Article

Modes of Self-Writing from Antiquity to the Later Middle Ages

Gur Zak

in The Oxford Handbook of Medieval Latin Literature

Published in print January 2012 | ISBN: 9780195394016
Published online September 2012 | | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/oxfordhb/9780195394016.013.0023

Series: Oxford Handbooks

 Modes of Self-Writing from Antiquity to the Later Middle Ages

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  • Classical Studies
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  • Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500)

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This article examines the history of medieval Latin practices of self-writing by exploring them on their own terms. People wrote about themselves in various ways and for various reasons that do not conform to modern assumptions about the nature of the self and the act of writing about it. The development of the self-writing genre is outlined up through and including Petrarch as a tradition of literary practices that themselves constituted the founding conditions of personal interiority. Three dominant and influential modes of self-writing developed in the centuries between Ovid and Petrarch: self-examination, self-portrait, and confessional narrative. The classification carries with it a taxonomy of authors' aims in writing as they emerge from the texts, and the dominant thematic and formal characteristics. A close analysis of central works in each mode is presented through the works of Ovid, Seneca, Peter Abelard, and Petrarch. The tensions and internal contradictions that dominate the works are explored. These tensions reveal the tenuous lines that at times separate these modes. Such indeterminacies do not nullify the value of analyzing these different modes and their evolution over time, if only due to the fact that ancient and medieval authors were strongly aware of these modes and consciously applied them for their purposes.

Keywords: medieval Latin practices; Petrarch; self-writing; personal interiority; nature of self

Article.  10563 words. 

Subjects: Classical Studies ; Classical Reception ; Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500)

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