- Jerome’s Epitaph on Paula: A Commentary on the Epitaphium Sanctae Paulae Edited with an introduction and translated by Andrew Cain
Over the past decade, Andrew Cain has deservedly become the recognized authority on the works of St. Jerome, especially his letters. This translation and commentary is Cain’s third study on works of Jerome after Commentary on Galatians (Washington, DC, 2010) and Letter 52 to Nepotian (Leiden, 2012). In addition, he has published a book-length study of Jerome’s letters (Oxford, 2009). These volumes, as well as numerous articles, have given Cain ample material to draw upon for this lengthy commentary on Jerome’s Epitaph on Paula. The commentary on twenty-seven pages of Latin text runs to 390 pages. Cain’s translation, a welcome advance on the English version in the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers series, is both accurate and accessible—a rare accomplishment.
The subject of Jerome’s epitaph, the aristocrat-turned-ascetic Paula, is certainly a fascinating figure. Not only was she Jerome’s spiritual protégée and companion in the Bethlehem monastery that she founded, but she also was the patron of Jerome’s greatest literary achievement: his translation of the Old Testament from Hebrew into Latin. It is all but certain that without Paula, there would have been no Vulgate. Paula, who died [End Page 106] in 404 and was buried under the Church of the Nativity itself, was later canonized by the Latin Church—a signal honor for a nonmartyr, in no small part due to Jerome’s efforts. This epitaph was the first of those efforts, and it is a fitting tribute to a woman who is portrayed as having gladly sacrificed for Christ everything she had—even her eldest daughter, Blesilla, who died from over-enthusiastic fasting. Twenty years earlier, Jerome had written an epistolary epitaph on the unfortunate young woman. Indeed, Cain (p. 119) points out that many elements of that epitaph (Epistola 39) were recycled in Paula’s encomium. Obviously, Paula was in no position to complain about lack of originality. Cain is careful to mind the gap between the real woman and the idealized saintin-the-making.
Cain’s commentary is a thesaurus of such literary allusions from Jerome’s corpus, other patristic writers, and classical writers such as Virgil, Juvenal, and Cicero, with a focus on literary and semantic aspects of the text. The Latin text is Hilberg’s edition with twenty-five minor emendations, listed in the introduction (p. 39). Of these, some are merely stylistic; for example, in 5.2, where Cain has restored sustentatus to sustentatus est, on the basis of “several manuscripts,” meaning the three latest of the six used by Hilberg. It seems likely that Hilberg preferred the more elegant omission in the earlier manuscripts of the auxiliary verb, which is both clunky and unnecessary to the sense. Other changes are semantically driven and justified in the commentary by reference to other occurrences in Jerome’s oeuvre such as in 3.4, from potentias to potentiam (potentia on p. 148 probably is meant to read potentiam). Another semantically-driven change is the rejection of Hilberg’s supplying of <non> before paucis in 17.1. The litotes “not a few” makes better sense of the text than Cain’s reversion to the five manuscripts that read paucis (“a few”), especially since the sixth and latest manuscript witness reads multis (the equivalent of non paucis). These are mere quibbles, however; minor criticisms of a work of major importance.
The depth, range, and currency of Cain’s scholarship are breathtaking. A bibliography of all secondary sources would have been ridiculously long; these are embedded within the commentary. This work is a monumental achievement and a testament to the quality of the series Oxford Early Christian Texts. The author and series editors are to be congratulated upon bringing this ancient work to light in such...