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23 - Precision and the Limits of Autopsy in Augustine’s Critique of Pagan Divination

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 October 2023

Lewis Ayres
Affiliation:
University of Durham and Australian Catholic University, Melbourne
Michael W. Champion
Affiliation:
Australian Catholic University, Melbourne
Matthew R. Crawford
Affiliation:
Australian Catholic University, Melbourne
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Summary

According to Augustine, the limits of human autopsy restricted certain modes of knowing which relied on detailed observations. This claim unites Augustine’s criticism of the power of daemons and of astrology to predict the future. The minute calculations that astrology requires are beyond human sense perception (Conf. 7.6.9–10; Doctr. chr. 2.23.34; Civ. 5.1–6), so are the tricks used by daemons which Augustine equates to abilities specific to animals, such as the olfactory skill of dogs (Div. 3.7; cf. Civ. 9.15). This chapter examines the influence of a variety of texts on Augustine’s thought, including Ambrose’s Hexaemeron, Cicero’s De divinatione, and Apuleius’ De deo Socratis. I argue that Augustine consistently focuses his rhetoric against pagan divination on the limits of human sense perception through a unique combination of criticisms, inspired by both the Christian and the classical canons.

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The Intellectual World of Late Antique Christianity
Reshaping Classical Traditions
, pp. 426 - 442
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2023

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