Exploring the Jungle: Hagiographical Literature between Fact and Fiction

Thomas Pratsch

in Fifty Years of Prosopography

Published by British Academy

Published in print July 2003 | ISBN: 9780197262924
Published online February 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191734434 | DOI:

Series: Proceedings of the British Academy

Exploring the Jungle: Hagiographical Literature between Fact and Fiction

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Towards the end of the nineteenth century, the German theologian Albert Ehrhardt wrote a chapter on the History Byzantine Literature. It included a paragraph on hagiography, where he compared Byzantine hagiographical literature to a ‘thick jungle with no path leading into its interior’. His remark touches upon one major problem of hagiography: the correct distinction between fact and fiction. Two extreme points of view have been developed with regard to the value of hagiographical texts as historical sources. According to one, hagiography provides valuable information about some aspects of daily life in Byzantium. It stresses the idea that hagiography contains hard facts. According to the second point of view, hagiography is mere fiction. Saints' Lives are hagiographical novels that tell us nothing about the saint and his life, and may at best reveal something about the author's intentions and the historical situation at the time of writing.

Keywords: hagiography; Byzantine literature; Albert Ehrhardt; saint's lives

Chapter.  6095 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Theory, Methods, and Historiography

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