Babylon anatomized: Burton's use of Augustine

Joseph Richard Gibson


This dissertation argues that the works of Augustine, especially the City of God and the Confessions, serve as a major source and influence upon Burton's The Anatomy of Melancholy. Burton's attitudes towards the world, humanity, and his sources can be seen to derive in part from Augustine's attitudes on these subjects. Especially, Burton shares with Augustine a form of scepticism this dissertation defines as 'Augustinian Scepticism,' which is qualitatively different from the dawning scientific-rationalist scepticism of, for example, Descartes. Though this form of scepticism could be defined as dogmatism, as its rigorous negativity never extends to the grounds of faith, it is still the source of much of Burton's attitude towards the world, his reader and his material throughout the Anatomy. Burton's elenctic rhetorical strategies especially, wherein he collapses all sides of an argument to create seeming chaos in the sublunary world, can in large part be traced to his reading of, and use of, Augustine and avowedly Augustinian thinkers such as Melancthon, Nicholas Cusanus and Agrippa. Although critics such as Fish, Fox, Babb and Thompson deny an Augustinian influence in Burton's Anatomy, this dissertation argues against their positions. The argument presented employs a method of close, comparative readings, examining key passages of the Anatomy in the light of Augustine's City of God, the Confessions, and other works. Passages wherein Burton cuts closest to his submerged themes of redemption and salvation, abandoning the persona of Democritus Jr. in favour of his persona as Burton the Divine-Physician, (a symbolic persona drawn directly from Augustine), are especially examined. Through a focus on Burton's religious themes, a direct parallel with Augustine is discerned, and it is argued that Augustine has an influence on both style and substance in the Anatomy. Although Augustine is by no means the only, or even dominant influence on the Anatomy, Augustine would appear to play a much larger role in Burton's moral and spiritual thought, especially in Burton's scepticism towards the world, human knowledge and human endeavor, than has previously been acknowledged.