Online Introduction

Pagan and Puritan:
The “Octavius— of Minucius

by Arthur Aikin Brodribb

Well I am pretty excited that I found this little book! After I discovered that a past political editor from the London Times, A. A. Brodribb was a Latinist by hobby, (and the half-brother of the classicist Brodribb), I put online his historical novel, A Roman Reporter online.

Then I searched to find what else he had written and lo and behold! He translated the Octavius of Minucius!

Then There were four English translations before this one. This translation is stands alone in a small volume by A. A. Brodribb.

The English translations before Wallis, were by Richard James, 1635, P. Lorraine in 1695, E. Combe in 1703, and Dalrymple in 1854, and R. E. Wallis, in 1885.

This is an excellent little example of classical Rhetoric. A Christian convert, Octavius, defends his religious belief to a pagan friend, Caecilius. Minucius was the debate moderator and wrote it up afterwards.

This text is important because it took place in the second century! So it is a very early record, of the beliefs of an early Christian and a Roman pagan, of the middle class. Brodribb says it is one of the earliest, the very first, texts of a defense of Christianity that is still available to us today. Tertullian is the only other one competing for this particular honor. There is a raging debate over whether Tertullian’s Apology used Minicius’ work, or vice versa. Roger Pearse has a summary of the controversy in this article on his site: Did Tertullian use Minucius Felix’ Octavius?.

As Octavius, the Christian apologist, states in the last third of his speech, he deeply regrets when he apparently had been involved in the torturing of Christians before he converted. This point is not developed or discussed by Brodribb. Anyway Octavius blames his previous behavior on daemons. A convenient scapegoat, plus the only one he can live with, I expect. He has to postulate such creatures to account for what he saw as his own irrational and unjust behavior. He later could not believe he did such awful things, and this explanation allowed him to keep his self-respect. Although he is still full of remorse. The Devil made me do it! is still a common excuse.

That bit, though, is just a small, but significant, paragraph in his rebuttal. (Recognition of the injustice of it later probably explains his conversion though.) The rest is a very clear well-reasoned statement of his wholeheared belief in Christianity and its superiority to paganism.

This is also the most effective example of antique rhetoric I have read in English. It is very interesting. Since it was designed as a reply to a pagan friend it is not mean at all, nor is it esoteric or arcane or mystical like a lot of early Christian writings.

The text is so readable, the rhetoric so excellent, that Cyprian, a famous early Church Father plagiarized it mercilessly, per Brodribb.

In fact this is the best bit of Christian writing, and classical rhetoric that I have read in my life. And a part-time scholar did the work, too.

Also very important is the evidence of how far Chrisitanity has veered from its original admirable principles, as Octavius proves when he says:

“But as for us, we have no part in the slaughter of men either as spectators or auditors . . . ” Minucius, p. 62.

It was just such people who believed this that were attracted to and converted to the new faith. Too bad it didn’t last.

About the online text, it is very short, only 100 pages or so, of a very small book, but it is too long for one webpage. So I divided it up into three parts, the Setting of the Debate, the Pagan Caecilius’s Argument, and the “Puritan,” or Christian, Octavius’s Reply.

The relatively few footnotes are at the end of the book, but clicking on the numbers will take you to them in a new browswer window, which you can leave open as you read, for reference.

Brodribb has done some expurgating of a few lines and clauses, (he footnotes those omissions or paraphrases) about descriptions of pagan barbaric practices, which are apparently sexual in nature. He has deemed them “unfit for translation.” I have added those sections as translated by Rendall in the Loeb edition in the Notes. This is pretty tame and I do not know what the fuss is all about. If you happen to know more correct translations for these bits, tell me, and I can insert them in Italics to make this an unexpurgated translation.

There are very, very few typos, emended and so noted in the source code, which have been corrected. The least number in any text I have online of the same length. Brodribb was a newspaper editor so that explains it, I imagine.!

(As additional biographical data, see his Obituary in the Times. He was married to Alice Crook. He had two sons, one Charles William Brodribb, a poet and journalist who wrote a poem included in a volume of war poetry, and was also an editor for the Times. His other son was an artist Francis Arthur Brodribb, who married Gladys Capper.

Like Florence Alden Gragg, Edward Storer, Eugene Mason, Thomas Johnes, Thomas Roscoe, and Thomas Underdowne, many of the most entertaining translations are simply not recognized and publicized out of pure jealousy, I think. The reviewers, who are predominantly academic and confined to a few institutions of learning, ignore these works because they did not have someone there, at their school or in their clique, that had the wit to do the translations first. So I am thrilled to be able to add Brodribb’s work to this site that includes such a great company of translators.

Anyway, read Minucius for yourself! You will be impressed. (Click the title below and go!)

Pagan and Puritan.