendering of Orosius, especially in combination with the notes, will provide a very useful, new access to the Seven books of History against the Pagans, and thus allow future readers to discover this historian for themselves. Orosius' Histories, written in Latin c. 418, exerted a huge influence on medieval historical writing, and survive in more than 200 manuscripts as well as in a number of medieval translations. They are an important source for the history of the fourth and early fifth centuries, as well as one of the earliest statements of a Christian theology of history that remained influential for over a millennium. Andrew Fear's is the first translation into English of the complete work since 1936, and presents Orosius' sometimes convoluted Latin in very readable English, making this crucial work easily accessible to students and scholars lacking Latin; the extensive annotation will be valuable also for those capable of reading the original. The volume includes a succinct and useful introduction, a synopsis of the work, as well as an up-to-date bibliography and index of names and places Andrew Fear's is the first translation into English of the complete work since 1936, and presents Orosius' sometimes convoluted Latin in very readable English, making this crucial work easily accessible to students and scholars lacking Latin; the extensive annotation will be valuable also for those capable of reading the original.show more

About A.T. Fear

Dr Andrew Fear is Lecturer in Classics at the University of Manchestershow more

Table of contents

Acknowledgements Abbreviations INTRODUCTION 1. Life 2. The Histories 3. Intentions 4. Secular Religious History 5. Sources 6. Structure 7. Chronological Systems and the Ordering of Time 8. Notes of Caution 9. Orosius's Clash with Augustine 10. Legacy NOTE ON TRANSLATION SYNOPSIS SEVEN BOOKS Of HISTORY AGAINST THE PAGANS Book One Book Two Book Three Book Four Book Five Book Six Book Seven Bibliography Indexshow more