Portraits: Biographical Representation in the Greek and Latin Literature of the Roman Empire

Portraits: Biographical Representation in the Greek and Latin Literature of the Roman Empire

Portraits: Biographical Representation in the Greek and Latin Literature of the Roman Empire

Portraits: Biographical Representation in the Greek and Latin Literature of the Roman Empire

Synopsis

This collection of essays illustrates the growth of interest in the representation of individuals, which resulted from the changed environment within which Greek and Latin authors worked in late antiquity. The subjects all fall within the period of the Roman empire, and illustrate the importance of individual personality in literature for an age in which few individuals could hope to achieve political significance.

Excerpt

Collections of articles or papers by different authors sometimes meet with prejudice among those who feel that only the mind of a single writer can give sets of ideas an acceptable unity. This viewpoint is not absurd; at the same time it is not absolutely valid. For it is a common enough practice to assign difficult problems to working-parties and discussion groups for clarification. We do this because we recognize the value of hearing a number of different voices and points of view on a subject of shared interest. Further, we appreciate that a collectivity derives great strength from the wealth of different experiences and perspectives which individuals can rarely encompass on their own. And most of us are aware that individual efforts tend anyway to depend upon joint endeavours.

This collection of papers arises from a seminar series held in All Souls College at the end of 1991. All but one of the pieces were delivered at the seminar; we regret that one of the original papers could not be written up by its author. The conception of the seminar was indeed after the model of a working-party. Our idea was to examine the growth of biographical representation in the Greek and Latin literature of the Roman imperial period and later antiquity. We felt that a seminar was the ideal forum for this because the phenomenon of biographical representation was one to which scholars had paid relatively little attention and was therefore in need of the collective input that only discussion can give. It was clear to all of us from the start that the growth of biographical representation was not simply a matter for students of overtly biographical texts. Whether the ancients identified biography as a separate genre is a big question in itself (and one to which we return in part in the epilogue to the volume). But in the literature of the period covered by our essays interest in the person and the structuring of texts as a result of this interest went far beyond biography (however defined). Rather, it is a subject of enquiry that is relevant to literary scholars, historians, philosophers, and theologians. It was upon this basis that the seminar speakers were assembled. We are naturally aware that it would be quite impossible in any single volume to present even an adequate description of the rise of biographical interest and its ramifications, let alone once and for all to account for a subject which can only be viewed in an apparently bewildering . . .

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