University of Tübingen

Faith and Credibility in (Auto)Biographies

from Late Antiquity to the Early Middle Ages (200-900)


Description and organization

Confirmed Keynote Speaker: Prof. Dr. Koen de Temmermann (University of Gent)

In the February 21, 1851 entry of the diary he kept during his first visit to the United States, Heinrich Schliemann, famous for discovering Troy, proudly notes that he paid a visit to President Millard Fillmore. He also records that he attended a grand, official reception in the White House on the same day. However, unfortunately for him, 20th century scholars have revealed that he had not met the president at all, nor had there been any reception that day. Schliemann invented these events, just as he claimed to have become a US citizen in 1850.

Whereas modern historians and biographers might frown at Schliemann’s fictions, ancient readers might have been less offended. For the ancients, biography and historiography had a different relationship to truth (cf. Pol. 10.21, Plut. Alex. 1): while historians claim to present facts and to be obliged to truth, biography aims at showing the character of a notable individual and giving examples which are worth emulating or that serve as a warning. Therefore, ancient biographers are allowed to (or even have to) idealize, hide or alter facts, and invent events which could have happened. In addition, modern studies have relativized biographical truth (cf. Wagner 2006; Sonnabend 2002) and highlight the narrative and fictional nature of (auto)biographical texts (cf. Wagner-Egelhaaf 2013; Nadel 1984).

As Christian literature and hagiography began to flourish, fundamental conflicts arose. When biographical writing became a normative means of defending and consolidating one’s own religion and attacking the other‘s, the credibility and authenticity of the literary genre had to face new challenges (cf. e.g. Cox Miller 2000).

This workshop aims to explore credibility and authenticity in biographical, autobiographical, and hagiographical literature in Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages (c. 200–900). It has a decidedly interdisciplinary character. We welcome historians of these periods as well as scholars of other disciplines (philologists, theologians, etc.) working on the following topics and related questions:

  • Where and how do (auto)biographies claim truth? Which explicit statements can be found, which ‘topical’ elements are used, which authorities relied on?
  • Besides explicit claims, which implicit strategies and devices can be identified?
  • How are narrative strategies used as a means of creating credibility?
  • How do Christian (auto)biographers deal with their ‘pagan’ heritage? From a diachronic point of view, which lines of tradition, changes, and transformations can be recognized?
  • Which role do claims of (auto)biographical credibility play in religious debates? To what extent are non-Christian discourses on credibility of (auto)biographies related to new challenges by Christianity?

To submit a proposal, please send an English abstract of your paper to by March 11, 2018.


Thursday, October 4, 2018

1.30 Registration

2.15 Conference Opening and Welcome Addresses

2.45 – 3.45 Keynote: Koen De Temmerman | Gent Where the Truth Lies. Loves and Lives in Greek Martyr Acts of Late Antiquity Coffee Break Session 1: Framing Authorial Credibility in Late Antique and Early Medieval Literature (Chair: Robert Kirstein)

4.15 – 5.15 Marco Formisano | Gent Klazina Staat | Gent Belief and Authority in Hagiography and Poetry. A Late Antique Approach

5.15 – 5.45 Christopher Heath | Manchester Veritatem in Christo loquor: Narrative Strategies and Credibility in Early Medieval Italian Histories

Friday, October 5, 2018

Session 2: Crediblity in the Biographical Tadition: Coherence and Conflict (Chairs: Koen De Temmerman / Federico Montinaro)

9.30 – 10.00 Fabrizio Petorella | Rome Solitudo portentosa: The Rhetoric of Credibility in the Life of Paul the Hermit

10.00 – 10.30 Silvio Di Cello | Lecce Haec si qui amens fabulosa existimat: Truth and Literariness in Prudentius’ Liber Peristephanon Coffee Break

11.00 – 11.30 Olivier Gengler | Tübingen Authority and Veracity in Mark the Deacon’s Life of Porphyry

Session 3: Credibility in/of Eyewitness Accounts (Chairs: Fabian Schulz / Hans-Peter Nill)

11.30 – 12.00 Thomas Kuhn-Treichel | Heidelberg Strategies for Claiming Truth in Gregory Nazianzen’s Autobiographical Poems Lunch

2.00 – 2.30 Moritz Kuhn | Cologne Creating Credibility and Authenticity in Possidius of Calama’s Vita Augustini

2.30 – 3.00 Patricia L. Grosse | Hancock Monnica in Augustine’s Confessions: Biography or Hagiography? Coffee Break

3.30 – 4.00 Andreas Abele | Tübingen Fidem narrare. Narrative Discourse Modes in Sulpicius Severus’ Account of St Martin Sharing his Cloak with the Beggar (on Mart. 2—3)

4.00 – 4.30 Kamil C. Choda | Tübingen Struggle for Credibility in the Dialogi of Sulpicius Severus

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Session 4: Creating Credibility by Commonplaces and Collections (Chair: Warren Pezé)

10.00 – 10.30 Maurits S. de Leeuw | Tübingen Programmatic Statements on Credibility in Late Antique Greek Hagiography Coffee Break

10.45 – 12.15 Rutger Kramer | Vienna Giorgia Vocino | Venice/Orléans Veronika Wieser | Vienna The Authority of the Collective: The Lives of Individuals in Early Medieval Biographical Collections

12.15 – 12.45 Concluding Discussions


(Text by the organizers)