chapter  2
The survival and fall of the classical city in Late Roman Africa
Claude Lepelley
Pages 27

In his great book Saint Augustin et la fin de la culture antique, published in 1938, Henri Marrou states that his original purpose was to examine the emergence, from what he regarded as the decline of classical civilization, of the mediaeval culture on which Augustine left so profound an impression. In the event, his study evokes the power of tradition far more than the birth of a new world. ‘In the culture of St Augustine’, wrote Marrou, ‘I have thrown into light the inheritance of a tradition of remarkable continuity, homogeneity and fixity. Augustine is an ancient man of letters, a pupil of Cicero, a remote disciple of Isocrates’ (Marrou 1938, 543). Marrou then regarded this very continuity as a form of sclerosis: ‘I have not attempted to hide’, he said, ‘the impoverishment and ossification of this ancient tradition’, as it was received by this ‘man of letters from a decadent age’ (ibid., iii-iv, xi-xiv and 543-4). In 1949, Marrou published his Retractatio, in which he vigorously rejected those ‘peremptory assertions’, ‘the judgements’, he said, ‘of an ignorant and presumptuous young barbarian’, blind to the beauty and the subtlety of this rhetorical culture, both in what it had inherited and in the new refinements added by the distinctive sensibility of late antiquity (Marrou 1949, 663-6).