Philologisches Seminar

Ut fidem dictis adhibeant

Faith and Credibility in (Auto)Biographies from Late Antiquity to the Early Middle Ages (200-900)

Interdisciplinary Workshop


October 4—6, 2018

Keplerstraße 2


In our ‘post-truth’ days, the ‘credibility’ of (traditional) media is more and more challenged by the concept of fake news. What people consider ‘true’ has become enormously fluid. Even the most obvious factuality of news is contested by those who adhere to ‘alternative facts’ and claim that ‘truth isn’t truth’. Uncomfortable as some might feel with this fluid concept of truth, it is, in fact, nothing new. In ancient literature, ‘reality’ had a similar flexibility: rather than being an aim itself – to tell ‘things as they really happened – reality and truthfulness were rhetorical tools in order to make a (historical) text persuasive.

Among the genres of ancient literature, biography makes for an excellent case in point. As famously stated by Plutarch, the biographer’s first and foremost task is to illustrate the character of a notable individual, thus giving examples to be emulated or avoided. Therefore, ancient biographers were allowed or even expected to idealize, hide or alter facts, and invent events which could have happened. Analyzing the wide range of biographies, both ancient and modern, recent studies have relativized biographical truth and highlighted the narrative and fictional nature of (auto)biographical texts. Despite these ‘licenses’, fundamental conflicts arose in Late Antiquity when biographical writing became a normative means of defending and consolidating one’s own religion and attacking the religion of the ‘other’. Thus, the credibility and authenticity of biographies and hagiographies had to face new challenges.

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 bringing together historians, philologists, theologians, and others.

Organizers and Contact


Zukunftskonzept der Universität Tübingen (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft 'ZUK 63') Link